WAIF STAMPS - What the heck are they?


Waif stamps, 1896

I got started on the search that led me to create this web page when I found the strip of three stamps shown above in an album filled with miscellaneous, mostly American labels/vignettes/Cinderellas/stickers/poster stamps that I was getting ready to sell on eBay. I had no idea what these were, and a brief search on the www told me no more. There were none on eBay, nor in Worthpoint's history.

I wanted to know more, so I polled the group of gurus and gadabouts who usually know about such things, and while they had lots of speculation,
none had ever seen such labels before. Speculation ran wild.
Here are some of the comments I received:

- The guy looks to me like the actor John Astin, on the TV version of the Addms Family. He seems to be writing something - pen in hand. There's the small head and upper shoulders of a figure above him - a man? Might have long hair, so could be a woman - Jesus? Twenty cents seems a lot for the early 20th century - I think it dates from the aughts or teens. What is the word above his right shoulder? "--ERS"

- It appears that the corner designs are not of anything specific. I thought perhaps newspaper or some such. He's holding something in his hands, a letter maybe? Waifs lost, waifs found, rejoice. All very interesting. Can't decide what ethnicity the man is. Beard not long enough to be Jewish. Looks more Balkan.

- I can't fully decipher all the words or what the 4 designs in the corners are. They look to be something real. The pen notations suggest it is a fund-raiser receipt?.no perf between the image and lettering above. Could it be a spoof? Sure. Of what? Who knows.

- To me it doesn't even look especially American in origin but the 'Cal.' says otherwise. So my quick assessment is this is some idea for lost - undelivered mail. The waif is reference to lost mail 'lost - found - rejoice' more than hints at that. Some wild Essay idea.

The most promising proposal of all that was that these were local creations - spoofs, if you like - within the Dead Letter Office in Los Angeles. The "waifs" were lost letters and the DLO was using these to congratulate itself when it solved a tough case. Plausible, right? I liked it, because as a philatelist I always like stories connected to the postal service and the mail.

I offered the item on eBay, and sold it for about $9 - hardly a princely sum - to a regular customer who shares my passion for this sort of material. I emailed him at once, hoping he could explain the origin and purpose of these labels. He sent me this link to the June 10, 1896 (!) issue of the Los Angeles Herald newspaper.

I have extracted an image of the article, and then converted it to text below for your amusement.

Screenshots of the article:



Los Angeles Herald, Volume 25, Number 252, 10 June 1896 Page 10


Official Designation of a Man Arrested Yesterday


In Which a Little Green Stamp Is Used

Deputy U. S. Marshal Gathers Him In but He is Released on His Own Recognizance.

World's Arbitration League

A sparely built man about average height, energetic in his movements, anywhere from 45 to 60 years old, with a small but normally shaped head, keen eyes, whiskers, and mustache, called at The Herald office last evening and to a reporter said: "I have been arrested today, charged with imitating United States postage stamps. It happened in Pasadena, I was allowed to go upon my own recognizance to appear on Thursday before United States Commissioner Van Dyke. I'll write you a short account of It for your paper." And with this the gentleman sat down at a table and was soon engrossed In turning out "copy." In course of time the lately arrested handed to the reporter the following:

"Deputy United States Marshal Botello arrested Mr. Craigie Gordon today in Pasadena, after gathering up all his waif stamps, plates and circulars, charging him with imitating U. S. postage stamps. Mr. Gordon was let go on his own recognizance to appear Thursday at 2oclock to answer said charge before United States Commissioner Van Dyke.

"On said waif stamp may be seen a photo-engraving of Gordon himself, and above his head, In a halo, is the beautiful engraving of Christ before the doctors when He was 12 years old, pointing to which Mr. Gordon smilingly said, 'So we may imitate Christ's picture, words, works and ways, but if Caesar's, then arrest and nous verrons.'

"This very morning a lawyer offered Mr. Gordon $40,000 for the good will of his scheme, but he declined, saying his figures were SIOO,OOO. and a twelfth interest In all countries that would adopt it."

With this "copy" Mr. Craigie Gordon handed the reporter a circular, one side of which Is headed "Circular to the Public and the other "Circular to the Waifmasters," and with this were three of his waif stamps, the making or using of which will necessitate an explanation from him to Commissioner Van Dyke tomorrow. The stamp is of about the size of a government postage stamp and Is printed in green ink from a half-tone plate. It bears an oval shaped picture of Graigie Gordon and surrounding It are the words "United States Waif Stamp. Twenty Cents." Directly above the head of Gordon is a most diminutive one of the Christ child. Over this are the words "U. S. Mail" and at the bottom of the stamp is the one word "Rejoice."

The "circular to the public from the United States waif office" bears at the bottom the name and official designation, "Graigie Gordon, U. S. Waifmaster General" and is intended to show to the public "the manner of proceeding to find all kinds of lost property, Including children, persons, etc., etc." It reads as follows:

"1. When a person loses anything he writes on a United States postal card I with paid reply or in a letter full particulars of his loss-when, where, name, address, etc., panned, pasted or : pinned thereon, bearing the name of the waif office and the waifmaster's running number of the lost waif, and delivers or mails the same to the appointed local waifmaster. "

2. When a person finds anything he writes on a United States postal card or in a letter particulars as above and delivers or mails the same to the appointed local waifmaster. "

3. When the waifmaster finds the lost and found descriptions to correspond he informs the loser on the United States reply postal card or In a letter the particulars sent to him by the finder. "

4. All lost and found descriptions not corresponding in local post offices will be sent seven days after date to Los Angeles waif office for Southern California, and to San Francisco waif office for Northern California, also to the general waif office at Washington, D. C, to undergo a second and third search, for an i additional 20-cent waif stamp for each search. "

5. First, second and third class post masters on receipt of this circular will appoint the waif master subject to confirmation, but fourth-class postmasters j will, unless otherwise appointed, be ordinarily the waif masters as well."

The circulars to waifmasters is also signed by the waifmaster-general and reads:

"Dear Sir: We hereby tender you the office of waifmaster for your post office district, and In case of your being first, second or third-class postmaster prevents your accepting the office, we ask you to appoint a suitable person to fill the office, subject always, however, to our approval or dismissal.

"In order to commence this new project, Intended to extend not only throughout our United States, but to all nations of the earth in due time, we enclose you herewith twelve 20-cent waif stamps for immediate use, by cancellation, writing thereon the name of your office and running number, commencing with No. 1, 2, 3 and so on.

"As the United States post office does not yet permit the affixing of our wait stamps on postal cards, you can imitate one by four cross lines, returning to us the canceled stamp with your report of business on the first day of every month.

"Before the twelve waif stamps are entirely used up, send to the address below for a new supply, together with remittance for the original twelve at the rate of 10 cents per stamp, thus leaving you 10 cents for each 20-cent waif stamp used.

When rewards are offered and not claimed by the finder, one-half goes to the local waifmaster and one-half to the waif office service. The same from the sale of articles left In waif offices when not claimed."

Craigle Gordon sees nothing In his scheme objectionable to law. He states that he is vice president of the World's Arbitration league, an organization that In time is to bring about a sort of millennium by abolishing wars and quarrels of every description, and In some manner he did not explain, the stamp racket Is to be a big factor in this realization.

Regarding the alleged offer by a lawyer of $40,000 to Mr. Gordon for his business, an allusion to which Is made In the above, the walfmaster-general said: "I believe that offer was made only In a joke."

That explains the label, and is far stranger than anything I imagined.
But it made me reflect that twenty years ago it might have been impossible to identify the label.
Only the www and the digitization of old books and newspapers has made this sort of research possible.
Thanks, Google and CNDC!


All text Copyright 2019, William M. Senkus

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Created -- 01/20/2019
Revised -- 01/29/2019