Complete Set of Columbian Stamps
US #230-45 – Save time and money on complete Columbian collection – available in multiple conditions.

On January 1, 1893, the majority the Columbian stamps were first placed on sale in large cities.  The Columbians are some of America’s most famous and sought-after stamps, and are considered the first US commemorative stamps.

The Columbian stamps were produced to promote the World’s Columbian Exposition, which was to be held in Chicago, Illinois, from May 1 to October 30, 1893.  The exposition was a world’s fair celebrating the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the New World.  The Columbians were the first US stamps ever issued to promote a commercial event and the first American commemoratives.

At the time of the planning for these stamps, the American Bank Note Company held the US postage stamp contract.  A special contract had to be negotiated for the Columbians because of their larger size.  The contract allowed the printer to charge 17¢ per thousand stamps, significantly more than the 7.45¢ per thousand they charged for the 1890 definitives.  The series was originally planned to contain 15 stamps, but the 8¢ stamp was issued in March because of a change in registration fees.

1893 1c-8¢ US Columbians, 7 Stamps with small imperfections
US #230-36 – Get the first seven Columbians for as little as $46.50.

Fifteen stamps were placed on sale on January 1, 1893, in New York City and Boston.  Most other post offices across the country were closed that day, so they began their sales on January 2.  In March, an 8¢ stamp was issued to meet a new registration fee.

 Complete Set of Dollar-Value Columbians On Registered Covers
US #241-45 – Complete set of dollar-value Columbians on Registered Covers

Unlike any other stamps before them, the Columbians created a worldwide phenomenon.  As popular as they were, the Columbian stamps were also controversial.  Collectors eagerly awaited the series, forming long lines to purchase the stamps.  Yet many were frustrated by the price of owning the complete series.  The total value of the stamps was $16.34, which is comparable to paying about $500 in today’s wages.  Adding to the high cost is the fact that the nation was experiencing a depression at this time.  As a result, few could afford the higher value stamps – the series included the first US postage stamps with face values over 90¢.  Some postal clerks refused to sell Columbian stamps because demand far exceeded supply.

1893 2¢ Columbian Commemorative “Broken Hat” Variety
US #231c – This “Broken Hat” variety occurred during printing, when a break developed in the printing press’s transfer roll.  The flaw caused a piece to be missing from the hat of the foreground figure to the left of Columbus.

As a consequence, used Columbian stamps were selling for close to face value in 1893 – even as mint stamps were officially on sale.  The craze for Columbian stamps was even more pronounced in Europe, where collectors hounded American tourists and begged for stamps from their mail.  A corner of Hamburg’s stock exchange was devoted to trafficking Columbian stamps.  On August 11, 1893, The New York Times reported these transactions were conducted “as carefully as they handled the highest gilt-edged securities.”

1893 4¢ Columbian Error, blue
US #233a – Rare color error – only about 100 known to exist!

The Columbians were on sale at post offices until April 1894.  These stamps would be the final issue printed by a private firm before the Bureau of Engraving and Printing took over stamp production for decades.

The Columbians were America’s first commemorative stamps, making them an important part of philatelic history.  So important that stamp author Max Johl said that the series’ degree of completion is often the “yardstick by which a US collection is measured.”  The series also included the first US stamps to picture a woman – Queen Isabella, who sponsored Columbus’ expeditions.  The Columbians are among the most sought-after of all US stamps.

1992 Columbian Souvenir Sheets, set of 6
US #2624-29 – Collection of six 1992 souvenir sheets created from the same original dies as the legendary Columbians!

The Columbian Special Delivery Stamp

The US #E3 Special Delivery stamp was not issued for the expo, but is still considered part of the Columbian Series.  When the Columbian stamps were issued in January 1893, the 1¢ stamp (#230) was printed in the same blue shade as the 10¢ Special Delivery stamp of the time.  To avoid confusion, the Special Delivery stamp was printed in orange using the same design – creating #E3.

1893 10¢ Messenger Running Special Delivery
US #E3 – The orange Special Delivery stamp that’s considered part of the Columbians.

This stamp was printed from January 24, 1893, to January 5, 1894.  After that, the stamp was once again produced with blue ink, though stocks of the orange stamp were used up before the reissue of another blue one.

Click here for more stamps featuring Christopher Columbus.

Click here for more Columbians, modern reprints, joint issues, sets, and more.

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