Friday, May 20, 2016

Mom Leaves Her Stamp(s)

There are several drawers of stamps - cancelled stamps from all over, first day covers, loose stamps, unused US stamps in blocks.  And there are several stamp books.

Should I take them to a stamp store?  Give them to my grand children?  Put them on E-Bay?  The second option is my preference.  I think (ah the memory is such a malleable faculty) that stamp collecting was one of the ways I got interested in geography - learning the names of foreign countries and finding them on the map.

And looking at the cancelled stamps, many still on envelopes, I can't help thinking about the people or events or places or things depicted on the stamps.  And I wonder about how the letter writer chose the stamp - purposely or just because that's what the post office sold her?  And, of course, who were the people corresponding?  What was the nature of the correspondence?  In some cases my mom's collection affords the opportunity to find out more because the letter is still inside.  And I'm ever so distractible that I could spend a year just pursuing that.  Others have already written novels based on letters they found.

But we're just back home with lots to do and this wasn't supposed to be a long post, just some pictures of stamps. (Click on any of the images to enlarge and focus. They're really SO MUCH better if you do that.)  But, as I said, I'm infinitely distractible.

So looking through the box of stamps I brought home - these are unused US stamps that mean I won't have to buy stamps for a long time - I thought I'd just post some that I thought were visually strong.

Just imagine the challenge of creating an image that fits on a postage stamp.  There are a lot that are awfully busy and you have to look very closely to see what's in them.  Those that focus on one thing seem to come out best.

First, some portraits.  I think I like these because they're big and bold.  And I noticed that four of them are basically black and white drawings.

The Pulitzer stamp is the exception, but the quote is big and drew me in.  And the message - "OUR REPUBLIC AND ITS PRESS WILL RISE OR FALL TOGETHER" - is as important important today as when Pulitzer said it.  Here's more context from

In May 1904, writing in The North American Review in support of his proposal for the founding of a school of journalism, Pulitzer summarized his credo: "Our Republic and its press will rise or fall together. An able, disinterested, public-spirited press, with trained intelligence to know the right and courage to do it, can preserve that public virtue without which popular government is a sham and a mockery. A cynical, mercenary, demagogic press will produce in time a people as base as itself. The power to mould the future of the Republic will be in the hands of the journalists of future generations."
The media coverage of the current presidential race doesn't seem to me to be living up to Pulitzer's expectations for the press.

Here are a few stamps heralding events.  The Spirit of 76's power comes from our familiarity with the image and the post office's willingness to use three stamps to zoom in on the three characters.  The American Revolution tells us:
"Despite the near universality of this image as synonymous with Americanism and its instantaneous recognition in the iconography of the Revolution, the world of art has never considered it to be Art with a capital "A"."
And the picture on the stamp doesn't quite match up with the picture on their site.   But they add that painter (not artist according to the critics) Archibald McNeil Willard, made several different versions of this picture that was featured at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition of 1876.

The First Man On The Moon stamp says it all in a relatively simple illustration, that, I think, is also aided by images we've all seen before.

Finally, I like the image on the Mayflower stamp.  The Pilgrims are a little small, but the boat stands out and you can work a bit to see the Pilgrims.  My assessment is of the image, not, by the way, of the event itself.

I love these images of plant life.  I like the cacti particularly.  Do I really have to say any more?

Getting the details of buildings and places onto a tiny stamp would seem to be a bit of a challenge.  Here are some of the more successful ones in the box.  I particularly like the architecture ones and the lighthouse on the lower right.  The historic preservation stamp had to, apparently, highlight the theme and identify what was being preserved in each stamp.  They did the latter in tiny letters, which, when I blew up the image, showed how out of focus it was.  But they're challenging to my old eyes in the original.  For those who need to know the images are a) The Decator House, b) The Charles W. Morgan,  c)  San Francisco Cable Car, and d) San Xavier del Bac Mission.   (The links are well worth following.  I figure most people already know about the cable car.)

There have to be over a hundred different images in the box I found.  Some pretty dramatic and others almost looking like advertising.  I could do weeks of posts on these stamps.  And who knows, maybe I'll come back to them for future posts, but for now one more set - animals.

I really do like the top set - the 125th anniversary of the Berlin Zoo.  It's the only block of non-American stamps I've come across in the box.  And it's interesting that the German stamps in the set are different denominations.  I haven't noticed that among the US stamps.

The role of stamps

The little stamp has a role much bigger than one originally thinks about.  This should be obvious by the popularity of stamp collecting over the years.  The Art of the Stamp conveys a little of this, better than I can, in a description of the an exhibit at the Smithsonian's National Postal Museum in 2003-4:

"Few works of art enjoy as vast an audience as American stamps. At their most basic, stamps are simple proofs of postage, but with the addition of graphic designs that honor national heroes and commemorate historical events, they become something much greater: compelling works of art that serve, in the words of W.B. Yeats, as “the silent ambassadors on national taste.” Each year, award-winning graphic artists bring their talents to a broad range of U.S. stamps. Working on unusually small canvases, these artists surmount truly unique design challenges to create superb miniature encapsulations of American culture and history."


  1. Steve -- what a great treasure trove!! whatever you do with them, please don't use these old ones for regular postage. what a waste to put a Harry Truman on your water bill!!

  2. kathy, please explain a bit more. Treasure trove. OK, I agree these are neat, but what is it you want me to do with them? Why shouldn't I use them as regular postage? I imagine the person at the billing office of the Water and Wastewater Utility getting a boost in her day seeing these great stamps as she opens the envelope. Now, if a machine opens the envelopes, yes, they're wasted. What about to letters where I'm sure a person sees the stamps? If I don't use them as postage, what would you have me do with them. There are over a hundred different stamps and there are anywhere from four to fifty of any one stamp. [After writing this, I divided them into stacks of 20. There were eight stacks. So that’s 160 different sets. But while most are single stamps, some sets have four different stamps, and then there’s the set of the fifty state flags. So there are over 200 different US stamps in that one box alone. Times the number of each stamp. You think selling them on E-Bay is a better use? Most of these stamps probably don't really have much more than their face value and the time to sell them would be far more than the value gained.

    So, please explain what you think I should do with them. If you email me your address, I’ll send you some - including the First Kentucky Settlement - Fort Harrod 1774 - 1974 and the Daniel Boone stamps. You don’t even have to send postage - I have lots of stamps. :)

    Now, if there are others who have proposals for what to do with these stamps - for me or for your own project - let me know.

  3. My grandmother kept whole sheets of commemorative US stamps, believing that they would be worth a lot of money someday. Nah. So I have a lot of 2-3-4-7-8-10 cent stamps, whole sheets of them that I can hardly use because they would fully cover an envelope to make 46 cents, and for packages I usually print the postage label with click-n-ship for Priority Mail so the postal carrier can just pick it up when he drops my mail. The only ones I want to save are the Alaskan ones.


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