Saturday, October 23, 2010

The St. Louis Provisionals. Featuring Hermann Ivester's Scott 2008 US Specialized Article

Example of Scott RS387
T.M. Sayman 1 1/4c in dark blue ink
"St. Louis Provisional"

As Hermann Ivester explains below, the St. Louis Provisionals were produced as a result of delays in proprietary medicine firms receiving tax stamps by the beginning of the tax period on July 1, 1898.  Several firms in St. Louis and one in Macon, Georgia produced similarly worded self-printed stamps on authority of US government tax collectors.  Scott began to list these stamps in the private die section of the Specialized catalog in 2008, and printed a Special Feature by Hermann Ivester on these provisional issues.  The text of that article is included in this post. 

Scott lists a total of 12 companies that issued these provisional revenues.  An overview of these companies can be found at Bob Hohertz' site.  Those firms and their stamps include:

Antikamnia Chemical Co., St. Louis

RS320  1/8c, black ink, yellow paper
RS321  2 1/2c, black ink, white paper
RS323  Free sample stamp, black ink, yellow paper

As Hermann explains in his article below, the number RS322 is reserved in case a 2 1/2c on yellow paper shows up.  Bob Hohertz' site considers these stamps here.  Antikamnia is best known as a user of fancy printed cancels on the battleship proprietary stamps.

I have copies of RS321 and RS323 in my collection but am looking for RS320.  Does anybody have one to spare?

Fairchild Chemical Laboratory Co., St. Louis

RS325  5/8c, black ink

W. R. Holmes, Macon, Georgia

RS330  2 1/2c, green ink

Lambert Pharmacal Co., St. Louis

RS335  2 1/2c, red ink

Meyer Brothers Drug Co., St. Louis

Example of RS340a
Meyer Brothers 1/8c, green ink on white paper

RS340a  1/8c, green ink, white paper 
RS343b  5/8c, green ink, buff paper
RS345c 1 1/4c, green ink, rough manila paper
RS349a   5c, green ink, white paper
RS350b 11 1/4c, green ink, buff paper 

Example of RS351a
Meyer Brothers black ink on white paper

RS351a  1/8c, black ink
RS352a  1/4c, black ink
RS353a  3/8c, black ink
RS354a  5/8c, black ink
RS355a  1c, black ink
RS357a  2c, black ink
RS358a  3c, black ink
RS359a  4c, black ink
RS360a  5c, black ink
RS361a 11 1/4c, black ink

The most common of all of the St.Louis Provisionals are the Meyer Brothers stamps printed in black ink.  Bob Hohertz provides more background and images of all of the Meyer Brothers stamps here.

John T. Milliken & Co., St. Louis

RS365  1/8c, black ink
RS366  5/8c, black ink

Phenique Chemical Co., St. Louis

RS370b  1/8c, black ink, buff paper
RS371a  1/4c, black ink, yellow paper
RS372a  5/8c, black ink, yellow paper
RS372b  5/8c, black ink, buff paper
RS375a  2 1/2c, black ink, yellow paper
RS376b  3 1/8c, black ink, buff paper
RS377b  3 3/4c, black ink, buff paper

Read more about this company and these stamps at Bob Hohertz' site.

Prickly Ash Bitters Co., St. Louis

RS381  2 1/2c, green ink

T. M. Sayman, St. Louis

RS385  1/4c, dark blue ink
RS386  5/8c, dark blue ink
RS387 1 1/4c, dark blue ink

Van Dyke Bitters Co., St. Louis

RS390  2 1/2c, blue ink, bluish glazed paper

Walker Pharmacal Co., St. Louis

RS395  2 1/2c, black ink

The following text originally appeared in the
2008 Scott US Specialized Catalog
Special Feature, pp 597-599.

The St. Louis Provisionals
A Tribute to Charles A. Nast
by Hermann Ivester

The Spanish-American War tax act was signed into law by President William McKinley on June 13, 1898. It was enacted to “provide ways and means to meet war expenditures, and for other purposes.” It increased certain existing taxes and imposed new ones. One of the new taxes was a tax on a wide variety of products falling under the broad category of “medicinal proprietary articles and preparations.” Manufacturers were required to affix a tax stamp to each such article offered for sale. The tax rates were based on the selling price of their products as follows:

Selling Price                                                                  Tax

5 cents or less                                                                1/8 cent
More than 5 cents to 10 cents                                         1/4 cent
More than 10 cents to 15 cents                                       3/8 cent
More than 15 cents up to 25 cents                                  5/8 cent
For each additional 25 cents or fraction thereof               5/8 cent

These rates were less than those imposed on proprietary articles under the Civil War Revenue Act of 1862, passed to finance the Civil War, that were repealed in 1883. The new taxes became effective July 1, 1898, and the Internal Revenue Department was unable to supply the huge quantities of stamps needed. Among the devices used to meet this emergency was that of Dr. Kilmer & Company of Binghamton, New York, who in frustration resorted to overprinting 1c, 2c, and 3c postage stamps. The amount paid for the postage stamps used exceeded the amount of the taxes owed. The Kilmer company was rewarded for its efforts by having at least one shipment of its famous “Swamp Root” medicine bearing the stamps seized, and the company was subjected to the threat of prosecution.

Medicine manufacturers in St. Louis (plus one in Macon, Georgia) avoided such difficulties by striking a deal with the local collector of internal revenue. The agreement allowed them to print their own stamps for temporary use and to pay their taxes by sworn returns until the government-issued stamps were available. These stamps are commonly referred to as the St. Louis Provisionals.

The St. Louis Provisionals eventually became known to revenue stamp collectors, who began to seek them out. The most determined effort was made by Charles A. Nast** of Denver, a collector, columnist for Mekeel’s Weekly Stamp News, chronicler of new revenue stamps, and one of the great philatelists of all time. It is Nast to whom we are indebted for most of the knowledge we now have of these provisionals. Through the medium of his regular column in Mekeel’s, Nast became the focal point for all discoveries during 1903-1905. Upon learning of each newly discovered provisional, he wrote the drug company seeking information as the company’s use of the provisionals and examples of the stamps. When he was unable to obtain to obtain satisfactory answers to his questions, he called upon a friend, W. A. Sisson, who lived in St. Louis, to visit the company. In the case of ten values of the Meyer Brothers Drug Co., new Scott Nos. RS351-361, it was Sisson who obtained the stamps during his personal visit. In response to Nast’s first letter, the manager had, incorrectly, stated that all remainders had been destroyed. The ones we have today certainly would have been destroyed had it not been for Nast’s diligent efforts to learn all about these stamps.

Nast also looked forward to the day that the St. Louis Provisionals would be properly catalogued, although he despaired of their being listed in the standard Scott catalog. In his column in the August 8, 1903, issue of Mekeel’s he noted “there can be little doubt as to their being veritable provisional revenue stamps, having every requisite to entitle them to admission under this head to our albums – I will not say catalogue, as so many good things are now missing in that ‘good book,’ which will only find their proper niches when we…publish our own catalogue.” And Nast did, indeed, edit “A New And Complete Catalogue Of The Revenues Of The United States, Embracing All Documentary And Proprietary Stamps…And A List Of All Known Varieties Of Provisional...Stamps Of The Spanish-American War Period,” published by George J. Carter, circa 1907. Included in this Catalogue are new Scott Nos. RS320-321, RS335, RS350-355, RS357-RS361, RS379 (a reserved number because the existence of this stamp has never been confirmed), RS381 and RS385-387. Ironically, the Dr. Kilmer provisionals, whose use the government deemed unlawful, have been listed in the Scott Specialized Catalogue of United States Stamps and Covers since 1957 but were not included in Nast’s catalogue. Alas, a later issue of Nast’s catalogue never appeared. Although several subsequent listings of the stamps have appeared in philatelic periodicals, Nast’s beloved St. Louis Provisionals were banished from a current catalog for more than 100 years – until now. With the accompanying listing in the 2008 Scott U.S. Specialized Catalogue it can be said that Charles Nast’s vision has finally become reality.

Catalogue Numbers

Skips in numbers [in the Scott listings] are to allow for new discoveries of previously unknown denominations or types, previously unknown users, and denominations listed in previous lists that were not in the auctions of the Gaudio Collection in 1982 (John W. Kaufman Auction 85, June 5, 1982) or the Joyce Collection in 1991 (Daniel F. Kelleher, Inc. 589th Sale, June 4-6, 1991) and are presently unknown. For example, No. RS325, the Fairchild Chemical Laboratory Company stamp, came to light after the Joyce sale, and No. RS349, the 5 cent green Meyer Brothers, a previously unknown denomination in green, showed up in State Revenue Society Auction 16 in 2000. Fairchild was a previously unknown user. With the appearance of this listing, additional stamps will almost certainly be reported. The specific numbers reserved are the following:

RS322: 2 ½ cent Antikamnia, black on yellow. Lot 1049 in the Gaudio sale was described as “2 ½ c black on yellowish.” It was purchased by Joyce. However, it was not included in the Joyce sale, which must be presumed from the fact that the two 2 ½ cent Antikamnia stamps in the sale were not pictured and were described as black but with no indication that the paper was other than white. The stamp listed in the Gaudio sale may have been on toned paper rather than yellow paper. In Nast’s column in the August 8, 1903, Mekeel’s, he reprinted a letter from the Antikamnia company indicating that the 1/8 cent stamps were printed on yellow paper “to distinguish them form the 2 ½ cent provisionals which were printed on white paper,” so it is highly improbable that the 2 ½ cent was printed on yellow paper.

RS226: 2 ½ cent Lambert, black on white. Nast referred to a letter from the Lambert company indicating it used a total of 6,500 of these stamps, all printed in black on white, in his column in the August 8, 1903 Mekeel’s. In his listing of these stamps in the 1908 United States Revenue Society Year Book, Nast also listed the stamp as black on white, and did not list the red on white. Joyce listed both types in the May 1956 The American Revenuer, but he dropped the black on white listing in his list in the December 1970 Scott’s Monthly Stamp Journal. The black-on-white listings are clearly erroneous, as the black on white is presently unknown, and the red on white is common relative to most of the other St. Louis Provisionals, a fact consistent with the large number of 6,500 cited by Nast.

RS341, RS342, RS344, RS346, RS347, and RS348 1/4 cent, 1/8 cent, 1 cent, 2 cent, 3 cent, 4 cent, Meyer Brothers, green. The fact that the printing in black contained all of these denominations indicates that the earlier printings in green may have also. The 5 cent green was not publicly known prior to 2000, so the possibility of further discoveries still exists.

RS356 1 ¼ cent Meyer Brothers, black. The company used this denomination in green, so it could also exist in black.

RS362 No Value, Meyer Brothers, black. Joyce listed a no-value black stamp in the February 1950 American Revenuer but not in the May 1956 American Revenuer nor in the December 1970 Scott’s Monthly Stamp Journal.

RS373 and RS374 1 ¼ cent and 1 7/8 cent Phenique. These were listed by Nast in the 1908 US Revenue Society Year Book, and by Joyce in the February 1950 and May 1956 issues of The American Revenuer. Joyce referred to them in the December 1970 Scott’s Monthly Stamp Journal as having been listed by Nast. They probably do exist.

RS379 and RS380 ¼ cent and 1 ¼ cent Prickly Ash Bitters. In his Mekeel’s column of march 25, 1905, Nast quoted a letter from the Prickly Ash Bitters Co. indicated it used a 1 ¼ cent stamp. In his listing in the 1908 US Revenue Society Yearbook that updated the known stamps as listed in his catalog, Nast listed a ¼ cent stamp and described it as being on “very rough paper, same as Meyer Bros’ Drug Co. used.” He may have presumed this because that is how he described the paper of the 11 ¼ cent Meyer Brothers stamp, and the Prickly Ash Bitters Co. acknowledged in a letter that the same printing company produced both their stamps and the Meyer Brothers stamps. Joyce stated that he did not know of either denomination of Prickly Ash Bitters in the December 1970 Scott’s Monthly Stamp Journal.

Meyer Brothers, Nos. RS351-355, RS357-361 The Meyer Brothers stamps printed in black were undoubtedly prepared for use, although none has ever been found in used condition. Apparently the regular stamps became available before many, or perhaps any, were used. In his January 14, 1905 column in Mekeel’s, Nast described how these unused stamps were unearthed by a company clerk after days of searching by the clerk and Nast’s friend, W. A. Sisson. Nast wrote that “no doubt these were all used, but only for a very short time.” Nast further observed that “having been authorized by the government under and by an observance of the proper regulations of the Internal Revenue Dept. the must be classed as provisional proprietaries of the ’98 series.

The other question about these stamps is why 1 cent, 2 cent, 3 cent, 4 cent, 5 cent, and 11 ¼ cent denominations were printed, since no single item would require that amount of tax. The 1 cent and higher values could well have been for packages of multiples of lower priced articles. A package of four 10 cent items would have required a tax of 1 cent, eight items a tax of 2 cents, 12 items a tax of 3 cents, 16 items a tax of 4 cents, 20 items a tax of 5 cents, and 45 items and tax of 11 ¼ cents. It is known that the 11 ¼ cent in green, No. RS350b was used, and Nast’s correspondent who sent him the stamp recalled getting off a package, not a bottle, while employed in a drug store. The 5 cent stamp in green is also known in used condition. Shipping multiple articles in packages requiring only one stamp would have saved time and effort of applying a stamp to each article, although that is how government-issue stamps were to be used. Nevertheless, the denominations do have a plausible explanation.

Phenique Chemical Company, Nos. RS370-371, RS375-377 These stamps were printed on yellow paper, type a, and on buff or brown paper, type b. The three type a stamps known on yellow paper are uncanceled, and the four type b stamps known on buff paper are all canceled with a round date stamp of August 5, 1898. This date was unquestionably after the regular issue stamps became available, as a letter from Meyer Brothers printed in Nast’s February 25, 1905 column states that Meyer Brothers used provisionals from July 1 to July 21, 1898. A letter from Prickly Ash Bitters Co. printed in Nast’s March 25, 1905 column also confirms usage of its provisionals until July 21,1898. From these facts it is fair to infer that the stamps on yellow paper were used and that the stamps from a later printing on buff paper with the August 5, 1898, datestamps are remainders canceled after their use was suspended by the regular issue stamps.


Only one known example is known for many of the St. Louis Provisionals. Except for Nos. RS351-RS355 and RS357-361, most of the others are rare. From my own unscientific tracking of the appearance of these stamps on the market for more than 25 years I am aware of only the following numbers of the rarer stamps:

One known:     RS325, RS330, RS340a, RS345c, RS349a, RS350b, RS370b, RS371a, RS372b, RS375a, RS376b, RS377b, RS385, RS387, RS395

Two known:    RS343b and RS386

Three known:  RS372a and RS381

Five known:    RS390

Additional examples of some and perhaps all of these undoubtedly exist, but they will always be rare. In particular, a letter from the Prickly Ash Bitters Co. to Nast indicated that 4.062 examples of RS381 were used, so more than three stamps should have survived.


Finally, there are six different variations of the wording on the stamps. The text [and examples] of each are shown below, with the variations underlined.

Type I, used by Antikamnia and Phenique
Stamps not being obtainable at time of sale and shipment of this package, will be paid on sworn returns thereof to COLLECTOR of INTERNAL REVENUE, 1st District of Mo.

Type II, use by Van Dyke

Stamps not being obtainable at time of sale and shipment of this package, will be paid on sworn returns thereof to COLLECTOR OF INTERNAL REVENUE, 1st District of Mo.

Type III, used by Fairchild, Lambert, Milliken and Walker

Stamps not being obtainable at time of sale and shipment of this package, will be paid on sworn returns thereof to Collector of Internal Revenue, 1st Dist. Mo.

Type IV, used by Meyer Brothers and Prickly and Prickly Ash Bitters

Stamps not being obtainable at time of sale and shipment of this package, the tax will be paid on sworn returns thereof to Collector of Internal Revenue, 1st Dist. Mo.

Type V, used by Holmes

Stamps not being obtainable at time of sale and shipment of this package, the tax will be paid on sworn returns thereof to Collector of Internal Revenue, Macon, Ga.

Type VI, used by Sayman
Stamps not being obtainable at time of sale and shipment of this package, Revenue will be paid on sworn returns thereof to Collector of Internal Revenue, 1st Dist. Mo.

The Author

Hermann Ivester is a lawyer in Little Rock, Ark. He began collecting stamps at the age of 7 or 8. He soon became interested in revenue stamps and was a confirmed revenuer when he joined the American Revenue Association in 1955 at the age of 13. He acquired his first St. Louis Provisional at the age of 16 and has been intrigued by them ever since. His collecting interests include all aspects of United States and United States-related revenue stamps. It is requested that discoveries of new varieties or additional examples of the rarer St. Louis Provisionals be reported to the Scott editor and to Mr. Ivester.

**Charles A. Nast lived from 1857 to 1931 in Cincinnati, Ohio and Denver Colorado. He worked as a reporter and photographer.  Charles A. Nast was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, in September 1857 to parents of German origin. He arrived in Denver, Colorado, in 1875.  He initially worked as a reporter for the Denver Tribune and covered the Black Hills Gold Rush where he fought with Captain Jack Crawford and Wild Bill Hickock with the Sioux.  Later, he worked as a photograph retoucher for A.E. Rinchart.  By 1920 he owned his own photography studio.  He married Catherine and they had six children. Nast died in 1931 in Denver.

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