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Signed First Day Covers from the Wisconsin Tercentenary Issue of 1934

Updated: Jun 26, 2023

(This post was published in the May-June 2023 issue of First Days (No. 470, pp. 42-49), the journal of the American First Day Cover Society. See PDF below.)


Between 1931 and 2022, my home state of Wisconsin played host (or co-host in two cases) to the first days of issue for 33 individual stamps or sets of stamps. There was a time when I had the notion of collecting first day covers (FDCs) for all those issues, including all cachets.


It took me a while to figure out that was a fool's errand, so I decided to focus on the official and unofficial FDCs for just two issues: US Scott number 739 (Figure 1) issued on July 7, 1934, celebrating the tercentenary, or 300th, anniversary of the arrival of Frenchman Jean Nicolet in what is now Green Bay, Wisconsin, and US Scott number 957 (Figure 2) issued on May 29, 1948, the 100th anniversary of Wisconsin's statehood.


I have collected a decent number of the cachets that are listed in Michael Mellone's catalogs for each issue, but it is amazing how elusive some are, particularly the eight Robert Beazell cachets for the Tercentenary issue (Planty numbers 739-6a through 6h).


Of the two issues, the Tercentenary issue from 1934 is my favorite. The tercentenary celebration was a huge event not only for Green Bay but for the entire Fox River Valley. There were events galore with an exposition thrown in for good measure. The events attracted tens of thousands of people from around the country.


Ralph H. Nafziger wrote a great article on Scott 739 titled, "The Wisconsin Tercentenary Issue: Getting Up Close and Personal" that appeared in the May-June 2019 issue of First Days. He featured several cachets from that issue, including a few of Beazell's.


My addition to Mr. Nafziger's article is to show a few FDC's signed by some of the main actors involved in the design, approval, and first day ceremonies of Scott 739. I'm also tossing in one unsigned, non-FDC that is quite relevant to Scott 739 as well as to the Tercentenary celebrations.


Let's start with Victor S. McCloskey, Jr. (Figure 3) who designed the stamp based on a 1904 painting by Edwin Willard Deming that depicts Jean Nicolet's landfall in Wisconsin. Mr. McCloskey signed the cover shown in Figure 4, printing "DESIGNER" under his signature. C. Stephen Anderson designed the cachet on this cover; it is Planty 739-11.


Mr. McCloskey had a long career at the Bureau of Printing and Engraving (BEP). He started as an intern in 1926, joined the staff as an engraver in 1930, and became designer in 1934. The Wisconsin Tercentenary stamp was among the first he designed. He retired from the BEP in 1965. Born in New York City in 1908, Mr. McCloskey passed away at age 80 in 1988.


Of course, I need to picture Postmaster General James A. Farley (Figure 5), a bigger-than-life figure in the history of the Post Office Department (POD). Mr. Farley was a political kingmaker, serving as then-Governor Franklin Roosevelt's presidential campaign manager in 1932. After winning the election, President Roosevelt appointed Mr. Farley Postmaster General (PMG), a position Mr. Farley would hold until 1940. After leaving office in 1940, Mr. Farley remained active in politics. He passed away in 1976 at age 88.


Postmaster General was a cabinet-level position at the time (it would remain so until 1971), so this was a prominent appointment with significant patronage power. Indeed, per the Presidential Succession Act of 1886, the PMG was fifth in the line of succession after the Vice President.


PMG Farley is rightly credited with keeping the POD operating during the Great Depression, but he also had a knack for self-promotion - one of which, the "Farley Follies," landed him in a bit of hot water. That was the episode during which he gave unusual examples of postal items to associates like President Roosevelt and family members.


He also made a habit of sending small gifts like the Tercentenary FDC and letter to William V. Burke shown in Figures 6 and 7. Mr. Nafziger included the same letter but to a different addressee in his 2019 article. Both letters misspell Deming's last name as "Williard" instead of "Willard." PMG Farley praised this stamp as "one of the most beautiful specimens it has been my privilege to authorize." I'll take that at face value, but it is worth noting that exact same quote appeared in a July 3, 1934, Press-Gazette article!


At the end of his letter, PMG Farley says, "I take pleasure in sending you this letter from Green Bay, Wisconsin." Granted, PMG Farley signed the letter, and it was postmarked in Green Bay on July 7, 1934, but PMG Farley was nowhere near Green Bay that day. The POD, however, was well represented in Green Bay that day by Third Assistant PMG Clinton B. Eilenberger, pictured in Figure 8 with PMG Farley and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Third Assistant PMG Eilenberger signed the Scott 739 FDC shown in Figure 9.

Mr. Eilenberger, born in 1876, was a Pennsylvania Democrat who served as treasurer of the Roosevelt campaign in Pennsylvania in 1932. President Roosevelt rewarded him for his service by naming him Third Assistant PMG, a position Mr. Eilenberger would hold until his death at age 61 in 1937.


The position of Third Assistant PMG was established in 1836 to oversee the settlement of the POD's finances. When postage stamps were introduced in 1847, they fell under the Third Assistant PMG's jurisdiction as accountable paper. Thus, Third Assistant PMG Eilenberger played a major role in the distribution of Scott 739, which explains why he was in Green Bay. The Press-Gazette of July 9, 1934, carried in full his lengthy tribute to the Tercentenary issue in which he also detailed the timeline for the stamp's development:


April 1933 - The POD received a joint resolution from the Wisconsin State legislature requesting that a stamp be issued.


May 23, 1934 - PMG Farley authorized the issuance of the Tercentenary stamp.


June 9, 1934 - Third Assistant PMG Eilenberger requested that the BEP prepare a design based on the Deming painting.


June 21, 1934 - Final model approved by PMG Farley and President Roosevelt.


June 29, 1934 - First sheets came off the BEP's printers.


Third Assistant PMG Eilenberger also recognized the earnest efforts of the Wisconsin Association of Philatelic Societies. That recognition was not all that surprising since he was a major proponent of stamp collecting and communicated regularly with philatelic associations.


Another major figure on the ground in Green Bay on July 7 was the Green Bay postmaster, John S. Farrell (Figure 10) who signed the two covers with crude typewritten cachets shown in Figures 11 and 12.


Postmaster Farrell was a busy man that day according to the Press-Gazette. He presented Third Assistant PMG Eilenberger with the first sheet of the Tercentenary issue that day (the Press-Gazette captured that moment in a grainy photo printed in its July 7 edition) and oversaw the postmarking and mailing of some 130,000 FDCs.


Postmaster Farrell left the post office in 1936 and ran unsuccessfully for Congress. The following year, he stood for election as mayor of Green Bay and easily won. Sadly, in March 1938, just 11 months after he took office, he took his own life. He was under investigation for how he managed an estate for which he was executor, and in his suicide note, he said he had been "driven crazy" by his troubles and the "kicking, back-biting and chiseling" accompanying public office.


President Roosevelt was not present for the first day ceremonies, but he was very engaged in the design and approval of the Tercentenary issue, and he did eventually visit Green Bay for the celebrations.


His arrival in Green Bay on August 9, 1934, and his speech that day defending his New Deal program, came at the end of a month-long trip that saw him travel to Cuba, Hawaii, and the West Coast. His presence in Green Bay was celebrated with a special cachet shown in Figure 13, as well as other items like the souvenir button shown in Figure 14.


He opened his speech by saying, "This is an inspiration to be here today. This is a wonderful setting on the shores of the Bay and I am glad to take part in this commemoration of the landing in Green Bay of the man who can truly be called the first white pioneer of this part of the United States."


President Roosevelt did not mention the Tercentenary stamp in his speech - he had much more important things to say that day - but I like to think that given the avid stamp collector that he was, that he was thinking about the Tercentenary stamp when he made his opening remarks.


Figure 1 - Wisconsin Tercentenary Issue, Scott 739. Source: National Postal Museum.

Figure 2 - Wisconsin Statehood Centennial Issue, Scott 957. Source: National Postal Museum.

Figure 3 - Victor S. McCloskey, Jr. Source: National Postal Museum.

Figure 4 - FDC Signed by Designer Victor S. McCloskey, Jr. Source: Author.

Figure 5 - James Farley on the Cover of Time Magazine, October 31, 1932.

Figure 6 - Scott 739 FDC Sent by PMG Farley. Source: Author.

Figure 7 - PMG Farley's Letter. Source: Author.

Figure 8 - Third Assistant PMG Clinton B. Eilenberger (right) with PMG Farley and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, April 13, 1934. Source: United States Postage Stamps of the 20th Century, Volume 4, Max G. Johl, 1938, p. 12.

Figure 9 - Scott 739 FDC Signed by Third Assistant PMG Eilenberger. Source: Author.

Figure 10 - Green Bay Postmaster and Later Mayor John S. Farrell. Source: City of Green Bay.

Figure 11 - First Scott 739 FDC Signed by John S. Farrell. Source: Author.

Figure 12 - Second Scott 739 FDC Signed by John S. Farrell. Source: Author.

Figure 13 - Cover Postmarked in Green Bay August 9, 1934, and Franked with Scott 739. Source: Author.

Figure 14 - Souvenir Button from President Roosevelt's Visit to Green Bay. Source: Hake's Auction Website.



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