Notes from the Past

Bisected U. S. Stamps

"Bisects" of "Split Provisionals" -- that is, stamps cut into halves or otherwise -- were used from time to time by various postmasters when they found themselves with a shortage of stamps or their stock of some denomination exhausted.  They are always interesting when tied by postmark to the original cover, and philatelically valuable particularly in the early U. S. issues, say from 1847 to the late 1860's.

But after 1869 they begin to lose conviction regardless of how well "tied" to cover.  Scott, I note, lists bisected items in the issues of 1870, 1873, 1875, and 1879, but nothing later that I notice in a brief examination of the U. S. Catalog.  No doubt most, if not all, of these later listings were due to genuine postal emergencies and that the postmaster in each instance was short of other stamps and had to resort to bisecting.

After 1875, however, collectors are wary of bisects and accordingly such items find a smaller market.  I have seen numerous bisected varieties in this later period that were not very convincing even though properly tied with genuine postmarks, but there was a lurking suspicious that they reflected the obliging cooperation of some postmaster in a small town.  Small-town postmasters frequently violated postal instructions, not always willfully perhaps but more often than not because of philatelic inspiration and ignorance of the regulations.  Stamp collecting the 1870's had grown to a hobby of wide popularity and there were many collectors sufficiently well informed and alert to "opportunities."

Bisecting of stamps was never, to my knowledge, authorized or encouraged by the U. S. Post Office Department, though in earlier days it was to some extent "tolerated."  Bisecting was extensively practiced in foreign countries and usually under postal direction, some administrations even furnishing the stamps already surcharged with the "emergency" value for bisecting by postmasters.

- George B. Sloane
Sloane's Column
July 2, 1955

 Posted November 29, 1999  

Index of 507 Notes from the Past

Note:  If the link isn't returned the first try, try again.

Comments? Send me an e-mail
Please include a reference to this item.