It was one hundred years ago that a new innovation was introduced by the United States Postal Office with the production of stamps by rotary press. The demand for coils of stamps was growing but traditional flat bed press production could not keep up with the demand.
The USPS looked for a way to speed production and turned to a Bureau of Engraving mechanic, Benjamin Stickney, for a solution. His invention, a rotary press, printed stamps from a continuous roll of paper feed through the press over the engraving plate.
The Stickney Press, as it was called, eliminated the “paste-up” stage of the printing process and saved a good deal of time. After some testing the rotary press was adopted as the method of printing all coil stamps.
The rotary press was later used to print sheet stamps and booklet panes as well. By the mid-1920s, production rates had jumped from 1 million stamps per day to nearly 6 million. The Stickney Press is one of the most productive pieces of equipment ever invented by the Bureau. It was for many years the workhorse of U.S. stamp production, with 29 Stickney presses in service by 1931. The Bureau retired its last Stickney press in 1962.
U.S. Stamp #459 is the very first stamp produced by rotary press – and the only imperforate rotary press coil in U.S. postal history. The 2¢ Washington stamp was issued June 30, 1914. In a Mystic Stamp article, it is stated that U.S. #459 was produced in a single printing – only 21,000 stamps were issued. Most were privately perforated by the U.S. Automatic Vending Machine Company and used for commercial mailings in two New England states. Three full years passed before collectors realized the existence of this variety of the 1914 2¢ Washington stamp. Remarkably, two rolls of U.S. #459 had survived in mint condition – a roll of 500 stamps and another of 1,000.