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Early Postage Stamps Honoring Abraham Lincoln

Posted By on January 13, 2013

The first United States stamp honoring Abraham Lincoln was issued in 1866 approximately one year following his tragic death, with the earliest known use documented as 14 April 1866.  The color black was undoubtedly chosen to recognize mourning, but had been used before for stamps recognizing George Washington and Andrew Jackson.

A common practice at the time was to apply a small grill to the center of the stamp.  When canceled, the grill would absorb the ink, making it virtually impossible to remove the cancellation and re-use the stamp.  The Lincoln stamp was issued both with and without grill.

Stamps of this period were perforated during production so that postal clerks and users could easily separate them.

The Abraham Lincoln stamps of this design were all produced by the National Bank Note Company.


The rate of 15 cents was required for a small letter to France, Belgium or Germany.  The above example is of a usage to Antwerp, Belgium from Richmond, Maine.



Because of the elaborate designs and some subjects other than people, the regular issues of 1869-1880 are considered by a few to be the first commemorative issues of the United States.  However, they were not commemorative stamps because they provided regular service in a full range of denominations for a long period of time.  The highest value in this series was the 90 cent stamp which portrayed Abraham Lincoln.  This stamp is highly prized today by those who have a copy.

The National Bank Note Company was the printer and the stamps were produced with and without grill and perforated.  After several trial color proofs were made the final colors were chosen – black for the vignette and carmine red for the frame.

In 1989, for the World Stamp Exhibition in conjunction with the meeting of the Universal Postal Union in Washington, D.C., a souvenir sheet was issued which showed the four trial color proofs including the one that was finally chosen.  The stamp depicted above without perforations is the 1989 reproduction stamp from that souvenir sheet.  It was larger in size that the original stamp.


Beginning in 1870, a newly designed series of regular issues was produced.  Three printers combined to produce the stamps which were in widespread use until around 1890.  These three printers were the National Bank Note Company, the American Bank Note Company, and the Continental Bank Note Company.  Abraham Lincoln appears on the 6 cent stamp in the series.

Minor differences in design, paper, color and grill are evident among the nine varieties for Abraham Lincoln.  However, to the layman, the differences are not easily recognizable.

The first Lincoln issue appeared in April 1870, five years after his tragic assassination.  The stamp was printed in the color carmine.

The second Lincoln issue, printed by the National Bank Note Company, also appeared in the color carmine.  This stamp stamp was used to pay postage on a letter to China or Japan.

In 1879, the Continental Bank Note Company produced the Lincoln stamp on soft, porous paper in the color pink.

The last Lincoln issue of this series occurred in June 1882 and was printed in the color rose by the American Bank Note Company.

The rarest of all the Lincoln issues of this series was issued in a special printing by the American Bank Note Company.  Only 185 stamps were produced on a soft porous paper.


This is the first installment of a series on Abraham Lincoln on stamps.  The next part will appear in several weeks.

Pictures of the unused stamps shown above are from Wikipedia with the exception of the reproduction of the 1869-1880 stamp, which is from a personal collection, as is the cover to Belgium, which has since been donated to a museum.


2 Responses to “Early Postage Stamps Honoring Abraham Lincoln”

  1. This is interesting. I shared it with my husband who was a stamp collector until most of his collection was stolen.

  2. Marianna Case says:

    I have an old President Lincoln 3 cent stamp that is his head and a rose color. Can U tell me the value? Can’t find it on examples of Lincoln stamps out there and I know it is authentic.

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