FAP, FRPSV, FRPSL
In May 2020 Teddy Suarez reported a number of Steel Stamp Dies listed for sale on Ebay.
In all there were 139 Dies listed for sale at a fixed price of US$1,590.00. The only exception was the New York State Emergency Transfer Tax $10 Die, listed for Auction with an opening price of 99¢. Tennessee 1; California 1; New York State 1; Brazil 1; Liberia 1; Panama 12; Chile 34; Ecuador 68.They were all entered under the heading of:
American Bank Note Company Steel Printing Plates – ABNC Stamp Dies.
The seller was David Lawrence Rare and Certified Coins of Virginia, USA His website lists over 1,000 of these Dies (and other Countries and US States) for sale but at either US$1,500.00 or US$3,000 each. The quality of the Dies is highly variable, yet the quality of each does not appear to be reflected in the price.
However, a reading of the Listing indicated that whilst some had a provenance of the ABNC, many were actually Dies of the Hamilton Bank Note Printing and Engraving Company, New York, some of which were most likely engraved by Rudolph Laubenheimer. This was the Company originally associated with Nicholas Seebeck. Hamilton stamp Dies are offered from Nicaragua, Guatemala and Honduras. However the vast majority are from the stock of the original American Bank Note Company, New York.
Ross Towle updates the story for us:
Part 1. The Security Banknote Co, was founded in 1884, and acquired the Hamilton Bank Note engraved plates in 1951 (Hamiliton was liquidated in 1948). In 1957 the Security Banknote Co and Columbian Banknote Co consolidated to form the Security-Columbian Banknote Co. They changed the name to United States Banknote Corp (USBN) in 1965. This Company acquired ABNC in 1990.
Part 2. The 2004 Steve Blum and another investor, bought 200 tons of dies from USBN. I have been informed that it took 9 semi-trucks loads to carry the plates to their warehouse. These Dies were for Stock certificates, bonds, currency, and so forth besides philatelic items. The non philatelic items have been sold at Auction for a number of years.
|Fig.1 Storage room with medal Dies etc. Source, Coin World|
So actually the listing is correct, they were Dies sourced from the American Bank Note Company, but via its successor the United States Bank Note Company; but they were not all engraved or produced or used by that Company, nor the ABNC.
The sale of these Stamp Dies (described as Stamp Plates) was first reported in COINage and again in Linn’s Stamp Monthly. COINage wrote in their 3 June 2020 edition:
In a unique opportunity, David Lawrence Rare Coins (DLRC) is now bringing to market the Continental Collection of American Bank Note Company (ABNC) Stamp Plates, a diverse offering of items from the archives of the American Bank Note Company. After acquiring this group in 2018 from Archival Collectibles, the original purchasers of the ABNC archives, the team at David Lawrence has been cataloging, imaging and researching the vast array of plates and is excited to finally bring them to market.
John Brush, the President of DLRC stated, “The term ‘unique’ is absolutely accurate here as these plates represent the actual dies used to create the finished stamp, and in some cases, the trial designs that preceded them. Mostly from late 19th– and early 20th-century issues, this diverse group consists of plates and dies for stamps from the United States, South and Central America, and a handful of European nations. It’s really a treasure trove of engravings with beautifully intricate designs ranging from early 20th-century airplanes, to Rembrandt, to beautiful churches and cathedrals, and a handful with fantastic American iconography like the Statue of Liberty.” Brush continued, “We were fortunate to acquire an entire inventory of these plates from the original buyers of the ABNC archives. After being stored for a decade, these plates are finally coming back to life and are available for the first time. There are no duplicates and, to our knowledge, nothing else like this collection exists anywhere. Once sold, these are irreplaceable!”.
Generally, these plates were not labeled with a title or image description, but many are accompanied by their original manila envelopes with beautiful calligraphic handwriting. After spending months researching the engravings and attempting to match the plates with as many actually produced stamps as possible, the plates were imaged and measured. Brush mentions, “We have done our best to investigate and fit as many of the plates as possible to the stamps or designs that they created in their previous lives, but we leave each item up to the buyer to research and learn more.”
A wide variety of countries and designs are available in this vast collection of just over 1,000 plates. With items measuring as small as 1.5 inches by 1.5 inches, some of the plates are taller than a foot long! With a wide variety of sizes and designs, DLRC has made several hundred available for direct purchase via their website at and is also offering a selection of pieces in their weekly Internet Auction, ending on June 14, 2020.
While none of the metal bars are usable to create any active stamps or certificates, these intricate items are not only a piece of history, but a beautifully ornate work of art as the hand-engraved items are truly one of a kind and this opportunity will not likely ever be repeated.”
The Listing includes two Postal Stationery Dies of General Antonio Jose De Sucre, one of which was used to print the 1892 Hamilton 10 Centavos envelope; and 2 Dies of the Central Vignette of the 1915 ABNC Postal Cards of President Noboa and General Enrique Valdez.
The 1892 envelopes were produced by Hamilton’s in 2 values – a 5 Centavos and a 10 Centavos envelope. One for domestic and one for international mail. These were the same values in the 1887 set of envelopes also printed by Hamilton’s.
Die Proofs without Values are known to exist in black, Blue or red (Fig 2).
The interested aspect about these two steel dies is that the values are 2 Centavos and 5 Centavos (Fig 5 and 6). The size of each Die is 2 Inch X 2 Inch. Whilst some Dies offered are stamped with an Order number on the obverse, these are not. Their existence indicates that originally the intention was to issue two values of 2 and 5 Centavos.
|Fig. 3 and 4|
The issued envelopes stamp indicium Fig (3 and 4).
Mirror prints of what images these dies would produce are shown here (Dies 7 and 8).
These envelopes were the first of three postal stationery envelopes type printed by Hamilton’s.
|Fig. 5 and 6|
Steel Dies of the 1896 Hamilton Ecuador 5 and 10 Centavos envelopes came onto the market in 2017 and sold for US$400 plus premium. Georg Maier also lists in his catalogue a Steel Die for of the stamp Indicium of the 1892 2 Centavos Post Card of the Fourth issue. There is one major difference. The Dies now on offer appear to have been removed from their original wood blocks (See Maier Page 195).
|Fig. 7 and 8|
The survival of these steel dies is really quite remarkable and surprising. On 9 November 1911 Henry Calman announced that all of the Hamilton Dies had been destroyed. Henry was one of the Calman Brother who purchased the New York Stamp & Coin Company from John Scott in 1887. His Stamp Company and the New York Stamp Dealer J. E. Handshaw (and later this son William Handshaw) sold and used for their own promotional purposes reprinted Latin American stationery , including Ecuador, for many years in the early 1900‘s.(Fig. 9 and 10). In was only in 2014 when the first Ecuador steel Dies came onto the market, that we knew that this statement was either false or unwhitingly inaccurate.
Remember, the Calman Brothers were stamp dealers. Whilst in 1911 there would not have been 200 tons of metal held by Hamilton’s, there would have been a considerable quantity of metal (all of it in boxes, and not necessarily marked) and all of the Dies in reverse format. Therefore, not quickly and easily readable or identifiable. Hamilton’s business included a wide commercial printery including Stocks and Bonds, Certificates, Inscribed Stock and Bonds, Checks, Letterheads and Transportation Tickets.
|Fig. 9 and 10|
Most stamp issues go through a process of multiple designs and variations. And as John Brush confirms “many were not labelled with a title or image description.” Without such descriptions and an accurate Inventory, there would have been no way of knowing in 1911 which were stamp Dies or which were other types of Dies for Share Script, Bonds, Securities etc etc.
We are fortunate that these are in the marketplace now, with one proviso.
The last thing we want is some latter day Seebeck or Scott or Calman using any of these Dies to create reprints! Let’s hope not!
(Images are not to scale).
I acknowledge the assistance of Ross Towle and Teddy Suarez who assisted in the preparation of this article.