Some Philatelic Memories of Dixie

Few pages in American albums are of more pathetic interest than those containing the adhesives of the “Confederate States.” They mutely tell of a nation born in a day, whose existence has now given place to a mere reminiscence. The inferior mechanical execution of both the provisional and regular series of these stamps is typical of the untried expedients of a people who were suddenly called on to create a full-fledged government. Yet, rarely are stamps more sought after by the average collector, or command better prices. It is not a little remarkable, however, to note the disproportion between the two series. Upwards of sixty varieties were issued independently by the several postmasters during the first year of the struggle, as against only about twenty-five by the Government for the whole five years. These “locals,” as they are termed, were in use but a few months, and had a relatively limited circulation; for the present writer neither saw nor heard of one, that we can now recall, throughout the entire war.

Though a lad at the time, we well remember the first appearance of the regular series. It was in the autumn of 1861, when each mail was eagerly awaited for fresh tidings from the seat of war. The earliest to arrive was the five cent bright green, with the head of the chief of the Confederacy, making a striking contrast to the pale red vignette of Washington, which had so long served all sections of our common fatherland. While waiting for this official series, our letters were mailed partly by the provisionals, but more usually by paying the cash directly at the mailing office. The majority of letters mailed in Dixie this first year of the war will be found to bear the simple written inscription “Paid,” as was the case before the introduction of our national adhesives in 1847. The engraving of this series was very coarse and inartistic, and without perforations, as was indeed the case with all subsequent issues. The next year the green was changed to blue, but as the series was so soon to be superseded, these latter have become the rarer stamps by far. Along with this came a ten-cent value for double postage, in varying shades of blue, which color was also shared with a pinkish red or carmine; but the ten-cent red of this date must have always been a rare stamp, as we can recall very few of them now.

In Mekeel’s Weekly Stamp News of October 11, Mr. H.E. Deats has a communication about the printing of this series, recounting the allegation that the Philadelphia firm of Butler & Carpenter were among the original bidders. But a recent letter from Hon. J.H. Reagan, ex-P.M. General of the Confederacy and now residing in Austin, Texas, informs me that a portion of this series was printed in Philadelphia by a Hebrew firm, though he does not remember the details, as that was the province of his third assistant, Mr. John Harrell, formerly of Montgomery, Ala. Thus, in spite of the indignation of the above firm, there were some other engravers not so insensible to Confederate ducats. Certain it is that the first Confederate money was printed by the National Bank Note Company; so that it is not impossible the first Confederate stamps were set forth near the same locality. The Judge states that the rest of this series was executed in England, where the work continued to be done until the new government was able to do its own printing. This was probably about the close of 1862, as near this date we find such names on the margins of the whole sheets as “Archer and Daly, Bank Note Engravers, Richmond, Va.,” like the similar imprints of Keatinge & Ball, Columbia, S.C., or Walker, Evans & Cogswell, Charleston, on the margins of the Confederate money.

Judge Reagan also informs me that about the close of the war a perforating machine was received from England, but so near the close that it was never used. This may be very ungracious news to those who persist in filling the yawning spaces in their albums devoted to the “five-cent, 1862, perforated,” and the “ten-cent, 1863, perforated,” but it is at least official, and should be final. It may not be without interest to further add that some of the postage stamp dies were carried from Richmond by the authorities when that city was evacuated, but that they were either abandoned by the way, or else fell into the hands of the Federals.

The cost of living enormously increased [in] those early years of the conflict, and the cost of postage followed suit. This five-cent issue was short-lived. It gave place to another one of the same value but much smaller in design. The letter rate going up to ten cents, however, soon made it needful to have one stamp of this value. And so, about the middle of the war, appeared the familiar ten-cent blue, which, like the preceding, bore the face of the Confederacy’s Chieftain, and which was unchanged to the close of the conflict. When first issued, the vignette was a trifle different from the subsequent prints, and the value “Ten” was changed to the numerical “10”; but the unpracticed eye would not likely discern the difference. This former variety, however, is a very rare stamp. Out of a mass of family correspondence covering the five years of the war, I believe but one such stamp was found. In this year also appeared the twenty-cent green. It served as a convenience for double postage, but was never popular. In the used condition it is not common, for the good reason it was rarely used. The two-cent green and the two-cent rose had already appeared, and they were useful for newspaper postage. But for the same reason as that of the rarity of the twenty-cent, so with these. The Confederacy knew not the use of pennies. Less than a five-cent stamp was not likely ever to be asked for, and it was this denomination which carried our second-class matter; not the two-cent or the one. Indeed, most of the post offices never carried any other issue but the five- or ten-cent denomination.

As a sequel to the whole, and as a series decidedly born out of due season, was the batch of the one-cent yellow of 1864. It was executed in England, and reached the Confederacy just at the close of the struggle. Certainly it was a paradox to have set forth such a denomination at such a time. During the last few months of the war we often saw a spool of cotton sell for $100, and at last these same bills were used to wrap up the spools with. A one-cent postage stamp would have been in cold company by that date. However, the series was never used. It may properly be termed the “Confederate Seebeck,” and possesses about as much philatelic value as those interesting emissions.

A complete monograph on these Confederate stamps is much to be desired. Yet we doubt if it will ever be written. We have been this season in active correspondence with Confederate officials, as with the authorities in charge of the Confederate archives in Washington, seeking some tangible data. The quest has not been very encouraging. No one seems to know the date, or the number, or the character of the several series as issued any more positively than is known the year when Homer published his Iliad. To all who have a fascination for esoteric studies, the Confederate adhesives are likely to afford a perennial theme.

 

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