In 1865 the civil war had ended and folks did not have much money, one method of saving money was to reuse stamps, often by washing the cancel off after peeling them off the envelope. This problem became so bad that it had become a revenue issue to the post office.

To solve this problem the post office sent out a tender to inventors to come up with a tamper proof stamp, this brought out some good ideas and some quacks. Over the course of the next thirteen years 1866-79 the post office examined these submission. Had some of the inventions been taken up stamp collecting would have never started (it became poplar in the early 1880's).

Eventually the post office came up with the grilled stamp, and kept the idea until the re-use problem went away. All stamp collectors are familiar with grilled stamps, for those of you who are not click here for some examples.

So let us begin.


Leaving the Ink on the Envelope

This essay was Henry Loewenbergs idea of a tamper proof stamp, any attempt at removal of the stamp from the envelope would leave the ink on the envelope. To achieve this the stamp was painted on onion skin paper and gum was applied on top of the printed ink.

He called his process 'Decalcomania' More examples can be seen here

The Safety Stamp

The stamp was cut with lines and was printed on very thin paper. The idea was that removing the stamp would force the stamp to tear a the cut lines. Unfortunately, for the unknown inventor, the stamps were fragile, so much so that of the very few examples that survive, almost all are damaged in some way.


The Coupon Stamp

George Bowlsby concept was that the postmaster would remove the top portion of the stamp in order to "cancel" the stamp -- hence the coupon's inscription "STAMP of no value without coupon. COUPON to be removed only by the POSTMASTER." This idea recieved a lot attention, it also doubled the cost of printing, kind of defeating the idea of saving revenue.


'Try Copying This' Stamp

To address the problem of the stamp being copied, as was now the case, the National Bank Note Company thought of printing a design over or under the stamps design. Here are two examples. There were many different variations of design, as you can see by the bottom two examples, they could get a little too decorative.


The 'Cancel it Yourself' Stamp

An ingenious idea, the addressee would write the date of mailing and return address in the oval space provided. The bottom envelope sown an example of a little advertising below the oval stamp. He did not account for the fact that the less honest of us would use erasable ink to write the address.


The 'Absorbent' Stamp

This invention required that the stamp be printed on absorbent paper (which dulled the stamps design quite a bit), rather like blotting paper. When the canceling ink was applied it would soak into the paper, making it really hard to remove. The paper would dissolve when wet and rubbed. The lower illustration of the rear of the stamp shows how an inked letter X is absorbed by the paper. The top illustration shows how dull the stamp looked when printed on this paper.


The 'Dissected' Stamp

Here the stamp was cut diagonally across the face. Any attempt at removing the stamp and it would separate along the cut lines. To the left of the envelope you will see the top corner of a green 3¢ stamp, all that remains of the stamp being pulled off. Nice idea, except that the cut stamps tended to start separating before they were applied to the envelope. We would have collected a lot of bisects if this idea had been adopted.

There was a variation of this idea put forward, that is that a layer of tissue paper be applied to the back of the stamp prior to gumming and perforating, so that the stamp would hold together prior to application to the envelope. Trouble is, ever tried gumming tissue paper?


The 'Scary' Stamp

Almost Dickensian in its concept this scary stamp would turn dark and would run (see right stamp above) when washed. James Sangster's invention required that the stamps had a solution of caustic soda (sodium hydroxide or should we say, paint stripper) and borax were overprinted in a cross hatch pattern (seen clearly on the second stamp), in order to achieve this. One would want to avoid licking the wrong side of the stamp.


The 'Acid' Stamp

Another inventor, Louis H.G. Ehrhardt, decided that instead of using the aforementioned caustic soda he would subject the stamp, and us, to acetate of alumina better known as an antistringent. A lot milder than Cuastic Acid, it merely will cause irratation to the skin and pain to the tongue. Unless of course your job at the time was to apply stamps to commercial mail in which case you would suffer gastrointestinal disturbances (you get the picture). This solution was mixed with the printing ink, when the ink became wet, it dissolved, as can be seen in the image above.


The 'Acid' Cancel

Not content with subjecting us to long lines, late and missing mail the USPS could have had the pleasure of having our stamps canceled with potassium ferrocyanide. That is if the inventor Mr Francis had had his patent taken up by them. Potassium ferrocyanide causes printing ink to change color, as you can see on illustration above.

To be trure, Potassium ferrocyanide, is not that toxic, despite the inclusion of the word cyanide in the name, its use on stamps would have caused few, if any side effects. It is most commonly seen in the dark rooms of photographers as a means of color correction. It is also applied to countless products that we handle on a day to day basis, such as wool, wood products etc etc.

Mr Francis also proposed using Gallic acid, another relatively harmless chemical, which would have turned the stamps brown when washed with it as a form of cancel.


The 'Cut Cancel'

Although the idea of hole punching stamps affixed to fiscal documents took hold, the idea of hole punching stamps affixed to envelopes was a non-starter, as folks did not like the idea of the letter from their aunt also being hole punched. The inventor, Kendrick Wheeler, not only thought of the hole punched cancel, he came up with the idea of coloring the edge of the cut cancel. The bottom two stamps have been cut with the word cancel and the hole punch had red ink applied to the sides.


The 'Ring Pull' Stamp

Instead of cutting a hole in the stamp at time of cancelling, and thereby destroying the mail as well, it was thought it might be a better idea to have a tab cut into the stamp, which when pulled would leave a hole in a stamp. If the Post Office had a union at the time I am sure they would have nixed this idea.


The 'Sand' Stamp

This one is one of the more whacky ideas proposed. The inventor, a Mr Spencer, proposed that a coating of "emery, sand, or other hard granular material" be placed on the gummed side of a sheet of stamps, before the gum dried, so that it would adhere to the gum. Then, "when the stamp is hit by a strong blow, the granular material would disfigure the paper." Because the idea was rejected, our beaches were not drained of their main ingredient. Licking this stamp must have been a hoot.


The 'Lined' Stamp

Sangster, the creator of the scary stamp, had a more sane idea of running lines of soluble ink which would leave lines in the stamp if washed. To me a great idea. The two stamps above show the stamp before washing and two on the right after washing. This would have forced all US stamp collectors to collect covers.


The 'Exploding' Stamp

I saved the best to last. I can only imagine the Post Office review board, after rejecting the caustic soda stamp thought that nothing could be worse. However, and I kid you not, this idea was submitted to them.

An explosive cap was to be embedded in the stamp, if struck with a strong blow it would explode, thereby rendering the stamp useless. Shown above are the before the explosion and after the explosion images. Missing, is the picture of the users finger, before and after.