In 1895, a janitor was cleaning the basement of the Louisville, Kentucky, courthouse. He had been given orders to burn stacks of papers which had accumulated over the years. While he was throwing the stacks into the furnace, the stamps affixed to some of the expendable trash caught his eye. He showed the papers bearing the unusual stamps to the caretakers of the courthouse; they turned out to be a large find of the St. Louis ‘Bears.’
According to an account of this story published by L.N and M. Williams, the caretakers realized nearly $20,000 for the stamps. They were kind enough to buy the janitor a drink.
These St. Louis ‘Bears’ postmaster’s provisionals are now classed among the greatest of United States stamp rarities. They were first issued in November 1845; about four months after the first postmaster’s provisionals had been released by New York City Postmaster Robert Morris.
The St. Louis provisionals were issued under the authority of Postmaster John M. Wimer. They acquired the nickname ‘Bears’ because their design featured the Missouri coat of arms supported by two bears. First printings of these stamps were issued in denominations of 5 cents and 10 cents in black on greenish-gray wove paper. They were printed in two vertical rows with three 5-cents stamps in the left row and three 10 cents in the right. In 1846 a 20-cent value was introduced to cover the double rate on a letter going more than 300 miles. The denomination was created by changing the 5-cent values on the plate to 20 cents. This 20 cent denomination plate was later changed back to the 5 cent value.
A second printing of the three imperforate values was issued in 1846 on gray-lilac paper, and a third printing was introduced later that year on bluish paper. Information pertaining to these provisionals was scarce during the 19th century; only a few copies had surfaced until the janitor’s major find in Louisville.
Another significant lot was discovered in 1912 on correspondence addressed to Charnley & Whelen. This correspondence was obtained by Edward Hemmingway.