The Secret Mark on the 3¢ Washington U.S. Bank Note Postage Stamp
3¢ U.S. Bank Note Stamps – No secret mark – US 136 or 147
There is only light shading below the upper ribbon under “THREE” and no heavy shading at the point where the two ribbons join.
3¢ Bank Note – With Secret Mark – US 158, 184 or 207
There is shading below the upper ribbon, below “THREE”. Note that there is heavy shading at the point where the two ribbons join.
The Original Design Vs the Re-engraved Design on the 3¢ Bank Notes
Close-ups of the Original and Re-engraved Designs of the 3¢ Bank Notes
A blow-up of the distinguishing areas of the original design of the 3¢ Bank Note (left) Vs the 3¢ Re-engraved stamp of 1881. Note the thinner line of shading around the vignette of Washington on the re-engraved stamp at right. Also note the strong added line of shading underneath the “T” and “S” of “CENTS” on the re-engraved stamp. The original design does not have this single strong line.
Follow these steps in the identification of your three cent Bank Note:
Determine the type of paper the stamp was printed on. If it was printed on the “hard white” paper it is either a National or Continental printing. If it was printed on the “soft porous” paper, it is an American printing, either US 184 or US 207. See the diagram above to distinguish the American printings once the stamp has been determined to be on soft paper.
If it is on the hard paper, i.e. either a National or Continental Bank Note printing, check for the “secret” mark. If it has the “secret” mark it is the Continental Bank Note stamp. If the stamp was printed on the “hard white” paper and does not have the “secret mark”, it was printed by the National Bank Note Company. If the stamp has a grill, it may be US 136. If it does not have a grill it is US 147. Care must be taken when authenticating the grill. Many fake grills have been added over the years in an attempt to increase the value of the stamp. A used US 136 is common enough that it may not be necessary to certify all copies, but nicely centered, fault-free, and particularly unused stamps should be certified.
If it is an American Bank Note printed on the soft porous paper, compare the line of shading around the vignette with the illustrations above to determine whether it is US 184 or US 207. Check for the strong added line of shading added underneath the “T” and “S” of “CENTS” on the re-engraved stamp, the original design does not have this single strong line.
If you are unsure of the type of paper used or, more likely, of the secret mark, you should assume that the stamp is the more common variety. It is sometimes difficult to determine whether there is shading in the ribbons.
Watch also for removal of the secret mark by scraping and for re-perforation (to fake a more well-centered stamp), for re-gumming (a major problem with the Bank Notes), and even for bleaching of the cancellation (to remove the cancel).
We include the “Special” printings in the identification guide merely for completeness. Only 267 copies total, of US 169 and 194, were sold and they were never issued for postal use. All were issued without gum. We occasionally see uncertified copies of these stamps offered for sale at ridiculously low prices. You can rest assured that the stamp being offered is not genuine. These stamps are so rare, only 60 copies are known, they seldom come up for sale, except in the sale of a major U.S. Collection.