The 40-cent stamp of the Prominent Americans Series portrays Thomas Paine (1737-1809). Paine, born in Thetford, England, engaged in a variety of vocations before attracting the attention of Benjamin Franklin, who resided in London at the time. Paine’s political treatise to Parliament for better pay and working conditions for excisemen impressed Benjamin Franklin, who sponsored Paine's immigration to Philadelphia in 1774. Franklin opened doors in the publishing world for Paine, whose eloquent and powerful writing, most notably his "Common Sense," spurred the colonies' thrust toward independence. "The American Crisis," a series of pamphlets written by Paine, inspired colonists throughout the bitter struggle for independence. Its opening line—"These are the times that try men's souls. . . ."—remains one of the most quoted in American history. The radical Paine was staunchly anti-slavery and was one of the first to advocate a world peace organization and social security for the poor and elderly, ideas also proposed by radicals during the French Revolution of 1789.
The 40-cent blue black Paine stamp was issued on January 29, 1968, in Philadelphia. The sheet stamp was printed from plates of four hundred and sold in panes of one hundred stamps with gauge 11 x 10.5 perforations. Robert Geissmann based his design for the stamp on a portrait by John Wesley Jarvis which hangs in the National Portrait Gallery, District of Columbia. Arthur W. Dintaman engraved the vignette, and Robert G. Culin engraved the lettering. This was Thomas Paine’s first appearance on a U.S. postage stamp.
The 40-cent stamp paid the foreign airmail letter rate to Europe and Asia but was most often used as multiples and with other denominations to pay existing postal rates and fees.