1893 Columbian Issue
$5.00 Columbian (Scott No. 245)
in Siegel Sale 804 (lot 448)

The World’s Columbian Exposition held in Chicago in 1893 provided the Post Office Department with its first opportunity to capitalize on the growing hobby of stamp collecting with a new issue. In late 1892 and early 1893 the Postmaster General in the Harrison administration was John Wanamaker, who was no stranger to commercial promotion. In words that sound like a true marketing executive, his Third Asst. Postmaster General reported:

“The collecting of stamps is deserving of encouragement, for it tends to the cultivation of artistic tastes and the study of history and geography… The new stamps [Columbian Issue] will be purchased in large quantities simply for the use of collections, without ever being presented in payment of postage; and the stamps sold in this way will, of course, prove a clear gain to the Department.”

— Brookman Vol. III, pp. 50 — 51

The sixteen Columbian stamps were issued in denominations ranging from 1¢ to $5.00, for a total face value of $16.34, a sizable sum in 1893. Fifteen of the stamps were ready for sale on January 2, 1893. The 8¢ was issued in March to meet the reduced registry fee. Although the lower values sold well and the high values were bought by speculators, high-value sales to the general public were a disappointment to the post office.

Aesthetically, the stamps commemorating the 400th anniversary (1492–1892) of Christopher Columbus’s voyage to America were a significant departure from previous issues. Information on the issue, including the design sources, issued quantities and American Bank Note Co. engravers, is provided in the table below.

The Columbian Issue was the last produced by a private security printer before stamp production was turned over to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in 1894. Today, it is regarded as the last issue of the classic period of American philately.

  Source of Design Vignette Engraver Frame Engraver Quantity
Columbus in Sight of Land, painting by W.H. Powell A. Jones D. S. Ronaldson 449,195,550
Landing of Columbus, painting by Vanderlyn in Rotunda of Capitol Building in Washington D.C. 1,464,588,750
Uncomfirmed, possibly from a Spanish engraving R. Savage G. H. Seymour 11,501,250
Original ABN artwork C. Skinner 19,181,550
Columbus at the Court of Ferdinand and Isabella, painting by Vaczlav Van Brozik, deaccessioned from Metropolitan Museum, at Hotel Manoir Richelieu in Murray Bay, Canada D. S. Ronaldson 35,248,250
Columbus’ Triumphal Entry into Barcelona by Randolph Rogers, on bronze doors in Rotunda at the Capitol R. Savage G. H. Seymour 4,707,550
Columbus Restored to Favor, painting by Francisco C. Skinner D. S. Ronaldson 10,656,550
10¢ Return of Columbus and Reception at Court, painting by Luigi Gregori, at University of Notre Dame R. Savage 16,516,950
15¢ Painting by R. Baloca, possibly lost during Spanish Civil War C. Skinner 1,576,950
30¢ Columbus at La Rabida, after a painting by R. Maso A. Jones G. H. Seymour 617,250
50¢ Recall of Columbus, painting by A.G. Heaton in the Capitol in Washington D.C. C. Skinner D. S. Ronaldson 243,750
$1 Isabella Pledging Her Jewels, painting by Munoz Degrain R. Savage G. H. Seymour 55,050
$2 Columbus in Chains, 1841 painting by Leutze, in private coll. C. Skinner D. S. Ronaldson 45,550
$3 Columbus Describing His Third Voyage, by Francisco Jover R. Savage 27,650
$4 Portrait of Isabella from unknown source, possibly a painting in Madrid. Portrait of Columbus from a painting by Lotto A. Jones G. H. Seymour 26,350
$5 Portrait taken from medal, possibly Spanish. Also used for commemorative half-dollar issued for the Exposition D. S. Ronaldson 27,350


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