Ben Franklin Stamp


Michael Benton, Contributor

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ben franklin stampIn 1775, Benjamin Franklin was appointed as the first Postmaster General of the Post Office Department, predecessor to the United States Post Office. Franklin was an obvious choice as he had served for decades as both the Postmaster of Philadelphia and eventually over all the colonial mail service. He had attained the position in Philadelphia under the direction of the British government in 1737 and was promoted to Joint Postmaster General for the Crown in 1753. After investigating the inefficiencies of the service, Franklin set about instituting new and improved policies for mail delivery. It was during this time that he invented the odometer which he attached to his carriage for measuring the fastest routes between towns and cities. Franklin was so successful that the colonial postal service became profitable while offering faster delivery and more frequent service. It was only after a scandal in 1774, one in which Franklin was implicated as the leaker of official letters from the Governor of Massachusetts requesting British troops to oppress rebels in Boston, that he was stripped of the title and publicly ridiculed in Parliament. Within a year, Franklin was working the same job for the independent-minded Continental Congress and in 1776 he was on the Committee of Five that advised Thomas Jefferson on the writing of the Declaration of Independence.

After his service to the young nation and the Post Office, Benjamin Franklin was the obvious choice for the first U.S. Postage Stamp issued in 1847 for 5 cents. The Ben Franklin stamp of 1847 was very popular and is highly sought after by collectors. In 1861 and 1895, 1 cent Benjamin Franklin stamps were issued. The 1 cent Benjamin Franklin stamp made a popular return with the Washington-Franklin issues of 1908-1922 in which both Franklin and George Washington were depicted on separate stamps with similar profile designs. This series holds the record for longest-running Postage stamp series in the history of the U.S. Post Office. Similarly, Benjamin Franklin holds the record for most depictions of U.S. stamps. Oddly, he also appears on a 1956 issue of postage stamps from the Soviet Union which honored his contributions to science and education on the 250th anniversary of his birth. Of the Washington-Franklin issues, there are many details and misprints that make certain batches more valuable to collectors.

Benjamin Franklin stamps are not always boring images of a simple silhouette. One of Franklin's most famous scientific discoveries was that lightning was in fact electricity, just the same as any spark created from a leiden jar. His notorious experiment for this hypothesis was holding a key on the end of a kite in a storm. Somehow, Franklin was not electrocuted when he successfully drew sparks from the clouds, and the image of this experiment has lived on in the imagination of students and scientist around the world. Depictions of his lightning experiment have appeared on a number of Benjamin Franklin stamps including the U.S. Post Office's 1956 commemoration of the 250th anniversary of his birth.