The 3 Cent Stamp of 1851

This is information & personal opinion from my observations of the 3 cent 1851-57 imperforate stamp over 35 years of collecting & selling.  Some of my opinions will not necessarily be accepted by others. Keep that in mind!  Remember, these are only opinions.

Any opinions or notes about the 3 cent 1857-61 perforated will appear in a different part of this website.

Photos & scans here are my own unless otherwise noted.



SCOTT #10, 10A, 11, & 11A

X-1  21R1E no inner lines

Fig. 1 –Type I showing no inner lines at right or left (position 21R1E)

X-2 10L5L w inner lines

Fig. 2 –Type II Showing inner lines at right and left (position 10L5L)

Very few stamps, if any, have received as much study as the 3¢ issue of 1851.  The first person to systematically study this stamp was Dr. Carroll Chase.  The stamp became an important part of his life’s work and legacy.  His book about the stamp, The 3¢ Stamp of the United States 1851-1857 Issue issued in 1929, revised in 1942, then reprinted with a new forward in 1975 is still the standard in use today.  Anyone wanting to study this stamp in depth must look to that book as this article offers only an overview of the issue.  Much useful research has been done since then, but it has all been accomplished on the foundation laid by Dr. Chase.

The 3¢ design was used with some modifications through 1861.  The time frame covers a very interesting period of the development of postal communications inside the United States.  During that time the technology of manufacturing of postage stamps was still evolving. This evolution led to numerous varieties of color, paper, minor differences in design and details of plate arrangement.

During its time the imperforate stamp was affected by 3 major changes in the postal laws.  The first law brought the stamp and the rate justifying the stamp into existence.  The next two laws changed how the stamp was used in general. A basic design change was necessitated once perforating technology was officially adopted for use on postage stamps. Finally, the civil war brought an end to the design and it was retired completely.

Introduced on July 1, 1851 along with the 1¢ and 12¢ denominations, the 3¢ design exists on at least 43 covers with the July 1 date stamp.  A detailed census of 1¢ & 3¢ design first day of use covers appears in The 1851 Issue of United States Stamps: a Sesquicentennial Retrospective book.  Many of the covers listed are accompanied by photographs.  These are the earliest U.S. first day covers and command many thousands of dollars each when sold at auction. The term “First Day Cover” is more of a modern term.  It began to be popular in the 1920s when used as a hand stamp before cachets began to decorate the covers.

X-3 10 1st day of use

Fig. 3 – #10 Position 81R1E, first day of use (first day cover) on a folded letter.  This is a scan from the ’2013 Rarities of the World Auction #1048′, Robert A. Siegel Galleries, Inc.  The stamp has large to clear margins, a lightly struck blue “PHILADELPHIA, Pa. Jul 1″ circular date stamp with a heavier struck matching blue grid cancel on the stamp.  The date is confirmed by the contents of the letter and a black manuscript date on the front.

Second day covers exist.  They have no particular notoriety but auction houses will stress the second day thing as an effort to inflate realizations.

In the late 1970s I examined a first week of use cover with a mint 3¢ stamp tipped onto the letter inside as a souvenir example to the addressee.  The letter discussed the stamp and would be a great addition to a 3 cent collection.  Hopefully, this letter & stamp still exists somewhere.

Any first month of use cover is scarce.  At the time postage stamps had only been around a few years and stampless covers were still the norm.  An extremely fine first month of use cover with a large margin #10A & green cancel is shown below.

The postage act of March 3, 1851 redefined rates of postage beginning July 1, 1851.  The 3¢ stamp was created to pay the single letter rate for any distance within the country between two points not exceeding 3,000 miles.  The single letter rate was defined as not exceeding ½ of 1 ounce.  The 1847 issue of 5 & 10 cent stamps was demonetized, but people were allowed to exchange old postage for new until September 29, 1851.

Until the law was amended in 1855 the postage for letters travelling over 3,000 miles was 6 cents.  That rate is a major reason why so many pairs of this stamp survive to this day.

During the time the imperforate stamp was sold by the post office it saw increasingly broad use.  In the 1850′s the methods of cancellation and markings weren’t wholly standardized by postal authorities.  This left broad discretion to the local postmasters.  Large variations in cancelling devices and rate marking methods exist from this period making the study of this issue all the more interesting.

In his book Dr. Chase estimated the total number of imperforate stamps printed at over 362 million.  Because the stamp was issued in such huge quantities many are still inexpensive to this day. Accumulations of stamps and covers can still be found at auction houses and at stamp shows. This has greatly increased the popularity of this stamp over the years. Collectors and philatelic students still find interesting things in this field and new contributions to the knowledge base are still being made.

Study of the issue can be compared to an onion.  With each layer you peel back something new and interesting is there whether you are a collector or student.

Some of the greatest collections of the 3¢ 1851-7 stamp have been broken up at auction over the last 20 years.  Most notable was the Piller collection sold in 1993.  From essays to proofs to stamps to postal history it probably had the broadest depth of any 3¢ collection ever seen at auction.  The Ammonette collection with a large number of plating studies and color shades was sold in 1996.  The Renard Collection featuring select cancels and postal history was sold in 2006. Another collection that sold in 2006 was the plating reconstructions and horde of plated copies of Dr. Watt.  The Wilson Hulme collection noted for its great number of color varieties was sold in 2008.  The Wagshal Collection of select singles, multiples, and postal history sold in 2010.  All of these name sales brought bidders out to run up prices and set auction records.

Dr. Chase’s research systematically showed how each of the 3¢ designs came to be and was used.  But from the government’s point of view it is all one stamp.  Postage Stamps of the United States issued for many years by the U.S. Post Office Department implies as much.  The Series of 1851 shows only a single 3¢ design until the Series of 1861 was issued.

The government’s point of view, however, is not a collector’s point of view.  Early collectors and dealers noted differences in color and design.  In the late 1940’s a prominent group of philatelists formed The 3¢ ’51-’57 Unit No. 11 of the American Philatelic Society.  Their publication, the 3¢ ’51-’57 Chronicle first appeared on July 25, 1948.  The unit studied all facets of 3¢ design and postal history.  By October, 1957 the unit had changed its name to The U.S. 1851-’60 Unit thus broadening its appeal and reach.  Over the intervening years the group, still Unit 11 of the APS, has become the U.S. Philatelic Classics Society, Inc.  The Chronicle is still the official publication and is published quarterly.

As the study of the stamp progressed, it was reflected by listings in the Scott Specialized Catalog of United States postal issues.  For many years the varieties seemed to be defined by color.  These were the Orange Brown #10’s and the Dull Red #11’s.  A look at a Scott Specialized Catalog from 1962 shows this exact breakdown describing both stamps as Type I.  Type I stamps had a frame line at the left and right of the design and at the top and bottom of the design.

Beginning with the 2008 Scott Specialized Catalog, the 2 imperforate catalog listings split to become 4.  It had been argued and accepted that the original design had no inner lines so it alone should be considered original and called Type I. Under the new cataloging system the stamps with no inner lines have become catalog numbers 10 & 11.

Inner lines were added to the plate by hand after the entering of the designs on the plate to enhance the look of the printed stamp. These have become Type II and are given the catalog number 10A & 11A.

Complicating understanding of the stamp is the other way it is listed in the  catalog.  It is one of the few stamps designated by Scott into different numbers by its plate position as well as its design.  [This is a throwback to the original Orange Brown and non Orange Brown shades.]  Thus, the designation for the catalog numbers is ultimately determined by the plate the stamp was printed from. Color plays an important, but secondary role to the catalog listing.

The catalog currently appears in this fashion:

10       3 cent Orange Brown type I, plates 1E & 1i (E for early, i for intermediate states of the plate).  No inner frame lines.

10A     3 cent Orange Brown type II, Plates 1E, 1i, 2E, 5E, 0.  Stamps with inner frame lines.  Note that some plates have stamps of both types.

11       3 cent dull red (1855) type I, Plates 4, 6, 7, 8.  No inner frame lines.

11A     3 cent dull red, (1853-54-55), type II, Plates 1L, 2L, 3, 5L (L for the late state of the plate).  Stamps with inner frame lines.

The plates are those determined by Dr. Chase.  The catalog lists common, less common, and rare color shades along with their general year of use.

This leads to the discussion of how to determine which plate the stamp was printed from.  Dr. Carroll Chase began collecting the stamp in quantity in the early part of the 20th Century.  As he did so he noticed minor differences in design.  Intrigued, he began accumulating the stamps, comparing multiples he had, and noted the differences.  Ultimately, he determined that the stamp was issued in sheets of 200 with panes of 100 arranged 10 x 10 on either side of a centerline and margin gutter.

Based on subsequent identification of many thousands of stamps, Dr. Chase deduced the existence of 9 different plates, both with a right and left pane.  He also found 4 additional states of condition of some of those plates.  A different state of the plate is where the engraver made alterations to a plate, then used it again to print more stamps.  These ‘states’ were generally done to deepen the various lines on the plate, and to extend the useful printing life of the plate.  Most of the plates were numbered, and he found one without a number which he named Plate 0 (zero).

Through laborious effort and research Dr. Chase learned how the stamp was made.  A somewhat complicated process it can only be explained in brief here.  A die of the design was first engraved.  The die is an etching of the stamp design into metal.  There was one die, the master design of the stamp to be.

An image of the die was impressed onto what is called a transfer roll.  On the transfer roll the image now appears backward and in relief.  High points on the roll are intended to become indentations on the plate where ink is expected to adhere.

The transfer roll was then impressed or rocked onto the plate used for printing the stamps.  An impression of the die was made onto the transfer roll which was then rocked onto the plate used to print the stamp.

Three impressions of the die were deduced to have been applied to the transfer roll.  Each impression has been named A, B, or C.  These impressions had minor differences in design, which appear printed on the stamps.  From top to bottom the entry of reliefs on the plate is most often found to be C, A, B, A, B, A, B, A, B, B.  At this early stage of printing technology position dots were placed on each plate to help with placement of the transfer roll.

This article will refer to stamps by their position found on the plates.  For instance, 21R1E, the first photo in this article is the 21st position (first in the 3rd row) of the right pane of Plate 1 from its earliest state.

X-4  Details of plate arrangement

Fig. 4 – Detail of a typical plate arrangement of the 1851 issue showing placement dots, centerline, imprint & plate number.  From the original Chase book.

 X-5  41R2L w centerline & dot

Fig. 5 – #11A with centerline & position dot, 41R2L.  Note the inner lines at right and left. Note also the centerline is lightly doubled.

 X-6  41L7 part imprint

Fig. 6 – #11 (no inner lines) with part imprint, position 41L7


Complicating the task for the engravers some of the transfers were poorly placed.  In some places the engraver apparently did not like the final impression.  The design was burnished out then impressed again from the transfer roll.  Traces of the original design often remained on the plate to show on printed stamps.  Sometimes it seems large traces of the design remained.

If a position has been impressed, burnished out, then impressed again with part of the earlier or original design still being retained it is called a double transfer.  If the process was repeated, yet again, it is called a triple transfer.  Collectively these are referred to as multiple transfers.  A double or triple transfer shows ink or color where it would not normally show if the transfer were made correctly.

X-7  24L5L Double Transfer

Fig. 7 – #11A position 24L5L showing a double transfer along the bottom frame line.

Reliefs weren’t always placed against the planned layout.  For instance, an ‘A’ relief, might appear where a ‘B’ relief is expected.  Other combinations exist.  These are called misplaced reliefs.

When trial printings were made they showed the individual impressions on the plates were not made deep enough to render a sharply printed stamp. To remedy this the engraver used a tool to enhance or deepen various parts of each and every design.  These enhancements are called recuts.

Many of the recuts are quite obvious in nature while other recuts are subtle.  Recuts are not wholly uniform, and there are some errors of recutting.  Therefore, the stamps have small, unique differences in design from one position to the next.  The differences of each position are uniform over the printing life of each plate except for any changes over time due to plate wear.

Noting the recuts and marks Dr. Chase concluded that there were 9 plates of 200 stamps with 4 additional reworked states of condition of the plates.  This gives a total of 2600 different positions of the stamp. Each position is identifiable if the stamp’s recuts and other position indicating marks have not been trimmed off or covered by cancel ink.  When the stamp is used it is also important that a cancel doesn’t obliterate important marks.  Most of the positions are recognizable by even casual students of the stamp while a few positions need the practiced eye of an expert.

Basic drawings of the design are shown here.  It is particularly useful to note where the recut lines appear and in what frequency.

The frequency of plate markings such as imprints, plate numbers, centerlines, and large margins also deserve a discussion.

It seems most of these positions were trimmed off of the stamp at time of use.  A very few have survived down to this day.  Plate numbers and imprints are the most popular.  At least one set of imprints and plate numbers have been assembled.  The Robert A. Siegel Auction Galleries, Inc. Sale #1017, Dec, 2011 saw lot 233, a complete set.  Estimated at $7500-$10,000 I never even had a chance to place a bid.  The lot blew through the estimate and was knocked down for $17,500 plus the auctioneer’s commission.  This was for 64 stamps plus a few spares cataloging about $1,000.

Straddle copies are stamps that show a full stamp on one side, the centerline, and part or all of the stamp on the other side.  These routinely fetch hundreds of dollars at auction.

Centerline copies if offered as all 20 positions from a particular plate will bring a hefty realization.  Here the lots seem to bring $1200-$1800.  Individually they carry little or no premium.  The common plates are easy enough to find, but the #11 (no inner line) plates are a lot tougher.

Top and bottom copies with large selvage bear also little premium.  Yet I have yet to see any complete reconstructions with large selvage stamps.

X-8  Layout Map

Fig. 8 – Layout of the stamp per Dr. Chase from the original Chase book

 X-9  Recut Map

Fig. 9 – Recut map of the stamp per Dr. Chase from his original book.


Back to Dr. Chase.  By the mid-to-late 1920’s Dr. Chase had largely reconstructed 9 plates in the 13 various states of condition.  A very few mistakes have been discovered since, and this information has been added to the body of knowledge.

At some point he made reconstructions of each pane and had them photographed life size for use by collectors and students.  Sets of these 26 large photos are sold by the Smithsonian Institution and often resold by stamp dealers and auction houses.  In the 1950’s The US Classics Society offered photo enlargements of about 2.5x of the inner line #11 (now 11A) stamps for sale.  These photos, while less comprehensive than the full set, are much harder to find even though more than 100 sets were printed.

The plates are listed here by their order of use with the best known earliest dates of use on cover shown.  Note that the dates do not necessarily follow the numerical order of the plates.

Plates were generally used as they were made, but they were not numbered until much later when they were reentered.  The early Orange Brown printings were done from unnumbered plates.  Plate 5, for instance, became what we call Plate 5 Late only after it was numbered and reentered.  This happened after Plate 4 had been made.  It is only coincidence then that some plates appear sooner than others.

It is believed Plate 6 & 7 were printed at the same time.  Currently the theory is sheets of Plate 7 stamps were stored on top of sheets of Plate 6 stamps.  This meant Plate 7 stamps were shipped to post offices a few days sooner than those of Plate 6.

Orange Browns — Plate 1, early state, July 1, 1851

Plate 1, intermediate state, July 12, 1851

Plate 5, early state, July 19, 1851

Plate 2, early state, July 23, 1851

Plate 0, Sep 6, 1851

Other colors –

Plate 1, late state, Oct 4, 1851

Plate 2, late state, Jan 12, 1852

Plate 3, Jan 15, 1852

Plate 4, Mar 28, 1855

Plate 5, late state, Sep 3, 1855

Plate 7, Feb 9, 1856

Plate 6, Feb 18, 1856

Plate 8, Apr 14, 1856

There may be some discrepancies as these dates are gathered from a number of sources recorded over long periods of time.  Typographical errors may be perpetuated until they become accepted as fact.  Plate 8, for instance, appears in the literature as both April 4 & April 14.  New discoveries have changed these dates in the past and could do so again.  The only date not subject to change is July 1, 1851, the first day of issue.

Dr. Chase further determined a time when stamps from some of the plates began to circulate as perforated, and he also noted differences in color.

He found that the Orange Brown stamps were scarce and estimated only about 5 ½ percent of all the imperforate issues were of this color.  He also noted these only came from plates 1 early, 1 intermediate, 2 early, 5 early, and 0.   He then noted these were primarily used the first 6 months of the issue and uses of the Orange Brown colors began to disappear in December, 1851 and were almost wholly gone by January, 1852. It should be noted again that none of the Orange Brown plates had a plate number until they were reworked and reentered for later states of the plates.

The two earliest states of Plate 1 had stamps with no inner lines and stamps with inner lines. Plate 1 had an interesting history.  In the early state the plate was entered, some inner lines were added then stamps were printed.  A little while later the plate was reworked by reentering and recutting the plate.  This was the intermediate state from which stamps were printed.

What we would now call #11A, stamps not of the Orange Brown printings, began to circulate in October, 1851. These stamps were printed from the original Plate 1, but in its late state.  In late summer 1851 the engraver reentered and recut plate 1 for the third or late state.  All of the stamps on the late state of Plate 1 have inner lines.

The inner line design from Plate 1 Late, Plate 2 Late, & Plate 3 reigned supreme until 1855.  In 1855 stamps from Plate 4 which has no inner lines began to appear.

The net result of this categorization is this:  #10s & 10As are from 4 plates in 5 states showing 1,000 different positions; #11s & 11A’s are from 8 plates with 1,600 positions.

Historically it is believed about 9-11 complete reconstructions of the #10 and 10A Orange Browns exist or have existed.  This is perhaps an example of how hard it is to accumulate good plateable copies of the Orange Browns.

Complete reconstructions of the #11/11A stamp, although scarce, are much easier to build because material is far more plentiful.  With a careful eye it becomes a matter of time, energy, and patience to assemble a reconstruction.

Currently there is an 11 & 11A reconstruction of all plates that is over 80% complete in both horizontal & vertical overlapping multiples of every possible position.  This has been assembled in the last 20 years and is an impressive achievement.  This set includes the largest known used block of a #11/11A design, a used block of 15 from Plate 7.

There is also at least one reconstruction of Plate 1 Late in early impressions.  The predominant colors of this reconstruction are Experimental Orange Brown and Brownish Carmine.  There are also rumors that a reconstruction in just the Experimental Orange Brown color exists.  It is my opinion that a reconstruction of Experimental Orange Brown could be assembled today given enough time and money.

There are many varieties of recutting, some of which are easily found, even today.  There are also some high catalog positions that show interesting recuts.  It should be noted that the high catalog recuts are no rarer than positions that don’t get as much attention.  Thus 92L1L, the line through THREE CENTS, is no rarer than any other position from Plate 1L.  The same would be true for 47R6 the recut medallion.  It is theoretically no rarer than any other position from Plate 6.

Some of the varieties of the Orange Brown 10/10A stamps are:

Left inner line only. (10A only)

Right inner line only. (10A only)

1 line recut in the upper left triangle.

2 lines recut in the upper left triangle. (10A only)

3 lines recut in the upper left triangle. (10A only)

5 lines recut in the upper left triangle (only on 47L0, 10A only)

1 line recut in the lower left triangle. (10A only)

1 line recut in the lower right triangle. (10A only)

2 lines recut in the lower right triangle (only on 57L0, 10A only)

1 line recut in the upper right triangle. (10A only)

Upper part of the top label and diamond block recut. (10A only)

Top label and right diamond block joined. (10A only)

Top label and left diamond block joined. (10A only)

Lower label and right diamond block joined. (10A only)

2 lines recut at the top of the upper right diamond block. (10A only)

1 line recut at the bottom of the lower left diamond block (only on 34R2E, 10A only)


Some of the varieties of the 11 and/or 11A stamps are:

Left inner line runs up too far.

Left inner line runs down too far.

1 line recut in the upper left triangle.

2 lines recut in the upper left triangle.

3 lines recut in the upper left triangle.

5 lines recut in the upper left triangle.

1 line recut in the lower left triangle.

1 line recut in the lower right triangle.

1 line recut in the upper right triangle.

Recut button on the toga (only found on 10R2 Late).

Lines on the bust and bottom of the medallion circle recut (only on 47R6).

Upper part of the top label and diamond block recut.

Top of upper right diamond block recut or gouged out on 198 positions of 1 Late.

Top label and right diamond block joined.

Top label and left diamond block joined.

Lower label and right diamond block joined.

Lower label and left diamond block joined.


Perhaps most famous of all are stamps from the “3 rows” of Plate 3 Left.  Dr. Chase believed these extra lines, or lack of lines are the result of too much or too little space between the stamps as laid out by the printer.  The engraver altered the design a bit to compensate for the space.  The recuts from Plate 3 are:

1 extra vertical line outside of the left frame line, positions 29, 39, 49, 59, 69, & 79.

2 extra vertical lines outside of the left frame line, positions 89 & 99.

1 extra vertical line outside of the right frame line, positions 58, 68, 78, 88, & 98.

No inner line and frame line close to the design at right, positions 9 & 19.

No inner line and frame line close to design at left, positions 70, 80, 90, & 100.


X-11  11A 99L3 w extra lines

Fig. 10 – 99L3 showing two extra vertical lines outside of the left frame line.

Virtually all of the varieties found are on the recut inner line stamps (Type II). There are also many other positions of note.  The ‘gash on the shoulder’ variety is distinct to Relief C.  It is usually found along the top row of the sheets, but sometimes appears elsewhere on the panes.

X-12  10L6 C Relief

Fig. 11 – 10L6, C Relief showing the gash on the shoulder.

Besides varieties of recutting there are varieties of printing and multiple transfers.  One such multiple transfer, position 66R2L is famous because the bottom label block reads “THREE GENTS” instead of “CENTS”.

Gents on cover

Fig. 12 – 66R2L “GENTS” multiple transfer on cover.

Gents close up on cover

Fig. 13 – 66R2L “GENTS” close up


Another is position 92L1L where the double transfer has left a line through the words three cents in the label block and the rosettes show doubling.

X-14 92L1L Line thru CENTS

Fig. 14 – Line through CENTS double transfer, 92L1L

Position 92L2L is a triple transfer.  It shows the design shifted both upward to the left, and almost directly to the right.

X-15  92L2L Triple Transfer

Fig. 15 – The triple transfer position 92L2L.  This example is in the 1852 orange brown color with a blue Philadelphia circular date stamp.  Note the extra circles in the rosettes and the small ink marks in the letters in the top & bottom labels.


Many of the Plate 4 stamps show a very lightly printed or indistinct left frame line as well as a lighter doubling of that frame line.   Position 99R4 has an additional line to the right of the design.

X-16  83R4 typical plate 4

Fig. 16 – 83R4 showing typical light and doubled left frame line.


Plate 5 Late is known for its rust marks and plate cracks, most of which are easy to identify.  The large plate crack shows as a long gradual arc of color beginning prominently in the margin below the ‘E’ of CENTS, at position 94L. It bisects the ‘E’, crossing the shoulder and passing the ‘E’ of POSTAGE.  It extends up into 84L, & disappears part way into 74L.

X-17  74 84 94 L5L Crack

Fig. 17 – Reconstruction of positions 74, 84, & 94 L5L with crack extending into pos. 74.


Plate 6 has the recut bust, position 47R6.  The right pane also has a faint line running from the top to the bottom of the sheet between the 8th and 9th vertical rows of stamps.

X-18  47R6 Recut Bust

Fig. 18 – Position 47R6 showing the recut lines in the shoulder.

Varieties of printing are also known.  Double impressions exist.  These are stamps that passed through the press twice.  After printing sheets were stacked on each other to dry.  Ink offset from this sometimes show on the back of the stamps very clearly.

The paper this stamp was printed on varies to a considerable extent.  Overall the vast majority of the stamps are found on a machine produced linen paper of excellent quality in a whitish or slightly off white color, which yielded a high quality printed stamp.  Early impressions of the plates show great detail of the design.

The paper varies somewhat in composition.  Many examples show whitish to this day.  A majority of the examples have mildewed over the years.  The paper was either manufactured with a slight mildew content, or was prone to mildew, or became mildewed from exposure over the intervening years.  Or the paper experienced combinations of these factors.  This mildewing yellows the paper, but seems to have little or no effect on the ink color.  This yellowing is sometimes referred to as ‘foxing’.

The paper was not watermarked, but “stitch” watermarks are found.  The belt carrying the paper through the manufacturing process had a stitch in it holding it together to make the belt into a continuous loop.  The paper pulp was pressed against this stitch as the paper went through its drying process. This caused the appearance of the stitch as a thinness of the paper.

X-19  11A Double Stitch wmk

Fig. 19 – A “stitch” watermark, in this case a rare double stitch example.


Some of the 1851 Orange Browns exist on a very thin part India paper.  These have a very high catalog value and should only be purchased with a valid certificate of authenticity.

Color plays an important role with this stamp.  There are instances of 10/10A not being Orange Brown, and there are instances of 11/11A being Orange Brown.  If that is the case, then why use the other catalog number?  Again, the designation rests on the original plate position, but the differences make things interesting for beginners and experts alike.

Most #10/10A stamps are well defined in their impression.  Earlier printings of these plates are proof-like or nearly proof-like in appearance.  This is generally attributed to the new condition of the steel plate used to print the stamp and the ink used in printing. Apparently the formulation of the original Orange Brown ink seems to have quickly caused noticeable wear on the early plates.  In some instances the plates lasted only a few weeks or a few months.  As the plates became worn the impressions became less distinct.  The plates were either refigured to form what we call intermediate & late states, or they were retired completely.

As the interaction of the metal used for plates and ink became better understood the plates were hardened to last longer and the ink formula was changed to cause less wear.  As the ink formula changed the colors changed.  In 1852 the color changed from Orange Brown to various Brownish Carmine, Claret and Yellowish Brown shades.

The net effect of ink and plate is an overlap of color and an overlap of what we view as different catalog numbers.  Some 10/10A stamps look like 11/11A stamps because of color and impression.  Some 11/11A stamps look like 10/10A stamps for the same reason.  Also, some of the Orange Browns vary in color coming closer to a Brown or a Yellowish Brown.

More interesting, the color does not always make a gradual transition from one color to another.  Sometimes a color may have been depleted by the printers to be replaced with a markedly different color on a successive press run.


X-20  10 28R1i used in 1852

Fig. 20 – An early 1852 use of a stamp with no inner lines.  The color is more Brownish Carmine than it is Orange Brown.  The less than sharp impression indicates a printing later in the life of the plate.  A stamp with no inner lines used at this time can only be a #10.  #11s without inner lines did not come into use until 1855.


The catalog compensates for 11A stamps in an orange brown color if they are from the Plate 1 Late state.  They are called “Experimental Orange Brown”.  The color appears quite similar to the Orange Browns because its ink formula was not all that different.  A further differentiation it is that the color appears only on early issues of Plate 1 Late.  Most uses of Experimental Orange Brown are seen from October 1851 to mid 1852.

There are also Plate 2 Late, Plate 3, Plate 4, and Plate 5 Late Orange Browns.  These are not cataloged, but with a valid certificate of authenticity or signed by a competent expert these are to be considered very scarce.  These Orange Brown colors closely match a medium shade of Orange Brown from the 10/10A stamps.

It takes some training to distinguish between the colors or shades.  Good color charts appear at auction or at stamp shows on occasion.  If these are assembled by a recognized expert they form a good base for comparing color.  Buying the stamps off cover and sorting them against known examples will help to refine one’s color sense.  Buying the stamps on cover and sorting them by date will show how the colors gradually changed.  Enough covers will also show how different shades or related shades were in use at the same time.


X-21  11A forwarded cover 2 plates 2 colors

Fig. 21 – A forwarded cover showing different shades from different plates in use at the same time.


The best way to view color of the 3¢ 1851-7 stamp is under a light that simulates the noon sun.  There are a few different brands on the market covering various price ranges. It is also important to compare stamps under ultraviolet light and light of different colors.  Sometimes when compared stamps may look the same under a sun light equivalent, but may vary if compared under other types of light.

A general range of shades by year is:

1851   Orange Brown including the Brownish, Reddish, Copperish, Yellowish, Bright, & Experimental Orange Brown.

1852   Brownish Carmine, Claret & Yellowish Brown. Brownish Carmines and Clarets are considered 1852, but exist on cover from December, 1851.

1853   Dull Red, Rose Red & Yellowish Dull Red.

1854   Rose Red.

1855   Orange Red.  A few of the 1854 & 1855 shades appear more yellowish, while a few others appear more orange.

Printing impressions from 1853-55 are not quite as sharp as from other years.

1856   Yellowish Rose Red, Brownish Carmine & Claret.

1857   Claret, Rose Brown, Plum & Yellow Brown.

Color shades generally vary over a range.  For instance Clarets could be pale to deep, or with other colors mixed in small amounts.  All shades are year or multi-year specific.  This means it is unusual or impossible to see a shade used outside of its general time frame.

Some of the shades are very light or washed out.  Some stamps take on an orange or yellow color that is so light that the finer printing lines are hard to discern.  At least one expert committee I am aware of will down grade an otherwise sound 11 or 11A to a lower grade if it seems to be a washed out color.

Certain shades are also plate specific.  The Yellowish Orange Brown is only found on some stamps from Plate 1 Early.  The Copperish shade is only found on a few stamps from Plate 2 Early.  Experimental Orange Brown is only found on early stamps from Plate 1 Late.

The Experimental Orange Brown shades of 1851 are scarce, but not overly so.  They rate a separate listing in the Scott Catalog.  The Yellowish Browns of 1852 were not mentioned by Dr. Chase, but exist nonetheless.  The Yellowish Browns are much scarcer than the Experimental Orange Browns.  Both of these shades often go unrecognized because observers do not know how to identify them.

1852 Orange Browns are also found on stamps from Plate 2 Late and Plate 3.  These are not recognized by the catalog and are both rarer and more difficult to find than the Experimental Orange Browns.  Most observers do not know how to identify the color.

The 1856 Orange Brown, most often from Plate 4 & Plate 5 Late, is more rare than the 1852 Orange Browns, but does not equal the plum for rarity. Again, most observers are not able to recognize this shade.

Pinkish and Plum are the rarest shades listed in the in the Scott Specialized Catalog.  They show the highest catalog values of any 11 or 11A stamp.  At auction these stamps excite great interest.  Plum is not as rare as Pinkish, but tends to bring more interest in auctions.

X-22  a few colors

Fig. 22 – Over 200 different shades of the 3¢ imperforate can be differentiated.  Here are a few.  Top line — Intense Orange Brown, Experimental Orange Brown, 1852 Brownish Carmine, Deep Yellow Brown, 1852 Claret;  Bottom line — Pale Rose Red, Deep Orange Red, Yellowish Orange Red, Rose Red to Claret Transition, 1857 Claret, 1857 Rose Brown.

Pinkish is an 1856 color.  The earliest known cover of this shade is dated Oct. 9, 1856 with a second cover dated in 1857 shown below.  The color name ‘Pinkish’ is not entirely indicative of the shade.  It is best described as yellowish rose red with a pinkish appearance.  This is the rarest of all of the shades listed in the catalog.

X-23  Pinkish on cover

Fig. 23 – Pinkish on cover

Plum is an 1857 color.  Like Pinkish the name is somewhat misleading because color names are sometimes arbitrary.  If you like descriptive names then a truer name for Plum would be Prune or Chocolate.  The Plum shade exists in a narrow range of light to deep.

There is another color a few collectors believe to be rarer than Plum or Pinkish, but without a catalog listing.  It is identified and defined as a rich, deep, distinctive red named Dragon’s Blood Red after the historical Chinese lacquer.  To my knowledge Chase did not name this in the literature.  The name & color are taken from a color chart found in Color Standards and Color Nomenclature by Robert Ridgway.

Some experts believe Dragon’s Blood Red is a rare color, others do not.  The jury is still out.  If you like controversy here it is.  It is my opinion that:

1) Ridgway color names and 3 cent 1851-7 colors should never, ever meet.

2) There are many shades that may be hard to duplicate, could be rare, but have never made it into the literature before, or are not important enough to do so.

3) Recognizing a new color such as Dragon’s Blood Red just complicates an already very complicated field, probably for the benefit of a very few.

4) There are too few that a consensus or an agreed upon standard of this color can reasonably exist.

There is at least one expert committee I am aware of which tends to treat item #1 as their current point of view.

Digital printing and scanning technology has made it easy for publishers to reproduce color photos of stamps in catalogs and books.  These color photos can give a collector a good idea of the true shade of a stamp, but should only be considered as a guide.  There is as yet no substitute for the seeing real thing in person and making comparison to known, agreed upon “standards” of color.

Another feature of the ink of is many of the 3¢ issue have become “sulphureted” or “oxidized” over time.  This leads to all sorts of apparent color changes, some of which are attractive, some less so.  Some of these changes are true philatelic pitfalls.  One color change caused by oxidation is particularly pernicious, a change that mimics the Plum shade.

The best way to reverse the oxidation is placing the stamp or cover face down on a piece of window screen or door screen material.  These are then placed over a small cup or bowl.  The bottom of the bowl is covered with commercially available 3% Hydrogen Peroxide.  Do not place a weight or place holder on the stamp or cover.  Leave the stamp or cover exposed to the fumes for a period of time checking it occasionally.  Check it often if you worry a lot.  The free oxygen coming out of the peroxide solution will neutralize the oxidized compounds in the ink causing a return to the stamp’s original color.  This method may take up to a few hours to complete, but it should be checked every 15 minutes or half an hour.

Another interesting feature in the ink is that a few ink formulations are believed to have had either a radioactive element or a chemical that reacts with paper. These stamps when left on cover over long periods of time have been known to leave a negative photographic image of the stamp on the cover.  This is a rare occurrence.  It is seen when a cover has been folded over onto the stamp & stored that way for years.  It also may be seen when a stamp has been lifted.  Both instances are shown below.

X-24a 11A showing negative impression

Fig. 24 – Negative effect from cover folded on the stamp

X-24b  11A 8L3 & Negative impression

Fig. 25 – Negative effect of lifted stamp, 8L3


Large multiples are sought after and prized by collectors.  The postage rates prevailing at the time the stamp was in use had a definite impact on what types of multiples survive today.  As a result some multiples are easier to find than others.  Horizontal pairs are easiest to find.  Vertical pairs and horizontal strips of 3 are a bit tougher, but still somewhat common.  Despite the premium the catalog gives to a strip of 3 they are not in any particular demand.  Strips of 4 & 5 are rare, but may command a premium.  Larger strips start to become desirable.  Blocks of 4 and larger are toughest to find.  Any block of 4 or larger is a desirable item.   As usual condition is paramount.

6c Rate MA to CA

 Fig. 26 – Horizontal pair on cover from Cambridge Port, Mass. to San Diego, California showing the 6 cent rate for covers traveling over 3,000 miles and under 1/2 ounce.

X-50 Strip of 4 Aug 1852

Fig. 27 – Strip of 4 on cover, Aug., 1852

X-51 Strip of 7 on Cover

Fig. 28 – Strip of 7 on cover.  The strip was originally folded over the top of the envelope.  Note the scarce red New-York circular date stamp


X-52 Strip of 8 91-98R2L

Fig. 29 – Strip of 8


There are many interesting cancellations found on this stamp.  Most common are circular town marks and manuscript cancels.  A great variety of numerals and PAID cancels also exist.  Some of the numeral cancels used for the 5 & 10 cent 1847 rates are found used on the 3¢ issue.


X-25  Jul 15 1851 showing 1847 Killer

Fig. 30 – #10 with an 1847 numeral killer ‘5’, dated July 15, 1851, the first month of use


Cancels in various colors are often found.  Most common is black followed by blue, orange-red, then red. Other cancel colors are orange, magenta, brown, ultramarine, violet, purple, olive, light green, and dark green.  Rarest of all cancel colors is yellow.  Very few of these exist.

When buying a green cancel one must make sure it isn’t a faded blue color or a blue augmented by green ink.  Faded blue cancels often take on a bluish green, or greenish look, which uninformed dealers and collectors often confuse for green.  Turquoise colors also seem to exist and are not particularly scarce.  These may be real or faded from another color.  Turquoise has no catalog listing.

Other cancel markings are Way, Due, Free, Railroad, U.S. Express Mail, Steam, Ship, Steamship, Steamboat, New York Ship, packet boat markings, Express Company markings, unusual ways of printing dates, straight line town markings, Canadian markings, Territorial markings, foreign markings, Carrier cancels in various colors, and other designs.  There are many variations of the short list above.  For instance, Due can be with a numeral such as “DUE 3″ or “DUE 6”, or as a phrase such as “5 Cts. Due” or may be found in other forms.

There are also markings not identified for a particular purpose, but used for a particular purpose.  The New York Ocean Mail cancel is one of these.  Also, a red New-York circular date stamp is often associated with foreign mail of some sort.


X-26  cancels

Fig. 31 – Examples of various cancels: A numeral 20, numeral 3, Boston Express Mail, ‘Small’ Boston PAID cancel in grid, PAID 3 in circle, straight line PAID & FREE, straight line “STEA”M.

X-26a 10 no I.L. Red Boston PAID with Cert 

Fig. 32 – A small Boston PAID cancel in Red on a #10A.  The Red cancel color was only in use for a few days.

 X-27  10A strip NY Ocean mail

Fig. 33 – The New York Ocean Mail cancel on a #10A Strip of 3.

X-28  Light Grn Grn Dk Grn Olive Grn 

Fig. 34 – Light green, green, dark green & olive green cancels.

X-29  Plain & Unusual MS cancels 

Fig. 35 – A plain manuscript cancel and two unusual manuscript cancels.

The rarest cancel on an imperforate 3¢ stamp listed in the catalog is the Supplementary Mail Type A marking.  This is on a #11 and is probably unique as only one of them is known at the time of this writing (2013).  The stamp appeared without photo as lot 208 in the Rohloff sale of 1977 and again in a Nutmeg sale around 2005.  There is no Type A marking on a #11A that has yet to be recorded or documented. The stamp shows multiple strikes of the marking, one of the many indications of being a genuine cancel.  At the time this photo was made the stamp also showed signs of oxidation.

 X-30  #11 Sup A

Fig. 36 – #11 Supplementary Mail Type A marking.

A #11 exists on a genuine cover from about 1862 showing the “OLD STAMPS NOT RECOGNIZED” hand stamp.  The stamp is canceled by a Philadelphia, PA circular date stamp.  The “OLD STAMPS NOT RECOGNIZED” hand stamp is elsewhere on the cover.  It one of the rarest imperforate 3 cent uses and is an extremely rare postal history cover in its own right.

Another way to collect the stamp is to reconstruct a calendar showing each day of the year cancelled on the stamp. New Years day, July 4, and Christmas were working days in the 1850s.  Except for current popularity they are no rarer than other dates.  The only true hard to find date is Feb. 29.  While the stamp was current Feb. 29 only appeared in 1852 &1856.

One would think constructing a calendar from used stamps would be easy, but nowadays it is a challenge.  Most town cancels with dates do not hit the stamp near the center.  Other dates are indistinct.  Strangely enough it is always a common date needed to complete a calendar, not one of the popular dates mentioned above.  It takes sorting through about 6,000 – 8,000 stamps to form a complete calendar.

Perforations are the domain of the 1857 issue, but unofficial perforations began to be seen on the stamp in 1856.  Therefore, these are correctly considered to be part of the history of the imperforate stamp.  There are a number of varieties of unofficial perforations and they tend to be very valuable.  The best known is the “Chicago” perforation because it is found with Chicago town cancels.  Its perforations of 11 & 12 ½ is different from anything used by the United States until the 1861 issue.  At first glance it would appear these were reperforated by a later day philatelic scoundrel, but that is not the case.  Other varieties of unofficial roulettes and saw tooth perforations are known from other locales.  These should only be purchased with a certificate of authenticity from a competent authority.

X-35 Chicago Perf

Fig. 37 – This is a scan from the catalog of The W. Wilson Hulme II Sale 964 by Robert A. Siegel Auction Galleries, Inc., lot 170.  It shows an unused block of 9 of #11A with the Chicago Perf 11 variety.  These are positions 74-76/84-86/94-96R2L.

X-35b Chicago Perf

Fig. 38 – This is a scan from the catalog of The W. Wilson Hulme II Sale 964 by Robert A. Siegel Auction Galleries, Inc., lot 177.  It shows a used single of #11, Perf. 12 1/2, with an extra row of perforations.

The postal history of the imperforate stamp is a large field with many aspects to it.  The single stamp is still common on cover with rare uses commanding large figures at auction.  The great depth of this field makes the stamp and the period all the more collectable and interesting.

The value of a cover depends on factors other than just the stamp.  The best way to learn this is to follow the realizations at auction and find a dealer with a good postal history inventory.

Some of the better uses on cover include territorials, earlier year dates, postal rates, registered mail, bisects, circulars, multiples, foreign destinations, foreign mail to the United States, private expresses, election covers, advertising corner cards, illustrated covers, carriers, local posts, forwarders, valentines, mixed issue frankings, position pieces, and many more.

 X-32  11A Revenue use

Fig. 39 – #11A apparently used as a revenue franking years after the stamp was demonetized for postage, position 64L5L.

It should be noted that the only existing cover bearing the 2¢ Hawaiian Missionary, Hawaii #1, also bears a Hawaii #2 and a pair of the 3¢ 1851-7 imperforate stamps in Brownish Carmine from Plate 2 Late.  This cover may not be the cheapest entry into postal history of the 3¢ stamp, but it would certainly anchor an exhibit!  The cover recently sold in June, 2013 for almost $2 million.

X-37 The Dawson Cover

Fig. 40 – The Dawson Cover from a recent Siegel Despatch of Robert A. Siegel Auction Galleries, Inc.  You can look up 273 Cherry St. on one of the popular internet map services to see what the area looks like today, 160 years after the letter was delivered.

A lot has been written about the 3¢ imperforate stamp.  Certainly the existing literature is broad and varied.  Hopefully this article will whet the appetite for both beginners and more specialized collectors.


X-34  10A Small Boston PAID animal gum

Fig. 41 – #10A Tied with a ‘Small’ Boston PAID cancel in grid.  The mottling in the stamp is evidence of animal based gum instead of vegetable based gum.  Vegetable based gum is much more common.

X-35  10A 10L5E green Lancaster PA

Fig. 42 – #10A in a Deep Reddish Orange Brown on folded letter sheet with a green Lancaster, PA. cancel.  Note the sharpness of the impression.  The stamp, 10L5E, shows a late July, 1851 use only a few days after stamps from Plate 5 Early appeared in post offices.

X-36  10A N.York & Erie R.R. N.Y. 

Fig. 43 – #10A cancelled by a red grid with matching N.York & Erie R.R., N.Y. circular date stamp.

X-37  11A 96R1L NOLa STEAM 

Fig. 44 – #11A position 96R1L cancelled by a black grid with matching straight line STEAM & a red NEW ORLEANS-La circular date stamp.

X-38  11A STEAMBOAT cancel 

Fig. 45 – #11A position 81R1L cancelled by a black lightly struck straight line STEAMBOAT hand stamp with matching black STEAMBOAT hand stamp & Baltimore Md. circular date stamp.  Cancels are not always struck as dark as collectors may wish.

X-39  Gunpowder Cover 

Fig. 46 – A ‘corner card’ cover advertising produce, services and gun powder.  Corner Cards are a popular collecting subject of this period.