The United States issued its first commemorative stamps—the Columbian Exposition Issue—in 1893. The issue's most famous stamp is the 5-dollar denomination, which features a bust of Christopher Columbus. Prized more than any other, the stamp has an almost mystical aura in the United States philatelic community. In cooperation with the U.S. Post Office Department, the United States Mint also issued a commemorative Columbus half-dollar coin.
Alfred Jones engraved the Columbus portrait for both the stamp and coin; Charles Skinner engraved the two figures on both sides of the stamp vignette. Columbus faces a different direction in each-to the right on the stamp, to the left on the coin. The back of the half-dollar coin displays a ship and the words "World's Columbian Exposition Chicago 1892."
Collectors and dealers who saw the opportunity to create collectible covers used the 5-dollar stamp to drastically overpay the usually low-value domestic rates. But in a few cases, it paid expensive heavyweight foreign destination rates. American Bank Note Company printed a total 27,350 stamps of the 5-dollar issue.
Alexander T. Haimann, National Postal Museum
May 16, 2006
Scott Catalogue USA: 245
Museum ID: 1980.2493.1645