‘Banknote Issue’ Stamps

Another classic US example this week: a 12-cent black stamp featuring a portrait of Henry Clay, an American statesman who served in the House of Representatives and the Senate. This stamp is part of a series issued during the 19th century, specifically around the 1870s, which are known among collectors as the “Banknote Issues” due to their intricate, banknote-like engravings.

These stamps are highly valued for several reasons: their historical significance, the craftsmanship of the engraving, and their age. The Banknote Issues were printed by private banknote companies, which were contracted by the U.S. government before the Bureau of Engraving and Printing took over stamp production in 1894. The companies—National Bank Note Company, Continental Bank Note Company, and American Bank Note Company—printed these stamps, often with slight variations that make each issue unique and of particular interest to philatelists.

For the general stamp collector, owning a piece from the Banknote Issues is like holding a piece of history. Each stamp tells a story not just of postal history but also of the printing arts and American politics in the 19th century. Collectors seek out variations in color, perforation, and watermark, which can significantly affect a stamp’s value. Additionally, the condition of the stamp is paramount, with well-preserved examples demanding higher prices.

Other examples shown here include a 1/2-cent deep blue Benjamin Franklin issue, a classic late 19th to early 20th-century U.S. stamp, recognizable by its detailed engraving and color. To the top right is a 1-cent blue Benjamin Franklin, commonly used for postcards or additional postage, from the same era as its half-cent counterpart. On the bottom right, the 2-cent brown George Washington stamp reflects the workhorse of everyday mail during its time, facilitating standard letter postage while the bottom left stamp also presents a 2-cent brown George Washington issue, similar to its neighbor, and it stands as a testament to the era’s intricate print craftsmanship and widespread postal use.

The New Gold Rush

On a typical day at the market a full page of US postage stamps can be had for just a few pounds. And there’s no better time to get in on this trade since interest levels in American stamps is on the rise – along with prices. The recent sale of a red 2 cent example for £900 is just one reason why people are checking their collections!

Featured here are two 5-cent Jefferson stamps, specifically the issue known as the “Buffalo Bill” due to the cancellation mark often found on it that resembles the famous showman. They feature a portrait of Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States and the principal author of the Declaration of Independence. These particular stamps are from the mid-to-late 19th century, likely between 1861 and 1881, a period that saw various designs for the 5-cent denomination.

The design of these stamps is intricate, with a central vignette featuring Jefferson’s profile surrounded by an elaborate frame that includes the text “U.S. Postage 5 Five Cents.” The left stamp has a lighter cancellation mark, allowing for a clearer view of the portrait, while the right stamp has a heavy, dark cancellation that obscures much of the design. Collectors often seek stamps with clear cancellations for their aesthetic and historical value, and the condition, as well as the type of cancellation mark, can significantly affect a stamp’s value. These stamps represent a time when postage was a vital part of communication, and each stamp has its own history of travel and use.

The Quest for Victorian Valor: The Rarity of Grouped Medals

In the intricate realm of war medal collecting, the Victorian era presents a unique challenge. Condition, unit, rank, and historical action are the keystones of value. The first checkpoint for a collector is the ‘coin-like’ definition, ensuring the sharpness of detail, followed by the verification of correct and precise naming on the medal.

As time marches on, complete collections of Victorian medals become rarer, a scarcity compounded by the practices of yesteryear’s collectors who often sought one of each type, leading to the fragmentation of original groups.

Today, a complete ‘grouping’—a soldier’s full entitlement of medals—holds a premium over individual pieces. The Queen’s South Africa Medal, awarded for service in the Boer War, exemplifies this with its three clasps, including the seldom-seen ‘Laing’s Nek’. Notably, it marks one of the rare instances where British Regimental colours were lost in battle—the first being at Isandlwana, another poignant moment in South Africa’s martial history.

For collectors, such a group represents more than metal and ribbon; it symbolizes the full narrative of a soldier’s service, making it a coveted and valuable addition to any collection.

The Croix de Guerre

Another iconic medal in our recent series, the French Croix de Guerre, is a distinguished medal of intricate design, first established in 1915. Cast in bronze, it features distinct reverse circular panels denoting the year—1914-15, 1914-16, 1914-17, 1914-18—akin to the British Mentioned in Dispatches. Recognizing various levels of military commendation, it’s adorned with stars or oak leaves:

  • A bronze star signifies a mention at the regiment or brigade level.
  • A silver star denotes division-level acknowledgment.
  • A silver-gilt star represents corps-level mentions.
  • The bronze palm is awarded for army-level mentions, with a silver palm equating to five bronze ones.
  • A silver-gilt palm is reserved for those mentioned by the Free French Forces during World War II.

Highlighted here are the second war examples with a 1939 back panel, initiated by Charles de Gaulle in 1944 featuring a gilt finish with a red and green ribbon, alongside the Vichy Government version, introduced in 1943, displaying a green and black ribbon. Notably, the Paris Mint is known for its superior craftsmanship. Authentic pieces comprise three main components: the cross, the affixed circular panel on both sides, and a securely soldered suspension ring.