Arago: Americana Issue (1975-1981)

Americana Issue (1975-1981)

In 1971 the newly-created United States Postal Service took the extraordinary step of hiring a private firm—Kramer, Miller, Lomden, and Glassman of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania—to design a concept for a new series of definitive postage stamps to feature the culture and history of the United States. The Bureau of Engraving and Printing printed the series. On October 31, 1975, the eve of America’s bicentennial year, a new stamp was issued in booklet form depicting the Liberty Bell, heralding the beginning of a new series of definitive postage stamps called the 'Americana Issue', intended to replace the Prominent Americans Series.

By the time the last Americana stamp was issued in 1981, twenty-five different designs had appeared on stamps in sheet, coil, and booklet format. They all depicted American culture and history, many with a distinct bicentennial flavor. Sometimes the same design appeared in more than one format— the 15-cent Ft. McHenry Flag, for instance, was issued as a sheet, booklet, and coil stamp.

Each Americana stamp features an inscription that wraps around two adjoining sides. When stamps are properly arranged in blocks of four, the stunning visual effect is that of a frame enclosing four related vignettes. Five Americana stamps with fractional-cent denominations appear only as coils. Many of the stamps were printed on colored paper, a first for a definitive series. The Bureau of Engraving and Printing printed all the Americana Issue stamps utilizing several different presses for both the single and multi-colored stamps. The 50-cent through 5-dollar values were printed in a two-step process that creates the potential for printing an inverted stamp. That is how the most spectacular and well known Americana error variety was created—the rare 1-dollar Candlestick with brown color inverted.

There are many production varieties of Americana Issue stamps, the most common of which involves gum, paper, phosphor tagging, missing colors, and perforations. The Liberty Bell booklets were the first used in vending machines. The last of the traditional Bureau pre-cancels, overprinted with post office names, appear on Americana Issues. The Americana stamps were likewise the first to appear with plain lines pre-cancels (Nationals) and service-indicator pre-cancels.

Surprisingly, the series was not popular with the public and was the shortest-lived definitive series of the twentieth century.