The order sheet for stamps is an accurate barometer of industrial conditions in the United States, and the sale of stamps has jumped with leaps and bounds since 1900. The task of printing and distributing the little certificate that appears on the letters in the United States mails is a tremendous one. While billions of stamps are printed in a year, every detail of the big job is done by a force of about 200 men and women.
In the last three years only one sheet of stamp paper has been lost. Four hundred stamps are printed on a sheet, which goes through the hands of a couple of hundred employes.
The process of turning out a postage stamp is similar to that of printing a banknote.
The method of applying the gum to the stamp sheets' is entirely mechanical except in the counting. The sheets are fed into a hopper, where they pass between rollers, the lower set of which revolves in a vat of melted gum. This vat is directly over a heater which is regulated automatically with scientific accuracy. Over these gum rollers the stamps pass on a continuous chain, which carries them through wooden compartments heated by hot water pipes. When the sheets emerge the gum is dry, and they are ready for the counter. The basic principle of the gum, which the government manufactures, is cassava starch.
The government has been printing its own postage stamps since 1894. Previous to that year the work was done under contract.
The insular possessions are beginning to draw upon the government for large shipments of stamps. The Philippines take about 6,000,000 a year and Hawaii and Porto Rico each about 3,500,000 a year.
For all practical purposes the history of postage stamps begins in the united kingdom, and with the great reform of its postal system in 1839-40. The use of adhesive stamps in the United States was authorized by an act of congress approved March 3, 1847, and on June 1, 1856, prepayment by stamps was made compulsory. Until 1863 the rates of postage were based upon the distances over which the mails were conveyed. In 1846 these rates were: Not exceeding 300 miles, 3 cents,; exceeding 300 miles, 10 cents. In 1851 the rates were reduced to 3 cents for distances not exceeding 3,000 miles, and 10 cents for distances exceeding 3,000 miles. In 1863 a uniform rate of postage without regard to distance was fixed at 3 cents, and on Oct. 1, 1883, excepting, however, lottery matter, coins, jewelry, merchandise, etc., the rate was reduced to 2 cents.