The Trans-Mississippi Issue, or "Trans-Miss" for short, is a set of nine commemorative postage stamps issued by the United States to mark the 1898 Trans-Mississippi Exposition held in Omaha, Nebraska. The finely engraved stamps depict various scenes of the West and are today highly prized by collectors.
Edward Rosewater, then publisher of the Omaha Daily Bee and in charge of publicity for the Exposition, suggested the special stamps on December 13, 1897, and 10 days later Postmaster-General James A. Gary agreed, promising a series of five stamps ranging from one cent to one dollar. This announcement prompted protests from stamp collectors, who were still unhappy about the high price of the Columbian Issue of 1893 ($16.34, a princely sum at the time), but Gary was unmoved, saying he decided on the issue "because I wanted to help the people of the West." Indeed, Gary subsequently made the set even more expensive by adding four more stamps to the series, including a $2 denomination.
The original plan was to produce stamps with colored frames and black centers, which would have required two separate stages of printing. In April 1898, however, the Spanish-American War broke out, and the Bureau of Engraving and Printing—now required to produce large numbers of revenue stamps—chose to save time by printing the Trans-Mississippi designs in single colors. Even so, the stamps were late, not going on sale until June 17, over two weeks after the Exposition opened.
Philatelic protests notwithstanding, they were received favorably by the general public. They went off sale at the end of the year, and postmasters were directed to return unsold stock, which was then incinerated. (Although the numbers printed are known, the numbers returned were not recorded, and so the numbers of existing stamps are unknown.)
The stamps, designed by Raymond Ostrander Smith, all have the same shape of frame (a legacy of the bicolor plan); the numerals of value and "UNITED STATES OF AMERICA" at the top, and "POSTAGE" with a spelled-out value at the bottom up through the 50c denomination, the dollar values being in numerals. Ears of wheat and corn appear in odd corners of the frame. Each center design is inscribed with its title:
- 1¢ dark green - "Marquette on the Mississippi"
- 2¢ copper red - "Farming in the West"
- 4¢ orange - "Indian Hunting Buffalo"
- 5¢ dark blue - "Fremont on Rocky Mountains"
- 8¢ violet brown - "Troops Guarding Train"
- 10¢ slate - "Hardships of Emigration"
- 50¢ olive - "Western Mining Prospector"
- $1 black - "Western Cattle in Storm"
- $2 orange brown - "Mississippi River Bridge"
The designs were adapted from various photographs, drawings, and paintings; both the 8¢ and 50¢ values reproduced drawings by Frederic Remington. While all have been praised for their quality, the $1 value, commonly called the "Black Bull", stands out from the rest. Ironically, it does not reproduce an Western American scene, but was taken from a painting of cattle in the Scottish Highlands by John A. MacWhirter (see also Western Cattle in Storm).
In 1998, to mark the 100th anniversary of the issue, the United States Postal Service issued a miniature sheet of the nine, each printed in two colors, and a sheet of nine of the "Black Bull". In most of the images, the original color scheme was preserved, but for the "Black Bull" the hue of the frame was changed from violet-brown to bright red. The designs are reproductions; they have a small "1998" worked into the frame.
 See also
- Lester George Brookman, The Nineteenth Century Postage Stamps of the United States (Lindquist, 1947) pp. 207–228