4¢ - Ultramarine, dull ultramarine or deep ultramarine
Scott #233


Used: $1-$3
No postmark with gum (MH): $6-$18
Full perfect gum, no postmark, no trace of stamp hinge mark (MNH): $35-$80


Issued: The 4¢ was officially issued on January, 1st 1893, a Sunday, and at Post Offices the following day. There are a couple of examples postmarked, one in Boston and one inNew York, N.Y., on January 1st, 1893.

The Boston Post Office had the whole series (minus the 8¢) for sale on January 2nd, not waiting for the launch at the Expo the next day. As a result there are a few first day covers with the January 2nd date. Such an example is shown above, there are only four January 2nd FDC's known.

Plate Size: Sheets of 100 subjects (2 panes of 50)


Printer: The American Bank Note Company, thereafter, with one exception of the Overun stamps of 1943 all stamps have since been printed by the Bureau of Engraving

Watermark: None

Quantity Issued: 19,181,550

Color: Ultramarine, dull ultramarine, deep ultramarine and the color error, blue. See below for details of the color error.

Common use: The stamp often paid the double weight, first-class mail rate. It was also frequently used, in combination with other stamps, to pay for foreign destination rates.

233 cover

What you should look for

As with all the values of this issue, look for Columbian Expo cancels, they increase the value of the stamp or cover.


Occasionally postmarks from states that had tiny amounts of mail in this year can add to the value. This is particularly true of Alaska and the Territories. For a list of the number of stamps issued by each state in the year ending 30th June 1894 click here.

The Inspiration for the Design

The vignette depicts the Fleet of Columbus, the flagship of Christopher Columbus, the Santa Maria is prominent in the center. The origin of the image is Gustav Adolf Closs’s 1892 painting “Die Schiffe des Columbus” (The ships of Columbus).

Varieties to look for

The Blue Color Error

The stamps color is normally ultramarine. #233a is the Scotts # for the color error of this stamp. The stamp was printed with the blue ink used for the 1¢, instead of the ultramarine of the 4¢ value. Two sheets, #D17 and #D18 were purchased whole, the plate numbers from these sheets still exist. There were other sheets printed and sold as postage, these appear occasionally appear at auctions at a hefty premium over the standard #233. The color error was caused by when the printers erroneously used the ink designated for the 1¢ issue.

There are 15 to 20 used examples.

4¢ - Deep Blue (color error)
Scott #233a - 1893
only 12 used copies exist


Used: $5,000
No postmark with gum (MH): $11,000-$13,000
Full perfect gum, no postmark, no trace of stamp hinge mark (MNH): None exist

The Three Leaf Variety


A fairly common variety, it marginally adds to the value of the stamp.


233 bisect

Rare bisects - Fall 2011 Auction - $4,500
Images courtesy of Spinks

The Essay's and Proofs

Despite the popularity of the Columbian series there are very few essays and proofs on the market, the most common of which is the 4¢ value.

Large Die Essay on India
82 x 70mm card with full die sinkage

Large Die Essay on India
Showing green color that ended up being
used on the 3¢

Columbian large die proof on India, die sunk on 110x101mm card

Plate proof on card stock

Much as we collect stamps today, others collect items from the Columbian
Exposition, sitting in this back garden is one of the original ticket booths
from the Exposition.