In 1870 the US Post Office issued a radically different set of stamps from the previous issues of 1869. The reason for the change was primarily political as a new Postmaster General had been appointed. The reason given to the public was the 1869 Issue was too small in format, had ugly pictorial designs and was unpopular with the public. The new issues were handsome in large vertical format using various political personage's portraits as the vignettes inside decorative frames.
The National Banknote Company, a security printer of currency, bonds, revenue and postage stamps, had the postage stamp printing contract with the USPO in 1870. In 1873 the contract passed to a competitor; the Continental Bank Note Company. Finally, in 1879, the contract passed to another competitor; the American Banknote Company. As the basic stamp designs had not changed through the printings these stamps became known as the "Banknotes" to stamp collectors. Most begining and intermediate collectors have some trouble distinguishing the stamps from each printer apart where the design and color are apparently the same. This guide will not deal with "grills", "secret marks" or "color shades" as factors in determining the Scott Catalogue # of a "Banknote". This guide will deal only with the basic "papers" the stamps were printed on and how to tell them apart.
The stamps are printed on either "hard" or "soft" paper. Any collector (or dealer) interested in these stamps must be able to distinguish between these two main papers to assign them to a specific printer and Scott #. Paper sub-types will not be covered in this guide as they are not really important except to the advanced specialist.
Here's how you do it. Get a cheap used copy of Scott #65 3c rose with a clean back (or any stamp in the 1861 or 1869 series with a clean back). Then get a cheap used copy Scott #210 2c red brown or #213 2c green with a clean back. Lay the two stamps on a white sheet of paper, side by side, under a strong light. Compare the tone of the papers. As the #65 is always on "hard paper" and the #210 or #213 are always on "soft paper" you will clearly see the difference.
The "hard paper" will be smooth in texture, somewhat translucent and either bluish or grayish white in tone. The "soft paper" will be thicker and rougher in texture than the "hard paper" and will be slightly yellowish when compared to the "hard paper". That's it! I'ts really easy. Keep your two comparison examples handy as a chart. When in doubt get them out and check your new "Banknote" against them. Oh, by the way, all the Nationals are on "hard paper", most of the Continentals are on "hard paper" and all of the Americans are on "soft paper". Happy collecting! Dan