Notes from the Past

Stamps for the Trans-Mississippi Issue of 1898

During the latter years of the 1890s midwesterners worked to hold a great exposition to further the progress and development of the vast region west of the Mississippi river.  The exposition known as the Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition was held in Omaha, Nebraska, opening on June 1, 1898, and closing on November 1, 1898.

The Chairman of the Committee on Publicity, Edward Rosewater, publisher of the Omaha Daily Bee, sent a letter on December 13, 1897 to the Post Office Department suggesting that a series of postage stamps be issued to commemorate the exposition.  The Postmaster General, James A. Gary, responded on December 23, 1898, that a series of five stamps would be issued in denominations of 1¢, 2¢, 5¢, 10¢, and $1.  He noted that time was short and asked the Committee to help in selecting designs.  No Citizens Advisory Committee here!

There was immediate outcry from stamp collectors who had only recently been exploited by the Columbian issues.  The decision to expand the issue to nine stamps including a $2 stamp outraged the collectors even more.  Postmaster General Gary responded, "I found I had the power to authorize this issue and did it because I wanted to help the people of the West.  The Trans-Mississippi Exposition means a great deal to to the people of that section of our country, and its character is decidedly an international one, no less than fifteen foreign nations having promised their support.  While I am pleased to hear the opinion of any American citizen in regard to this issue, I do not consider philatelists greater patriots on account of the interest they take the stamps of their country.  No one is compelled to buy the high values unless he wishes to do so."

The initial plan called for bi-color stamps with the frames in one color and the center vignettes in black.  Beautiful bi-color proofs exist of some of the stamps.  Several sets of bi-color plates were completed but were never put in regular use.  The breakout of the Spanish-American War in April, 1898, taxed the resources of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing to produce revenue stamps.  As a result, the Trans-Mississippi issue was printed in a single color for each stamp.  The stamps were issued on June 17, 1898.

- excerpted from George B. Sloane
"The Trans-Mississippi Issue of 1898"
The Stamp Specialist, Green Book
H. L. Lindquist - 1943
Posted April 15, 2000

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