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Bureau of Engraving and Printing  Search this
paper; ink; gum
Postage Stamps
United States of America
May 13, 1918
The 24-cent Curtiss Jenny stamp enjoyed many distinctions: not only was it the first U.S. airmail stamp, it was also the world's first definitive airmail stamp, the first bicolored airmail stamp, the first airmail stamp printed with an error, the first airmail stamp produced for a regular service, and the first letter postage issue with a twenty-four cent face value to be produced by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, to name but a few.
On May 6, 1918, the Post Office Department authorized airplanes to carry mail at twenty-four cents per ounce. The Bureau of Engraving and Printing immediately rushed the first airmail issue into production, and that stamp was the 24-cent Jenny. The issue's central design was based on the U.S. Army's Curtiss plane, also to be used on the inaugural flights. Coincidentally, the Jenny portrayed on the issued stamp had the identical fuselage #38262 as the Curtiss airplane carrying the first mail from Washington, D.C., on May 15, l918.
The printing plates were ready by May 11, and sheet production using a hand-fed spider press began. The spider press required separate operations to print the carmine frame and then the blue vignette. Produced in sheets of one hundred stamps on unwatermarked paper with margins all around and perforated 11, it was necessary to trim away two adjacent margins prior to sale. Daily press runs averaged about three hundred and fifty sheets, and eventually just over three million were printed. Also valid for non-airmail postal use, the twenty-four cent rate also included the built-in special delivery service fee of ten cents. All copies were produced from single plates of each color, with frame plate vertical and horizontal guidelines within the sheet stamps and margin arrows of both colors in the top and bottom margins to assist in proper centering of the airplane vignette during the second printing process.
Public use of the stamp for payment of the twenty-four cent airmail rate slowly diminished as the novelty of flown mail faded. Further, a surface letter could be sent for much less, even with the ten-cent fee for special delivery. Always considered a beautifully engraved issue, the stamp's basic design would be used again in the July printing of a lower rate airmail issue.
Joe Kirker
May 18, 2006
U.S. Stamps  Search this
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National Postal Museum