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Embossed postcard with train image - 20th Century Limited

October 29, 1971

Sc. 1440-43 - issued 10/29/71

Sc. 1442 - issued 10/29/71

I don't collect cable cars, but many rail philatelists do, and this stamp is in the ATA Handbook, hence I am including it here.

I live near San Francisco, and love to ride the cable cars every chance I get. The California Street line is my favorite, as it is used mostly by locals, and feels like quaint but practical transportation, rather than a theme-park ride, which is all the other lines are.

The view on this stamp is from Hyde street, looking North towards the San Francisco Bay. There is an old sailing vessel (The Balclutha) moored at the Hyde Street Pier, though the actual view at the bottom of that hill would look more like this, i.e. the artist has omitted some details to simplify the stamp's image. I assume the image was based on a photo, so the next time I go over to the City I intend to see if I can determine the exact spot from which that photo was taken - stay tuned. In the meantime, Here is a map of the cable car lines, so you can see the layout. My guess is that the stamp's view is from the corner of Hyde and Filbert.

Today is the 10th anniversary of the first presentation of Alphabetilately as a slide show, so I met two other veterans of the project for a commemorative lunch, and took advantage of the opportunity to find out the exact location of the view on Scott 1442. I was three blocks off - it's from about half a block below the corner of Hyde and Chestnut. As I mentioned above, the artist omitted some key features of the scene - mainly the jetties - and shortened the perspective, but I think it's clear this is the view.

USPS publicity for this issue stated:

Four jumbo-sized stamps, setenant, were released October 19, 1971, in San Diego, Calif., commemorating the historic preservation movement in the United States. First day ceremonies were held in conjunction with the annual conference of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The horizontal designs chosen to begin this series are representative of four areas: Decatur House, built in 1819 in Washington, D.C., by Commodore Stephen Decatur and now a house museum; a 19th century whaling vessel anchored in Mystic, Conn.; a San Francisco cable car which still operates on 10 miles of track; and San Xavier del Bac Mission, near Tucson, Ariz., in existence since 1797.

These stamps were printed on a light beige paper with a darker beige applied by offset, and the dark brown engraved design by the Giori intaglio press. The stamps, 1.80 by 1.05 inches each, were issued in panes of 32.

That text implies there were supposed to be further issues on this theme, but none ever appeared.

I wanted to confirm the statement that only ten miles of cable-car track survive, and learned HERE (scroll down to June, 2004) that the correct number is 8.8 miles of "revenue track" on three lines, with 37 cars in service. I also wanted to know how many miles of cable-car track were in service at the system's peak, and after some frustrating dead-ends, found (where else?) at the Rice-A-Roni web page, that "Prior to 1906, the system had 600 cars rolling on 22 cable lines over 110 miles of track." That seemed too low, but then I realized the cable cars were used mainly on the steep hills, while self-propelled systems covered the easier terrain of the City.

These stamps were designed by Melbourne Brindle, and printed using a combination of lithography and engraving. Over 170 million were printed, making them still relatively common today, and worth little more than their face value. There are two missing color errors, "black brown omitted", valued at $2,250 for a block of four, and "ocher omitted", no value given. There is also a "tagging omitted" error, valued at $65 for the block.

As I said at the beginning of this entry, I do not collect streetcars, cable cars, etc. - only trains - so I have no FDCs for this stamp. All that I have seen simply echo the scenes on the stamps, shuffled in various ways.

A San Francisco cable car appears on another U.S. stamp as well, a 20¢ 1988 Transportaion Coil -
more about that stamp here.

August 16, 1974

Sc. 1506, yellow, red, blue, brown, green, and black
Issued 8/16/74

This stamp was the third and last in the 1973-74 "Rural America" issue. The prior two stamps had honored the place of the Angus cattle and the Chautauqua movement in the settlement and development of the rural areas of the U.S. Those don't seem like earth-shaking themes today, but I think the error the USPS made was not in starting a series of questionable import, but rather in not carrying a good series further.

The text on the stamp reads "KANSAS HARD WINTER WHEAT 1874-1974". Here's the text for this issue from the Fleetwood FDC in my collection:

On August 16, 1874, Mennonite immigrants from Russia arrived in Marion County, Kansas, with small quantities of a red, Turkish strain of hardy, drought-resistant, heavy-yielding wheat. The strain of wheat, called "Turkey Red" by the Mennonites, has for many years been known as Hard Winter Wheat, and to this day is grown extensively in Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and other wheat-producing states. This event has been termed "possibly the most significant event in Kansas history" for economic reasons and because "Turkey Red" would make the state a major world granary. The Mennonites who came to help open America's West were hard-working farmers descended from German settlers who, at about the time of America's Revolution, had "pioneered" in the Ukraine at the invitation of the Czarina Catherine the Great who exempted these peaceful people from military service. They immigrated to the United States and Canada in significant numbers between 1873 and 1883 when they were declared eligible for military conscription in the Russian military services.

The train shown on this stamp, a classic American 4-4-0 with tender and two passenger coaches, is an important element of the picture, since it was the railroad companies that sold land to many settlers in Kansas, and connected them to the rest of the country.  (You can't actually see the wheels of the locomotive in the image, so I am assuming it's a 4-4-0 simply because that's the only type of engine that would have been used in that place and time.)

Railroads in the US were granted huge quantities of land in the mid-1800s, to encourage them to build railroads where they might otherwise not have done so, and to compensate them for the huge costs - and risks -  involved.  Between 1850 and 1870, over 129 million acres (seven percent of the continental United States, most of it west of the Mississippi!) was granted to 80 railroad companies. The table below summarizes the major grants in the state of Kansas, as of 1883.

Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe 2,930,338
Kansas City, Lawrence & Southern Kansas 242,349
Union Pacific (Kansas Division) 6,625,508
Missouri, Kansas & Texas 1,041,769
Kansas City, Fort Scott & Gulf 89,672
Total 10,929,637

The total size of the entire state of Kansas is about 52 million acres, so the land grants to railroads as of 1883 totaled over 20% of the total state!  However, nearly a third of that acreage was eventually reclaimed by the government, since the grantees failed to comply with the requirements of the grants.

Not to say that the railroads did not hold up their end of the bargain - by 1873 the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe system had 2,659 miles of track in Kansas. In 1909 (near the peak of railroads in the U.S.), "The Interstate Commerce Commission ... gives the railroad mileage for Kansas as 8,947.09 miles. ... The state railroad commission in its biennial report for 1909-10 reported 11,272 miles, which included both main lines and side tracks." The total U.S. peak railroad mileage, in 1916, was 254,000.

None of the FDCs I could find added anything worthwhile to the story of this stamp, either visually or verbally, so I decided to show instead the image below, from the USPS Commemorative panel for the stamp. It is a stock engraving from the American Bank Note Company archives, and supports nicely the theme of the role of wheat and the railroads in the development of Rural America.

ABNC engraving

In case you're wondering what that blurred arc running under the image is, I was able to make out - under 30-power magnification - these words:
Entered according to act of congress in the year 1865 by the Continental Bank Note Co. in the clerk's office in the district court of the United States for the Southern district of New York.

This is a standard form of copyright notice in use prior to 1909.

The designer of this stamp was John Falter, the modeler was Frank J Waslick, and the engravers were J S Wallace, Jr. (vignette) and K C Wiram (lettering). Just over 141 million copies were printed, and the stamp is still relatively plentiful today, making it easy to find in full panes of 50 at close to face value. It was printed in a combination of engraving (the black and dark blue, Giori press) and offset (yellow, red, blue, and brown).

Scott 1506 and 1506a

There is a missing color error - two panes (100 copies) were found with the engraved portion (blue and black) missing, catalog value $900. There is also a "missing tagging" error, catalog value $15.

- http://www.landandfreedom.org/ushistory/us13.htm
- http://skyways.lib.ks.us/genweb/archives/1912/l/land_grants.html
- http://skyways.lib.ks.us/genweb/archives/1912/r/railroads.html
- http://college.hmco.com/history/readerscomp/rcah/html/ah_073400_railroads.htm
- Scott Specialized Catalog of US Stamps, 1997

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Revised -- 5/14/2007