By Marjory J. Sente

On Oct. 27, 1948, the Prescott Post Office opened to a very special day of business. The issuance of the Rough Riders Commemorative Stamp made the post office look like a land office during a gold rush. While the local public bought the new commemorative stamp at the counter, more than 50 special employees worked behind the scenes to process the requests for first-day covers. Requests came from individual collectors requesting one or two covers to dealersordering as many as 10,000.

This crush of work on the local post office was processed systematically due to the supervision of three employees dispatched by the Post Office Department from Washington, D.C.: John Dunnington, Chief of the Redemption Services, Mrs. N.L. Butcher and Miss N. Pearl Bond.

The Courier described the system for processing the first day covers. Letters containing covers that were to receive the First Day of Issue cancellation were opened and sorted by the amount of postage to be affixed to each cover. Requests were usually for a single stamp, block-of-four stamps or a plate block.

These covers were then carried to the second floor of the federal building where 38 workers seated at tables in the courtroom were busy affixing the stamps. Once the covers received the requested postage, they went back downstairs to be cancelled by machines supplied with the special First Day of Issue postmark. It was reported that the machines canceled about 200 covers a minute.

By the eve of the first day of issue for the Rough Rider stamp, 236,000 covers had been canceled. By the time the machines were turned off at the end of the day on October 27, according to statistics compiled by the Post Office Department, 399,198 covers received the special Prescott, AZ cancellation.

Today, collectors have a 60-day grace period to request a “First Day of Issue” cancellation after a stamp is issued. In 1948, the requests and cancels had to be completed by the end of the first day the stamp was released. Unlike today, when collectors have a 60-day grace period to request First Day of Issue cancellations after a stamp is issued, in 1948 the requests and cancels had to be completed on the first day the stamp was released.

From the canceling machines the covers were sent to dispatchers who sorted them by destination and bagged them accordingly. Many of these covers had special designs called cachets on them. While it was reported that more than 100 different cachets had been seen on the covers presented for canceling, collectors who have studied and recorded the cachets prepared for this stamp can account for about 50 different designs. The designs fall into two broad categories. Some honor Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders’ feats in Cuba while many follow the lead of the Rough Rider stamp and feature Borglum’s statue on the Courthouse Plaza.

Ira Fluegel produced a multicolored cachet showing Teddy Roosevelt and his men charging San Juan Hill, while Fulton’s engraved cachet portrays the “The Officers’ Mess.” Artcraft prepared an engraved cachet featuring both Buckey and the Borglum statue. This handsome first-day cover is the most common of all the designs prepared for this stamp. An unknown artist yet to be identified produced a cachet design for the Buckey O’Neill monument. It shows the statue facing the same way as the representation in the stamp. The cover in my collection is addressed to the late Dr. William Bork, which leads me to believe the cachet maker
was local to Prescott. 

In addition to the activities at the post office, a special first day ceremony was held. During the ceremony, three sheets of the Rough Rider stamps signed by the postmaster general were given to local dignitaries. Receiving these sheets were O’Neill’s son, Maurice, Prescott Rough Rider Harman Wynkoop, and Mrs. Pauline O’Neill, Captain O’Neill’s widow. The ceremony was recorded and transmitted later by Station KOY in Phoenix according to the Courier.

Will we see another stamp issued in Prescott for the Arizona Statehood centennial in 2012? Will Arizona’s first capital be honored as a designated first-day site? Probably not, but Prescott can still celebrate with a special cancel marking the occasion.

Today, Rough Riders Commemorative Stamps may be purchased on eBay as well as other sites at nominal prices.

A member of the Prescott Stamp Club, Marjory Sente is a former Sharlot Hall Museum development officer and lives in Prescott. This and other Days Past articles are available on and via RSS e-mail subscription.

Your stories and experiences are important. The public is welcome to submit articles for Days Past consideration. Please contact Scott Anderson at Sharlot Hall Museum Archives at 445-3122 for information.

(Editor’s Note: The Rough Riders Commemorative Stamp was one of nearly 30 commemoratives of 1948. There was fear that the stamp extravaganza that year would continue or rise, so the Postmaster General asserted his authority to hold new issues in 1949 to 12 and actually, only 11 new issues were made that year. Because of the volume of stamps issued, the commemoratives of 1948 never achieved expected value and actually sold later at a loss. Today, the Rough Rider stamp may be purchased on ebay auction or ebay stores at nominal prices for various products. It’s a piece of Prescott History!)