United States 1851 One Cent Blue

The United States 1851
     One Cent Blue
By Andrew Levitt

In my early years in professional philately, while progressing from the mail room of the Robert A. Siegel Auction Galleries to describer, auctioneer, and vice president, I can remember the great philatelists of that era coming to study and bid on the important United States 1851 One Cent Blue pieces. At the historic Newbury Auctions in the early 1960s, collectors such as Morrison Waud and Mort Neinken vied with great dealers like Ezra Cole and Raymond Weill. The competition was fierce, realizations at multiples of catalog were the rule, and the great pieces—just as they do today—went at prices that we all found hard to imagine.

The enthusiasm those great philatelists displayed for the One Cent Blue was contagious, and as my career path took me to the presidency of the Sotheby Parke-Bernet Stamp Auction Company, I was privileged to offer the fabulous One Cent 1851-57 Collection of Ryohei Ishikawa. And yet, even as he sold the major portion of this outstanding study of the subject, Mr. Ishikawa retained a handful of pieces, including the 7R1E and 99R2 covers, for his outstanding U.S. Classic Grand Prix Exhibit. The 7R 1 E and 99R2 covers, which Ryohei Ishikawa regarded as the keystones to his collection, subsequently were acquired by John R. Boker, Jr. As my own philatelic career is so closely intertwined with the greatest examples of the United States 1851 One Cent Blue, it gives me great pleasure to present this Study of that issue and to illustrate these covers on behalf of the late Mr. Boker.

Providing collectors with the romance and intrigue of an early Classic issue in all its varieties, the United States 1851 One Cent Blue has been, and continues to be, the centerpiece for some of the greatest and most valuable collections ever formed. Research and plating work on the One Cent Blue is most closely associated with Stanley B. Ashbrook. His landmark work, The United States One Cent Stamp of 1851-1857, was described by no less an authority than Lester G. Brookman as “the greatest philatelic study ever made.” The famous “Ashbrook Diagram” seen above illustrates and identifies all of the major characteristics of the 1851 One Cent Blue Issue.

In his book, The United States One Cent Stamp of 1851 to 1861, Mortimer L. Neinken expanded on the plating work done by Ashbrook. Even though the One Cent Blue is one of the most widely collected and studied of all issues, the outstanding philatelists of our own time continue to research this issue for additional plate varieties and to pursue the One Cent Blue rarities as the basis for their own outstanding collections.

A collector seeking an avenue for specialization would be hard pressed to select a better subject. The 1851 One Cent Blue encompasses all aspects of philately. Issued primarily to pay the required postage on unsealed printed circulars, it also found service by itself on drop letters (mail dropped off at a post office and picked up by the addressee at that some location), as payment for postage on newspapers, and as a carrier fee. In addition to its own distinct usages, it also can be collected in a myriad of combination usages with other issues.

Nowhere is the wonderful collecting challenge offered by the One Cent Blue better manifested than in a study of its design varieties. Starting from one stunningly beautiful design that is a masterpiece of the engraver’s art, a total of five printing plates (counting the early and late stages of Plate 1 as separate plates), with 200 positions to each plate, produced a total of 1,000 positions for the imperforate One Cent stamp. In the remainder of this Study of the 1851 One Cent Blue Imperforate Issue, we will attempt to summarize the results of the plating work of Stanley B. Ashbrook and Mortimer Neinken, drawing upon the writings of those philatelists as well as the later work of Jerome S. Wagshal in his Philatelic Foundation Analysis Leaflet, The One Cent Stamp of 1851 and 1857.

As they came off the early printing presses, each of the 1,000 plate positions of the 1851 One Cent Blue held within its printed design tiny variations, or plate varieties. It is truly remarkable---indeed almost incomprehensible that from all of those 1.000 positions, only one furnished us with a complete design. As Jerome Wagshal explains in his Analysis Leaflet: “The reason that the One Cent stamp was produced with so many variations in its design was that the design was too large overall for the plate size limitations inherent in the manufacturing process. As a result, various outer portions of the design—at top and/or at bottom had to be trimmed away to allow 200 impressions of the design to fit on a plate .” Another contributing factor to the multiplicity of types is the elaborate, baroque character of the design, which incorporated many separately identifiable components at its borders. Thus, when the trimming at the borders occurred, the deletion of separate design elements could be identified, rather than (would have been the case, for example, if the change had involved) merely a shortening of a uniform border area.”

As noted, the printing plates used for all of the 1851 One Cent stamps consisted of 200 positions to a plate. The sheets of 200 stamps that came off the presses were cut into separate (left/right) panes of 100 each before being issued. For each pane of stamps, therefore, we have 100 positions, identified as 1 through 100, running from left to right and top to bottom so that the upper left stamp on a pane is position 1, the upper right stamp is position 10, and the lower right stamp is position 100.

With this as the basis for the standard identification system, the 1851 One Cent stamps are first identified by the plate position (1 through 100), the left (L) or right (R) pane, and the printing plate used (Plate IE, or early, Plate 1L, or late, and Plates 2,3, and 4). Using this identification system, we then progress to the study of each plate position and its classification by design type. For the imperforate One Cent Blue stamp, the Scott Catalogue lists eight major numbers, as follows:
Scott #5 Type I Design
#5A Type Ib
#6 Type Ia
#6b Type Ic
#7 Type II
#8 Type III
#8A Type IIIa
#9 Type IV

Type I, Scott 5
As might be expected, the complete design is classified as Type I. The only plate position on which this complete design is found is position 7R 1 E, the 7th stamp from the left across the top row of the right pane of plate 1 in its early state. This is the rarest and most valuable of the imperforate One Cent Blue stamps. It is seen in the cover on the top of the previous page as the left stamp in the strip of three. Its defining characteristics are shown in the middle illustration of the previous page.

In the Type I design all of the ornaments are complete on all four sides. Further, the top and bottom lines also are complete. Of all the imperforate 1851 One Cent Blue stamps that were printed, the only examples that show the complete design as found on the original die are those few great rarities that come down to us today from this one position, Type I, position 7R1E, Scott #5.

In describing the 7R 1 E cover illustrated here, Ashbrook stated, “This item, in my opinion, ranks as number one in the list of the rarest covers containing stamps of the General Issues of the United States. Here we have everything that could possibly be desired in a rare cover...I have no apologies to offer for my enthusiasm over this gem...”

Type Ib, Scott 5A
The Type Ib design is the next closest type to the complete Type I design. In fact, the plate position of Type Ib stamps also was in close proximity to the Type I stamp.

Type Ib stamps all come from the same top row as the 7R 1 E stamp. They are positions 3-6 and 8-9R 1 E. In all instances, Type Ib stamps show the complete design characteristics as Type I at the top of the stamp. However, to varying degrees, depending on the plate position, a portion of the bottom ornaments is missing. Note, for example in our illustration of position 8R 1 E to the left (generally regarded as the most complete of the Type Ib positions) that the bottom of the right plume is missing—a result of burnishing, or erasure, of the extreme bottom portion of the design after its entry on the plate. (Adding to the magnificence of the 7RIE cover pictured on the previous page is the presence of two Type Ib stamps, positions 8 and 9RIE.)

In discussing the identifying characteristics of Type Ib, Neinken adds, “As they are all from the top row, most copies will show part of the top sheet margin, if they are not cut too close. Different types from the interior portion of many of the plates show a blur of color just above the stamp, and hence if a design is complete, or more or less complete at the top, this blur prevents the design from standing out in relief against the clear background. Top row stamps generally show a clear background above the design. This is a characteristic of the Type lb.”

In describing the appeal of the cover reproduced above, John R. Boker, Jr., explained “The stamps are plate positions 1-3R 1 E. The stamps were issued on July 1, 1851, and this cover bears an early, July 4, 1851, postmark date. What we have here, then, is an envelope that carried the first One Cent Blue stamps, from one of the very first sheets to come off the printing press.”

Type Ia, Scott 6
The Type Ia design is the converse of Type Ib, showing full bottom ornaments and substantially reduced top ornaments. Just as the complete top designs (Type Ib) come only from a top row, the Type Ia stamps, with their complete bottom design, come only from 18 of the 20 positions on a bottom row, in this instance the bottom row of Plate 4. That plate came into use in early 1857, just before the introduction of perforations. It was used primarily in the production of perforated stamps; thus, imperforate Type Ia stamps rank second highest in value among all the One Cent Blue imperforate types (the only exception being one Type III position, to be discussed later in this study).

Type Ic, Scott 6b
In 1993, the Scott Specialized Catalogue editors added what One Cent specialists had recognized for decades, the Type Ic. The two best (and most valuable) Type Ic examples come from the two bottom row positions of Plate 4 that are not Type Ia (positions 91 and 96R4). They show the complete ornaments of Type Ia, except that the lower right plumes are partially erased. Approximately eight other examples of Type Ic come from two internal rows of Plate 4. They resemble Type IIIa stamps (on which the bottom ornaments are incomplete) except that the lower left plumes are complete, leaving the lower right plumes incomplete and therefore consistent with Type Ic characteristics.

Type II, Scott 7
Brookman, in The United States Postage Stamps of the 19th Century, describes the distinguishing characteristics of this Type as follows: “...the top line is always complete, the top ornaments may be complete or they may be partially cut away, the bottom line is always complete, and the little balls of the bottom scrolls and the bottom of the lower plume ornaments are missing.” But there is much more to the Type II design, and Wagshal amplifies on Brookman: “...on most Type II positions the top ornaments are partially erased, but on a few Type II positions, specifically those from the top row of Plate 4...the top ornaments are complete. Specialists prize these positions above ordinary Type II positions. Also, Type II stamps from the rare Plate 3 often have an exceptionally deep, rich color, and a number of Plate 3 positions show fine crack lines. These, too, are more highly valued than the ordinary Type II stamps. Finally, although Plate 1 Late produced recut (Type IV) stamps from 199 of its 200 positions, one position—4R 1 L—was not recut: this is a Type II (altered from Type Ib in the early state of the Plate) which has a distinctive double transfer and is worth much more than an ordinary Type II.” To show the range that may exist within this type, in our Type II illustration, we herewith reproduce the design for those positions that show almost complete top omaments. Above that design we also present the top portion of Type II positions on which the top ornaments are more reduced.

Type III, Scott 8
On this type, both the top and the bottom lines are broken. In addition, the top and bottom ornaments are always incomplete. Within this definition, because the line breaks at top and at bottom are the key distinguishing characteristics for Type III stamps, the degree to which both lines are broken is an important value determinant. The Scott Catalogue definition of Type III specifies that the breaks at top and bottom must be at least 2mm wide. Neinken classifies a stamp with a very small break at top and bottom as a “poor” example of Type III; a stamp with a wide break in the top line, “extending from a point directly under the ornament (point V on the Ashbrook diagram for Type I) to a point above the top of the ‘A’ of ‘POSTAGE’, but with the bottom line only slightly broken” as a fair example; and a stamp which shows a wide break for both lines as a “fine” example of Type III.

Type III, Scott 8, Position 99R2
While classified as a Type III stamp, Wagshal properly points out, “...99R2 occupies a unique and important position within the One Cent classification system. Though lacking a separate number, it is given a specially paragraphed listing in the Scott U.S. Specialized Catalogue as if it were a separate catalog number in itself. It is the second most valuable imperforate type variety (next to 7RIE, Type I)...”

Ashbrook also speaks glowingly of the 99R2 stamp and goes on to describe the 99R2 cover illustrated above as follows:

“This is the finest cover I have ever seen showing use of this rare stamp. This copy of the 99R2 is an early printing, a marvelous engraving, a beautiful deep blue color, In addition the stamp has the full sheet margin at bottom with a boardwalk around the other three sides, And to top all, it is neatly tied by a brilliant red ‘New York Carrier’ marking. It certainly is a cover that leaves nothing to be desired. It ranks high in the list of the finest U.S. covers known.”

Type lIla, Scott 8A
The standard definition for Type IlIa is that, while on Type III stamps both the top and bottom lines are broken, on Type IlIa, either (but not both) the top or the bottom lines are broken. As with the Type III stamps, the wider the break, the greater the value. The standard definition for Type IlIa is that either the top or the bottom line may be broken; but almost all Type IlIa stamps show a broken top line. Thus, as the Scott catalogue points out, “Stamps of Type IlIa with bottom line broken command higher prices than those with top line broken.”
In advising clients who wish to build significant collections of the One Cent Blue 1851 Issue, we concur with the advice given by Lester G. Brookman: “in showing examples of this type in a specialized collection, it is well to show both varieties.”

Type IV, Scott 9
Wagshal explains why this is the most common imperforate One Cent stamp:

“When Plate 1 was reworked from its early to its late state.. .almost all positions needed to be strengthened. Accordingly, 199 of the 200 positions on Plate 1 in its late state had some recutting at either top or bottom or both. Any recutting, in whatever degree, qualifies a stamp as Type IV. Since Plate 1 Late was used more than any other plate for imperforate One Cent production, Scott #9 is the most common imperforate One Cent stamp.