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Collecting Postage Currency
By George S. Chuaj and William Brandimore
August 30, 2011

The First Issue of U.S. Government stamp money is the only one of the five issues to be identified by name as Postage Currency. The initial printing of the First Issue was released through Army paymasters on Aug. 1, 1862, and was provided for general circulation a few weeks later.

Standard Catalog of United States Paper Money
Standard Catalog of United States Paper Money

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Although it is a moot point, Postage Currency probably constitutes an illegal issue of fractional notes. Rather than being strictly “postage and other stamps of the United States,” and despite being “receivable for postage stamps at any U.S. post office,” Postage Currency took the form of reproductions of postage stamps printed on paper which carried the promise of the United States to exchange the currency for United States Notes, which gave Postage Currency the attributes of a promissory note, a development beyond the intent of the enabling Act of July 17, 1862.

The stamps reproduce on Postage Currency are the brown (sometimes buff) 5-cent stamp of the Series of 1861, bearing the portrait of Thomas Jefferson, and the green ten-cent stamp of the same series, with George Washington’s portrait. The 25- and 50-cent denominations bear multiple reproductions of the appropriate stamp. Various colors of paper were used in printing the four notes of the First Issue, but the color does not influence the collector value of the individual note. Faces of the notes are printed in a color approximating the color of the genuine postage stamp, backs are all printed in black.

An interesting feature of the First Issue is the existence of notes with both perforated and straight edges. Apparently, the idea of perforated Postage Currency was a carry-over from the postage stamp printing process and was discarded when the demand for Postage Currency exceeded the capacity of the perforating machines.

Inasmuch as the Bureau of Engraving and Printing had not yet been established, contracts for printing of the First Issue were awarded to private bank note printing companies. The National Bank Note Company printed the face, the American Bank Note Company, the back. The ABNC monogram appears on the backs of some notes. Total value of Postage Currency issued was more than $20 million.

This article is an excerpt from the Standard Catalog of United States Paper Money, 30th Edition, by George S. Chuaj, and William Brandimore. Click here for more information on this title.

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