More of the Greatest, II

More of the Greatest
By Ron Lesher

We began a survey last month, looking at some of the greatest of U.S. revenue stamps. Let’s recall that to be selected the stamp needs to meet one or more of the following criteria: visually stunning; historically significant; interesting philatelic history; recognizable to those outside the hobby.

Let’s begin with the 1933 quarter barrel beer stamp that was overprinted “Wine or Fermented Fruit Juice.” Only a single copy has been recorded in public hands. These stamps were ordered April 15, 1933, just eight days after 3.2 per cent alcoholic beverages were first legalized as nonintoxicating. The Bureau of Engraving and Printing delivered 59,300 copies of this stamp to Internal Revenue in the fiscal year ending June 30, 1933; equal numbers of overprinted stamps were delivered of two other denominations, half barrel and one barrel. However, neither the half nor one barrel stamps are currently known.

The use of the fermented fruit juice stamps came into being because on March 22, 1933, the Volstead Act was altered to change the definition of intoxicating beverage from 1/2% to 3.2% alcohol. And thus began that quaint period from April 7 through December 5, 1933 in which the country eased out of National Prohibition by first permitting beer and wine that did not exceed 3.2% alcohol. The story how the 3.2% standard was adopted for wine is interesting. Originally, it was proposed that 3.2% beer and 11% wine would be defined as nonintoxicating. Fearing that this difference might be a deal breaker, William Gibbs McAdoo, one of the California senators, proposed a compromise that would speed the bill to passage. Regrettably, McAdoo never consulted the wine makers. Some wine makers actually diluted wine to the lower percentage, but the result was a watery, unappealing beverage. The result was often referred to as “McAdoo wine.” The tax rate was $5.00 per barrel and so, even though this stamp only has the volume listed in the design (quarter barrel, no more than 7 3/4 gallons),  these stamps would have paid the requisite $1.25 in taxes. It is for this reason that this is one of the stamps called taxpaids by the revenue stamp collectors.

The existence of the barrel-denominated fermented fruit juice stamps had been recorded in philately as early as the October 1933 Bureau Specialist by Hugh M. Southgate, one of the founders of the Bureau Issues Association (now the United States Stamp Society). E. R. Vanderhoof wrote about the stamps in the May 21, 1934 issue of Mekeel’s Weekly Stamp News. But both of these reports were based on government records, not an actual sighting of a stamp. The single known copy was part of the legendary collection of the late Morton Dean Joyce and later became part of an award winning exhibit of wine stamps that was part of the Champion of Champions competition in 2004.

The $5 proprietary on green paper earns its place among the greatest for its beauty, its rarity, and its interesting philatelic history. The $5 proprietary stamp (Scott RB10) is the largest size Scott-listed revenue stamp. As reported Thomas Kingsley (The Legendary Persian Rug and the Other High-Value Civil War Revenue Stamps, 1993) a total of 2848 of these stamps were delivered by Internal Revenue (the original source was the Annual Reports of the Commissioner of Internal Revenue); probably less than 125 have survived. Most of the survivors are faulty to some degree from the way in which they were used.

Both the vignette and the $5 denomination are printed in black. Two colors subsequently became standard practice for all the stamps (the $200 and $500 documentaries (Scott R132-133, known as the small and Persian Rugs respectively actually have 3 colors) printed by the Joseph R. Carpenter firm. By the time that the Carpenter firm lost its contract in 1875 only 124 of the $5 proprietary stamp had been delivered to Internal Revenue. The remaining 39,458 that had been printed were elivered and are assumed to be the source of the remaining stamps that were later issued by Internal Revenue.

As students of revenue stamps of the 1870s know, this was a period when stamps were often washed to remove the cancellations so they could be reused. In the late 1860s the Carpenter firm conducted a series of experiments on how to make the stamps less vulnerable to the removal of the cancellations. In addition to the two color printing mentioned above, a special paper that was reactive to the acids used in cancellation removal. The special Chameleon paper was patented by the Willcox firm that produced it. Over the period of use the papers were altered, the first called violet silk paper by the Scott catalog. The Willcox firm began adding a little green to the paper in subsequent deliveries, a shade of paper termed the intermediate shade by specialized collectors. By 1874 the paper was significantly changed and this is the true green silk paper in the Scott Specialized.

The $5 proprietary stamp had been assumed to have been printed on both papers and was listed as such in the catalogs. But by 1989 after decades of no green paper turning up in either auction or dealer stocks, the consensus among most collectors was that there was no such thing as the $5 on green paper, so the Scott catalogue dropped the listing. How ironic is the dropping of the listing in 1989 because Morton Dean Joyce, the premier collector of U.S. revenues for over 50 years, died that year. In the first auction of items from his collection by the Kelleher firm in June, 1991, lot number 2991 contained a $5 proprietary on green silk paper. To compound that irony, two weeks later another $5 proprietary stamp described as being on violet silk paper from the Dupont collection was sold in a Christies auction. This had a manuscript “green paper” written by the late George B. Sloane. It was later authenticated as the second green paper. The listing of the green paper was restored in the 1992 Scott Specialized. Subsequently a third copy of the green paper has been documented.

The stories that have been circulated about the use of this high denomination stamp are somewhat misleading. The venerable Elliott Perry, writing as Christopher West, ventures that the high denomination proprietaries (beginning with the 10¢ stamp) might have been used on compound liquor denominated as wine, but freely admits that there are taxpaid stamps that had been issued for that specific purpose. West ventures further that the use of these higher denominations might have been intended for paying the import duties on bay rum or bay-water ($1 per gallon), bay essence or oil (50¢ per ounce), or strychnine (opium) $1 per ounce). There is just no precedent for using internal revenue stamps for paying import duties. They were quite separate revenue streams that demanded separate accounting. But the cancellations on the high denomination proprietary stamps indicate that import firms were the primary users. I believe that the simple explanation is that these were placed on bulk packages and that the internal revenue tax on perfumes and cosmetics (roughly 4¢ per $1 of retail) was being paid by these stamps.

Certainly one of the most storied of the private die proprietary stamps is Scott RO129, produced for John J. Macklin & Co. of Covington, Kentucky. The stamp was printed by the American Phototype Company of New York City, the same firm that produced match wrappers with included stamp for a number of the match manufacturers, notably a series of different wrappers for Byam, Carlton & Co. of Boston, V. R. Powell of Troy, N.Y., and the Portland Match Co. of Portland, Maine. Butler & Carpenter and the successor firm of Joseph R. Carpenter were never very happy that the American Phototype Company got any of the revenue stamp printing business. Butler & Carpenter believed that they had an exclusive contract. But the realities of intaglio printing from engraved plates made the production of stamps one at a time on wrappers too expensive, if not impossible on the thin tissue quality papers that the match manufacturers preferred. And so the printing of stamps on wrappers and the bulk of imprinted stamps on documents went to the American Phototype Company.

But the Macklin stamp was not printed as an integral part of a match wrapper. And
therein lay the rub. The Boston Revenue Book reproduces the correspondence related to Butler & Carpenter’s objection to the printing of the Macklin stamps by another firm. Butler & Carpenter refused to print from a plate that was not engraved and Macklin refused to pay for the production of another (i.e., engraved) plate on the grounds that they had paid American Phototype for one plate already. Macklin lost the battle and so it is likely that this stamp was in production for less than two years.

The Macklin stamp features a chicken as the central portion of the design. But the execution of the design is generally of a poor quality. Elliott Perry wrote that no country printer would consider being the producer of such crude work. The design was approved May 8, 1865. The die proof with the approval signature was in the Joyce collection. According to the Boston Revenue Book the stamp was issued in 1865 and the last delivery took place in 1867.

Just what chickens have to do with matches is unknown, but Macklin who drifted in
and out of the match manufacturing business in various places (including Baltimore, Maryland and Atlanta, Georgia) with a number of different business partners. At a later date Macklin purchased the plate of T. H. Alexander & Co. (Scott RO2) and used stamps printed in orange from that plate. Interestingly, that stamp also features a chicken as the central feature of the design. Later in business with another partner in Atlanta, Georgia, Macklin ordered stamps printed from the plate earlier used by the Maryland Match Co. of Baltimore (RO131).

Most of the Macklin stamps are found on a thin yellowish paper, but there are a number found on a thick white paper resembling the paper on which the V. R. Powell (Scott RO151) match wrappers were printed. Not surprisingly, the Macklin stamps are faulty to one degree or another. In a 1994 census the existence of only 11 of these were documented.

Although the Macklin stamp does not have the sheer beauty of an engraved stamp, its colorful history qualifies it as one of the greatest United States revenue stamps.