One of the most elusive of early United States stamps is the imperforate five cent issued in 1856. Produced from a single plate, it is estimated that only about 150,000 were sold before being replaced by the perforated version in 1857. The five cent value was created in part to serve the need for the five cent open mail rate. Under the United States-British Postal Treaty, a letter could be sent to France, or beyond, bearing only five cents postage. This amount paid the rate to Great Britain. Since the only low value stamps available from 1851 to 1856 were in denominations of one and three cents, this open mail rate required at least three stamps.

The five cent imperforate saw very little usage in the domestic mails. It was used infrequently to pay three cent multiple rates, or the ten cent rate over 3,000 miles. Only two examples are recorded of its use to pay the five cent registry fee.

The largest number of known usages of the five cent imperforate are to France. It is estimated that more than two thirds of the existing covers fall into this category. Usage of the stamp to overseas destinations, other than France, was only moderate. This exhibit includes examples to various German States, Great Britain, Bermuda, Cape Verde, China, Denmark, India, Sardinia, Java, Mexico, Switzerland and Belgium.

The covers to France present a very interesting group. When the five cent stamps were issued in 1856, two postal rates were in use for mail to France: a five cent open mail rate, as well as the seldom used twenty cent rate for mail carried by the Havre Line of steamers. These rates continued through the first three months of 1857 and, as a result of an Anglo-French treaty existing at that time, this “Three Month Period” saw distinctive debit markings applied to mail that transited Great Britain. On April 1, 1857, the effective date of a new treaty between the United States and France, a convention rate of fifteen cents was established. However, it was shortly thereafter, in August of 1857, that the imperforate issue was supplanted by the perforated five cents.

This exhibit will show the proofs, stamps and usages of the five cent 1856 issue developed on the following outline.

1. The Proofs
2. The Issued Stamps
3. Domestic Usages
4. Usages to British North America
5. Usage to France
6. Usages to Germany
7. Other Overseas usages

Richard C. Frajola and Frederick R. Mayer recently authored a book entitled "The United States Five Cent Stamp of 1856" published by the Collector's Club of New York. For more information about the book, please see page here.