Article #10 for CHRONICLE No. 196
by Leonard H. Hartmann All rights reserved, copyright 2002, Leonard H. Hartmann
All collectors enjoy adding to their collection; to find a scarce and desired item is always exciting, to get it as an honest bargain even more so and to have it become a new discovery must be close to the ultimate philatelic satisfaction. Lot 919 in the May 15, 2002 Robert A. Siegel sale, contained a most interesting item which was an image of the general design of the CSA 5¢ New Orleans Postmaster Provisional in black but the design was not exactly like the issued stamp. It is well illustrated in the catalog and easily permitted a close examination. The illustration showed wide margins, which were not possible for the issued stamp. It appeared old and that it was affixed to another piece of paper. It was described as having a notation "Confederate postage stamp" on the back and offered as an engraved counterfeit.
Based on the illustration in the auction catalog (Figure 1) I felt the item was something special. The design did not resemble any counterfeit known to myself. As an engraved fake, it is again quite unusual and desirable, the only known engraved CSA fake is by Erasmo Oneglia and dates from the turn of the last century. Jean de Sperati faked the 10c Rose and the TEN however these are made by a photo lithographic process. I have seriously collected fakes and especially CSA fakes for over 40 years and such a rare item would be most desirable.
Upon close examination of the details of the design, I became convinced it is surface printed and is an authentic proof. Though of no importance there is a question as to it being considered a proof or an essay. The design is not exactly like the issued stamp however, the design is the final design from the original die. The difference being an addition of a figure 8 was individually added to each subject on the plate.
Based on examining the actual item I am now definitely convinced that it is an authentic die proof. It is on extremely thin paper, quite common for a die proof and the exceptional quality of the print does not even remotely resemble any known stamp. When offered at auction the proof was attached at one small spot to an old piece of paper having the manuscript notation "Confederate Postage Stamp" in a purple ink (Figure 2). The proof has since been properly removed form the original attaching paper and deacidified for proper preservation. Proper preservation is expensive but one owes a debt to philately to see that scarce material is properly preserved.
On close examination there is no question of the appearance of age. Every line of the design is an exact match as verified by high resolution overlays; see Figure 3 for a detailed picture of the proof. The subject proof does not resemble any counterfeit in either my collection of in the CSA reference collection, ie the Rev. Paul B. Freeland Collection. The old CSA fakes that date from as early as 1862 have an excellent general appearance but on close examination and comparison with authentic stamps (Figure 4) they have major differences in the details of the design. The details of the proof are extremely sharp however the issued stamp was composed of either electrotyped or typographed images of poor quality. For a faker to have made our Proof he would have had to study many examples of the authentic 5¢ to discern what the original die looked like. I think this is most unlikely and to my knowledge has never been done in the past.
The proof is surface printed, the artist started with a smooth surface and cut away the wood, copper, steel, etc. that was not to be printed. I deliberately avoided the use of the word engraver as though the process is engraving the subsequent stamps were not printed from what we commonly call engraved plates. Our normal interpretation of engraved is to print from the cut away surface and not the high surface. A given plate could be printed either way, being a positive or negative print. However an engraved plate prepared for surface printing versus a recessed printing would not be expected to print well if printed by the wrong process, also the converse.
When compared to the coarse lines of the issued stamp, the fine lines of our proof strongly suggest to me a metal die. However, the skill of the 19th century wood engravers was such that I prefer not to speculative on this academic point. The New Orleans provisionals have long been assumed to have been printed from stereotype (cast) plates versus electrotypes, which was used for the CSA De La Rue stamps. The fine lines of this proof versus the coarse lines of the issued stamp strongly suggest they were printed from typographed plates and not electrotyped ones. The electrotype process is capable of a much more exact replication of the original die than the stereotype process.
The proof is slightly smaller than the issued stamp, about 0.2 mm in width and about 0.3 mm in height, this is circa 1% and is not to be unexpected with respect to the making of the plate and also the actual printing of the stamps and proofs. The rectangular outer frame on the proof measures about 0.1 mm versus about 0.25 mm on the issued stamp, again explaining the poor image quality of the stamps. The proof is on a quite thin paper and would tend to shrink, the issued stamps are from typographed plates and tend to expand in manufacture.
The significance of the figure 8 near the center of the design has long been a mystery. August Dietz reported that each 8 was distinct and thus did not originate on the original die ("The Southern Philatelist", Vol 1, No. 5, March, 1925). Dietz speculated in jest that it may have been to represent 8 x 5 = 40 for the sheet size. Scott Trepel has jested that perhaps it represented 5¢ CSA rate plus the 3¢ US rate being 8¢ total. I have long thought it was a remnant of a fastening device, perhaps the head of a pin, used to hold the clichés in place, but I think it is really too small for this. The only thing we know on the figure 8 is that it was added to each subject on the plate and thus was intentional and the figure 8 was not on the original die.
I suspect our proof was probably looted from the Post Office on the fall of New Orleans. The the looting of the Post Office is related in the below editorial from the "Evening True Delta" published in New Orleans, Louisiana, issue of May 8, 1862
Vandalism. It was only yesterday evening that we were informed of the disgraceful acts of the mob that, for a time, had their saturnalia in and around the new Custom-house building, on the evening of the day that the Federal forces took possession of that building. The facts laid before us - and we are satisfied they are unquestionable - are these: The Federal forces took possession of the Custom-house, Postoffice, etc. At sundown of that day the Federal force was ordered to return to the fleet at anchor opposite the city. When they left, the rowdies broke open the doors of the Postoffice, and for a time, had a perfect saturnalia in that establishment. They took possession of everything but the vault, which they could not enter; they took all the letters they could lay their hands on, and, we presume, rifled them of their contents; they carried off a valuable gold watch, the private property of the postmaster, and a large amount of specie, and, in fact robbed and plundered the establishment.....
A block of 40 of the CSA 5¢ Blue Lithograph, Stone 3 exists having the below inscription on the reverse in ink. The paragraph is written in a rough hand, probably at the time of capture. However the name or signature line is in a fine hand, probably by the recipient to document the origin of the souvenir. The string of periods signifies words that run past the margins and are not clear:
.... to mention that in the building where we are .... the post-office out boys took formal possession of the mail and proceeded to distribute all. these are some of the proceeds. there was bushels and bushels of letter that had not been delivered, some of them were .... read them were some pictures and a little money these .... can disperse asat as you see fit, give some to Charly ....
Taken by W. E. Dexter from the post office at New Orleans April 1862.
As far as I know this 5¢ proof is the only authentic die proof of a Provisional of the Confederate States of America, there are several essays but not actual proofs for the Postmaster Provisionals. As a die proof of the 5¢ has survived we can assume that one of the 2¢ once existed and may still exist.
The Lambert W. Gerber auctions of January 21st and of April 19 - 20th, 1944 have two lots of interest. Lot No. 50 in the first sale was described as "1862 2¢ New Orleans in black; die "proof" in black (62x2x)" with no estimate. The April sale has a lot with the same description, lot 27. The two illustrations differ a bit in the amount of paper shown, they could be the same item or two different examples, the illustrations could have been cropped. Both lots are illustrated in the catalogs and though the illustrations are not of high quality it is evident that they represent the same design which is a well known old forgery, the flower like ornaments in the upper and lower left side of the design have evident spikes versus a more refined design on the authentic stamp. This forgery is illustrated on page 147 of Leonard V. Huber and Clarence A. Wagner's book "The Great Mail" (State College, PA: American Philatelic Society, 1949).
A special to Jerry S. Palazolo, Richard Frajola, Scott Trepel, Jim Lee, Jack E. Molesworth, Dick Celler and Michael C. O'Reilly for their assistance in this article.
Leonard H. Hartmann, PO Box 36006, Louisville, Ky 40233, Leonard@pbbooks.net