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When Is A First Actually A First?

When Is A First Actually A First?

The recent offering of the purported “first” penny black ever printed and the resulting discussion/debate ties directly into a piece I just acquired a few days ago.

I just returned from my first trip back east in over 20 years to visit family. On that trip I visited Eric Jackson’s store in Leesport PA, and he was gracious enough to allow me to loot and pillage through piles of unworked material. To say it was an enjoyable experience would be an understatement. I could have easily spent what my house cost without too much difficulty. As it was, I came home with a carton and a half of 1st-3rd issue revenue stamps and documents that will keep me occupied for a very long time.

One of the items that Eric showed me, and I subsequently purchased, is an example of Scott #RD23a, the 1918 $500 Stock Transfer overprint, with serial number in orange, with double transfer.

What makes it especially interesting is that it is serial number 4. Single-digit serial numbers on any of the U.S. revenues are always desirable.

So now comes the discussion as to whether it is a “first” or not, given the production processes in play here:

  1. The printing of the blue underlying stamp. Is this from the first sheet of stamps printed? No way to know, likely not.
  2. The red STOCK TRANSFER overprint. Is this from the first sheet of stamps overprinted? No way to know, likely not.
  3. The orange serial number. Is this from the first sheet of stamps numbered? Yes. These were produced in sheets of 4, the individual stamps sequentially numbered from top to bottom. The first approximately 1,000 stamps were numbered in orange before shifting to red ink.
  4. The double transfer. Is it the first? Given the answer to number 1 above, the answer is unknown if you consider just the production of the underlying blue stamp, but taking RD23a as a whole, yes this is the first double transfer in addition to being from the first sheet of stamps numbered. The double transfer is found ONLY in the bottom position on a sheet.

So is it a “first”?… yes and no, but regardless, it’s a neat item IMO.

Is there an EKU recorded for RD23? The cancel date appears to be July 1, 1918.

From Bart Rosenberg:

Remember, they would have printed up the basic stamps first (the blue portion), and then overprinted them for the various uses as needed. The basic documentaries were being used all along, so this stamp might have been printed months before being overprinted for stock transfer and numbered. Double transfers would certainly have existed earlier on those documentaries. Clearly it has to be from the first group used for this specific purpose, so it is probably the first double transfer overprinted stock transfer. Alas, my example is number 1052. Still early, but a 1921 usage. July 1 would have been the first day of the new fiscal year (that’s why all special tax stamps were good until June 30), so it is very possible that it is the EKU as a first day usage; you would have to look up the tax laws to see exactly when these went into effect. Scott says 1918, so July 1 seems very likely, although it is not guaranteed.

My reply:

If I’m reading correctly, the earliest possible use is June 25, 1918, per Treasury Decision 2741, dated same. However, presumably there would have been some lag in preparing the overprinted stamps. So it will be interesting to see whether there are uses prior to the 1919 fiscal year beginning July 1, 1918.

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