Warren G. Harding was the 29th President of the United States from 1921 to 1923. His term in office was fraught with scandal; he is generally regarded as one of the worst presidents, although it might be fair to say that a more recent candidate has possibly emerged!
Before his nomination, Warren G. Harding declared, “America’s present need is not heroics, but healing; not nostrums, but normalcy; not revolution, but restoration; not agitation, but adjustment; not surgery, but serenity; not the dramatic, but the dispassionate; not experiment, but equipoise; not submergence in internationality, but sustainment in triumphant nationality….”
A Democratic leader called Harding’s speeches “an army of pompous phrases moving across the landscape in search of an idea.” Their very murkiness was effective. People could not argue with his position because he seldom expressed one!
Harding, born near Marion, Ohio, in 1865, was the publisher of a newspaper. He was a trustee of the Baptist Church, a director of almost every important business, and a leader in many organizations and charitable enterprises. His speaking ability led him far in Ohio politics. He served in the state Senate and unsuccessfully ran for Governor. In 1914 he was elected to the Senate and eventually was promoted for the 1920 Republican nomination before winning the Presidential election by an unprecedented landslide of 60 percent of the popular vote. Republicans in Congress easily got the President’s signature on their bills. They eliminated wartime controls and slashed taxes, established a Federal budget system and imposed tight limits on immigration.
By 1923 the post-war depression seemed to be giving way to a new surge of prosperity, and newspapers hailed Harding as a wise statesman carrying out his campaign promise–“Less government in business and more business in government.”
Not all of Harding’s Administration was so impressive. Word began to reach the President that some of his friends were using their official positions for their own reward. The Teapot Dome oil field scandal which involved preferentially awarding large contracts to close friends without competitive bidding caused significant controversy, even after Harding’s death. He did not live to find out how the public would react to the scandals of his administration. In August 1923, he died in San Francisco of a heart attack at the age of 58.
A memorial stamp was issued in September 1923, the “Black Hardings” as they became known.
The Post Office Department rushed a 2¢ black mourning stamp into production.
The designer must have slept little and worked at breakneck speed since only six days elapsed from design until the stamp went to press. Two large die proofs were pulled and approved on August 21; the first plates were certified and they went to press the next day.
As the first mourning stamp for a sitting U.S. president since the 15¢ Lincolns of 1866, the Black Hardings captured the public imagination. Although they were only distributed to post offices for ninety days, they were promoted more heavily than any previous stamp.
The first printing of 300,000,000 stamps was released on Saturday, September 1 at Marion, Ohio (Harding’s home town) and Washington, D.C. Two hundred people were in line when the Marion office opened at nine o’clock, and by the time it closed its entire allotment of 200,000 Harding stamps was sold out. The Washington Post reported that in the first week, $58,250 worth of the stamps—or approximately 3 million copies—had been purchased at Marion and Washington alone! Recognizing that the first printing would not satisfy the public demand for the stamp, the postmaster general ordered another 1.3 billion copies.
An array of varieties soon became available to collectors: the original, perf. 11 flat-plate stamps; the perf. 10 rotary press printing; and the flat-plate imperforate. In addition, the Black Hardings produced two important twentieth century rarities:
- The 2c Harding Rotary Perf 11 stamp was discovered in 1938 by Leslie Lewis of the New York firm, Stanley Gibbons Inc. The hypothesis is that rotary-printed sheets of 400 were first reduced to panes of 100 and then fed through the 11-gauge perforate machine normally used for flat plate sheets. There are thought to be 43 used singles, one used pair and a recently-discovered used strip of three. No unused versions exist. A very rare and expensive stamp!
- The Schermack Type III coils, created when the Mail-O-Meter company of Detroit pasted together strips of the imperforates and privately perforated them for use in vending machines.
The ‘Black Hardings’ are also widely regarded as spawning two philatelic crazes:
- First Day Covers
First day cover collecting was not really possible until the early 1920s. In December 1921, a Philatelic Agency was established at Washington, D.C. to cater especially for collectors. At roughly the same time, the Post Office Department began releasing information about new stamps to the philatelic and national press in advance of their release. Collectors knew when and where stamps would be issued and could prepare their own envelopes to be cancelled on the first day.
A first day Harding cover on White House mourning stationery.
On September 1, Ohio philatelist George Ward Linn mailed himself about 200 envelopes franked with the stamps and cacheted (A cachet is any special text or design added to a cover to explain or illustrate its purpose) with the typeset inscription “IN MEMORIUM / WARREN G. HARDING / TWENTY-NINTH PRESIDENT / BORN / NOV. 2, 1865 / DIED / AUG. 2, 1923.” These are today widely regarded as the first modern FDCs.
Precancelled stamps (stamps cancelled before being used, typically by overprinting) were intended to eliminate the cancelling of individual mail items at the post office.
The Black Hardings were only the fourth non-definitive series to be widely precancelled, and this attracted a great deal of attention from collectors.
Rather remarkably, a black overprint of a black stamp was highly regarded!
Other Harding Stamp Issues. Harding featured on the $2 stamp in the 1938 President’s series and and on the 1 1/2 d stamp In 1930 which has numerous variations in colours/ shades, perforations, imperforates, coil types and so on. In 1986, Harding appeared again this time in illustrious company on the top left of one of the Ameripex 1986 Presidents Series sheets alongside Franklin.D.Roosevelt and John F Kennedy.
In total, despite only being President for just 2 years, Harding appears on almost 30 different stamps and obviously if you counted precancel variants there would be considerably more!
The bottom line to this tale is that you may well see more Donald Trump stamps for many years yet irrespective of the 2020 US Election result!!