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The 7¢ Vermillion Stanton Envelopes (part 3)

Back to part 2

A New Contractor

Nesbitt, who lost his printing contract to Reay, died April 7,1869 and thus was unable to intervene personally when the Reay contract was rescinded and then reinstated late in that year. Reay, in turn, lost his contract to the Morgan Envelope Co. in 1874. In accord with government policy, bids for a new contract were advertised in the summer of 1874 and Morgan, Reay, and the Nesbitt Company all bid; however, all were rejected for not meeting the contract terms.

A new set of bids was called for and opened September 18, 18 74. In this bidding there were six firms entered including the George Plimpton Manufacturing Company of Hartford, CT. The Plimpton firm won and a new contract was signed October 4, 1874.

Reay protested the award, reporting Plimpton would have the actual work done at the Morgan company's plant in violation of the terms of the contract. It was true that the Morgan company was furnishing Plimpton with machines in place of Reay's. Further, the new contract called for deliveries beginning October 1, 1874 - an impossibility for a new contractor. As of October 9, 1874, not a single proof of a Plimpton die had been seen by the Post Office Department and Mr. Reay was refusing to turn over his dies or release the engravers that he had under contract - he had signed up most of the key engravers. (judge Spence had ruled in September 1874 that the dies and master hubs were Reay's property.)

On October 12th, some temporary and defective dies were approved for the lower-valued envelopes and production began Tuesday the 13th. Delivery of the first Plimpton envelopes was to take place Thursday October 22nd, but the deliveries actually began the day before. At this point the 1, 2, and 3 cent values were going into production and dies for the 6 and 12 cent had been approved. Back orders were already at 11 million by October 23rd when the government purchased large stocks of envelopes from Reay.

A departmental circular of December 10, 1874 finally announced the change of contract and contractors, with the new envelopes to be supplied beginning January 1, 1875 with a new price schedule. January 1, 1875 would, therefore, be the date for the new 7 cent Plimpton envelope release (Scott nos. U185 and 186). The actual dies, including the new 7 cent Plimptons, were examined and approved October 30, 1874 by Mr. Casilear, who had been sent by the Post Office Department to Hartford for this task.

Mr. Reay was very upset about losing the contract and sought to hamper Plimpton's ability to meet the contract as much as possible. Not only did he tie the master engravers up in contracts, he also refused to surrender his master dies. Finally, under heavy pressure, he agreed to turn over the dies but hearsay has it that he wrapped the dies in a cigar box that he gave to his wife with instructions to dump them overboard while crossing the ferry from Brooklyn to his New York office. Reay died shortly after this incident.

It has been subsequently reported that Reay's son turned over both hubs and printing dies to Postal Inspector G.E. Doran April 3, 1937. These were recorded and destroyed; however, examination of the record shows these were only miscellaneous dies, some of which were essays. The disposition of the dies actually used still remains a mystery, and the hearsay story may well be true.

The Seven Cent Plimpton Envelope

There are no examples of the Plimpton envelope used in the period of the 7 cent rate. In fact, only one used envelope has surfaced to date; it was used in November 1878. The easy key way to differentiate the Reay and Plimpton 7 cent designs is to look at the "7" that has a tail in the Plimpton design and not in the Reay. The Plimpton design also has the hair curling in the back of the head so that it looks like a laurel wreath while the beard flows downward to a greater extent.

The Plimpton envelope was issued during three quarters of the year ending June 30, 1875, with only a few issued during the first quarter. Two qualities of paper were used. The first is an amber of the regular grade (not third grade as in the Reay's), with a 39 knife. This envelope has a 14mm throat in back and measures 82x138mm in size. Based upon the difference in quality of paper, I would suspect that this was the envelope produced in the first printing of 750 examples. It is quite rare with an example selling as lot 385 in the first Marcus White sale (Siegel, December 10-11, 1970).

The second Plimpton type is on the same quality amber paper as the Reay's, e.g., third quality, and is knife 41 (a 17mm throat in back). It also uses a square gum as do all the regular Reay and Plimpton 7 cent envelopes. The envelope is a touch taller, measuring 83x138mm in size. Several unused examples are known with lots 386 and 387 of the aforementioned White sale being represented. I believe one of these un photographed items is ex-Barkhausen (Harmer, June 14-16, 1955, lot 270).

A third Plimpton variety has long been mislabeled. It is Thorp- Bartels no. 768 that is on "white paper." In a note I located on an envelope wrapper marked J.M.B.* (J. Murray Bartels), it is noted it is really creamy white, not pure white. No envelope is known on white paper; however, Lurch had a full corner, allegedly white, which probably came from a "SPECIMEN" envelope. This item is from the Marcus White sale of March 3-4, 1971 (lot 1103), ex-Worthington. Thorp wrote it up in Stamps, May 7, 1944, p. 228. Lot 146 in the William Weiss, Jr. sale of December 1, 1990 has a second cut square of this rarity - also a full comer (Scott no. U185). There are other cut squares of this specimen. I record a total of about five. Sheriff 11 (Siegel June 18, 1986, lot 246) is the ex-Juhring copy, which sold to Karen (3308mm).

The howling rarity of the 7 cent envelopes is the special Plimpton issue for the 1876 Centennial. It is Thorp-Bartels no. 767a with a 41 knife (17mm throat) in the third quality amber but with round gum rather than square. These were issued both with and without return imprint corner cards. It is unknown if there were six envelopes (three of each) or six sets (12 envelopes) made. Each and every item was "specially printed." The British collector and author, Gilbert Harrison allegedly received a complete set of all denominations from Philadelphia dealer Bogert, of Durbin and Bogert, but cut them up before realizing what he had. Inroads by cut-square collectors may have reduced the number of existing 7 cent entires to one or two.

The complete special printing 7 cent envelope can be recognized by the round gum and at least half of them by the Centennial imprint. Bartels states the amber paper "by transmitted light, has a slightly greenish tint." Of course, unless the piece is a cut square, the easiest way other than the imprint is the use of "round gum." Just prior to the Centennial, Plimpton developed a machine that would apply gum to the top flap in addition to printing and folding the envelope. Prior to this date, the gum was hand-applied and the outside edge was in a straight line. The felt pad used to apply the gum in the machine process printed" gum on the flap so that the ends were "round" consequently termed "round gum" by specialists to differentiate the later Plimpton items from the earlier.

One Centennial envelope of the 7 cent value was sold as lot 518 in the Barkhausen sale (Harmer, June 14-16, 1955) to Marcus W. White and resold as lot 388 in the White sale (Siegel, December 10-11, 1970). This item probably was the same shown in the Court at Honor at the Columbian show in Chicago, May 1992).

Used Seven Cent Envelopes

Historically, in the old Bartels and other price lists, used copies of these envelopes were rated at six to ten-twelve times higher than mint ones. Probably the reason is that the original printing was not used much because of the changes in the originally-intended use, and the fact that when the envelopes were finally ready, there were lower rates to the major destinations.

A collection of used postal stationery entires has rarely been exhibited and most of the great collections contain very few examples, especially within the true period of use. Truly nice collections of used Nesbitts have been reported. Beyond that, collections are sparse except for a few farsighted people who have plucked these gems from the great holdings and the strays offered by various dealers over the years. Even dated cut squares are virtually impossible to locate. Fancy cancellations, other than New York foreign mail (NYFM) uses, are few and far between on Reay envelopes. When Lurch showed one frame of 7 cent material, Thorp commented that the 7 cent envelope used New York primarily as a point of embarkation so it was only natural that they would have NYFM cancels, which were in vogue during the currency of the envelope. While NYFM cancellations rarely appear on postal stationery, the 7 cent envelope is the second most-often seen envelope with such cancels. Thus, it is not surprising that I record three used entires and two cut squares with these cancels - all different. The Waud-VanVlissigen book gives dates of use of the various cancels that is helpful in dating the 7 cent items, or in confirming dates. To date, I record the following covers with NYFM cancels:

Type NYC Date Waud-VanVIissingen


A8 Sept4,1874 Jan 10, 1874 June 1, 1875

G3 Mar 8, 1875 Feb 23, 1875 Mar 20,1876

G25 Feb 19, 1873 Feb 15, 1873 Feb 15, 1873

I also note two cut squares that are undated in the William Weiss, Jr. exhibition collection, which is one of the collections for which photocopies are made available through the US Philatelic Classics Society. One, a cut square of Scott no. U88 with G5, the reverse wheel design, bears a foreign mail marking used from October 2, 1873 - November 14, 1875, so that it is both within and without the proper period for correct use. The second cut square is from the Lurch collection, ex-Leighton & Wells sale of April 21, 1958 (lot 332). It bears type W5, which was only used late (August 9, 1875 - September 28, 1875) so that it is out-of-period.

Too often the rate specialist takes a "who cares" attitude, not seeking a postal stationery use or combination use paying the rate being illustrated. Too often these are classed as "back-of-book" items and deemed not worthy of the finest collections, or are fronts rejected even when rarity indicates a full cover may not be located. Somehow judges do not mark down these exhibits for lack of completion when the completing item is postal stationery.

The great envelope auctions contained very few 7 cent used envelopes. Barkhausen contained three (but no photo) and these probably ended up in the Marcus White sale that also had three - one of which was not illustrated (lot 361 in the White 11 sale). Perry had three, although he only reported two; Slawson had none. There was only one - to Denmark - in the Daniel Weiner sale (Ivy July 8-9, 1983, lot 1171), which is one of the three known uses to that country. His was a major used envelope sale - perhaps the most important ever held -inasmuch as the young man was an intelligent and effective collector and gatherer of this type of material. His cessation of collecting is a tragic loss to the field.

Writing about the 7 cent adhesive, J.W. Sampson noted the stamp is almost never seen bearing the postmark of any small town in New England or the South, but the names of country (farm) towns and villages in Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin frequently appear. This seems to be so because these were settled by a large proportion of the 2.6 million German emigrants who left Europe between 1823 and 1873 to settle in the United States. A million or so settled in our larger cities and a large percentage of Cincinnati postmarks show their arrival. Also, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Philadelphia, and Baltimore follow in order of commonness when we omit New York. The same holds true for the envelopes.

At present I record some 35 covers (one may be a duplicate), three fronts, and three cut squares. The most incredible use is a gem from the Seymour Kaplan collection that was then in the Steven Albert holding before being privately sold. It contains a 7 cent National (Scott no. 149) in combination with the 7 cent envelope used to Pesen, Germany. It is the only such combination use reported. Several other 7 cent envelopes are known with various adhesives: 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, and 10 cent denominations. These make intriguing combinations, but it is necessary to be very careful to check usage before assuming the combinations are in period.

I was recently offered an example with a 5 cent Taylor combination that was quite pretty, but its date was 1876 and consequently out-of period so is of interest primarily to the true specialist of the Taylor. As with a number of other late uses, it is probably philatelic, tied in with a shipment of stamps to England, such as was often done by G.B. Calman, L.W. Durbin, R.E. Bogert, or other early dealers. In fact, I record in-period uses from both dealers to M.D. Russell in Birmingham, England, who was a client. Neither cover pays the 7 cent rate for which the envelope was designed.

I record more uses to Germany than to England; however, England is second even though there was no 7 cent rate. Denmark is the next most popular destination followed by Switzerland. I note uses to Austria and the Netherlands, as well as a couple of domestic uses, one with the 8 cent registry fee in the proper period. I cannot repeat it enough; if one is a purist, and I believe one should be in the case of early used postal stationery, it is important to check the dates or match up ship sailing so a huge premium is not paid for the high-catalog 7 cent envelopes with out-of-period uses.

There are six in-period uses by stamp dealers of the 7 cent envelope on correspondence to England. All are by Durbin of Bogert and Durbin (late examples by Durbin and Calman are also known). As one example could be the earliest known use based on ship sailings, it is important to consider that the remainder are concentrated in 1874-76, so that the other item is probably from the same period.

In reviewing my draft manuscript, Calvet Hahn offered several observations that should help in dating. First, based upon the fact that imprints were made on only two occasions in the quarter ending September 30, 1871, and again in the quarter ending March 31, 1874, 1 have assigned all but the obviously late imprint covers to the earliest appropriate date in those cases where several alternate dates appear possible. Second, Mr. Hahn observed a sequential use of knives 28 and 29 in production with knife 29 being in use in 1874. Thus, the earliest uses are probably exclusively knife 28.

Several items can also be assigned tentative dates based on associated items from the correspondence involved. This applies to some of the cut squares as well as other material.

On to part 4.