112 - 1869 1c Benjamin Franklin, buff, G grill, hard wove paper, perf 12
US #112 satisfied the drop letter rate.  

On March 19, 1869, the first US Pictorial stamps were issued.

By early 1868, the then-current US definitive stamps had been in use for over six years and their printing plates were quite worn. Additionally, the Post Office’s contract with the National Bank Note Company was set to expire in February 1869. They requested bids for the contract to print new stamps and suggested that “there should be variety in the sizes as well as the designs of the stamps.”

113 - 1869 2c Pony Express, brown
US #113 paid the local or drop letter rate and was also used on unsealed circulars.

While the previous issues had been produced either in pieces, or as a rushed response to the Civil War, it was suggested that this new series honor the history of the US Post Office – “beginning with Franklin, the Continental postmaster, and the post rider of the early days, followed by the locomotive of a later day and the ocean steamer carrying the mails… the most important scenes in the early history of the country, its triumphant arms, and Washington its first, and Lincoln its last president.”

114 - 1869 3c Locomotive, ultramarine
US #114 satisfied the half-ounce first-class domestic letter rate and saw more use than any of the other Pictorial stamps.

The National Banknote Company ultimately won the contract and produced the stamps. The majority of the Pictorials were issued on March 19, 1869. Though they initially received some positive reviews, the press criticized them severely. National’s competitor – Butler, Carpenter – may have created some of this negativity. Though Butler, Carpenter had submitted a lower bid to produce the stamps, it’s believed that National may have won because they had the rights to the grilling machines. Butler, Carpenter protested and criticized the stamps publicly, even threatening to launch a congressional investigation.

115 - 1869 6c Washington, ultramarine
US #115 paid the double-weight rate on US domestic letters as well as the rate to Canada, Great Britain, and other foreign countries.

The press also criticized the stamps, calling them “neither historical, national, beautiful… What is there in a big chimney on a railroad carriage to indicate the nationality of our postal system?” Other complaints included poor quality gum and jokes that the stamps were so small, people needed to use microscopes to find them in their pocketbooks.

116 - 1869 10c Shield and Eagle, yellow
US #116 paid the rate to France, Germany, and other foreign destinations.

In spite of the negative reaction, the 1869 Pictorials were historic. They were the first US stamps to feature something other than the bust or head of a famous American leader. They were also the first bi-color stamps. Printing with two colors required the stamps to be run through the press twice; once, to print the vignette (center design), and then again, to print the frame.

117 - 1869 12c S.S. Adriatic, green
US #117 was primarily used to cover the double-weight rate on mail sent to Great Britain.

Carelessness in merging the two impressions resulted in rare inverts. Instead of an inverted center, the stamp actually has an inverted frame, since the center design was printed first. The 30¢ Shield and Eagle with inverted flags is the rarest of the 1869 inverts. The least obvious of the three, it was the last to be discovered.

The 1869 Pictorials are also the only stamps that feature the “G” grill. In an effort to prevent the reuse of postage stamps, Charles F. Steele invented a device that “grilled” stamps. When the rollers were run over paper, its fibers were broken, leaving a pattern on the paper. Different patterns of grills were used during stamp production and were later identified by a letter. The stamps in this series are the only ones with the “G” pattern on them.

The Pictorials were printed in limited numbers, but they were planned to be produced over a four-year period. Because of their unpopularity, they were removed from sale within a year.

118 - 1869 15c Columbus Landing, type I
US #118 – Type I.  
119 - 1869 15c Columbus Landing, type II
US #119 – Type II.  
The 15¢ denomination of US #118 and #119 primarily paid certain rates to France, Germany, and Italy. It also satisfied the domestic registry fee. The difference between US #118, the Type I stamp, and the Type II #119 is an additional line was cut in the frame around the vignette. US #118 is also more than 10 times scarcer than #119.
120 - 1869 24c Declaration of Independence
US #120 is based on a John Trumbull painting.

US #120 (along with US #121 and #122) paid large weight rates or expensive foreign rates, plus it was also used as a make-up stamp. One of the finest examples of engraving, the center of the stamp is a miniature masterpiece, picturing John Trumbull’s Declaration of Independence. James Smillie engraved 42 people, and the six principal figures can be recognized under a magnifying glass!

121 - 1869 30c Shield, Eagle and Flags
US #121 produced the rarest of the 1869 inverts.

The 30¢ Shield and Eagle Pictorial (US #121) was heavily criticized when it was issued. The frame of flags is printed in blue and the shield in red. The design was created so that the denomination – spelled out in red letters – flows over into the blue flag printing. Most of the Pictorial stamps had trouble with the registration of colors, and this is exaggerated on US #121 because of the oddly placed denomination.

122 - 1869 90c Lincoln, carmine and black
US #122 was based on a photo by Matthew Brady.

The 90¢ Lincoln is the only bi-color stamp of the series that didn’t result in inverts. Only one is known on a cover – the legendary “Ice House” cover sent from Boston to Calcutta. The cover was stolen from a collector in 1967 and its whereabouts were unknown until 2006 when an unsuspecting elderly couple brought it to a Chicago-area stamp dealer.

In 1875, all of the Pictorial stamps were re-printed for sale and display at the 1875 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. They were issued in very limited quantities – some as few as 1,356. They were printed on hard white paper and were not grilled.  Click here to view those stamps.

Complete Set, 1869 Pictorial Issues "G" Grill
US #112-22 – Get the complete set of 1869 Pictorials and save up to $371.

Click here for a money-saving set of the first six Pictorials.

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  1. Thanks for the detail in your story of the Pictorials. I never thought of them as “pretty,” but I still marvel at their engraving,and especially appreciated having a Pony Express example in my album. I’m afraid our young people today have little appreciation for how important stamps were in our culture of that time. Thank you Mystic for your education programs like these Todsy in History essays. They are an example of marketing at its best.

  2. Loren has made a very astute observation. As I grow older I have noticed that the younger generations has lost their passion for stamp collecting!

  3. Sadly young people in public schools are not being taught much of anything about our history and culture other than that white people are responsible for every calamity since the Flood. Oh wait! That religion, and not preferred anti-western Islam. OUT WITH YOU! REPENT! US postage stamps are decals of the oppressors toolbox.

    1. As a lifelong (50 years) high school history teacher (as well as a lifelong stamp collector), I assure you that “kids today” learn history extremely well, in greater depth than I or most people, ever did, and that your claim that they are taught that “white people” are responsible for “every calamity since the Flood” is a tremendous distortion. Many white people were responsible for slavery, though not all of them, of course. And many of them were also responsible for a century of mistreatment of former slaves after slavery in the Jim Crow system of segregation in the South as well as elsewhere in the country where segregation was not legally required but practiced anyway. And some whites are still responsible for racism today. But you probably knew all that. That’s what is taught, and not your exaggerated claims. Oversimplified claims may make some people feel better (though I have no idea why the truth would do that), but they are always unhelpful.

      As for the first pictorial series which is what this thread is supposed to be about and not someone’s misunderstanding of how history is taught, I’ve always liked these stamps very much. They are too small, though, I have to admit. And I’ve never understood the grilling experiment which seems truly bizarre — and it did not really work. I’ve got them all — except the elusive and too expensive high value, a common problem in my collection. If I could just find a 90c Lincoln that I could afford.

    2. What can I say that the other people haven’t already said in their replies to Mike other than there’s no place in the future for this kind of thinking. As for today’s kids and stamp collecting: they use email, not letters like we did. If us old-timers had today’s tech as kids we would have as used it as well. As for Teacher Maddox, than you for serving our children!

  4. An most attractive and historic set. In 2017 I submitted a detailed suggestion to the Citizens Stamp Advisory Committee to recognize the 150th anniversary of this issue in 2019 by reproducing the stamps, in intaglio, similar to the 2016 Classics Forever sheet #5079. Obviously, the marketing geniuses running the USPS stamp program have a very different idea on what is appropriate and profitable.

  5. I always like to read Mystic’s “This Day In History” and learn the story behind the stamp. I also like to read other reader’s comments, which are sometimes quite insightful. While not advocating censorship, I am disappointed that Mystic does not exercise some editorial oversight of the comments. I don’t think that the comments of Mike Sheffield are appropriate for a hobby that is attempting to broaden its intergenerational and diversity appeal. It may be no surprise that young people are not attracted to philately if Mike Sheffield’s rant are the kind of views they see emanating from the philatelic community.

  6. Thank you, D. Maddock, for your appropriate comments about Mike Sheffield’s rant in 2019. I was also a lifelong history teacher, and Mike’s comment about the way that history is taught demonstrates that he really doesn’t know much about it. Regarding Brian Morgan’s suggestion that Mystic exercise some sort of censorship over nutty comments such as Mike Sheffield’s, I don’t agree. The glaring light of day is the best way to deal with such nonsense.

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