Two-cent Stamp

One of our favorite stories in the Chaffee chronicle is the tale of the 1898 Two-Cent Stamp, which for years blazed the letterheads of the Amenia and Sharon Land Company. The stamp was titled “Farming in the West”, but the A&S Land Co. entitled their letterhead “Farming 40,000 Acres.”

The Photograph

It begins with a hailstorm in the summer of 1888.  Interesting to note, Herbert Fuller Chaffee had just returned that spring to Amenia, Dakota Territory with his young bride, Carrie Constance Toogood, and had just been appointed a position with the Amenia and Sharon Land Company.  Perhaps his entrepreneurial influence was already being felt, and he is the one who decided there must be a photograph.  We will never know.  At any rate, the summer hail ruined a crop of coming wheat, and the field needed to be plowed under for re-seeding.  To get the job done quickly, twenty-two plow gangs and 61 horses were assembled.  The vast, flat breadth of the prairies allowed this great muster of labor, and it was all in a days work on the Bonanza farm.  These teams
could plow over 100 acres, traveling together a total of about 20 miles, in one day.

The land where the photograph was taken is section 15, T141, R52, slightly northwest of the town of Amenia, across the rambling Rush River.  The photograph was printed, 8x10, and hung in Eben W. Chaffee’s office in the company store in Amenia.  When the new state of North Dakota was invited to contribute an exhibit at the upcoming 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, the photograph was chosen to depict the large-scale farming operations going on in the Dakotas.  An enlargement (14x22) was made, and sent off to the State Exhibition Commission.


1893 Chicago World’s Fair

Nearly 26 million people visited the 1892-93 Chicago World’s Fair, the Colombian Exposition.  The fair was organized to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ arrival in the New World, and to celebrate the resources and innovations of the burgeoning industrial world.  It was dazzling, and the first of its kind, showcasing many new inventions and marvelous technology, and influencing architecture and urban planning - including the national Mall in Washington, D.C., and even Disneyland!

North Dakota State Building
at the Columbian Exposition

The North Dakota exhibit in the colossal Agricultural building included a display of grains and farming implements while the more modest North Dakota Building itself, on the grand avenue of state buildings, featured relief carvings and decorative reproductions of farm scenes in its reception, press and committee rooms.  It was perhaps here, in the North Dakota State Building, that this intriguing photograph hung on exhibit.


1898 Trans-Mississippi Exposition

Five years later, in 1898, another, smaller exposition was held in Omaha, Nebraska.  This one was to showcase the development of the American West, from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean.  The U.S. Post Office marked this event by issuing a series of nine commemorative stamps featuring western scenes.  One of the scenes chosen was the Dakota plow scene “Farming in t
he West”.  It was originally intended to be a bi-colored $2.00 stamp, but due to the Spanish War and consequent pressure on the Postal Bureau, the engraving was prepared for one color only, and issued for broader use with the 2-cent denomination. Over 150 million of these stamps were issued.

When this stamp was first put into circulation, it met with considerable criticism – it was just inconceivable that such an aggregation of farm machinery and horses, as shown in the picture, was in actual operation on any one farm in the whole of the United States.  Even the American Journal of Philately (Vol. 11-1897) carried a review of the much-heralded Omaha Exposition stamps, in which the reviewer mused, concerning the 2 cent stamp, "The man who would try to squeeze a view of a few square miles of prairie into the dimensions of a postage stamp is commended to the attention of the public.  He will cause an explosion some day." 

Perhaps it was in response to this that the Amenia and Sharon Land Company had its own lithograph prepared, and the picture was reproduced on all their stationery, envelopes, bill-heads and invoices.  For years, every piece of mail leaving the company office carried a 2c Omaha stamp in one corner with the advertisement engraved beneath the stamp:  “The picture on this stamp is from a photograph taken on one of our farms at Amenia, N.D.

A Philatelic First

Up until 2012, the U.S. Post Office had a rule that “no living person shall be honored by portrayal on U.S. postage.”  Unwittingly, the Trans-Mississippi 2c. issue evaded that ruling and has the glory in the annals of stamp collecting to be the first stamp depicting a living character.  The man in the foreground, however, is sadly unrecognizable.

Team driver Even “Ed” Nybakken was cheated of his chance for glory by a gust of wind.  As the teams posed for the photographer, a sudden wind caused Nybaaken to grab for his straw hat just as the camera clicked, forever obscuring his face in the famous photograph.  Only two other men in the photograph have been identified – Field Boss Barber is directly behind Nybaaken, with his dog on the seat beside him, and behind Barber is Foreman Sam White standing in a buggy drawn by two horses, one white and one black.  This turns out to be the same team that Eben W. Chaffee drove out to inspect one of his farms one day in October, 1892.  On the way back he apparently fell ill, and got out of the buggy and let the team go.  A search party found the team in the ditch and E.W.Chaffee was lying beside the road, apparently dead from a stroke.

Engraved Changes

In creating the engraving for the stamp, the number of teams was reduced to 18 to fit on the stamp, but Mr. Nybaaken’s amusing incident is faithfully reproduced, being plainly visible on the stamp.  However, when the engraving was prepared for the Amenia and Sharon Land company’s stationery, it was altered so that Ed’s hand no longer holds his hat but is shown instead holding the reins.

Sources of information for this article: 

STAMPS Magazine, June 24, 1939, "2c Trans-Mississippi Design" by Allan M. Thatcher

STAMPS Magazine, Sept. 29, 1945, "Even Nybaaken", by Howard A. Lederer

STAMPS Magazine, (Jan/Feb?)1957, "Sloane's Column", by George Sloan

AMERICAN JOURNAL OF PHILATELY, Vol. 11, December 1897, "The Trans-Mississippi Stamps", by John N. Luff

AMERICAN JOURNAL OF PHILATELY, Vol. 12, January 1898, "Notes",  p.96.

GUIDEBOOK to the Columbian Exposition, 1893.

Note:  The original 14x22 photograph that hung in the North Dakota exhibit in 1893 was donated, in 2011, by E.W. Chaffee heirs to the Smithsonian National Postal Museum, where it is archived in the museum collections.