American Stamp Dealer — April 2011
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The Tax Collector
Ron Lesher

The 1877 Distilled Spirits for Exportation Stamp: An Almost New Discovery

This is a tale of a stamp and a tribute to my philatelic mentor, the late Ernest Wilkens, who never saw the stamp which will be featured here. It is also a tale of the excitement to which fans of graded stamps will probably never be able to relate or maybe even understand. As I write, the story of the acquisition of this stamp begins about two Months ago with the spotting of an offering of the stamp in Figure1. Even revenue stamps enthusiasts have to admit that this is an ugly, incomplete stamp.

But first let’s explore what a Distilled Spirits for Exportation stamp is and how it functioned within the Bureau of Internal Revenue’s elaborate accounting system for alcohol that evolved in the 1870’s. The use of paper stamps to show tax payment on alcohol began in 1868 and included (1) stamps for barrels entered into a distillery warehouse without paying the tax; (2) tax paid stamps;
(3) rectified spirits stamps for alcohol that had been purified, refined, redistilled, or compounded; and (4) wholesale liquor dealers stamps, for breaking up the large barrels into smaller containers but retaining the record that the tax had been paid. In 1872, Internal Revenue added a stamp to be placed on barrels for spirits designated for export without paying any tax (Figure 2). This was a new efficiency introduced for the convenience of both the government and the distillers. No longer did the distiller have to pay the gov-Ernment the tax on the spirits and then upon exportation apply to the government for a drawback (a refund of the taxes), nor did the government have to process the payment for the refund.

The illustration of the 1872 Export Distilled Spirits stamp shown (Figure 2) is a Deats and Sterling remainder, defaced with a number of pie-shaped wedges. These are from the large hoard of defaced obsolete tax paid stamps acquired from the government by Hiram Deats and the Trenton stamp dealer, E. B. Sterling. Offhand, I cannot recall ever seeing a used copy of this stamp. How long the 1872 stamps remained in service is not known for sure.This stamp was printed by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.

A number of years ago a plate proof of a Series of 1875 stamp inscribed Distilled Spirits for Exportation was discovered (Figure3) . No used or unused examples of these stamps have been recorded.Further, the Series of 1875 stamp is not found in the venerable Springfield List published by the United States Revenue Society in 1912. The reason for the change that we see in the Series of 1875 stamp is that the National Bank Note Company had obtained the contract for printing revenue stamps. Based on the existence of the plate proof, it seems likely that this stamp was issued and used, But since these stamps would have been used on distilled spirits that were sent abroad, it is not unreasonable that we have not seen a used example. After all, its predecessor, the 1872 stamp, has not yet been recorded as a used example either.

And now the piece de resistance was spotted in an auction in France, described as having been assembled from pieces from two or more stamps. In fact, close examination of Figure 1 shows that the pieces have not been assembled properly. My immediate assumption was that this stamp was the Series of 1875 stamp. Although the condition scared me off, I eventually decided to enter a low bid on the item and I was successful. Then came the wait until the item arrived in the mail. It was only at that time, that I discovered the Series of 1877 inscription. Comparison to the 1875 proof confirmed that these were two similar stamps, but from different series.

My excitement grew as I scanned the stamp and emailed the image to a fellow taxpaid enthusiast. A reply came soon confirming several elements of the story just enumerated: no used examples of the 1875 stamp have been recorded, a Deats and Sterling remainder of the 1877 stamp was known, and that in neither case (1875 Or 1877) was there a recorded used example of the stamp. It was in that same correspondence that the words of my enthusiastic philatelic mentor, Ernest Wilkens, jumped off the page, IT’S ALMOST ALL THERE! Yes, it was as if Ernie was sitting there by my side and excitedly yelling the understated. What excitement he always exhibited on spotting something new, regardless of its condition.Ernie’s excitement was contagious and still reaches me more than eleven years after our last phone conversation.

So where was my excitement going to carry me? Well first, the stamp was going to visit the soaking tray. Fortunately, the stamp had been reassembled, albeit badly, with a water soluble adhesive.Shortly it floated apart into five pieces, which originated from at least three different stamps (Figure 4). One of the pieces was essentially redundant and was not used in reconstructing the Series of 1877 Distilled Spirits for Exportation stamp in my album.

And so we have journeyed from an atrociously assembled used stamp, seen it taken apart, and have arrived with a reassembled used example of a very scarce stamp that was never intended to Be found here in the United States. In fact, it was not found here, but rather in a foreign country. Regrettably the central portion of the stamp is missing, defaced when the distilled spirits arrived at its destination. That was actually a requirement of the government regulations. If those regulations had been followed, we would have very few of the taxpaid stamps in our collections today. Fortunately for us today, there have always been stamp collectors who were willing to ignore the government regulations and “save” these artifacts from the past.

Have I conveyed my enthusiasm about the four pieces that have been glued on top of a photocopy of what the original stamp must have looked like (Figure 5)? I am proud to have it grace one of my stamp albums. IT’S ALMOST ALL THERE!

One last thought. The 1877 Distilled Spirits for Exportation stamp must have been in use for a very short period. A year later the Bureau of Engraving and Printing took over the production of revenue stamps and the Series of 1878 stamp was introduced (Figure6) , a stamp that was to remain in use until 1940!
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