The Robertson Confederate Pane

Object Spotlight
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The Robertson Confederate Pane

Collection Starters:

Since opening its doors on July 30, 1993, the Smithsonian's National Postal Museum has welcomed millions of visitors eager to view its exhibits and enjoy its programs. However, the NPM’s collection of 5.9 million postal and philatelic objects—the second largest in the Smithsonian system—is much older than the museum. It all began in the 1880s with a single photograph and a pane of Confederate stamps.

The Robertson Confederate Pane

The first philatelic object collected by the Smithsonian was this pane of the 10¢ blue Jefferson Davis stamp released by the Confederate States of America in April or May of 1863. Earlier CSA issues had been lithographed or typographed and were inferior to U.S. stamps. As a result, CSA postmaster General John H. Reagan recruited a Northern printer and engraver to produce the Confederacy’s first engraved series.

These 10¢ stamps, which paid the rate for letters weighing less than one-half ounce were the result. The pane of one hundred was half of a press sheet of two hundred stamps printed by the firm of John Archer in Richmond, Virginia. Four stamps—a single and a strip of three—were removed at some point before M.W. Robertson gave the pane to the Smithsonian in 1886.

By the end of the decade, the Smithsonian had received two more important donations: in 1887, Spencer Fullerton Baird, the Institution’s second secretary, died and bequeathed his personal stamp collection. Two years later, a red proof on thick laid paper of Britain’s one-penny colonial revenue stamp of 1765 (the “Stamp Act stamp”) was given by John A. Brill, a streetcar manufacturer from Philadelphia. These were just the beginning; today the collection includes rare material and highly specialized U.S. and foreign collections. It is both our National Philatelic Collection and a national treasure.


Lithography – a printing process in which the design is drawn, photographed, and transferred to the stone or plates of zinc or aluminum in a greasy ink. It is then fixed by treatment with acid. In printing, the stone or plate is wet with a fluid that repels the printing ink, except on the greasy lines of the design. Such printing from a smooth surface produces no pressure through the paper or raised ink as results from typography engraving.

Typography – printing method done by pressure, the ink lines being impressed into the paper so that they appear raised on the back of the stamp. This is also referred to as 'letterpress' or 'relief' printing.

Engraving – a method whereby ink is carried in depressions below the surface of the plate, and from there transferred to the paper. Engraving is usually done by hand directly on wood or a steel die. Some dies are produced by etching the metal with acid, which creates depressions in the exposed area to form the design.

Learn More

Peter W. W. Powell, “The 10 Cents ‘No Frame Lines’ Die B.” U.S. Stamp News11:10 (October 2005), pp. 24-25

Patricia A. Kaufmann, “10-cent Jefferson Davis, Type II (Scott CSA #12).” Arago: People, Postage, and the Post (, Accessed 25 June 2008.

Written by Daniel A. Piazza