The Legendary Persian Rug – Book Review

Discussion in 'United States Stamps' started by Molokai, Nov 9, 2018.

  1. Molokai

    Molokai Moderator Moderator

    I’ve never collected revenues but <HOCH>’s comment concerning the size of the so called Persian Rug revenue in my Newspaper & Periodical stamps thread piqued my interest. I guess just about everything in philately has piqued my interest at one time or the other. If I am not careful <GOLIGHTLY> will drag me into collecting FSAT/TAAF stamps!

    Poking around the Internet I saw this book on it, The Legendary Persian Rug: And the other High-Value Civil War Revenue Stamps by Thomas C. Kingsley, Castenholtz & Sons 1993, 152 pp. Prices were around $50.00 and too high for a book on something I do not collect, although it is an attractive volume. A few weeks ago, I spotted a ‘like new’ copy on Amazon for $15.00 so I decided to bite. I am glad I did.

    Current best offer is on eBay, $15.50 OBO. Amazon and ABE are higher at this time, but it pays to always check all three sources – and be patient!

    The book is over sized on quality but not glossy stock. Numerous photographs/plates, proofs and essays in black-and-white and color. Truly a first class publication.

    The front flap pitch: This is a book about the six greatest revenue stamps ever issued. In addition to the large and small Persian Rugs and the glorious $5000 proof, the three high-value proprietary stamps are included. Produced in the early 1870s any one of these could take as an example of the heights to which the engraver’s art had risen.

    The Persian Rugs were used for land deeds and property transfers for the most part.

    The book actually covers six stamps:

    The Persian Rug a $500 stamp, the $200 Tricolor baby Persian Rug, the $5000 proof, the ‘ Parlor Portraits’ revenues - $1, $5 and $50.00.

    Table of Contents

    Part I Persian Rug and Parlor Portraits


    The Basis for the Census

    Security Measures

    Tricolor Printing

    The $200 Tricolor

    The Persian Rug

    The $5000 Proof

    Parlor Portraits

    Printing and Deliveries

    Part II The Illustrated Census

    The Persian Rug Census

    The $5000 Proof Census

    Here, I discuss only the $500 Persian Rug and the fabulous $5000 proof.

    The book is very-well documented and sourced. The author discovered much new information as well as examples of the stamps while in the course of compiling a census for the Persian Rugs and $5000 proof.

    While these are called Civil War issues, they were actually issued after the War in response to some fairly vigorous counterfeiting. Here’s the story:

    “By 1869 the internal revenue commissioner was aware of substantial losses of income from fraud and forgery. The critical moment came when government agents identified of the one cent and three dollar manifest stamps. With that revelation the Treasury Department requested a new issue of revenue stamps. Printed with sensitive inks on fugitive paper and of delicate, intricate design, these emissions hampered the washing of cancellations and forestalled forgery. In addition, the revenue commissioner a series of high-value tricolor documentary stamps and a separate design of large decorative proprietary stamps.”

    A census of the Persian Rug was the first step in researching and writing this book. In Basis for the Census, “The census, derived from photographs in the auction catalogues and occasional final sales, provides the foundation for this study. The 30-year process of data acquisition culminated with the material in the collections of Morton Dean Joyce followed by a review of the material in the collections of Henry Tolman and Robert Cunliffe. The examples from these collections are recorded in the census. But an additional large hoard that is purported to exist is not included in the tabulations. The hoard in question supposedly includes eight or ten copies of the $200 second issue and between 12 and 17 examples of the $500.”

    Multiple security measures were taken, insofar as the rationale for the issues was a lack of security in previous stamps and rampant counterfeiting and removal of cancellations.

    - Colored threads in the paper reduced counterfeiting by rendering imitation almost impossible,

    - Flamboyant and intricately engraved patterns of design were also to this purpose. The heavy scroll and leaf patterns produced by skilled hands was also a direct attempt to thwart imitation.

    - Colors. The tri-colored designs also made counterfeiting more difficult. There was much discussion of colors and many shades therein can be seen in these beautiful stamps.

    - Tinted paper and a special silk paper received an infusion of a sensitive chemical that promoted a color change if tampered with by various washing techniques.

    - A fugitive black ink was used to print the central medallion of George Washington.

    These changes, as they evolved, can be seen in the proofs of the Persian Rug issues, offering much variety in colors and design! The security measures were so complex that they inspired three patents.

    Obviously, $500 was big money in the 1870s! Well, it is still big money to me.

    The chapters on security and tricolored printing are loaded with information and sometimes dizzying detail. I had to read them twice to get even a basic gist of things.

    Imagine tricolor printing with the technologies of the 1870s and you can begin to understand the difficulties thereof. The famous reference, The Boston Revenue Book suggest the Persian Rugs were printed four to a sheet. Phillip Ward gives it as 2 x4 while Elliott Perry gives 4 x 2. Yet, there are no examples of multiples of even two of these stamps. Not even a plate proof multiple! “Regardless of the source, all of the tricolor documentary stamps are preserved single subject individual impressions only…”

    After the discovery of the Erastus Corning, Jr stamps in 1986 it has generally been accepted these stamps were printed one-to-a-sheet with four full margins. In the book this leads to a long discussion of how these sheets would have been printed.

    As mentioned, the tricolor printing led to a number of problems. “The problem arises from the stresses put on the paper during the printing process. With each color printing the paper must be moistened, printed and dried, causing expansion, compression and shrinkage of the sheet.” This was an issue with two colors; with three it compounds. The difference in sizes of the final $500 Persian Rug stamps vary by as much as 2 x 3.5 mm.

    There was also the related issue of mis-registration and examples of the Persian Rugs exhibit same.

    The $500 Persian Rug

    The Holy Grail for revenuers!

    Size matters! The official size of this whopper is stated to be 52 x 100mm. A Tip ‘O the Philatelic Hat to <Hoch> for reminding me of this issue when I was prepared to conclude the early newspaper stamps at 2” x 4” were the largest U.S. stamp.

    There were several design changes before the final was decided upon by the government.

    “Although the $500 design is a unique creation in miniature art, the unusually busy detail (remember those counterfeiters!) crowds every square millimeter of surface area and interferes with the total appeal” Or, so the author believes. Elliott Perry felt the $5000 proof more pleasing than either the $200 or $500 Persians.

    The discussion includes details of the Persian Rug’s uses along with imaged examples of same. At the time of the books publication, only one issue was known still tied to a document.

    The recorded number of $500 stamps at the time of the writing of this book (1993) was 76. The author has broken down the census on these from ‘Sound and Very Fine’ to ‘Underscribed’ in 10 levels. This chapter of the book has many imaged examples of the $500 stamp and proofs.

    This book was published in 1993. The census has been updated here:

    (Thanks and another Tip ‘O the Philatelic Hat to ‘Rogdam’ for pointing me to this link!)

    The $5000 Proof

    Perhaps the most beautiful stamp never produced! The author considers it still a stamp although to me it is placed at the nexus of stamp and currency art.

    “The stamp, though duly approved and the colors designed, was never issued… ‘I send you the $5000 stamp approved in the colors which it is to be printed in case we have an order for this stamp- a very improbably contingency.’”

    The stamp is listed by George Turner in his Essays and Proofs of the United States Revenue Stamps as 68 x 113mm! The size of the approved proof in the Smithsonian collection logs in at 70 x 116.5mm. Variation in paper shrinkage is most likely the suspect once again.

    The census for the proof at the time of this book was 25 copies; 15 in private hands and 10 at the Smithsonian. The author also lists these by shades, at least of the two non-black colors. He sums up the chapter with the sentiment, “A single copy will put excitement into any revenuer’s collection.” No doubt!

    The Legendary Persian Rug book concludes with a lengthy chapter on the other three revenue stamps in the chapter Parlor Portraits. These are also extremely well documented with images. Finally in Part 2, an ‘Illustrated Census’ of both the $500 Persian Rug and the $5000 proof.

    This is true philatelic research ‘the old-fashioned’ way. Thankfully some collectors are still expending the effort to offer books such as The Legendary Persian Rug.

    I found the book quite interesting; a worthy and at times challenging read.

    Attached Files:

    Last edited: Nov 10, 2018
  2. Hochstrasse

    Hochstrasse Moderator Moderator

    Wonderful review Molokai! I think at 15 dollars for that book you got a great deal. That's an interesting view into the background of the high value revenue issues and the efforts to combat fraud and counterfeiting that happened during that era. I find the Civil War era and post Civil War era especially interesting both numismatically and postally. When you talked about bi-color printing and silk threads I was immediately reminded of fractional currency and the silver hoarding that occurred after the war. The information about the high value proof that was never issued was especially interesting. I had no idea.
    DonSellos and Molokai like this.
  3. Molokai

    Molokai Moderator Moderator

    Thank you, <HOCH> Yes those were both rich and interesting times for both hobbies!
  4. Harry Golightly

    Harry Golightly NonHinged

    Hello Molokai,
    Now you know I would never presume to 'drag' anyone into collecting my old common FSAT/TAAF stamp issues. Especially one so erudite & with such an educated philatelic palate as yourself. WOW! what a superb bit of research & writing your piece was on this somewhat arcane area of philatelic subject matter.
    Kudos to the master,
    DonSellos and Molokai like this.
  5. Molokai

    Molokai Moderator Moderator

    Thank you, kind sir! While I collect mostly U.S. I very much enjoy seeing the rest of the philatelic world via collections such as yours here on StampExchange.
  6. Harry Golightly

    Harry Golightly NonHinged

    The 'Persian Rug' U.S. Revenue stamps are such high quality they quite remind me of the early (1890-1920) beautifully engraved U.S. currency we use to expect & from our Dept. Of The Treasury, BEP..once again Thanks for your
    Book Review.
    Molokai likes this.
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