In March 1861 Abraham Lincoln took office as the sixteenth president of the United States. One month later Confederate forces fired on Fort Sumter, thus beginning the American Civil War. No series of stamps issued during the Classic Period has such an important connection to American history as the 1861 National Bank Note Company Issue.
When he assumed his position as Lincoln’s postmaster general, Montgomery Blair faced a federal postal system disabled by seceding states and the disloyalty of many of their postmasters. Unable to collect debts owed by individual post offices, the Post Office Department could not ascertain the amount of business they were handling. Blair’s solution- cut them off entirely. The Department labeled each postmaster who had sided with the disloyal states as an “embezzler or defaulter.”
Blair also decided to issue a totally new series of postage stamps in an attempt “to prevent the fraudulent use of the large quantity of stamps remaining unaccounted for in the hands of postmasters in the disloyal states. . . .” According to the Annual Report of the Postmaster General, as of October 1, 1861, disloyal postmasters controlled postage and stamped envelopes worth $270,000.
The 30-Cent Franklin
In late summer 1861 Benjamin Franklin was chosen once again as the subject for an American stamp. The 30-cent Franklin was distinguished by its bright orange color from the other seven stamps of the 1861 Issue. Joseph I. Pease, while working for Toppan, Carpenter & Co., had engraved most of the 1851-1861 Issue stamps, and he was now assigned to engrave the two Franklin portraits for the 1- and 30-cent stamps for National Bank Note Company. He would also work for the American Bank Note Company and would engrave all the Franklin portraits for its stamps. In fact, Pease engraved more portraits of Franklin for postage stamps than any other engraver during the Classic Period.
A single 30-cent Franklin could have paid the double-weight rate to France or Nova Scotia, but it typically paid, in combination with other denominations, the larger weight and foreign destination rates. A total of over 3,300,000 stamps of the thirty-cent issue were printed by National Bank Note Company.