U.S. #2869 – The corrected sheet picturing Bill Pickett.

On October 18, 1994, the USPS issued this corrected Legends of the West stamp sheet after it was discovered they had made an error in their original design.

In January 1994 the Postal Service announced it was creating a set of 20 stamps titled “Legends of the West,” featuring “broadly defined, American-themed subjects.” Sixteen of the 20 stamps honored people associated with the exploration, settlement and development of the American West.

Click any of the images on this page to add these historic stamps to your collection.

One of the people to be featured was black rodeo star Bill Pickett. The remaining four stamps, located at the corners of the sheet, featured conceptual designs: Home on the Range, Native American Culture, Western Wildlife, and Overland Mail.

U.S. #2870 – Error sheet picturing Bill’s brother Ben Pickett.

After the stamps were announced, but not officially issued, a radio reporter phoned Frank Phillips, Jr., great-grandson of Bill Pickett, and asked him about the stamp. This was the first Phillips had heard of the stamp, which was ironic – for the last 14 years Phillips had written to the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee suggesting that Bill Pickett should be honored on a stamp. Each year he had been politely turned down.

Pleasantly surprised, Phillips went to his local post office, looked at the design and recognized it as Ben Pickett – Bill’s brother and business associate. The stamp pictured the wrong man! That was the first mistake.

Phillips complained to the Postal Service, and Postmaster General Marvin Runyon issued an order to recall and destroy the error stamps. Runyon also ordered new revised stamps be created – these are the corrected Legends of the West stamps (#2869) pictured first in the article.

But before the recall, 186 error sheets were sold by postal workers – before the official “first day of issue.” This was the second mistake. These error sheets were being resold for sums ranging from $3,000 to $15,000 each!

U.S. #UX178-97 – Complete set of Legends of the West First Day Postal Cards.

Several weeks later the U.S. Postal Service announced that 150,000 error sheets would be sold at face value by means of a mail order lottery. This unprecedented move was made with the permission of Frank Phillips, Jr., so the Post Office could recover its printing cost and not lose money. Sales were limited to one per household. The remaining stamps were destroyed.

U.S. #2869//3408 – Classic Sheet Collection.

The Legends of the West error was one of the biggest stamp stories in years. Overshadowed by the error story, the Legends of the West sheet was also the first installment in a series known as the “Classic Collection.” The Classic Collection sheets included the same unique 20-stamp format as the Legends of the West stamps. Other sheets in the series honored the Civil War, Comic Strip Classics, the 1996 Olympics, Classic American Aircraft, American Art, Insects and Spiders, Stars and Stripes, and Legends of Baseball.

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

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  1. If Bat Masterson, Wyatt Earp, and Wild Bill Hickok were alive today there would be a group of “Prairie Lives Matter” protesters marching in the streets of Tombstone, PETA would be after Bill Pickett for using his teeth to wrestle a steer to the ground, and Buffalo Bill Cody would have a reality show.

  2. At that time a friend’s father ran a small contract post office. Remember him talking about all the hassle his father was going through because of the error sheets. He was being inundated with people requesting the error sheets. But he had returned them. He knew they prices people were willing to pay for a sheet. Thought it was great just to have held them before returning.

  3. Very interesting piece of history that would have gone unnoticed had it not been for the alertness of Frank Phillips Jr. Kudos to him and the USPS for making things right!

  4. I remember this one well! I was fortunate enough to have received 3 of these sheets via the lottery drawing. Of course I couldn’t get them all at my address because of the one per household limit, but I mailed in several requests with several return names & addresses of some close friends and relatives of mine, and 3 were drawn.

    1. I am not sure you should brag about having worked the system and ended up with three copies. Do the right thing and send one to Stu Hoyt—he’s still patiently waiting for one.

    2. Another example of people’s greed & willingness to get around the rules. What goes around, comes around. Virus anyone ?

    3. I got one the right way and was very happy to be lucky to get one.. If you still have 3 sets, donate 2 to someone who can enjoy having a copy and you will feel better also.

  5. A (non-collector) friend ordered one of the error sheets and gave it to me in an outstanding act of graciousness.

  6. USPS made good on the Bill Pickett historical error. Lucky to have an error “Legends” pane. Would have liked to have gotten a modern C-3 non-invert error pane at reasonable cost.

  7. I was one of the lucky individuals that was picked to receive one of the error sheets. Does anyone know how many people entered the lottery? It would make an interesting note on just how lucky each selected individual was.

  8. I know collectors who did not get this sheet in lottery and choose to stop collecting new US issues when Legends of West issue was released. They continue to collect but stopped collecting new US a couple decades ago.

  9. As it would have it I just bought a large plate block collection last night and low and behold there are 2 Legends of The West sheets one of them the error sheet! Philately is really neat at times! Michael

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