First U.S. Grilled Stamp 

U.S. #79 – As the first stamp, this has the A grill.

August 13, 1867, marks the earliest known use of the first stamp produced with a grill, U.S. #79.

Many early U.S. stamps didn’t have set issue dates, so for those, we go by the first known use, which for #79 was 150 years ago today!

In the 1860s, U.S. postal officials grew concerned that people were reusing stamps by washing the cancels off to use the same stamp twice. So Charles Steel, superintendent of stamp manufacture at the National Bank Note Company developed the grill process, for which he was granted a patent on October 22, 1867.

U.S. #83 with a C grill.

According to Steel’s patent, “The object of my invention is to produce a stamp which shall stick better than usual, and which it shall be impossible to fraudulently remove and use again.” Steel’s machine used a roller pitted with either small depressions or small raised pyramids to break fibers in stamp paper. The rollers with depressions created a “points up” pattern while those with raised pyramids made a “points down” pattern.

U.S. #85B with a rare Z grill.

These broken fibers allowed cancellation ink to thoroughly penetrate the paper. This meant even regular pen ink, which was used to cancel stamps at smaller post offices, would be impossible to remove completely.

U.S. #86 with an E grill.

After a test run, Steel’s machine applied the first grills to U.S. #79, which was first known to be used on August 13, 1867. However, because the grill covered the entire sheet, it proved troublesome, weakening perforations and leading some sheets to fall apart. As a result, Steel modified the grilling process, resulting in 10 more major grill classifications. These grills are classified by the dimensions of the grill pattern and are measured in millimeters or by counting the number of grill points.

U.S. #98 with an F grill.

The letters that classify the various grill types do not denote the size, shape, or appearance of the grills. Rather, they simply indicate the order in which they were discovered.

The exception to the rule is the “Z” grill, which was identified by William L. Stevenson. Stevenson could not decide to which family of grills this particular type belonged. Nor did he know which other families it preceded or followed and so he designated it as “Z Grill,” where “Z” signifies the unknown.

U.S. #113 with a G grill.

Visible in general from the back of the stamp only, grills may also be felt by lightly running a fingertip over the surface. Depending on which type of roller was used, the pattern may be “points up” or a “points down.” The ridges on an indented roller force the paper into the recesses, creating raised points, while a roller with raised pyramids will cause the points to be forced down into the paper, forming a series of depressions.

The United States was the first country to issue grilled stamps and was the only country to do so until the mid-1870s, when Peru also began using grills. The National Bank Note Company was responsible for producing both countries’ stamps.

Click here to learn more about grills.

Click here to see what else happened on This Day in History.

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  1. As always l learn something new. Never knew about grills. Love the extra information in “Learning more about Grills” section. Thank you Mystic Stamp!

  2. Interesting information. Are they still using the grilling process in modern stamps or it has been abandoned? The stamps illustrated in the article are older and probably expensive to see the grill pattern. I didn’t experience the patterns. I enjoyed discovering micro printing and other interesting things with stamps that are not obvious with a casual look.

  3. As the others said, I have never understood what “grills” were. Thank you for the very beneficial explanation. Keep up the good work.

  4. I am not a serious stamps collector, but I have friends who do. I love your comments about history. Today’s story I will send to my stamp-collecting friends who might not have known about the grill information.

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