STOCKHOLMIA 2019 Private Treaty Sale

Lot 63

United States, 1860, the discovery example of an immortal coil: George K. Snow and his machine. A remarkable piece of philatelic history, being the world's earliest known coil forerunner.

Just a decade after the US' 1847 First Issue, mailers were grappling with an issue: how to affix stamps rapidly and efficiently to covers. The 1847 and 1851 Issues were imperforate, requiring each stamp to be cut from the sheet. The franking process was helped along with the 1857 Issue, which were now perforated, meaning a stamp could quickly and easily be removed from the sheet. But the work was still one stamp/one letter at a time.

Enter George K. Snow (1826/27-1885), a job printer of Watertown, Massachusetts (later of Boston). On May 18, 1858, he was granted US Patent # 20,306 for his "Postage Stamper and Labeling Machine". This device was designed to take a strip of stamps and affix them to covers, its speed limited only by the operator's urgency.

Snow's device thus represents the first concept of a coil stamp, the first privately produced coil, and the first postage-affixing machine - anywhere in the world.

Amazingly, Snow's work was unknown until the mid-1940s. Until that time, as recounted in The Stamp Machines and Coiled Stamps by George P. Howard (1943), the first US patent for "An Apparatus for Applying Stamps" was granted to Victoria I.H. Bundsen of London, England, on July 21, 1885. A similar machine had been submitted to the Patent Office by John L. Shaw of Grand Rapids, Michigan, on May 27, 1884, though patent was not issued until March 9, 1886. Both of these machines were a "hand-plunger" type, according to Howard, where a stack of individual stamps were piled face-up in a box on the plunger. With its descent, a moistener wetted the area of the envelope where the stamp would go. Upon reaching the bottom of its travel, the bottom-most stamp of the stack would be pressed against the moistened corner of the envelope and remain attached.

Between 1885 and 1906, when US Postmaster General George B. Cortelyou announced plans to test and choose the best method for both affixing and vending individual stamps, many stamp affixing machines were devised and patented. Some were of the early "stack-of-stamps" Bundsen/Shaw type, but soon some were developed to feed a strip of ten stamps (separated by the machine) one-at-a-time to a moistened envelope corner. Twenty such machines had been patented before 1906.

All these machines, however ingenious, worked with stacks or strips of stamps supplied flat - the first machine patented in the US using coiled stamps (not two-sided coils as we know them, but pasted-up strips of ten sheet stamps supplied on the machine in a roll) was granted to William R. Miller of Polo, Illinois, on January 29, 1889.

This history was overturned just a year after Howard's book was published.

In the January 29, 1944, issue of Stamps magazine appeared Allan M. Thatcher's article, "The First United States Coiled Stamp Affixing Machine Dummy Advertising Stamp" (pages 151-152). There, he recounts some of Howard's work, then goes on to say:

Some months ago we acquired a remarkable cover which disproves all of the above, which bears what we believe is indisputably the first United States coiled stamp and the first dummy advertising stamp, and which also shows an illustration of what is definitely the first patented Stamp Affixing Machine. This last statement is backed up by official confirmation from Washington. And all three ante-date the previously considered "firsts" not by a year or two, but by more than a quarter of a century!

(Snow, it seems, covered Miller's design but had been forgotten; Polo's marque was beaten by Watertown.)

The cover on offer here is Thatcher's discovery item.

For all its philatelic importance, the cover is simplicity itself. Measuring 120 x 74mm, the orange envelope, addressed to a Colonel Miles of West Carleton, Orleans Co., N.Y., bears a Scott #26 tied by a solid Boston PAID strike, with a red Boston Aug 19, 1860 dater alongside, the latter tying Snow's stamp-sized advertising label at lower right. The label depicts Snow's machine with a strip of crudely-drawn stamps coiled on the spool.

The stamp shows normal perforation separations at left and right (the individual columns of stamps having been separated by hand), with perforations separated by the machine's knife at top and bottom. Given the hand-set perforating of the time, the knife would not always fall through or along the perforations, giving us the top margin of the stamp below its design. Note also the slight curve to the knife's cut (particularly noticeable at bottom), due to the slight curl imparted to the stamp under pressure.

One curiosity is the sizeable cut-out at top left. Art Groten, writing in Kelleher's Collectors Connection (2:3 [May-June 2016, World Stamp Show Edition], p. 69), suggests this is "most likely due to a misfeed corrected before completing the separation," though with Snow's knives placed top and bottom, the cut is in the wrong place entirely. Perhaps the columns of stamps were separated, as often the case, with scissors, and this is an accidental slip.

While still cumbersome, Snow's Postage Stamper and Labeling Machine seems to have achieved commercial success as it was actually produced and the patent reissued August 20, 1867. A number of other covers from the 1858-61 period have been found with the Snow cut - two of which are included here, one undated from Dedham, Massachusetts, the other from Boston dated April 2, 1858 (prior to the award of the patent!) - and more probably still remain to be recognized.

Another tell-tale sign of a Snow-affixed stamp (in addition to the arced cut already mentioned) noted by Ken Lawrence ("Are These the World's First Coil Stamps?", The American Philatelist, Nov. 1993, pages 1020-1022) is that "the top and bottom edges of the stamp are firmly fastened down, but the sides are not." Lawrence also notes that sometimes traces of the knife's impression shows in the envelope's paper.

A 1911 printing of Snow's patent application, complete with mechanical drawings, is included with the cover. Simply put, the coiled columns of stamps were to be wound on the spool with gum side up. To the right of the hand lever was a sponge used by the operator to wet the corner of the envelope where the stamp would go. Placing the envelope over the stamp, the operator would then depress the hand lever, causing a small platen to descend, forcing envelope against stamp, and pressing the lot with enough pressure for the blade underneath to separate the stamp from the coil. Upon raising the hand lever, the spool would advance the next stamp in the coil. In Snow's own words, "A person after a little practice with this machine, will post-stamp letters very expeditiously."

Snow's major business was job printing, and several of his publications (Snow's Pathfinder Railway Guide and A Descriptive Guide-Book to the Railway Route between Boston and Burlington, via Lowell and Concord….) are included here, as are advertisements and directions for use of "Snow's Adhesive Letters and Figures for Show Cards, &c." ("An entirely new article", he claims!)

Snow's other philatelic-related output came during the Civil War, when he produced a number of patriotic labels. Five of these labels depict the flag (one behind a cannon, two with eagle and snake, two carried by soldier either on horseback or on foot) - all inscribed with Biblical citations (e.g., Job 39-21). Another four depict either the flag or a flag-designed shield. Examples of each are included, with even a strip of three different designs used on a patriotic cover.

Snow also produced one patriotic cover (Weiss #E-R-211), two examples of which are included in the lot, one bearing his imprint at far left used (with "Not Called For" auxiliary marking), the other unused and lacking his imprint., Provenance: ex Thatcher, Cooper, Hartmann, Groten.


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