Civil War Blog

A project of PA Historian

Postage Stamps Honoring Abraham Lincoln – Bureau of Engraving and Printing to 1909

Posted By on January 30, 2013

Although the Bureau of Engraving and Printing had its origins during the Civil War – it was originally created to issue paper money in order to support the war effort – it was not involved in postage stamp production until July 1894.  Prior to the “Bureau Issues” of postage stamps, the U.S government had contracted with private printers to meet the needs of post office customers.  In a 13 January 2013 post here on this blog, those early Abraham Lincoln stamp issues were presented.  See:  Early Postage Stamps Honoring Abraham Lincoln.

Issue of 1890

The last postage stamp series produced by a private printer was the Series of 1890, contracted to the American Bank Note Company.  That series contained eleven stamp values ranging from one cent through ninety cents.  The 4 cent stamp (shown above) had a portrait of Abraham Lincoln which was modeled on a photograph taken by Mathew Brady.  Two other stamps in the series recognized Civil War generals:  the 5 cents stamp had a portrait of Ulysses S. Grant, and the 8 cent stamp had a portrait of William T. Sherman.

Issue of 1894

When the Bureau of Engraving and Printing took over production of U.S. postage stamps, it was decided to retain the designs of the popular 1890 series, but slightly modify them so as to distinguish them from the privately printed issues.  Decorative triangles were added to the upper corners of the stamp.  Also, a need was evident for higher stamp values.  A $2 and a $5 value were added to the series, and the stamp design previously used for the 90 cent value was changed to a $1 value.  The new series therefore consisted of thirteen values.  Abraham Lincoln remained on the four cent value and the stamp continued to be issued in a dark brown color – at least until 1898 when the color was changed to a rose brown, lilac brown, or orange brown.

Issue of 1898 – Color Change

The registered cover shown below is for a usage of the 4 cent Abraham Lincoln stamp of the First Bureau Issue.


The Second Bureau Issue, and the first completely designed by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, depicted 14 different individuals, most of whom were former presidents.  It was gradually issued over the years 1902-1903 and remained in use for most of the first decade of the twentieth century.

Issue of 1903

The five cent issue of this series depicted Abraham Lincoln and was probably first issued on 10 February 1903.  The stamp shows a portrait of Lincoln similar to that shown on the 1890 issue and was also based on the Mathew Brady photograph.  Noticeable differences, other than the blue color and denomination, are the revised hairline, the name “Lincoln” which appears under the portrait, the words “Series 1902,” and the birth and death years, 1809-1865.


The cover (above) shows a single usage of the stamp, probably for an overweight first class letter.

An interesting fact about this stamp is that it saw service in the Panama Canal Zone and the Philippines, territories administered by the Unites States.  Stamps used there were overprinted “CANAL ZONE PANAMA” and “PHILIPPINES”.  The Lincoln stamp is found with both overprints.

A new series of stamps was issued beginning in 1908, commonly called the Washington-Franklin Series, but also known as the Third Bureau Issue.  From about 1908 to 1922, Lincoln’s portrait did not appear on a regular issue postage stamp.

However, in 1909, on the occasion of the centennial of Abraham Lincoln‘s birth, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing issued a special commemorative stamp.

The continuous issue since 1866 of at least one stamp in a regular series with a portrait of Lincoln ended in 1908, but the 1909 commemorative helped to satisfy those who felt that Lincoln should always appear on a U.S. stamp.  This 1909 commemorative was based on a statue of Lincoln that is located in Chicago’s Grant Park.  For some unknown reason, it was decided not to place Lincoln’s name on the stamp that commemorated the centennial of his birth, but included instead were his birth and death years.  This reverted back to the policy of earlier stamp issues, prior to 1902, which did not name the person on the stamp, the assumption being that they would be instantly recognizable.


Two other facts about this stamp are worth noting.  Two-cents was the rate for a single-ounce weight, first class letter – thus making this the first Lincoln stamp to see usage on regular mail in the United States (cover shown above is for that regular usage).  And, this was the first U.S. commemorative stamp that was issued in only one denomination and for a single individual.  Prior commemorative issues – for the Columbian Exposition in 1892 (fifteen denominations), the Trans-Mississippi Exposition in 1898 (nine denominations), the Pan-American Exposition in 1901 (six denomination), the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in 1904 (five denominations), and the Jamestown Exposition (three denomination) – were issued to meet a variety of postal services.

Information for this post was taken from a stamp exhibit that was constructed in 2000 and donated to a historical society and sold to raise money for its programs.  Some of the stamp pictures above are embedded from the Wikipedia article on U.S Presidents on U.S. Postage Stamps.  The next article in this series on Abraham Lincoln on stamps will appear in a few weeks and feature regular stamps issues in use from the 1920s through the early 1950s.


2 Responses to “Postage Stamps Honoring Abraham Lincoln – Bureau of Engraving and Printing to 1909”

  1. Deanna Stowe says:

    I have lots of these stamps, was given to me when I was child. Email dstowe2003@gmail.com if interested. Thanks.

  2. Genesis Sequeira says:

    I Have an original brown 4 cent stamp of Abraham Lincoln . Can anyone help me out with what it might be worth?

Leave a Reply

Please note: Comment moderation is currently enabled so there will be a delay between when you post your comment and when it shows up. Patience is a virtue; there is no need to re-submit your comment.