The defaced Johnson postcards and envelopes 1891 -1892

In case it's of interest to others, I've recently come across "The President who lost his face" by Wolfgang Baldus in Germany from 2012

He's written about the defaced postcards and envelopes featuring Pres Johnson
I found it a fascinating read (24 pages), full of useful information about how these came about, lots of illustrations etc.
Wolfgang has put together details of around 60 cards/covers in his possession

It's a very useful addition to Henry Chandla's article in LPS April 2013 for those interested

Amongst other things Wolfgang argues that the items weren't defaced because Pres Johnson had run off with the Treasury money (as Rogers et al report) but rather that Johnson didn't like the way he looked in the vignette and ordered them erased!

Cost me 15 Euros direct from Wolfgang (I'm not on commission!)


  • In early 1892 (or late 1891) the Stanley Gibbons Monthly Journal was contacted about the matter by none other than Liberia's Postmaster General himself. Up to this point it wasn't clear whose head had actually been removed. I don't have access to the Monthly, but the note sent by the Postmaster General was referenced in The American Philatelist, Vol. VI, no. 2, February 10, 1892, pp. 18-19:
    Liberia.—(V. 128.) It seems that we were right in supposing that the portrait on the cards and envelopes was that of the President. The late Postmaster General writes the Monthly Journal that they were ordered by him from America, but the portrait was so poor, that on their arrival they were not uncased, and that they were so turned over to his successor. Philatelists may be at the bottom of their finally being issued.
    From the date of this publication and the content it is clear that "The late Postmaster General" can only be Wiles. So obviously Wiles had already ordered those postal stationery and then just packed them away and decided to wait it out. Eventually he passed the problem on to his successor, Moore. What he probably didn't pass on was a warning to Moore not to touch them. Moore released them, and presumably the president was not amused. The rest is history.
  • Manfred

    thanks for this
    the fact that someone - the President or PMG - didn't like the engraved portrait of Johnson seems to fit better than the story of Johnson absconding with the Treasury money and being impeached
    Johnson's portrait on these is hardly flattering to say the least

    Wonder where that story started?

    Certainly the cards/envelopes used through 1891 (when Johnson was President) have almost all been defaced and the full face ones used mostly in 1892 (Johnson's term as President came to an end in Jan 1892) so it's possible the PMG started using these again once Johnson was no longer President

  • Interesting that "The late Postmaster General writes the Monthly Journal that they were ordered by him from America"

    Rogers states that all postal stationery was produced by Waterlow (p151) although Saleski indicates that Waterlow were responsible for the Wiles postal card onwards
  • Waterlow was responsible the early stationery, and Waterlow did from 1892 onwards (through Henry Hayman), except for the 1897 registration envelope which was Perkins Bacon. The 1891 Johnson stationery technically could be anyone. I think it was always just assumed to be Waterlow because the frame is the same as the 1881 card. But there is a progressive proof of the Johnson card, so maybe someone copied it? Seems far-fetched. I think the Johnson card was Waterlow.

    Next time I'm in London I'll have to check the pictures of the Waterlow dies for a Johnson portrait.

    But, I have a philatelic card posted on 9 March 1891, non-defaced, which may be a first day/first week card. The message says "New Philatelic Card" in German. There is one other similar card. All other cards I have seen are defaced until 3-Sept-1892, after all others are normal. I also have a nice usage of non-philatelic commercial usages spanning Mar 91-Aug 92. So the card saw a fair amount of use.

    The 3c Johnson Inland postage envelopes are hard to find though... maybe they were only used for inland postage, as intended...
  • Attached is the article from Nov 1891 Stanley Gibbons Monthly in full context. One has to read between the lines because it was part of an ongoing personal communication to Mr. G. Campbell... But it tells the story.

    This was a comment from PM Wiles who ordered the cards and envelopes, who apparently died by the time this article was written. Wiles never issued them. Maybe this was 1888 or 89? The defaced cards were done by the 1890 PM Moore. I guess Moore had these things sitting around and needed postcards or "Inland Revenue" using the envelopes. Johnson was president from 1884 to 1892. Wiles was the first PMG in 1885, but was likely the head PM before that without the official title.

    This makes sense. Look what Liberia did with the 1880 issue. They sat on it for a decade. And all the overprints to make use of stamps just sitting around like the 1880 issue and 1892 issue which were both issued after the rates had already changed...

    But the story of "not liking the portrait" is the real issue... Both PMs had to deal with it. Wiles wanted not to issue them. But Moore did - defaced. Right now, I still think they were made in England - still something to work on... If this was made in America, then I assume the first postcard was also made there.

    I now assume that maybe the "forgery" he refers to in 1886 may be the "newly discovered postcard" Shoemaker shows in his postal stationery book with a French Colony stamp on it. I wonder if that stamp is covering an indicium!
  • Bryant

    thanks for the posts
    Odd that in the article he talks about the portrait head being "in the top left corner"

  • Bryant

    I've been putting together an informal list of cancel dates for these - some of which will be CTO/favour cancels

    Earliest I've come across so far for the non-defaced postcard is March 6 1892 and latest is Mar 27 1896
    For the defaced card Baldus suggests that use starts around May 1891 with cancels up to Sep 9 1892

    For the non-defaced envelope earliest cancel is Mar 9 1891 and latest is Mar 27 1896
    For the defaced earliest is Nov 7 1891 and latest is Jan 30 1892
  • Thanks for these dates. I gave Travis an article that updated the census Henry put together a number of years ago. I'll add these. But I need to know whether these used cards or envelopes are philatelic or commercial. That is how Henry started the list, and it is important. Can you email me scans of what you have?

    Thanks. I'm finishing a postal stationery exhibit and have comments about such usage.

    And the Shoemaker card does not have an indicium. And it says Postcard on top, not Postal Card. So, it is not a postal stationery forgery, per se. Just a postcard with Republic of Liberia on it, with a UPU designation. Still, it's odd and still possibly the card referenced.
  • Bryant, give me a few days to get this done
  • Can anyone recommend how to obtain a copy of "The President who lost his face" by Wolfgang Baldus in Germany from 2012, regarding the defaced Johnson postal stationery? Thanks.

    Vince Centonze
  • Vince

    you can buy direct from Wolfgang

    "Dear Mik,

    thank you for your interest in my Liberia study. If you tell me your postal address I will be happy to send you a copy. The price is 15 Euros (3.70 Euros shipping costs included), the easiest way of payment is by paypal to my paypal address

    Kind regards
    Wolfgang Baldus
    Heilwigstr. 85
    81827 Munich

    It's a very detailed study

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