In the Year of Our Lord 1847
The U.S. Stamps of 1847
What a year! Right?
That depends on who you are (or were, if you lived back then). If you’re a collector of United States stamps, that’s the year it all began. The 5c Benjamin Franklin (pictured at the left) and the 10c George Washington (pictured below) were both issued that year.
Originally 4.4 million of the brownish Franklin stamps and 1.05 million of the black Washington stamps were printed. When the stamps were demonetized in 1851, 688,000 Franklins and 159,000 Washingtons were destroyed.
Both of these imperforate stamps were printed by the Rawdon, Wright, Hatch, and Edson (RWH&E, as shown on the stamps) printing company.
The designs, which measure 18.5 mm across by 23 mm vertically, were printed in sheets of 200 with 100 stamps in each of two 10×10 panes.
At the time, it only cost 2c for the drop letter rate, so if you would have used a stamp for such a delivery, you would have overpaid by at least 3c, assuming the weight of your letter was 1/2 oz. or less. This may seem strange to us today, but in 1847 for longer distances up to 300 miles (within the U.S.) the cost of mailing that 1/2 oz. letter was 5c. As soon as you went over 300 miles, the cost doubled to 10c.
That said, you couldn’t send a letter from New York to California because California did not yet exist as a part of the United States.
Most likely you’ve heard of the San Francisco-based football (NFL) team known as the 49ers. The people involved in the gold rush for which the team is named hadn’t even made their mad dash west yet. That wouldn’t happen for about 2 years.
The Events of 1847 in the U.S.
What was going on in the U.S. in 1847 besides the printing of these first stamps?
The U.S. was fighting the Mexicans, led by General Santa Anna, in the Mexican-American War (1846-1848). Notable Americans, whose names you might recognize, involved in the war were Winfield Scott, Zachary Taylor, Robert E. Lee, Stephen Kearny, Franklin Pierce, Matthew Perry, Ulysses Grant, Millard Fillmore, and Kit Carson. James Polk was President during this period.
Samuel Colt sold his first revolver to the U.S. government around this time.
John Fremont (sometimes with Kit Carson) was exploring the West and sometimes getting into trouble.
Yerba Buena was renamed San Francisco.
The Donner Party needed rescuing.
The American Medical Association (AMA) was founded.
Brigham Young, inspired by reports from John Fremont, led his Mormon followers to establish Salt Lake City.
Events around the World in 1847
Elsewhere in the world, Liberia (Africa) declared independence, though I’m not sure whom they declared it from, if anyone.
Werner von Siemens founded the engineering company bearing his name. Initially he worked with mechanisms related to the telegraph.
The Ottoman Empire (think, Turkey, the Middle East, northern Africa, and much of southeastern Europe), which had been around for about 550 years, gave the island of Abadan to the Persian Empire (think, Iran to the east), which had really only been organized for 100 years or so. For reference, the Ottoman Empire at its height was about 2/3 the size of the continental United States.
Life and Death in 1847
In 1847, these folks were just being born.
- Thomas Edison
- Alexander Graham Bell
- Joseph Pulitzer
- Ida McKinley (First Lady)
- Paul Langerhans (Check your pancreas.)
- Jesse James (Check your wallet.)
- Bram Stoker (Dracula)
And these people died in 1847.
- Fanny Mendelssohn (Felix’s sister)
- Charles Hatchett (Check your Periodic Table of the Elements.)
- Felix Mendelsson (Fanny’s brother)
So, while the issuance of the first U.S. postage stamps might not have been the most significant event of 1847, I’d at least put it in the top 10.