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The Collector’s Guide to 1936 Texas Independence and 1945 Statehood Centennial Cachets

 

This first hand account by a journalist of the era gives perspective on what happened when a small town post office was selected for first day ceremonies.)

 

A Texas Postmaster Said “Come and Get Them”

And How Collectors Did Is Here Told

 

By DON HINGA

Houston Chronicle

(Written specially for Stamp Digest)

 

“The little town of Gonzales, where the first shot was fired in Texas war of Independence against Mexico one hundred years ago, was the center of attention from stamp collectors all over the world on March 2 when the first Texas Centennial stamps were placed on sale here.

"Gonzales is a small town of about 2,500 persons. It has a handsome little two-story post office; and Fred Boothe, the genial postmaster, usually has a pretty easy time of it.

“The main highway between San Antonio and Houston doesn’t go through Gonzales any more and it is not on a main line railway. Therefore life goes on leisurely in the post office.

“But that all changed when Post Office Department officials decided that the honor of selling the first Centennial stamps should go to the town that fired the first shot for freedom and the town that also raised the first army to fight against Mexico.

“From then on Postmaster Booth's troubles began to multiply.

"As soon as the announcement was made, mail began to double and treble in his little shop. He told his staff that they could expect some longer hours. But he head no idea of the rush that would finally develop.

"Toward the latter part of the last week in February every mail bag bulged with letters from persons who wanted Mr. Boothe to send them out on March 2 with the special issue stamps.

“Almost every day he had to add another member to his force.

"A week before Texas’ Independence Day (March 2) Mr. Boothe had some 80,000 pieces of mail. on hand. The stampede continued and on Saturday and Sunday before the holiday he had to add twenty more persons to his staff!

“Robert E. Fellers, of the Stamp Division of the Post Office Department, arrived to lend his trained assistance to the harassed Mr. Boothe. He was accompanied by Charles H. Anderson, the postmaster of 'Little America.'

“In the main mail handling room of the post office large tables were arranged by putting wide boards on old-fashioned ‘saw horses.’ Gonzales business men pitched in to help.

"They sat at the long tables from 12 to 16 hours a day, slitting the envelopes and watching the orders for stamps fall out. Upstairs, Mr. Boothe opened another room and put about a dozen girls and young men to work stamping the envelopes.

"So hard did they work that calluses began to appear on the palms of their hands from pressing the stamps down securely. One young man arranged a couple of blotters on his hand, secured with adhesive tape, and his device was quickly copied by the others.

"Toward the latter part of the weekend the larger orders began to pile in. One dealer came through with an order for 35,000 covers. Another ordered 20,000 more. Orders ranging from several hundred to a thousand or more were common.

“The Chase National Bank of New York bought $1,000 worth of stamps; a Gonzales banker bought another $1,000 worth; the Texas State Health Department sent a check for $600; the Attorney General of Texas asked for $300 worth more.

"Politicians and State officials made sure that they were buying goodwill by sending in many more orders.

"Sunday night about midnight I walked through the post office to see the rush Tall Texans with their characteristic big hats were standing before the long tables, methodically opening the envelopes.

"Bulging mail bags lay around everywhere. Stack after stack of unopened mail was piled on every available table or chair. The floor was littered with slit envelopes.

"In the stamping section, weary girls went through the motions like machines. Mr. Boothe was everywhere, a little groggy from many nights of little sleep, but mighty proud of the way his staff was functioning.

“When the stamp windows were opened on Monday morning there was a long line of eager buyers, though they had to brave a terrific downpour to come to the post office.

"Sales of $100 to $500 each were common. Standing in line were many poor Mexicans, whose defeat the stamps were celebrating. They seemed just as eager to buy a stamp as their white brothers and sisters.

“Mr. Boothe had a lot of freak requests. One man sent a telegraph money order for 25 cents worth of stamps from Lake Forest, Illinois. Another sent three cents for a stamp. He put only two cents on the envelope and it was returned to him. Then he put three more cents on the same cover and forgot to include the letter to be stamped and mailed back. By the time that he had bought his three cent stamps it had cost him 10 cents or more.

“Mr. Boothe said that the stamps went all over the world. The island of Tahiti in the lonely Pacific is the farthest place on the map from Gonzales - and some letters went there.

“A dusty Ethiopian with an unpronounceable name sent in an order for several to be mailed to Addis Ababa.

“The movie colony in Hollywood had heavy orders.

“The first stamp to be sold was bought by Lieutenant Governor Walter Woodul of Texas from Karl A. Crowley, a Texan who is presently Solicitor General of the United States. Mr. Woodul affixed the stamp to a beautifully engraved letter to President Roosevelt and it was dropped into the mails to be speeded to the White House, whose occupant is an enthusiastic philatelist. Among other dignitaries present at the ceremony, which was broadcast and recorded also by newsreel companies were C.B. Eilenberger, Third Assistant Postmaster General; Samuel Scofield, Internal Revenue Collector for Texas; and several State Representatives.

"At midnight Sunday more than 200,000 covers had been received for mailing. Monday morning about 11 a.m. Mr Fellers announced that 700,000 stamps had been sold and that the demand was still brisk. Total first day sales were 1,0200,000 stamps and 319,150 covers were serviced.

“Later in the afternoon a group of young Gonzales businessmen, headed by Harry Reese, publisher of the Gonzales

Enquirer, chipped in to put the sale over one million for the day. Mr. Reese arrived at the post office about 4 p.m. with $5,000 cash in his hand.

“ 'Mr. Boothe, I want to but 45,000 worth of stamps and put the sale over a million,' he said.

" 'I'm sorry, Henry,' the worn out Mr. Boothe replied, 'I haven't got that many left. I've just ordered 300,000 more and when they come I’ll get them to you.'

"Mr. Fellers said that the stamp sale broke every record for special issues. The nearest approach was the sale of the Connecticut Tercentenary stamp at Hartford, Conn., a few years ago. Around 208,000 were sold then.

"On the Gonzales square there stands a replica of the old brass cannon that fires the first shot for Texas' Independence. The Mexicans came to the Guadalupe River at Gonzales and ordered the Texans to give the cannon up.

"The Texans replied “Come and Get It,” fired a blast that scared the Mexicans back to San Antonio and designed a flag that has the motto “Come and Get It” for the Gonzales company organized to fight for liberty.

" ‘Well, I told 'em to come and get 'em,’ Mr. Boothe said Monday midnight, as he pushed some letters out of his chair and viewed his disheveled office. 'And believe me they did!’ "