Friday, January 18, 2013

Letter From a Stamp Engraver

[This first appeared in the Ohio Postal History Journal.]

I collect stamps on a very limited budget. At stamp shows, I face the dilemma of dealers who steer me toward their expensive (and most profitable) stock, even as I try to make myself invisible and head for the “bargain basement” lots. “See our 1869 Pictorials,” they call, even while I look for their three-for-five dollar “miscellaneous” offerings. Yet I persevere, hoping to find treasures the dealer missed. I found one recently; not valuable, but one that I enjoyed finding and also tested my knowledge of postal history.

The cover I spotted was a folded letter. [Figure 1] The stamp, a common as dirt Scott #11, was missing part of its right side. The cancel was also not terribly unusual, a CDS from “New-York” without a year date. The addressee was “Hon D. Morgan”, “Acting Commissioner” of Columbus, Ohio.

Hmm. Not exactly Ohio postal history, as there were no postal markings from Ohio beyond the address. But, since I live near enough to Columbus to hear the noise of I-270, I thought I’d take a quick look at the (mostly) intact letter sheet. It was a bill, but the letterhead of the bill made my heart skip a beat.[Figure 2]

The bill was from an engraver. Not just a printer, but an engraver, the artisan who engraved a negative image on steel or wood and used it to print fancy illustrated letterheads, certificates, and, yes, stamps. And I immediately knew the company sending the bill from my childhood stamp album. The bill was from the New York firm of Rawdon, Wright, Hatch, and Edson. The engravers of U.S. Scott #1 & #2.

Rawdon, Wright, Hatch, and Edson (hereafter referred to as RWHE) had printed some canal stock certificates for a Mr. Bull in Columbus, the state capital. The bill was for $169.50 and mentions a “seal,” perhaps of the type that seals documents. The details may never be found out. The Bull family was prominent settlers of the Clintonville area of Columbus, and one of their number, James G. Bull, was mayor of Columbus in the 1860s and 70s. The State of Ohio did sell canal stock in a “canal fund” in the nineteenth century.

But my concern here is more about RWHE and their work as engravers. I was a bit surprised the company has never had a book length study. The best information on RWHE that I could find in a less than exhaustive study was on Arago, the Snithsonian National Postal Museum []. Their website is worth quoting:

In 1845, the New York engraving firm Rawdon, Wright, Hatch & Edson began printing postmaster provisionals, early stamps issued locally by the New York postmaster. That experience made them the logical choice for printing the first nationwide U.S. stamps, the 5-cent and 10-cent stamps of 1847.

The firm’s partners included three engravers, Freeman Rawdon, Neziah Wright, and George Hatch, but it was Tracy Edson, a former engraver turned business manager, who led the way. In 1858, Edson arranged the merger of Rawdon, Wright with six other firms to form American Bank Note. He became president of that company in 1860.

So is this the story. It may not be postal history, depending on your point of view. But I got a kick out of adding a piece of Rawdon, Wright, Hatch, and Edson work to my collection.

[Sources: ]

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