Arago: American Turners Issue

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American Turners Issue

On March 4, 1948, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a joint resolution authorizing the issuance of "a special series of 3-cent postage stamps . . . in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the American Turners, which society sponsored physical education and recreation in America."

Acting Postmaster General Joseph Lawler responded in late May 1948. "It has been the consistent policy of the Post Office Department to decline approval of postage stamps commemorating fraternal, religious, educational, charitable, or sectional organizations or groups," he said. "In the recent past, approval has been denied to such worthy organizations as the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, the Young Men's Christian Association, Knights of Columbus, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars. Other subjects . . . of greater national significance and appeal" had not received commemorative stamps. "There are so many subjects in that category that it would not be practicable to comply . . . and selection of one or a few" could generate criticism of the Post Office Department for "showing favoritism or discrimination." He then broadly hinted at the politics behind the request by saying, "Special legislation is not required for the issuance of commemorative postage stamps as the postmaster general has such authority under the previsions of Title 39, Section 351, United States Code."

Congress stormed back with a resolution by the Senate and House of Representatives that was approved June 10, stating "that the postmaster general is authorized and directed" to issue the American Turner stamps. By June 16, director of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing A. W. Hall received a letter from the Post Office Department with an "attached model prepared by Alvin W. Meissner, which has been approved by the president of this organization [American Turners], and from which you are requested to prepare a model for submission to the postmaster general. This issue will be scheduled for release during the month of November. . . ."

American Turners Society? The flummoxed postmaster of Butte, Montana, wrote to the third assistant postmaster general saying, "I received an inquiry today from the Butte Public Library requesting me to advise them concerning the stamp being issued to commemorate the American Turners Society, Cincinnati, Ohio, November 20. Will you please advise us the reason for issuing this stamp and who Mr. Turner might be, or what the American Turners Society represents."

Once released, the stamp met with mixed reviews. Its most notable detractor was Fritz Kaufmann, Associate Professor of Philosophy, University of Buffalo, who wrote to Postmaster General Hannegan, "I feel it the duty of an American citizen and educator to protest against the growing deterioration of the artistic quality of the United States stamps, a movement which has reached its lowest point with the recent issue of the monstrous stamp in dishonor of the American Turners and this country as a whole. The stamp is a non-plus ultra in the congestion of petty motives and the microscopic caricature of Myron's discobulus. For a long time this country has allowed middle and small nations to outdo us in the taste of their postage stamps . . . . Don't you think that the American people deserves better than to be judged according to atrocities such as this stamp?"

A weary Mr. Lawler replied, "The issuance of this stamp was not the idea of the Post Office Department. It was released in response to legislation passed by the 80th Congress, and the design approved as submitted by the president of the organization."

Others responded, "Just a word of appreciation . . . despite the jumble of features, the stamp makes a very good impression in use by virtue of its shape, color and mazy detail." Another letter— this one from a confused Earl M. Turner, who was anxious to know more about his genealogy—asked for information about the American Turners.

Sixty million issues were printed in panes of 50 stamps.

Dimensions: 0.84 x 1.44 inches (vertical)

Color: red

Printing: rotary process; electric-eye perforated


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