1938 1¢ George Washington, green
US #804 was the first stamp issued in the Presidential Series.

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 definitives to replace the Series of 1922, which had been in use for 12 years.

1938 U.S. Presidential Series Collection, Set of 32
US #803-34 – Complete Set of 1938 Prexies

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.

832-33 - 1938 $1 W. Wilson & $2 W. Harding
US #832-33 – Get two of the high-value Prexies in one easy 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.

828 - 1938 24c Benjamin Harrison, gray black
US #828 was the first stamp in the series to depart from the original numbering system.

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.

839-51 - 1939 Regular Issues, collection of 13 coil stamps
US #839-51 – Set of 13 Prexies coil stamps issued in 1939

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. Franklin instead appeared on the 1/2¢. Other non-presidents in the series include Martha Washington (on the 1½¢) and the White House (on the 4½¢).

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

1938 $1 Woodrow Wilson, USIR watermark
US #832b – Wilson Prexie error on USIR watermarked paper

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.

Click here to view all the Prexies plus money-saving sets, formats, varieties, and more.

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24 Comments

  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.

    1. 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.

    1. 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.

  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.

  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

  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.

  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

    1. The previous presidential series was issued beginning in 1922, so it is actually the 1922 series.

  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.

    1. 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.

  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.

  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.

    1. The Citizens Stamp Advisory Committee, which recommends subjects for new issues, believes that “the public” does not like historical stamps.

  9. Great article on these issues! I started collecting at about the age of my eighth birthday and these were the most used stamps, I did get tired of seeing the 3 cent Jefferson, despite his devotion to our nation, because it was the most used stamp for all mail. But fortunately, lots more interesting stamps followed in the 1950’s.

  10. This was the series that got me started in stamp collecting. A friend at school showed me the 3c or 4c (I forget which one) as we ate lunch one day in October, 1962, and somehow I was magically hooked literally from that moment. It was the stamp’s beauty and appeal, but also an undefinable something else that pulled me in. I’ve been hooked ever since.

  11. From reading the many accounts of what got each person into stamp collecting and when they started sounded familiar. I was given a stamp album for Christmas when I was around 12. Most of all I was attracted to the beauty of stamps. Whenever I saw “pretty” stamps I tore them off and kept them in my desk drawer during my working days. I’m happy, that I did this because now that I’m retired I’ve brought back my days of collecting. It also helped to have a helpful postmaster as I was growing up because she kept me up to date for new stamps. That $1 a week allowance was wisely invested!

  12. The prexies is one of my favorite issues also. I began collecting stamps when I was about 10 years old. My Grandfather was postmaster in a small town in Nebr., so it was mostly him that got me interested in collecting. He had a wonderful collection of mint sheets and plate blocks that I eventually acquired through inheritance. My first stamp album was a Harris Discoverer album, printed in 1956. I still have it along with many other albums and the thousands of mint and used stamps in sheets, plates blocks, first day covers, and individual stamps in albums and stock books. It has been a wonderful hobby, but now I’m at a point where I’m not sure whether to try to sell it or pass it on to my children or grandchildren.

  13. I really appreciate Mystic’s Postal History series here. I too, use to buy stamps when I was young and I sure wish the postal service would print the faces of so many historical figures that have been left by the wayside. I for one have sent a letter to the postmaster general to consider Benjamin Rush, signer of the Declaration of Independence and a visionary doctor.

  14. I got most of my Prexies when my mother bought a ladies hat shop in the late 1950’s. The previous owner had left a lot of stuff in the shop’s basement, including letters with many of the Prexies on them. I’ve supplemented them in years since with purchases so that I have the complete set in one US album & almost a second set, too, in another US album. Fun stuff! Didn’t know this much about this colorful series.

  15. The number of stamp collectors in the U.S. would be increased by the CSAC taking the following course of action:

    Continue the prexies after the $5 Calvin Coolidge by issuing in order the next U.S. president in the same design as set forth by Mrs. Rawlinson. Each subsequent president* would be issued on the date whenever the Forever rate was changed. But, instead of having the word Forever on the stamps, the actual rate at that time would appear. Since these denominated stamps would not be Forever stamps, there would be a limited number (say 5-to-10 million) of them printed, which would also increase their demand, thereby encouraging new collectors of stamps; and with more collectors of U.S. stamps, the more revenue for the USPS from the mint stamps they would buy for their collections.

    (If the number of rate changes ever caught up to a living former U.S. President, the USPS would simply wait until that president was deceased.)

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