The 1875 Liberty Postal Card
Unfortunately, many collectors are intimidated by postal stationery. There is some basis for this with the myriad of confusing die types found on a number of stamped envelopes, but United States postal cards are generally much easier to manage and identify, and there are still great finds out there if you know what to look for.
For me, one of the more interesting U.S. postal card issues is the Liberty postal card of 1875-81, Scott UX4, UX5 and UX7 (United Postal Stationery Society Nos. S3, S4 and S6, respectively). Values for this card range from less than $1 to more than $350 used, and from about $5 to more than $700-$3,500 for preprinted (uncanceled) or mint. Shown in Figure 1 is the basic design of the card, a capped Liberty head facing left. A few easy-to-learn diagnostics will allow you to effectively and consistently tell each of these varieties apart.
There are two inscriptions found on this issue (shown in Figure 2), reading “Nothing but the address can be placed on this side,” and “Write the address on this side – the message on the other.” Any card with the second inscription is automatically identified as the 1881 issue, UX7 (S6).
If, however, your card bears the first inscription, it could be either UX4 (S3) or UX5 (S4), depending on whether it is watermarked. The watermarked card is the much scarcer UX4 (S3). It also is usually found on a slightly darker card stock than unwatermarked examples. To see the watermark, which is shown in Figure 3 (a USPOD in monogram), dampen the card with non-flammable watermark fluid (don’t use lighter fluid) and hold the card to a strong light, such as a halogen lamp or halogen-style flashlight. The watermark measures about 55 millimeters by 38mm and is frequently somewhat faint but visible. Occasionally, soiling on a used card or wear patterns may make a watermark visible under normal light. Also Ott lights or similar full-spectrum lights are helpful for viewing watermarks on postal cards — even without the aid of fluid.
The reason the watermarked card is so scarce is due to production changes. When the first-design postal card was discontinued in 1875, so was the use of watermarked card stock. However, since there was some unprinted watermarked stock left, it was used to print the new postal cards until it was depleted. If you wish to see what the watermark looks like (as well as color of card stock), simply obtain an example of Scott UX3 (S2), which is an inexpensive card (less than $5 used). It bears the same watermark as the much scarcer UX4.
Although there are numerous plate varieties to pursue -- both major and minor -- by far the most elusive and desirable is the so-called “23 teeth” variety found on the 1881 issue (UX7a,S6). This variety (underpriced in my opinion) sells for prices ranging from $65 used, to more than $1,750 mint.
Because these cards were printed by letterpress plates (where the details are in relief rather than recessed), design elements such as the teeth were particularly prone to damage. Numerous damaged or missing-tooth varieties are known, as are several recuts. What sets this particular variety apart is its easily distinguished appearance due to a careless re-entry. As a young collector that had never seen one of these varieties I spent countless hours trying to count the teeth on each Liberty postal card I encountered, never realizing that, once seen, the variety is never mistaken. However, due to the variety’s relative scarcity it is rarely illustrated in a manner easily recognized. Shown in Figure 4 is an enlargement of the variety. Note the extra tooth squeezed in beneath the “N” of “CENT.” Counting the teeth is simply not necessary once you’ve seen the variety.
Here’s a rundown of the basic types and market values of the Liberty postal card:
Scott Inscription Watermark Value
UX4 “Write…” Yes $350+
UX5 “Write…” No 50¢
UX7 “Nothing…” No 50¢
UX7a “Nothing…” No $60+ “23 Teeth” variety
In addition to the numerous varieties found on this card it was also an interesting time for postal history. Many unusual uses and cancellations can still be found at a reasonable cost, as can be illustrated examples, all of which add premium value to the basic cards. One of the more interesting uses of the Liberty card was essentially for “wanted” posters, giving descriptions of either criminals or missing persons. What kind of unusual uses can you find?