First U.S. Stamp Printed Outside America

1991 Dennis Chavez stamp
US #2186 was the first US stamp printed outside the country.

On April 3, 1991, the USPS issued its first stamp to printed outside the US.  News of the stamp’s printing outside of America set off a firestorm of criticism and debate that made it all the way to Congress.

The stamp at the center of this controversy was a Great Americans issue honoring Dennis Chavez, the first American-born Hispanic person to serve in the US Senate.  The stamp was announced a year earlier in February 1990.  At that time, the denomination was unknown as new rates were expected in 1991.  By 1991, the denomination was set at 35¢, which was the rate for a half-ounce stamp to Mexico.

Chavez Fleetwood First Day Cover.
US #2186 – Fleetwood First Day Cover

The expected rate change came on February 3, and the Chavez stamp was announced for issue on April 3.  A USPS news release mistakenly stated the stamp was printed by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP).  However, it was actually printed by the Canadian Bank Note Company, a subcontractor of Stamp Venturers of Fairfax, Virginia.  Because of the rate increase, there was an increased demand for new stamps and the USPS believed the BEP would be too overloaded to print them all.  Making contracts with private companies wasn’t new, but that company being outside of the US – in Canada – was.  The USPS claimed that there weren’t many American companies that offered the intaglio printing process they had used on all the previous Great Americans stamps.

Chavez Colorano Silk Cachet First Day Cover
US #2186 – Colorano Silk Cachet First Day Cover

The USPS stated that the arrangement didn’t violate the “Buy America” Act, which required government agencies to use American-made products as much as possible.  According to the USPS, more than two-thirds of the work on the Chavez stamp would be done in the US.  It was printed on American-made paper and after printing in Ottawa, would be perforated back in the US.

1992 Earl Warren stamp
US #2184 was also printed by the Canadian Bank Note Company.

Despite these assurances, the USPS faced immediate backlash.  Linn’s issued a highly critical editorial calling it a “shameful spectacle,” and that it was “outraged” at the “colossal embarrassment.”  Linn’s went on to say, “One of the philatelic hallmarks of colonies and second-class nations has been that they have foreign firms print their stamps.”  While there were many that sided with Linn’s, there were some that supported the idea.  They believed the stamp (and others produced outside the US) had beautifully detailed engraving.  And they claimed opposition to the stamp was “isolationist” and “economic protectionist.”

Earl Warren Fleetwood First Day Cover.
US #2184 – Fleetwood First Day Cover

Many others weighed in – including the House Committee on Post Office and Civil Service, who had serious concerns, stating “That a ‘Great Americans’ series stamp should be printed outside the United States is particularly disturbing…  If legislation is necessary to ensure that future printing is done domestically, we will work with you to develop that legislation.”

Earl Warren Colorano Silk Cachet First Day Cover
US #2184 – Colorano Silk Cachet First Day Cover

The postmaster general ultimately heard these calls and announced that no more stamps (after the 1992 Earl Warren stamp already in production) would be printed outside of the US.

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4 responses to "First U.S. Stamp Printed Outside America"

4 thoughts on “First U.S. Stamp Printed Outside America”

  1. When I began to read the article, I thought the stamp was printed in Mexico. There was a time many years ago that a number of stamps from Albania, were printed in China! It was a move to express the solidarity of friendship between the two countries. I remember a stamp show that I attended many years ago held at The Queen Mary, in the Long Beach, CA. The theme was: Cuban/Canadian Friendship Solidarity. At the center was a souvenir sheet, with the flags of both countries and an illustration showing a structure that would identify the countries. I remember it being a very strong red-color, with the design in multicolored. I and many of us have stamps from Africa, South-East Asia, Pacific Islands, Caribbean, and others; issued in other countries.

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