In 1864, the second edition of Standard Guide to Postage Stamp Collecting by Henry John Bellars and John Hunter Davie introduced a new rarity to stamp collectors, one which quickly became known as the Mormon Stamp. The stamp featured a crude, block-printed likeness of Joseph Smith, the founder of the Church of Latter-Day Saints.
The stamp’s story was repeated word-for-word in the February 1, 1864, issue of Stamp Collector’s Magazine, citing Bellars and Davie as the source. However, the story raised the eyebrows of at least one collector, Sam Knight, of Montpelier, Vermont, who wrote to Brigham Young, who had been the president of The Church of Latter-day Saints since 1847. In June, Young wrote:
“Presuming that every American citizen was aware that the Government controlled all postal affairs, and alone issued postage stamps, I could but marvel at your request, and therefore wrote [to you] for explanation. To your reply [of] May 30, I have to reply that I have never issued, nor so much as thought of issuing, a postage stamp.”
Young’s letter was reprinted in the September 1, 1864, issue of Stamp Collector’s Magazine, and naturally set off a search the stamp’s real author. The hunt took an ominous turn when postal authorities confiscated envelopes using these stamps bound for England. It was one thing to create a stamp to defraud collectors, but quite another to defraud the government.
The search led to Samuel Allan Taylor, the publisher of the first North American stamp journal, Stamp Collector’s Record. Not content with reporting on rarities, he began producing them in 1862, first fabricating stamps for local delivery services that never existed and then forging actual stamps of the U.S. and many foreign countries. Self- described as “a man of flexible conscience and speculative disposition,” Taylor issued a non-denial denial regarding the Mormon Stamp in the December 15, 1864, issue of his magazine.
A “trifling matter” or not, the Mormon Stamp became known as “one of the classic frauds of the earliest period of stamp collecting.” Ironically, interest in the Mormon Stamp spurred imitations of the forgery, in a variety of colors (red, green, mauve, yellow, blue) and denominations (2-, 5-, 8- and 12-cents).
The Stamp-Collector’s Magazine (February 1, 1867) reported, “Another impostor… was the Utah stamp, which has found believers in many countries. After the marital-prophet’s [Brigham Young’s] denial of its genuineness, however, its day was over, and now specimens of Mormon stamps are rarely to be seen, save in the collections of very small boys.”
“Utah” in Phantom Philately (1923) by Franklin John Melville
“The Mormon Stamp” in Cinderella Stamps (1970) by Leon and Maurice Williams