Proofs and essays
By: Alan Geisler

Nov 1 , 2000

A number of the 1861 essays were prepared in a form known as serial die essays, in which the vignette was printed first, followed by parts of the frame, until complete, and finally by the denomination.  The 1869 essays are highly prized, but I find the 1867s the most interesting.  Since my interests are most attractive to the unusual and the bizarre, the 1867s certainly fit the bill.   About this time the Post Office was becoming concerned with stamps being re-used and indicated their desire to purchase stamps, which could not be cleaned and used again.  As a result of this a flurry of activity occurred resulting in a number of patents being issued on this subject.  They range from the clever to the ridiculous.

The first, actually patented in 1865, was the Bowlsby patent, which entailed adding a coupon to each stamp.  The stamp would be presented to a postal clerk with the coupon attached, without which it would not be valid.  The clerk would then remove the coupon and affix the stamp.  If there were an unemployment problem, this would certainly solve it.

The Lowenberg patent involved the use of a goldbeater’s type of paper (decalcomania), which was printed backwards over the gum on the reverse.  When soaked off an envelope, the printing would remain on the envelope.  The paper, however, was far too brittle to be used commercially.

The Sturgeon patent was clever, I think, in that it was overprinted with a colorless water sensitive ink, which, when wet, would spell out the word ‘cancelled’ across the face of the stamp.

A number of patents, such as Thorp, Gibson, and Wyckoff involved using safety paper with fugitive inks, or starch coated papers, so that when wetted some of the printing would disappear.  The Spencer patent involved the use of rainbow colored stamps, some of which had a vignette, which was also perforated, presumably to be removed before affixing.

The ultimately accepted essay was, of course, the grilled stamp, patented by Charles Steel, an employee of the National Bank Note Co.  Steel, incidentally, supposedly received no bonus or royalties for his invention, which was utilized on the 1867, 1869 and 1871 issues in various forms.  Some of the 1869 pictorials were prepared in essays on stamp paper, which was grilled, gummed, and perforated so close to the final stamp design as to fool some collectors (and dealers) when printed in the approved color.  The only difference is the size of the numerals on the 1, 2, 3, and 12¢ designs.

The ‘August issues’, so-called, also known as Premieres Gravures, like #66 and #74, also were formerly listed in Scott until recently as stamps.  These are the former numbers Scott 55-62, other than Scott 58, which is now known as Scott 62B, which it has been for years.  Formerly the mint stamp was #58, and the used stamp #62B.  Now they have the same Scott designation.

The 1869 essays were also were also innovative in that bi-colored designs were proposed; they were first incorporated on the higher denomination pictorials.  These stamps, apparently unpopular at the time, were soon superceded by the 1871 large Bank Notes, a more traditional throwback to earlier monochrome portrait designs.

In summary, I have found collecting essays, and proofs, to be very interesting, although a bit pricey.  This is not an area of collecting which can be done on a shoestring, as a perusal of the 1999 Robert Siegel auction of the Falk Finkelburg material realizations will attest.  In common with all collectors of essays in particular, I am grateful to Clarence Brazer for the work done by him and fellow associates in cataloging this are of collecting.  In the last few years Scott also has listed known essays and contributed importantly by attributing values; these are then adjusted periodically as a result of auction realizations.  The importance of this to the collector is that it is difficult to look for something if you don’t know of its existence.