Panama's Flat Arch Stamp



El Arco Chato, the Flat Arch of the Church of Saint Domingo in Panama City, collapsed on November 7, 2003.  After surviving several hundred years of neglect it appears that it finally succumbed to the vibrations of modern day traffic, local construction, and/or the very loud fireworks set off on November 3rd over Panama City to celebrate 100 years of independence from Colombia.  The Flat Arch was one of Panama City's great tourist attractions from the Spanish colonial period. It appeared on many picture post cards and is usually mentioned in books about Panama.


Albert Edwards in his book PANAMA published in 1911 had this to say about the arch.


San Domingo is the best of the ruins. Tradition has it that the Dominican monks planned and built their own church. They had trouble with the arch near the front entrance which supported the organ loft.  The first one fell as soon as the supports were removed.  Again they built it, and again it fell.  The same thing happened a third time.  Then they decided that there was something wrong with their plan. Another monk, who was not supposed to be an engineer nor an architect, had a dream and produced a new plan.  When the arch for a fourth time was completed and the supports were about to be withdrawn, the designer stood under it, with folded arms - staking not only his reputation as a dreamer but also his life on his inspired arch.  It stood.


And a most wonderful arch it is.  It is almost flat, and is absolutely unique.


San Domingo - as well as most of the city - was destroyed by fire in 1737.  There is nothing left now except the walls and this marvelous arch.  If you ask any of the canal engineers whether the earthquakes are likely to disturb their work they will show you the ruins of San Domingo where this flat arch has stood - without any lateral support - for nearly three centuries.


In order to honor the 1915 Panama National Exposition Panama ordered a series of eight stamps with denominations of 1/2c, 1c, 2c, 2 1/2c 3c, 5c, 10c, and 20c.



This series was designed and printed by the American Bank Note Company in 1914.  The Canal Zone Postal Service ordered the 1c, 2c, 5c, and 10c denominations from Panama and a small amount were overprinted CANAL ZONE by the ABNCo.  The first day of issue for both the Canal Zone and Panama series was March 1, 1915.


Few details concerning the design and printing of these stamps have survived and it was not until September 1990 when the ABNCo archives were sold by Christies' in New York City that most collectors became aware that anything had been saved.  The lots sold at this auction have been referred to as the production files and were eagerly bid on by both collectors and dealers.


In order to commemorate the passing of this great monument some of this material for the 20c stamp, Scott Number 212, is shown here for the first time.  In addition a unique strip of inverts and a first day cover have been included.



 Postcard by Maduro rejected for the Flat Arch stamp



Two picture postcards were sent to the ABNCo to be used as subjects for this stamp. This card, number 512, and listed on p. 110 in Panama Patchwork by Karrer and Wilde, was rejected.


Postcard by Vibert and Dixon chosen for the Flat Arch stamp



This card by Vibert and Dixon was chosen for the stamp.  On this scan it is shown attached to a hardboard and has notes from the ABNCo concerning sizing, engraving, as well as the order and cast die numbers.



Artist Mockup



Although this looks like the finished stamp it is not. The picture in the center of the arch is a reduced black and white photograph of the Vibert and Dixon postcard.  The brown frame around it is a hand colored sketch by an artist.


Close up of the Mockup



The artist mockup showing the photograph and sketch in greater detail.


Final Die Proof



This is the final die proof that was approved for printing. Note that this particular brown color was not approved.


Index Copy



Here are two final die proofs affixed to a card.  It appears that the ABNCo kept Index Copies on file for each stamp that it produced with information on its production.  Note the two different colors of brown.


Rare strip of Seven stamps with inverted centers



Because two colors, black and brown, were used the sheets of stamps had to be printed twice, once with the frame in brown and then again with the center in black.  This shows one of the rare instances that a mistake was made by the printer and not found until they were offered for sale in Panama.  After printing the center or frame in one color the full sheet was fed into the press reversed - leading to a rare inverted center.  This strip of seven inverted centers has the inscription.  REPUBLIC DE PANAMA 20 CENT STAMP F-4245 in black on the selvage.


First Day cover for all eight Panama National Exposition stamp



Gerald Bliss, the postmaster in Cristobal, Canal Zone, was one of the key persons responsible for many of the Canal Zone and Panama covers from the construction period that still exist today.  On this First Day Cover he applied each of this series of stamps and mailed it to Mr. Philip H. Ward, Jr.