The likeness of James A. Garfield (1831-1881), the twentieth president of the United States, appears on the 20-cent denomination of the 1938 Presidential Series. Garfield's image was inspired by a medal created by the U.S. Mint.
Garfield chose academia as a career early in life. He later turned to politics and served seven terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. He was the first left-handed person elected president and the second president to be assassinated. Garfield was shot by a disgruntled civil servant only a few months into his presidency (1881).
This bluish green value was printed only as a sheet stamp and was issued to the public on November 10, 1938, the same day as the 19-cent Presidential value.
When first issued, a variety of rates could have been paid with a single 20-cent stamp, including a registered letter to most foreign countries—five cents for the one-ounce U.P.U. surface rate plus a fifteen-cent international registration fee, in effect December 1, 1925, through January 31, 1945; the half-ounce airmail rate to/from Hawaii in effect April 24, 1937, through January 14, 1945; the half-ounce airmail rate between Hawaii and Guam in effect April 21, 1937, through September 30, 1946; and the half-ounce airmail rate to British Honduras in effect February 4, 1938, through March 31, 1945.
A few years later, a 20-cent stamp would have paid to mail a half-ounce letter by air to South America. This rate was in effect April 1, 1945, through October 31, 1946. With the reduction of the South American airmail rate on November 1, 1946, the same 20-cent stamp would pay two times the new ten-cent-per-half-ounce airmail fee. This rate was in effect until June 30, 1961.