1909 Commemorative Issue

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Stamp Collecting: 1909 Commemorative Issue

1909 Commemorative Issue

The Gilded Age and the first years of the 20th century were a time of great social change and economic growth in the United States. Roughly spanning the years between Reconstruction (after the Civil War) and the dawn of the new century, the Gilded Age saw rapid industrialization, urbanization, the construction of great transcontinental railroads, innovations in science and technology, and the rise of big business. The first years of the new century were dominated by Progressivism, a forward-looking political movement that attempted to cure some of the ills that had arisen during the Gilded Age.

William McKinley won the election of 1900 with Theodore Roosevelt as his running mate but was assassinated by an anarchist fewer than six months into his second term. As a result, Roosevelt took office as one of the youngest president in American history. Despite his youth, Roosevelt proved to be a "bully" with his Big Stick diplomacy. One of his most important policies, the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine, declared that only the United States, not Old World powers, had the authority to interfere with Latin American affairs. Roosevelt's Secretary of State, John Hay, drafted the Open Door Notes, which asked that Japan and the European powers respect China's territorial status and fair trade. Roosevelt went on to take over Colombia's northernmost province, Panama, in order to secure America the right to build the Panama Canal. Toward the end of his presidency, Roosevelt also toured around the world with the Great White Fleet, a group of U.S. Navy battleships, in a symbolic display of power.

Roosevelt was just as active at home as he was abroad. The Progressive movement had significant influence on Roosevelt, who outlined a package of domestic reforms called the Square Deal, meant to protect consumers, tame big business, support the labor movement, and conserve the nation's natural resources.

Roosevelt's friend and hand-picked successor William Howard Taft promised to carry out the rest of Roosevelt's Progressive policies if he were elected president. After winning the election of 1908, however, Taft proved to be more of a traditional conservative than most had expected. Although he continued Progressive policies by prosecuting more trusts than Roosevelt had, in a more conservative vein than Roosevelt he signed the steep Payne-Aldrich Tariff in 1909 and fired conservationist Gifford Pinchot from the U.S. Forest Service. Many Republican Progressives, including his former friend Roosevelt, denounced Taft as a traitor to the movement. When Republicans nominated Taft again in 1912, Roosevelt entered the presidential race as the candidate for the new Progressive Republican (Bull Moose) Party.


-First-class stamp: 2¢
-Hershey chocolate bar: 2¢
-Bottle of Coca-Cola: 5¢
-Gallon of gasoline: 6¢
-Box of Kellogg's Corn Flakes: 10¢ or less
-New car (average): $1,280
-New home (average): $2,650
-$1 had the same purchasing power as about $25 in 21st century money


-January 28 - United States troops leave Cuba after being there since the Spanish-American War (1898).

-February 12 - The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is founded on the 100th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's birth.

-March 4 - William Howard Taft succeeds Theodore Roosevelt and becomes the 27th President of the United States.

-June 9 - Alice Huyler Ramsey, 22, a housewife and mother from Hackensack, New Jersey, becomes the first woman to drive across the United States. In 59 days, she drove 3,800 miles from New York to California with three female companions, none of whom could drive. It's estimated that only about 152 of those miles were on paved road!

-August 2 - The United States Army Signal Corps Division purchases the world's first military airplane, the Wright Military Flyer from the Wright Brothers.

-August 12 - The is held at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

-September 25 - The Hudson-Fulton Celebration begins in New York City.

-November 11 - The U.S. Navy founds a base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.


Most American schoolchildren know that our 16th President, Abraham Lincoln, was born in a log cabin in Kentucky, served his presidency during the Civil War and was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth. Students a little older likely know something about Lincoln's Gettysburg Address and the Emancipation Proclamation. Like most human beings, his life had many twists and wrinkles, some of the details of which are known by some Americans.

Of course, he was both loved and hated during his presidency, sometimes depending upon whether one was for the Union or for the Confederacy. Volumes have been written about Lincoln and about his presidency, but what is his true lasting power as a man who moves us still today? Why is he named as the one historical figure so many would like to meet, and why is he fascinating to modern-day young people?

10 facts you may not have known about Abraham Lincoln

-Born in Kentucky in 1809, Abraham Lincoln was the first president born beyond the boundaries of the original 13 states.
-Lincoln wrote every word of the Gettysburg Address and his entire speech was only ten sentences long.
-Lincoln created the Secret Service hours before his assassination.
-Grave robbers attempted to steal Lincoln's corpse in 1876 and hold it for ransom.
-He practiced law without a degree. Lincoln had only about 18 months of formal schooling.
-He wanted women to have the vote as far back as 1836.
-Lincoln once fed his cat from the table at a formal White House dinner. He was seemingly obsessed with cats.
-Lincoln was the first president to be assassinated.
-Lincoln battled depression for much of his life.
-Lincoln was the first president to use the telegraph.

Now his birth is more than 200 years past and Lincoln's legacy in the United States overshadows almost any other American except George Washington. Though he was so controversial in his own time that his presidential election sent one section of the country into open rebellion, there is no question that Lincoln's life, leadership, and principles profoundly shaped the course of our nation's history.


Intended to be held in 1907, the 10-year anniversary of the gold rush it celebrated, the organizers moved the date of this event two years in order to avoid conflict with the 1907 Jamestown Exposition. Planners of the Seattle event vowed to host an Exposition that did not repeat the disorganized nature and the financial loss of the Jamestown event.

Created on what is now the University of Washington campus, the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition celebrated the 1897 Klondike Gold Rush and the explosion of development in Washington State since the Gold Rush. It also showcased the resources of the region for some 3.7 million visitors. It was a time for the unimaginable: a telephone without wires; a machine that could butcher salmon as humans had done for centuries; premature babies in incubators; an entire village from the Philippines.

Along the gaudy, wooden boardwalk of the Pay Streak (midway), there were human exhibits. On one day, there was a raffle for a number of prizes, including a month-old orphaned baby boy, "the property of the Washington Children's Home Society," according to a story that September in The Seattle Times.

President William Howard Taft's visit to the Fair was a highlight, as was the Hoo-Hoo House (a log house used by timber barons when they wanted to be rowdy) and the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, which was charged with guarding the purity and chastity of female fairgoers.

One of the controversial exhibits, even then, was 50 Igorot people from the Philippines who had a mock village of grass huts set up on the Pay Streak. As fairgoers gawked, the natives hammered out links of chain. The Igorot people had been represented at previous World's Fair events. Down the boardwalk from them were the "Alaskan Siberians - Eskimos", also exhibited at previous Expositions. Fairgoers paid an extra 50¢ to see them - and any other human exhibit - on the Pay Streak.

The Fair moved Seattle into the international spotlight. The city became recognized as the gateway to the north and a port of trade with the east. And the celebration brought streetcars not only to the Fair but to parts of the city not previously served. Electric lighting flourished and the Olmsted Brothers' landscape design became the design for the University of Washington.

At the time, Frank Nowell (official Fair photographer) was best known for his Alaska-Yukon photos. But today, his photos of the Igorots, the California Building with the bull made of almonds and the countless photos of the ornate plaster-covered-wood buildings give us a glimpse of the spectacle the Exposition was. There are scenes of long lines of fairgoers, hostesses in waist-cinching Gibson girl dresses and all manner of exhibits.

Having opened on June 1, the Exposition finished its run on October 16. Business leaders hoped it would create an interest in real estate and lure capital for development to Seattle. Though the Fair brought money to the city, it actually brought few long term benefits. The anticipated influx of people from other parts of the country never did occur, nor was there significant increased development of Alaska or development of better trade relations with Pacific Rim countries. The buildings did not offer much help to the University of Washington as so many of them were temporary by design and intention. The Fair returned a modest profit, however, and paid a 4 % dividend to stockholders. It brought some recognition to Seattle, provided a season of entertainment and rallied the local community.


As early as 1905, prominent New Yorkers were planning a 1909 celebration of the anniversaries of Henry Hudson's navigation up the river (that now bears his name) in 1609 and Robert Fulton's New York-to-Albany steamboat service in 1807. Although celebrations were planned all along the river, the event was of particular importance to New York City. Its last major Exposition was the 1853 World's Fair, and the intervening years had witnessed exponential growth in the city. The Brooklyn Bridge connected Manhattan and Brooklyn in 1883. Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island were consolidated into a single municipal government in 1898 - New York City. The completed subway system opened in 1904. The ambitious city was eager to show itself off on the national stage, and in 1906 a joint city-state commission was placed in charge of the Hudson-Fulton celebrations.

The Hudson-Fulton Celebration from September 25 to October 9, 1909 in New York and New Jersey was an elaborate commemoration of the 300th anniversary of Hudson's discovery of the river and the 100th anniversary of Fulton's first successful commercial application of the paddle steamer. The maritime achievements of Hudson and Fulton foreshadowed the importance of the river to New York's progress and identity.


  • Electricity played a major role in the celebration, as ships and memorials were illuminated over the course of the two-week celebration. In addition to the town halls and bridges, lights illuminated the Statue of Liberty, Grant's Tomb, the Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument, the Washington Arch, and some museums, like the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences.
  • Hudson and Fulton were honored by replications of Hudson's Half Moon and Fulton's Clermont, the sailboat and steamship each navigated on the river. Replicas of both vessels were newly constructed, displayed, and dedicated with great fanfare, and were included in the Celebration's grand naval parade of American and foreign warships, which emphasized the United States' naval supremacy in the Western Hemisphere.
  • Public flights by Wilbur Wright, who had won world fame with demonstration flights in Europe in late 1908 and spring 1909, were a favorite attraction. Using Governor's Island as an airfield, on September 29 he flew around the Statue of Liberty. On October 4 he made a 33-minute flight over the Hudson River to Grant's Tomb and back, enabling perhaps a million New Yorkers to see their first airplane flight. As a safety precaution against any airplane malfunction, Wright carried a canoe lest he land in the river.
  • The Celebration was linked to several reform movements sweeping New York City, in addition to Progressivism. These included the Conservation and Preservation movements, which led to the creation of the Historical Preservation Society.
  • To express New York's civic identity and its emerging cultural preeminence, a number of parades were held across the two week run of the Celebration.
  • Although Hudson, Fulton, and their achievements were the foundation of the Celebration, the organizing commission also aimed to emphasize the history of New York City and State, from the Native American communities to the metropolitan city of 1909.

While other Fairs and Expositions had one central location, even if vast, the Hudson-Fulton event was spread throughout multiple states, counties, cities and neighborhoods. The theme of this Celebration was well-defined and actually narrower than many previous expositions, but the plans made by different locales did not necessarily align with those of others. Through research performed in 2015, it appears that the various cities and states even devised their own printed material, with only the themes "Hudson" and "Fulton" in common. How each expressed the theme was not particularly in chorus with the others, though bright lighting, parades and ships gathered in parade on the river were all popular and similar themes. There were also materials designed around various ethnic groups, particularly the Dutch. Hudson's voyage during which he discovered the river was funded by the Dutch East Indies Company and the New York area was heavily settled by settlers from the Netherlands.


Unlike previous commemorative stamp sets, the issue of 1909 was not connected with any major World's Fair or Exposition, or a singular theme. These commemorative stamps are sometimes referred to simply, as "The 1909 Commemorative Issue". Some philatelists refer to the stamps as three separate issues, 1) the Lincoln Memorial Issue of 1909; 2) the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition Issue of 1909; and 3) the Hudson-Fulton Issue of 1909. Still others call the group of stamps "The Lincoln Commemorative Issue", though that fails to give recognition to the other two categories. Regardless of the designation used, the 1909 commemorative issue consists of seven separate stamps in three separate themes, each a 2¢ denomination, each carmine in color, each issued in both perforated and imperforate form. 2¢ paid the domestic first-class rate at the time. All of the stamps that are perforated are perforated 12.

Lincoln Centenary of Birth Issue: 2¢ stamp produced in both perforated and imperforate varieties, and one additional variety produced on bluish paper

Abraham Lincoln had appeared on at least one denomination of every Regular Issue since 1866. The American public was disappointed in 1908 when the new Definitive Issue featured portraits of George Washington and Benjamin Franklin only. The approaching 100th anniversary of Lincoln's birth presented an opportunity to correct the situation. Ernest Robinson Ackerman, a well-regarded stamp collector who later served as a New Jersey Congressman, led the appeal for a special Lincoln commemorative stamp.

The stamp design was the work of C. A. Huston and the engravings were executed by Marcus W. Baldwin, Robert Ponickau, and Edward M. Hall. The design was developed by making a photostat of the 2¢ 1908 stamp frame. To this photostat was applied a reduced photograph of the Lincoln head. The ribbons were added in ink-and-wash and the completed design then photographed to the actual size of the stamp. From this photograph, the engravers performed their work.

The 2¢ Lincoln stamp of 1909 had the usual dimensions of a definitive postage stamp of that era but it was the first single commemorative stamp. Based on a statue of Lincoln in bronze sculpted by Augustus Saint-Gaudens and located in Lincoln Park, Chicago, it was also the first commemorative stamp issued in an imperforate variety. A number of stamps of this era were produced without perforation, intended for perforation by private companies for use in vending and postage-affixing machines.

150 million of the perforated Lincoln stamps were printed, and 1.3 million of the imperforate. A paper variety of the stamp, known as bluish paper, was produced in smaller numbers of just 640,000. Bluish paper contains a rag content of 35% rather than completely wood based paper. It was used as a trial in the Lincoln stamp and has rarely, if ever, been repeated.


Both Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition stamps portray William H. Seward who, as Secretary of State, negotiated the purchase of Alaska from Russia in 1867 for $7.2 million (about 2¢ per acre). The popular press of the day called this "Seward's Folly." Reviled as monstrosities when issued, the Seward stamps remain among the least favorite U.S. commemorative stamps.

Bureau of Engraving and Printing designer Clair Aubrey Huston's first design featured a seal on an ice floe in a circular setting. A subsequent drawing depicted the seal and ice in a circular frame set in a large rectangular stamp. Huston's black, white and gray ink-and-wash essay was approved for production by the new Postmaster General, Frank H. Hitchcock, on April 3, 1909.

The organizers of the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition reacted negatively to any focus on the frigid temperatures in the north, so Huston returned to the drawing board and designed a stamp featuring the portrait in profile of William H. Seward. Huston produced an essay for the stamp that featured Seward's likeness in a very large format stamp and it was approved. Once again, the engraving was performed by Marcus W. Baldwin, Robert Ponickau, and Edward M. Hall. Some press items of the day pointed out that a perfectly handsome Alaskan seal had been replaced by an unhandsome man with large ears and a large nose.

More than 150 million perforated stamps were produced in the press run in May, 1909. Five manufacturers of stamp-affixing or vending machines made coils from the imperforated sheets of the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition stamps. About 530,000 of the imperforate variety were printed. These companies are also known to have applied their distinctive perforations to imperforate multiples of this issue as favors to collectors. Despite being philatelically contrived, these stamps are scarce and highly sought after today.


The Hudson-Fulton Celebration Commission petitioned the U.S. Post Office Department for a commemorative stamp in December, 1908, just as the Washington-Franklin definitive series was making its debut. Postmaster General George von L. Meyer turned the Commission down, citing the new regular issue that had just come out and the fact that "other requests of this kind...have not been complied with." The Commission tried again in April, 1909, with the new Taft administration, this time directing its request to the Treasury Department, which has oversight of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. It reminded the Secretary of the Treasury, George B. Cortelyou who was the previous Postmaster General, that other expositions had fostered commemorative stamps for more than a decade. The Commission still received an unfavorable response. Undaunted, the Commission mounted a Congressional campaign. In the middle two weeks of August, 1909, nearly every member of New York's Congressional delegation wrote to Meyer's successor, Frank H. Hitchcock, supporting the stamp. The timing suggests that the Commissioners took advantage of the August recess - during which Congressmen flee Washington's heat and mosquitoes to spend time in their constituency - and can be caught on home territory.

U.S. Rep. J. Sloat Fassett of Elmira wrote, "New York State asks very little from the United States Government...It digs its own canals, cleans its own rivers, makes its own forest reserves, but we have no power to make our own postage stamps." Finally, on August 16 and 17, the Post Office Department sent letters informing the New York delegation that an order had been placed with the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and that the stamp would be issued on September 25, the Hudson-Fulton Celebration's opening day. The Post Office Department asked the Commission for design material: specifically, images of Henry Hudson's ship Half Moon, Robert Fulton's steamer Clermont, and the Hudson River Palisades.

Eight printing plates, each bearing 240 individual subjects, were prepared for use on the flat-plate press and placed into service. The stamp's oversize format drew criticism from some postal customers. The vast majority of people, however, appreciated that the additional space allowed for a more striking design.Veteran Bureau designer Marcus W. Baldwin turned out ink-and-wash essays for the frame and vignette on August 17. Proofs of the die, which was engraved by Baldwin, Robert Ponickau, and Edward M. Hall, were approved on August 31. The art for the stamp is unique because it features two ships in the river together that actually existed 200 years apart in time - an anachronism. A Native American in a canoe paddles toward the ships, in a scene that may have been realistic in Hudson's time, but not in Fulton's. The Palisades are faithfully reproduced in the background.

Demand was naturally heaviest in New York City. The Postmaster in Brooklyn wrote to complain that he had received fewer than half of his initial requisition of 1 million stamps and was in danger of being sold out. On the third day of sale, September 28, the New York Post Office requested 3 million more copies. In addition to the initial delivery of 50 million stamps, a second printing of 20 million was ordered on October 2 and a third printing of 1.8 million on October 23. Ultimately, 73 million of the perforated stamps were produced.

Individual collectors were permitted to request full imperforate panes from their local postmaster or to purchase singles, pairs, and other multiples from the Washington, D.C. City Post Office by mail. Ultimately 114,840 copies were sold in this way, for a total imperforate issue of 216,840. In addition to U.S. Automatic, the Mail-O-Meter, Schermack, and Brinkerhoff companies are also known to have applied their distinctive perforations to imperforate multiples of this issue as favors to collectors. Despite being philatelically contrived, these are scarce and highly sought-after today.Even before the Hudson-Fulton stamps were issued, philatelists speculated that imperforate sheets would be issued as had been done for the other 1909 commemoratives. On September 11, the U.S. Automatic Vending Company of New York requested 102,000 imperforate stamps - or 425 press sheets - to use in their machines. Initially the Department declined, pointing out that U.S. Automatic's machines vended single stamps in manila holders and that this purpose could be served just as well by perforated stamps. The company convinced the Post Office Department otherwise, however, and U.S. Automatic was supplied with imperforate sheets on the first day of issue.

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