This web page, published by the Military Postal History Society, contains the text content of the single frame U. S. Dollar-Value Stamps exhibit pages. This exhibit was created by, and is the property of the late Al Kugel, and is being supplied by his heirs as a courtesy to the Military Postal History Society.
This exhibit tells the story of the American stamps denominated from two to five dollars from the first -- which were issued for the Columbian Exposition in 1893 -- up to the Presidential series of 1938. Although this high dollar value theme could be continued right up to the present time, the erosion in its purchasing power (especially as regards the particularly rapid increases in inflation during and immediately after World War II and again during the 1965-1980 period) meant that the significance of a dollar declined sharply in recent times. For example, in 1893 five dollars paid the postage on 250 first class letters; today it will not quite pay for fourteen.
To view the exhibit page images, see: web page containing the image content of the exhibit frame.
For purposes of the exhibit, only those stamps generally available to the public, i.e. for regular and airmail postage, are included -- leaving aside postage due and revenue stamps. Prior to 1893, the highest denomination U.S. stamp was 90 cents, a value so high that they are rarely found on covers. Thus, the $2.00 to $5.00 Columbian commemoratives were our first stamps of those denominations.
Registered cover from New York to Halle, Germany franked with a $5.00 value from the Columbian series. This stamp was issued on 2 January 1893 (with the earliest recorded date being 6 January 1893). The total issuance was 27,350 copies.
In addition to issues for the United States itself, a few $2.00 and $5.00 stamps were overprinted for use in the Philippine Islands, our most important overseas possession at the time. However, these stamps were printed in very limited quantities and are difficult to find used on covers. Nevertheless, they have been included in the exhibit as they make up a significant and highly interesting part of the story of our high value postage stamps.
ISSUE OF 1893
New York, N.Y.
14 March 1894
The first $2.00 denominated U.S. stamp was issued on 2 January 1893 in connection with the exposition held in Chicago that year to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus. The scene depicted is described as "Columbus in Chains." As one of the high values of the 16-stamp set, only 45,550 examples were issued.
The cover above is philatelically franked with a $2.00 Columbian and a $0.50 stamp of the same set, overpaying the postage and registration to Berlin (now Kitchener), Ontario, Canada.
ISSUE OF 1893
$3.00 & $4.00 COLUMBIANS 5 May 1893
New York, N.Y.
4 July 1894
In connection with the commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus, $3.00 and $4.00 denominated U.S. stamps were issued . The scene depicted on the former is "Columbus Describing His Third Voyage," while the latter shows "Queen Isabella and Columbus." The earliest recorded uses of these stamps are 4 April 1893 and 14 July 1893, respectively. Quantities printed were only 27,650 and 26,350 copies.
The covers above are philatelically overfranked but show legitimately postally used $3.00 and $4.00 Columbians.
ISSUE OF 1898
14 October 1898
New York, N.Y.
The second commemorative $2.00 denominated stamp was issued on 17 June 1898 in connection with the great Trans-Mississippi exposition held in Omaha that year. The scene depicted is described as "Mississippi River Bridge, St. Louis” (known today as the Eads Bridge). It is the highest value of the nine-stamp set, with only 56,200 examples being issued. The earliest recorded use is 24 June 1898.
Covers franked with the $2.00 Trans-Mississippi are extremely rare. Therefore, the above portion of a cover front sent registered to Lisbon, Portugal is the best available alternative to show this outstanding stamp.
ISSUE OF 1917
9 February 1924
20 January 1919
The second regular series included a $2.00 denomination high value stamp with the bust of James Madison, the fourth president of the United States. Initially printed in 1903 on watermarked paper and perforated 12, it was reprinted and issued on 22 March 1917 on unwatermarked paper and perforated 10.
The $2.00 Second Bureau unwatermarked stamp is shown in a single (but philatelic) franking on a small envelope to England. Also shown is its use in combination with other stamps on a tag for a registered shipment from the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago to its counterpart in New York, with a total of $8.70 in postage.
ISSUE OF 1917
9 February 1924
23 May 1919
The second regular postage series culminated in a $5.00 denomination high value stamp with the bust of John Marshall, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from 1801 to 1835. Initially printed in 1903 on watermarked paper and perforated 12, it was reprinted and issued on 22 March 1917 on unwatermarked paper and perforated 10.
The $5.00 Second Bureau unwatermarked stamp is shown above in a single (although vastly overfranked) usage on a small cover to England. Also shown in a block of 9 with additional stamps, for a total postage paid of $71.55, on a portion of an envelope front which must have contained currency or negotiable securities. In addition, the war tax was still in effect and was paid by $2.70 in documentary revenue stamps.
ISSUE OF 1918
27 January 1919
The third regular series included a $2.00 denomination with the head of Benjamin Franklin in horizontal format issued in August 1918. These were bicolored with a black vignette and frame printed in orange red. The earliest recorded usage of this stamp was 19 August 1918.
The $2.00 Franklin stamp shown above (with other Washington-Franklins) used on a tag for a registered shipment from the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
ISSUE OF 1920
25 April 1927
1 March 1933
In November 1920 the $2.00 Franklin head was reprinted with the frame in carmine, which made it clearly distinguishable from the first printing in orange red. The earliest recorded use of this stamp is 6 December 1920.
Three of the second printing Franklin stamps (along with a 12 cent Fourth Bureau for a total of $6.12 in postage) are shown on an address label for a COD shipment from the Cushman Motor Works to the Boston Navy Yard. The lower tag shows a $2.00 Franklin stamp (along with a $5.00 denomination) on the front of a registered mail tag between banks in the Territory of Hawaii. On the reverse is an additional block of four of the $2.00 value, bringing the total postage paid to $15.00 on this shipment.
ISSUE OF 1918
San Franciso, Calif.
21 August 1923
The third regular series included a $5.00 denomination with the head of Benjamin Franklin in horizontal format issued in August 1918. It was bicolored with a black vignette and green frame.
The $5.00 Franklin stamp is shown above as a single franking on a small envelope, obviously a philatelically created usage, but nevertheless very elusive in this format.
ISSUE OF 1923
$2.00 U.S. CAPITOL
4 March 1933
5 December 1941
The fourth regular series included a $2.00 denomination high value stamp depicting the U.S. Capitol building in Washington. It was issued on 20 March 1923 and remained in use well after the introduction of the successor series in 1938.
The registration tag shown is franked with several values of Fourth Bureau stamps, including a $2.00 denomination, to carry a packet from the Denver Mint to Chicago. A $2.00 stamp is also shown used on an airmail registered cover to Canton, China in combination with two Prexy stamps. This letter was in the mail stream at the time of Pearl Harbor and eventually returned to sender. Backstamped San Francisco on 6 December 1941, Honolulu 9 July 1942 and Yakima 3 August 1942. Where it was during the long interim period would be interesting to know. —
ISSUE OF 1923
9 March 1929
The fourth regular postage series culminated in a $5.00 denomination high value stamp with the head of the Freedom statue on the dome of the U.S. capitol. It was issued on 20 March 1923 and saw extensive use on heavy and/or valuable mail.
A block of 26 of the $5.00 Fourth Bureau stamp is shown used on a large piece in combination with other stamps for a total of $134.13 in postage. The stamps are perforated with the initials "GT." This value is also shown on a small philatelic cover mailed from Hartford to New York City.
ISSUE OF 1930
$2.60 Graf Zeppelin
Varick St. Sta. (NYC)
26 April 1930
In connection with the first Europe - Pan America flight of the Graf Zeppelin, the United States issued a set of three stamps depicting the airship on 19 April 1930. The $0.65 denomination was for postcards sent from the U.S. to Europe; the $1.30 stamp was for letters with a similar routing; and the $2.60 was for letters sent on the complete round trip. Some 61,300 sets were issued.
The cover shown above was flown from Lakehurst, N.J. to Friedrichshafen and back. On the reverse, there is a Lakehurst receiving postmark from the return trip. It is inscribed "Graf Zeppelin/Europe-Pan American/Round Flight," dated 31 May 1930 and applied by machine in green ink.
ISSUE OF 1938
$2.00 HARDING & $5.00 COOLIDGE
St. Louis, Mo.
26 January 1946
The fifth regular postage issue was called the Presidential Series and had top values of $2.00 and $5.00 denominations with the busts of Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge. They were issued on 29 September and 17 November 1938, respectively.
The above tag for registered mail was franked with a single of the $2.00 Harding and a strip of 3 of the $5.00 Coolidge plus other stamps and a meter for $99.99 making the total postage $117.76. Sent from a commercial bank in St. Louis to an investment banking firm in Chicago, the shipment probably contained negotiable bonds.
Seven values of the U.S. 1895 issue overprinted "Philippines" were placed on sale on 30 June 1899, and an additional six stamps, including dollar values, were issued on 30 August 1901. All of the highest values are uncommon on cover -- mostly philatelic -- as only 1,800 copies of the $2 and 782 of the $5 were sold. The "O.B." markings were added to stamps purchased for use on official mail.
A second set was issued between 20 September 1903 and 1 November 1904 consisting of similar overprints on the U.S. 1902 issue. Again, quantities of the highest values were limited -- only 695 copies of the $2 and 746 of the $5 were sold. Under order of the Director of Posts dated 26 December 1905, officers that had purchased stamps for government business were authorized to overprint them "O.B.”