First issued by the US postal Service in December 1993, the Legends of the West stamps shown here promised to be a very popular set. But one incorrect image made it one of the most infamous errors in American postal history.
The stamp within the four pointers honoured Bill Pickett, a celebrated African-American cowboy credited with the invention of bull-dogging, or steer-wrestling. To create the portrait, stamp artist Mark Hess used a famous photograph that bore a clear inscription identifying Pickett. The photograph had been featured in several magazines and exhibitions, and countless books about the American West also identified the cowboy as Bill Pickett.
But in January 1994, the Pickett family informed the Postal Service that the photo and thus the stamp depicted not Bill but his brother, Ben. Stunned, the Postal Service announced the recall and destruction of around five million stamp sheets that had been shipped to hundreds of post offices nationwide.
Above is Mark Hess’s re-creation of Bill Pickett for which he copied the facial features from the 1923 film advertising poster shown below. This was then used for the re-issued stamp sheet.
The story doesn’t end there, as when the corrected stamp sheet was released the Postal Service discovered another mistake. Some clerks had sold 183 of the incorrect stamp panes, accidentally creating a collectible so rare and valuable that most collectors would never be able to afford one. To give the public a chance to own the incorrect stamps, and to save on reprinting costs, the Postal Service made the controversial decision to sell 150,000 of the faulty panes through a lottery. Below is the ‘fault-free’ 1994 ‘Legends of the West’ stamp mini-sheet.