Paper Money

Q. David Bowers encased postage stamp collection sells

An extraordinary group of encased postage stamps, the personal reference collection assembled by Q. David Bowers, was auctioned by Stack’s Bowers Galleries on Aug. 13 in the first of the firm’s American Numismatic Association convention auction sessions. 

Encased postage stamps are numismatic hybrids — philatelic items that served as emergency money during the Civil War. The encasements are made of metal and clear mica and harbor a stamp. 

They are one of the many forms of emergency money created as a consequence of the shortage of coins during the early years of the Civil War. Gold and silver coins disappeared from circulation, and by the summer of 1862, even small cents were being hoarded. 

To satisfy the demand for small change, on July 17, 1862, Congress made ordinary postage stamps legal tender. These were flimsy and sticky and quickly became dirty and torn, and that reality gave rise to the postage encasement. John Gault of New York City was awarded a patent on Aug. 12, 1862, for a metal encasement to protect the stamps. The stamp was visible through a clear mica film while the metal reverse would become a unique mobile advertising surface, on which more than 30 merchants and products were promoted.

Bowers’ interest in the series started at a very young age, and he went on to co-author a reference to the series, The Standard Catalogue of Encased Postage Stamps, with Michael J. Hodder, in 1989. 

Although they are not as popular as they should be today, in the first decade of the 20th century encased postage was among the most actively collected series in American numismatics. Far more people collected these pieces than collected Morgan silver dollars by Mint. 

Among the encased postage offered in the sale was a 1-cent piece from Arthur M. Claflin graded About Uncirculated.

Claflin was born in Hopkinton, Massachusetts, in 1836. Suffering from ill health and believing that a change in climate would be healthful, at the age of 20 he moved to Sumner (today, Atchison), Kansas, where he set up a small general store. However, he moved to the region just as a bloody conflict between anti-slavery and pro-slavery forces worsened, leading Claflin to return to his  birthplace in Massachusetts. Back in Hopkinton, Claflin started a clothing store. It was at this store that he ordered and then issued in 1862 encased postage stamps bearing inscriptions promoting his store. Claflin’s encasements are among the rarest in the series. Denominations known include the 1-cent to 12-cent values; no 24-, 30- or 90-cent pieces are known or even rumored, Stack’s Bowers said. 

The 1-cent encased postage in the auction sold for $16,800.

A 10-cent encased postage stamp in About Uncirculated issued by L.C. Hopkins & Co. realized $4,080.

Hopkins was the scion of an old Massachusetts family that could trace its American roots back to 1633. When he was 16, his family moved to Cincinnati in the hopes of participating in the Western boom market of the 1850s. He became a delivery boy for G.M. Wood, and after marrying Wood’s daughter, became a partner in the business and in 1861, sole owner. The Civil War was the chief impetus toward Hopkins’ financial success. Through his contacts in Cincinnati and Chicago, Hopkins was awarded contracts to supply the Union Army with dry goods, primarily uniforms.

L.C. Hopkins is one of the rarest merchants in the encased postage stamp series, according to Stack’s Bowers, which added, “One specialist believes it is quite possible that the Hopkins encasements in collectors’ hands today are all that remain from an initial shipment of samples sent to him by Gault, and that he never actually ordered any in quantity.” 

Only two to four examples of the 10-cent stamp are known. 

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