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First Stamp Issued in Presidential Series 

First Stamp Issued in Presidential Series 

US #804 – The first stamp issued in the Presidential Series. Click image to order.

On April 25, 1938, the first stamp in the Presidential Series (also known as the Prexies) was issued featuring George Washington.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt first suggested a stamp series honoring all the deceased presidents in 1933.  Initially, the new stamps were planned to be commemoratives, but it was ultimately decided that they’d be definitive to replace the Series of 1922, which had been in use for 12 years.

US #803-34 – The complete set of 1938 Prexies. Click image to order.

Three years later, the Treasury Department announced a national design competition for the new stamps.  Entrants needed to propose a design for the 1¢ George Washington stamp.  The winning design would be used for the rest of the stamps in the series, and the winning designer would win $500.  Additionally, the second and third place designs would also win $300 and $200 respectively.

The contest was open from June 22 to September 15, 1937.  More than 1,100 people submitted designs, including some famous artists.  After several rounds of eliminations, the panel of philatelic specialists and art experts selected the design submitted by Elaine Rawlinson of New York City.  Her design showed Washington in profile based on a bust by noted sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon.  This first stamp was issued on April 25, 1938.

US #832-33 – Get two of the high-value Prexies in one easy order.  Click image to order.

The rest of the stamps in the series featured similar profiles based on sculptures, paintings, and bronze statues, though there were some variations in the borders and the higher-value stamps were printed in two colors.  Each president’s bust was accompanied by his name and dates in office.  Additionally, the 1¢ through 22¢ stamps each have a denomination corresponding to the man’s presidency, with Washington on the 1¢ stamp, John Adams on the 2¢, and so on.  The stamps follow this format through the 22¢ Grover Cleveland stamp.

US #828 – The first stamp in the series to depart from the original numbering system. Click image to order.

Cleveland served two non-consecutive terms, as the 22nd and 24th president.  Additionally, a 23¢ stamp would have been useless, so it was decided that there would be no 23¢ stamp and Benjamin Harrison would be featured on the 24¢ stamp.  McKinley (the 25th president) was then honored on the 25¢ stamp.  But that would be the last stamp whose denomination corresponded to the president’s term.  After that, the stamps had higher values that filled important postal needs.

The Prexies featured the portraits of 29 presidents, 12 of whom had never appeared on a US postage stamp before.  The series also included four denominations that had never been used on US postage stamps before – 18¢, 19¢, 21¢, and 22¢.  These values were only included to follow the presidential succession format and didn’t meet any postal rates at the time.

US #839-51 – Set of 13 Prexies coil stamps issued in 1939. Click image to order.

In one major departure from tradition, George Washington didn’t appear on the normal letter rate 3¢ stamp.  This was the first time he hadn’t since 1870.  Instead, it pictured Thomas Jefferson.  Washington was pictured on the 1¢ post-card rate stamp though, which usually pictured Benjamin Franklin.  Other non-presidents in the series include Martha Washington and the White House.

All of the presidents after Washington were issued in order throughout 1938.  Several coil stamps and booklets were then issued in January 1939.

US #832b – $1 Wilson error on USIR-watermarked paper.  Click image to order.

The Prexies were in use for over 18 years.  During that time there were several color varieties and an interesting error.  In 1951, the $1 Wilson stamp was accidentally printed on USIR (US Internal Revenue) watermarked paper.  This paper was intended for US Internal Revenue tax stamps only.  How the paper was mistakenly used remains a mystery, as does the exact number of error stamps printed.

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15 responses to "First Stamp Issued in Presidential Series "

15 thoughts on “First Stamp Issued in Presidential Series ”

  1. In 1955, when I was 10, I went to the post office and they had ALL of the stamps from the 1 cent to the $5. I was able to purchase these at face over a period of about 4 months, because a $1 a week
    allowance didn’t go far when you got up to the 20 cent Plus stamps. The P.O still had a large
    quantity of the Prexie Series because the 1954 Issue was fairly new so they still had a lot of the
    ols issue left. I was able to get the $1, $2 and $5 by gajoling my Dad into an allowance advance.

    Reply
    • What a cool story…our postmaster saved stamps as they were issued for collectors…usually boys…and understood the limitations of allowances…I only got 25 CT’s a week! Stamps that were purchased years ago by yourself take you back when you look at them.

      Reply
    • Loved this article. Good for Elaine Rawlinson who certainly put her stamp on the first Presidential stamp and set the standard for future ones. Thanks Mystic.

      Reply
  2. I, too, was born in 1939, and began collecting in 1945, just after the war ended. I was fascinated to see the new Army, Navy and Marine Corps (Iwo Jima flag raising) stamps. I was bowled over to see all the higher value presidentials and large-plane airmails, which I did not know existed up to that point. But from that point on, I was hooked!

    I always wondered why they changed the design and showed the White House on the 4½¢ prexy.
    They could just as well have kept the same design as the others and showed Dolly Madison on the 4½. She was just as famous as Martha Washington.

    There are several minor varieties among both the presidentials and big-plane airmails–things such as jumbos and color and shade varieties. I have found most of mine by rummaging through dealers’ junk boxes at shows. Still one of my favorite pastimes, even after 75 years of collecting. You’d be surprised at all the good stuff you can find in there.

    Reply
  3. This is a great article and even after collecting stamps for over 50 years it’s a recant of history that makes this hobby so much richer. Thank you Mystic

    Reply
  4. Great article. Even as a life-long stamp collector, there were some things in the article I did not know. My dad used to bring home used stamps from his office for me in the 1950’s, so I was able to acquire a number of the high-value prexies from heavy parcels. I still consider this set as one of the most attractive in US definitive history—and they were informative for a kid as well.

    Reply
  5. Thank you Mystic, for this most interesting article about the history of the prexies. I was also born in ‘39 and at the age of 10 became immediately interested in the hobby of stamp collecting when a school-friend showed me his collection. Over the years I’ve picked up many old stamp collections at garage sales. Recently, during the COVID-19 “shut down“, I have really enjoyed plowing through my acquired collections and moving new stamps to my main album and other fun stamp collecting projects. Thanks again for keeping the hobby fresh and interesting.
    Don

    Reply
  6. I was thrilled to see this article on the Prexies because it has always been my favorite issue of U. S. stamps. Just as other responders have written, I too was born in 1939. That was part of the reason the series appealed to me. As a young lad it was the way I learned all the presidents in their correct order.
    I started collecting when I was about 10 because a neighborhood friend got me interested. I lost contact with this friend for more than 60 years. This past November we renewed our friendship with stamp collecting at the focal point of our contacts.
    I have developed a variety of Prexie layouts and mounted them in albums I’ve made. Mint plate blocks, used plate blocks, pre-cancelled stamps from the series are a part of what I’ve enjoyed acquiring over the years. Philatelic pursuits has given me lots of pleasure over the years.

    Reply
    • The prexie issue makes me wish for the USPO to go back to its rich tradition of issuing meaningful, beutifully engraved stamp issues. In recent years the PO has issued many rediculous designs and subject matter. Quality rather than quantity should be their goal.

      Reply
  7. This was my first real series of focus, when I started collecting stamps in 1960. I remember finding the odd values on packages in the attic in my house and getting excited in finding them.

    Reply
  8. Thank you Mr Tim Heggaton. I too have noticed and wondered what lead the
    USPS to issue stamps with no historical, and /or social meaning and value. Case in point. The stamps depicting futuristic space travel-science fiction, and
    the those depicting cartoon characters, i.e. Bugs Bunny.

    Reply

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