Western Mining Prospector
50¢ - Sage green or dark sage green
Scott #291 - 1898

Used: $20-$70
No postmark with gum (MH): $125-$400
Full perfect gum, no postmark, no trace of stamp hinge mark (MNH): $300-$600


Introduced on June 17th, 1890. Earliest documented use,
a first day cover from June 17th 1898

Plate Size:
Sheets of 100 subjects (2 panes of 50). There are no full
panes of 50 left. Well centered blocks of four are scarce
and mint copies will sell for $17,000.

The Bureau of Printing and Engraving

Double lined USPS watermark.

Quantity Issued:

What you should look for

Light cancels

The 50¢ was used mostly for registered mail or for heavy letters. As
a result it rarely had the first class mail cancel, it is more likely
it had a heavy handstamp, and most 50¢ Trans-Mississippi stamps
are marred with an ugly blurred cancel or obliterated by a thick
registry cancel, such as the one shown below.

A typical heavy registry cancel

US stamp 291 first day cover fdc
The unique first day cover of #291 dated June 17th 1898

The Inspiration for the Design

The inspiration for the design was "The Gold Bug" by Frederic Remingtom

291 Remington Painting - Scotts - US Postage Stamps
"The Goldbug" by Frederic Remington

Much has been written about the discovery of gold at Sutters Mill, California, the gold rush that
resulted and the 'Forty Niners'. However this stamp was aimed more towards the gold prospectors
of a later period. Many of those who rode the Oregon trail went in search of Gold,
including some gold fields in Oregon.

Gold Prospecters - Scotts - US Postage Stamps

All that was needed is a simple flat pan, a strong back, and patience. The
large nuggets that Gold Prospectors dreamt of, were found mainly by water
jets and sluices. Most gold in a stream is dust—tiny flecks mixed in with
ordinary dirt. These dust particles aren’t heavy; each one weighs only a
fraction of a gram. But gold particles, no matter how small, are the densest
part of the mix. This causes the gold flecks to sink through waterfaster
than everything else.

291 Gold Prospector Scotts - US Postage Stamps

To prospect for gold, prospectors use a pan to dredge up silt and rocks from
the bottom of a river. They pick out the big rocks and add water from the river
to the pan. Then they swirl the pan of silt and water, allowing anything that
does not sink quickly to the bottom of the pan to flow out of the pan.
Prospectors repeat this process until they are left with only “black sand,
”which is very dense. If they are lucky, the black sand will contain tiny
gold flecks. Then they pick out the flecks, and start again. If they are
very lucky, they will find nuggets of gold (see below for a typical tiny
nugget, it would have rested on the tip of your finger)

Gold Nugget Scotts - US Postage Stamps
292 Gold Prospectors and Mule

Varieties to look for

Revenue Overprints

Due to the shortage of revenue stamps caused by the Spanish American War,
post offices had to resort to a manuscript IR cancel on postage stamps.
Such an example is shown below, they typically sell for $1,000 and requires a certificate.

291 IR Cancel Scotts - US Postage Stamps
A manuscript IR overprint

The Essay's and Proofs

Vignette design
Die essay on india
Die sunk on card

Showing Hills
Die essay on india
Die sunk on card


#291 E5
The original bi-color design (green and black)
Die sunk on card
The bi-color design had to be dropped as the bi-color printing process
was taxed to the max printing revenue stamps for the Spanish-American
war that had broken out.

Vignette on india (sage green)

291-E8 Scotts - US Postage Stamps
Die essay on india
Die sunk on card

Die essay on india or wove
Engraving on bottom of miner's pan dots only
Die sunk on card

291-P1 US Postage Stamp Proof

Sage-green large die proof pulled on
India paper and die sunk on card

291 P2

#291 P2
Roosevelt Album Proof
Mounted on gray card