Arago: 3-cent Torch of Enlightenment

3-cent Torch of Enlightenment

An image of the "Torch of Enlightenment" appears on the 3-cent National Defense stamp, saluting "Security, Education, Conservation and Health." As with the 1-cent and 2-cent, the stamp's design began with a pencil sketch by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The stamps were issued October 16, 1940.

Bureau of Engraving and Printing artist William A. Roach prepared the final design. The stamp resembles the pencil sketch except for some decorative ribbons that the president had included in his original design.

The Post Office Department issued 8,384,867,600 of the 3-cent stamps, reflecting FDR's desire to use postage stamps to promote support for United States involvement in World War II. They were to be sold at post offices in place of the 3-cent Presidential definitive, at that time the workhorse of stamps used to meet the first-class postage rate.

Writing in the January, 1971, issue of The American Philatelist, E. Ellsworth Post described "an unusual inking oddity found on the US 3-cent Defense stamp." The article concluded with mention of the BEP's assessment that the "unusual markings are attributable to the incomplete wiping of extraneous ink matter on the printing plate."

The rapidity with which the BEP produced these billions of stamps contributed to many freaks and oddities and the largest number of genuine errors in US postage stamps (mostly imperforated varieties). Writing in the March, 1948, issue of the Bureau Specialist, Jesse L. Bogard noted, "The most important and beautiful part about the Defense errors was that no one party or group got or monopolized them as they were found from Maine to Texas, Washington to Florida. The average collector and stamp hunter had a crack at the errors as they were likely to be found in any post office, whether large or small."

In 1991, the late Henry W, Beecher, an expert on US postage stamp production, clarified the persistent myths that the perforation freaks and errors were caused by war-time shortages - for instance, shortage of the perforation machine's metal pins. He noted that controls of such materials did not begin until January 1942, when War Production was initiated. It was just the demand for unprecedented quantities and desire for rapid delivery to local post offices that, according to Beecher, caused the peculiarities in production.

George Linn, editor of Linn's Stamps, commented in the November 16, 1940, issue: "The National Defense first day covers set no records for speed. The covers trickled back as late as a full week. The other units of the defense program, we trust, are functioning in a more efficient manner." It is ironic to note, by today's standards, the return of first day covers in a week's time was quite speedy!

James R. Lowe engraved the vignette, and Edward H. Helmuth engraved the lettering and frame.


Linn's Weekly Stamp News, Sidney, Ohio: Amos Press. (September 21, 1940), 741; (November 16, 1940), 41.

The American Philatelist. Altoona, Pennsylvania: American Philatelic Association (January 1971), 35-36.

Bureau Specialist. West Somerville, Massachusetts: Bureau Issues Association, Inc. (April 1941), 54; (March 1948), 54-55.

Johl, Max G. The United States Commemorative Stamps of the Twentieth Century. New York: H.L. Lindquist, 1947.

The United States Specialist. Arlington, Massachusetts: Bureau Issues Association (January 1991), 60.

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