The likeness of John Marshall (1755-1835) that appears on this issue was reproduced from a photograph taken in 1955 by Harris and Ewing of a painting by Rembrandt Peale. Peale's painting is displayed in a hearing room of the Supreme Court building. The stamp was placed on sale on September 24, 1955, on the 200th anniversary of John Marshall's birth.
This was the first 40-cent stamp ever issued by the United States. The Post Office Department considered it a key denomination in its plan to assure that every letter could be correctly franked with no more than two stamps. The 40-cent stamp could also be used as a single stamp on a letter to pay the minimum indemnity registry fee until July 1, 1957.
Marshall was the fourth chief justice of the United States, serving from February 4, 1801, until his death in 1835. An ardent federalist, he had previously served in a variety of political offices. He served in the United States House of Representatives from March 4, 1799, until June 7, 1800, and as secretary of state from June 6, 1800, until March 4, 1801. President John Adams, who appointed Marshall, recognized the fact that he could extend his influence far beyond his tenure as president by appointing a chief justice who shared his political views.