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Welcome to The Q. David Bowers Reference Collection of Encased Postage Stamps Featured in Stack’s Bowers Official Auction of the ANA World’s Fair of Money.

I have always loved encased postage stamps. When I was a teenager
I began to study them, seeking biographies of the various merchants. As time
went on I helped form several major collections, including for Jim Ruddy and,
in part for John J. Ford, Jr. With Mike Hodder taking the lead, I was co-author
of The Standard Catalogue of
Encased Postage Stamps published
in 1989. My gosh, that was 30 years ago! The book was a best seller and has
been out of print for quite a few years. Today on the antiquarian book market,
copies sell for more than they did originally! As you read these words I am
gathering expanded information for a new book on the subject, perhaps for
publication next year. Meanwhile, I have completed the manuscript for a new
specialized book to be published by the Token and Medal Society next year: The Story of DRAKE’S PLANTATION
BITTERS: A 19th Century Cure-All.  I
have collected Drake’s items for many years, included bottles, encased postage
stamps (here offered), almanacs, and more. I have often thought about doing a
book on Dr. J.C. Ayer, but probably will not.

Encased postage stamps are an interesting chapter in the annals
of numismatics. In the first decade of the 20th century they were one of the
most actively collected series. Far more people collected these than did Morgan
silver dollars by mintmarks. In 1901 a typical Drake’s Plantation Bitters stamp
cost more than a Mint State 1893-S dollar (today worth several hundred thousand
dollars). Such things contribute to the lure and lore of numismatic history.

As to encased postage stamps, these  were among several
forms of substitute or emergency currency issued during the second year of the
Civil War. By late 1861 the outcome of the war was uncertain. Both the Union
and the Confederate States of America forces could claim victories. In England,
the destination for much of the cotton produced in the South, CSA bonds
denominated in British pounds found a ready sale. Citizens became alarmed, and
gold coins were hoarded to the extent that by January 1862 they were no longer
paid out by banks. Problems continued as the United States Treasury scrambled
to raise funds by issuing Legal Tender Notes not redeemable in silver of gold
coins. By late spring, all silver coins had disappeared from circulation.

In the second week of July it happened: there were no coins at all in circulation. Even the
copper-nickel Flying Eagle and Indian Head cents were gone—into the hands of
concerned citizens and speculators. Some hoarders had tens of thousands of
them, in one instance causing a floor to buckle from the weight. It was no
longer possible to buy a newspaper or a glass of beer, to get a haircut, or pay
for a ride on a horse-drawn car.

Rising to the occasion, Congress on July 17 1862, made ordinary
postage stamps legal tender! These flimsy, tiny, gummed pieces of paper soon
became dirty. They stuck together in hot, humid summer weather, and were a
great inconvenience to use as a daily medium of exchange. To make transactions
with postage stamps easier, many merchants and others had little envelopes
printed with a denomination such as 50 cents lettered on the outside and
containing an equivalent face value in loose stamps. Others had tickets and
scrip notes printed with the stated value of an envelope’s contents as well as
with their business addresses, so once in circulation there was a place to
redeem them (for other stamps or paper).

United States Treasurer Francis E. Spinner experimented with the
idea of pasting stamps on rectangular cards to create money of recognizable
value in more convenient form than loose paper. This led to the creation of
Postage Currency, a new class of paper money, printed by contractors in New
York City and issued in sheets with perforations that could be torn apart.
These were made in denominations of 5¢, 10¢, 25¢, and 50¢ and bore the designs of
contemporary stamps printed within a border, and with added inscriptions. The
first Postage Currency notes were issued through Army paymasters in August,
then to the general public in September. Once quantities reached circulation
this eliminated the need for stamps singly or in envelopes.

On August 12, 1862, John Gault, an entrepreneur who had recently
moved to New York City from Boston, was awarded a patent for the encased
postage stamp (as offered here, and also by Kirkpatrick & Gault). These
consisted of a two-part brass frame, the obverse having a pane of clear mica
positioned over a postage stamp. The reverse was embossed with an advertising
message for different services, products, or other facilities. Denominations
included 1, 3, 5, 10, 12, 30, and 90 cents. The lower denominations were the
most popular.  

These bright little tokens reached circulation soon after the
patent date. The New-York
Daily Tribune, August 30,
1862, included this under the heading of “City Items”:

“A
substitute for coin—A friend has shown us a light circular metallic sheath of
white metal, for postage stamps of large and small denominations, the face of
the stamp being covered with a transparent sheet of mica. It is slightly
smaller in diameter than a quarter of a dollar, and is designed to take the
place of small silver coin.

“The
metallic back is to be stamped with the advertisement of the houses ordering
them. Their price to purchasers is $20 or less a thousand; to the general
public, only the value of their face. The idea is not a bad one.”

These encased postage stamps served their purpose well and were
common in circulation in the East and Midwest into 1863. In that year cent-size
copper (mostly) and brass tokens minted by shops in Cincinnati, New York,
Chicago, and elsewhere became dominant. These were of two basic types: (1)
Patriotic with a flag, cannons, military leaders, etc., and (2) Store cards
issued by over 900 different merchants. Wholesaling at $6 to $7 per thousand
tokens, they were inexpensive. In early 1863, when such tokens flooded the
country, the issuance of encased postage stamps ended.

Slightly more than 30 merchants and products were advertised on
encased postage stamps, with Drake’s Plantation Bitters being one of the
largest issuers. Today the lower denominations are often seen and are readily
collectible. The higher values are scarce.

When I formed my reference collection, I determined to acquire a
“nice” example of the various issuers.. At age 80 I have been deaccessioning
favorites such as these, for another generation to enjoy. I hope you as a
successful bidder will share my interest.

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