130,000,000,000+ anyone? The 3¢ Jefferson ‘Prexie.’

Stamp collecting began for me as a very young boy with the purple 3¢ Jefferson. It was a scheme of my Mom’s to keep me occupied with ‘busy work.’ She gave me envelopes from the day’s mail (where Jefferson reigned), safety scissors, paste, and cardboard. Cutting Mr. Jefferson from countless envelopes, slicing away perforations with abandon, pasting rows and rows of that bust on cardboard was stamp collecting to me. What a marvelous time I had!

The 3¢ Jefferson was part of the USPOD’s Presidential Issue definitive series (called ‘Prexies’ by many collectors) issued in 1938 that featured all 29 U.S. Presidents through Coolidge. The set also included two fractional-cent denominations with busts of Franklin and Martha Washington, and another featuring of the White House. Face values ranged from ½¢ to $5, so every possible postal usage was covered.

Courtesy of Mount Vernon Ladies’ Assn.

A national competition was held to determine the design of the series, and the entry by Elaine Rawlinson, a New York artist, was selected. Her 1¢ rendering was based on a bust of Washington (right) by sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon. The 3¢ Jefferson was also based on a bust by Houdon, with the die portrait engraved by Carl T. Arlt and the lettering by James T. Vail.

To my eyes now, the overall look of these stamps is bland, but as a child these disembodied heads and color varieties were mesmerizing. 1¢ and 2¢ versions also appeared on our mail, and very occasionally higher denominations. I was ‘happy as a clam’ with this busy work involving little colored heads.

The 3¢ Jefferson was the workhorse of first class mail from 1938 to 1954, when the 3¢ value from the 6th Bureau Issue was introduced. Will we ever see another stamp issued in a quantity of 138,000,000,000?

For much more info about The Prexies, I suggest a book with that title authored by Roland E. Rustad.

2 thoughts on “130,000,000,000+ anyone? The 3¢ Jefferson ‘Prexie.’

  1. Like Webmaster Joe, I came of age with the Prexies when I started collecting at the age of eight in ‘56. While the series was on its way out, there were still many one hand, and the Liberty Series, in my opinion, was only a close substitute. I tried to get the smaller denominations so I could frank with multiple stamps, always seeking the fractional issues. In fact I do the same today, still seeking Prexies at face value at stamp shows to use on my mail. I have plate blocks through the 50 cent stamp. In a well known Prexi exhibit that I was fortunate to see was an ordinary looking cover of a 3 cent Jefferson, but with closer look, it was cancelled about 8:00 in the morning on 7 December 1941 from Honolulu as Pearl Harbor was under attack. It is always worth checking the postmarks on covers that have unremarkable appearances.

  2. Joe thank you for sharing your story of how you got into stamp collecting. I too was introduced to stamps and postal history by my great Uncle Andrew, a lifelong collector, member of the APS, Exhibitor, etc. Later in his life he developed MS and was confined to a wheel chair. His outlet was sharing his love of stamps (and coins) and the history that these mini-icons represented. I was the one nephew who showed an interest and would spend time with him in his stamp den. Great memories. I still have the first album he gave me and the stock book – filled with the stamps he gave me before he passed. What a gift. Thanks Joe and keep up the great work by sharing these stories.

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