A Lesson in Grills – Must-Have Information for U.S. Stamp Collectors!

The more you know about stamps the more fun you’ll have collecting them. This is your opportunity to learn more about a special period of U.S stamp production, when U.S. stamps had “grills.”Even experienced stamp collectors are often unfamiliar with this subject. Now you can get the story behind grilled U.S. stamps.

Ourstory begins during the 1860s, when there was a widespread fear that postage stamps were being cleaned of their cancels and reused. During the Civil War, people began hoarding coins. To keep the economy moving, Congress made stamps legal as currency. So cleaning stamps of their cancels was equivalent to getting free money! This only added to the concern that people were cleaning stamps of their cancels and reusing them for postage.

Today, stamp experts believe these fears were unjustified. No evidence of widespread stamp reuse has ever been found. A very small number of people in rural areas may have cleaned stamp cancels. Rural post offices were not supplied with canceling ink or equipment, and therefore stamps would have been canceled with pen and ink. This would have made the stamps easier to clean.

The Post Office Department sought ways to stop people from cleaning stamps. Many solutions were attempted, but in the end, adding “grills” to stamps was found to he the most effective deterrent. Grills created an entire chapter of U.S. postage stamp history.

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The Very Basics of Grills — What Every Stamp Collector Should Know

A grill is a security measure that was applied to some U.S. stamps during a nine-year period from 1867 to 1875. Grills are found on stamps from only three series of U.S. postage stamps — the final printings of the 1861 Series, the 1869 Series, and all values of the 1870 Series printed by the National Bank Note Co.

Charles F. Steel is credited with developing the concept of grilling. No one knows exactly what the mechanical device looked like that was used to produce the embossed grill patterns. since no example exists today. However, it was probably a metal roller that was cut out to form a waffle-like grid of tiny pyramid-shaped projections. Applied to the stamps under pressure, such a device would break the paper fibers. When canceled, grilled stamps would absorb the ink so deeply that it would be impossible for someone to remove the cancel and reuse the stamp.

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Charles F. Steel – the Inventor of Grills

Charles F. Steel (1832-1904) invented the grilling process. He believed grilled stamps were impossible to reuse because the broken paper fibers allowed canceling ink to sink deep into the stamp. The ink could penetrate even deeper if an area of the stamp were left unprinted. Steel’s original plan called for the paper to first be gummed, then embossed, flattened, and finally, printed. Experiments proved this process unsuccessful, and grilled stamps were first printed, gummed, pressed, embossed, perforated, and pressed again.

Steel began his career as a hook-binder in Indianapolis. In 1855, he was put in charge of stamp production and printing at Toppan, Carpenter, Casilear and Company of Philadelphia, printer of the first perforated U.S. postage stamps. Toppan lost the contract to print stamps in 1861. With it, they lost Steel. In May of 1861, he was hired by the new printer, National Bank Note Company of New York City, who later printed the 1868 1¢ Z grill. On October 22, 1867 while at National, Steel was granted patent number 70,174 for his method of “embossing” postage stamps.

Steel moved to the Continental Bank Note Company in 1868, when it won the contract. While there, Steel earned two more patents to prevent stamp reuse. Both were related to his “double paper” idea. In April of 1877, Steel formed his own company, Franklin Engraving and Printing. In 1889, then no longer with Franklin, Steel lost his bid for the stamp contract. He failed to win the contract again in 1893. Steel worked as a patent lawyer later in life.

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Listing of U.S. Stamps with Grills by Stevenson’s Letter System:

William L. Stevenson, a stamp expert from Michigan, devised a classification system for grills that was in general use by 1916 and is still valid today. The letters A-J and Z. represent 11 grill types. The unique feature of the Z grill is the horizontal orientation of the points. (Note: “mm” stands for millimeters.)

“A” Grill — covers the entire stamp; points up/vertical ridges — U.S. Scott 79-81

“B” Grill — 18 x 15 mm (22 x 18 points); points up/vertical ridges — U.S. Scott 82

“C” Grill — 13 x 16mm (16-17 x 18-21 points); points up/vertical ridges — U.S. Scott 83

“D” Grill — 12 x 14mm (15 x 17-18 points); points down/vertical ridges U.S. Scott 84-85

“Z” Grill — 11 x 14mm (13-14 x 18 points); points down/horizontal ridges — U.S. Scott 85A, 85B, 85C, 85D, 85E, 8SF

“E” Grill — 11 x 13mm (14 x 15-17 points); points down/vertical ridges — U.S. Scott 86-91

“F” Grill –9 x 13mm (11-12- x 15-17 points); points down/vertical ridges — U.S. Scott 92-101

“G” Grill — 9.5 x 9mm (12 x 11-11.5 points); points down/vertical ridges — U.S. Scott 112-133

“H’ Grill — 10 x 12mm (11-13 x 14-16 points); points down/vertical ridges — U.S. Scott 134-144

“I” Grill — 8.5. x 10mm (10-Il x 10-13 points); points down/vertical ridges — U.S. Scott 134-138

“J” Grill — 7 x 9.5mm (10x 12 points); points down/vertical ridges — U.S. Scott 156e, 157c, 158e, 159b, 160a, 161c, 162a, 165a, 178c, 179c

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Grills Were Expensive And Most Likely Never Necessary

U.S. stamps were produced with grills for a relatively short period of time — from 1867 to 1875. This was most likely because of the high cost of grilling stamps. The grilling machines had to he made and maintained, people had to be paid to operate them, and Charles Steel had to he paid a royalty for the patent. All of these factors led to a 66% increase in production costs.

This large increase in costs meant a large number of stamps would have had to be illegally reused in order for the grilling process to be worthwhile. Today, experts agree the number of reused stamps could never have justified the cost of grilling. Grilling was a solution to a problem which never existed.

America’s Rarest Stamp — the 1¢ Z Grill

Because of the short-lived nature of the grilling process, very few stamps were issued grilled — and the ones that were are prized by collectors all over the world. In fact, America’s most valuable stamp is grilled!

Mystic Stamp Co. now owns the rarest U.S. stamp, the 1¢ Z Grill of 1868. We’ve displayed the stamp at three American Philatelic Society shows and World Stamp Expo 2000. The 1¢ Z Grill is a national treasure.

Just two 2¢ Z Grills are known. Mystic owns the nicer of the two; it’s the only one available for collectors to view. Mystic’s 1¢ Z Grill is the most valuable U.S. stamp, worth $2.5 million. Benjamin Miller gave the other 1¢ Z Grill to the New York Public Library in 1925. Several thefts forced the library to take it off display. Today, it’s hidden away in storage.

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How Is a Z Grill Different From All Other Grill Types?

Grills were applied to stamps during a short period of time in the 1860s and 1870s. Because machine operators constantly worked to fine tune the grilling apparatus, the appearance of the grill patterns changed often. Compared to other grill rollers, the one that made the “Z” impression saw limited use.

The Z Grill itself is unique because of the horizontal orientation of its ridges. All other grill types have vertical ridges. Plus, the l¢ Z Grill has a double grill. A very strong grill pattern appears over a weaker, slightly angled one.

Now You Know What to Look For…Do You Have Grilled Stamps in Your Collection?

Once you know what to look for, grills are a lot of fun. Mystic’s stamp experts are highly trained and know exactly how to identify U.S. stamps with grills. Now you can start identifying them too.

If you already have stamps with grills in your collection, check them out. Or, you can order them from Mystic’s U.S. Stamp Catalog or at MysticStamp.com. Perhaps you have some stamps from the 1867 to 1875 era in your collection which you’ve identified yourself for grills? Did you check for grills? Have fun exploring your stamp collection.

Don Sundman, President, Mystic Stamp Company