Arago: Presidential Series (1938)

Presidential Series (1938)

At the suggestion of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Post Office Department opened a national competition in 1937 to design the first stamp in a new series of definitive stamps to be known as the 'Presidential Series'. Artist Elaine Rawlinson of New York City won the contest. She based her design for the 1-cent stamp on a bust of George Washington’s profile by the sculptor Jean Antoine Houdin (1741-1828. It became the basis of the designs for the rest of the 1938 Presidential Series, also affectionately known as the ‘Prexies' or the 'Fifth Bureau Issue’. Each design of the 1938 Presidential Series included a bust profile of a president and the dates of his term(s) as president. The stamps depict all twenty-nine presidents who had died before 1938, including many who had never before appeared on a postage stamp. In addition to the twenty-nine presidents appearing on these stamps, Benjamin Franklin appeared on the half-cent stamp; Martha Washington appeared on the 1.5-cent stamp; the White House appeared on the 4.5-cent stamp. Thus, the Presidential Series contained thirty-two stamps issued in sheet format. The stamps were in use for over eighteen years, from 1938 into the mid-1950s.

The issue provided a chronological overview of the American presidency, from George Washington on the 1-cent stamp to Calvin Coolidge on the 5-dollar value. On stamps from 1-cent through 22-cent, each stamp's denomination corresponded to the presidential sequence: Washington, the first president, on the 1-cent; Adams, the second president, on the 2-cent, and so on. Grover Cleveland, the 22nd president, appeared on the 22-cent stamp. However, since Cleveland served two nonconsecutive terms, this pattern stopped at that point. Any attempt to match the denomination to the order of presidency ended with McKinley. There was no 23-cent stamp in the series. Benjamin Harrison appeared next, on the 24-cent stamp. William McKinley, the 25th president, appeared on the 25-cent stamp. Some of these stamps did not pay any obvious postal rate. Rather, they were issued to present our nation's presidents on denominations in the order of their terms in office.

Though all the stamps in the series were similar, they were not identical. Values from half-cent to 9-cent had no border, as in Rawlinson's original design. The 10-cent through 19-cent values had a single line border, and the 20-cent through 50-cent values had a double line border. The dollar values were bi-color, with designs significantly different from the cent values. All sheet stamps up to 50-cent were printed on rotary presses, and the dollar values were printed on flat plate presses.

The 1-cent Washington sheet stamp, the first of the series, was issued on April 25, 1938. All of the stamps were issued in Washington, D.C., except the half-cent Franklin, which made its appearance in Philadelphia. The Presidential Series contains nine coil stamps with vertical perforations and four coils with horizontal perforations, all printed on the rotary press. The 1-cent, 2-cent, and 3-cent stamps were issued as booklet panes in eighteen different combinations of booklets with a variety of different covers.