Arago: Beacon Stamp Issue

Beacon Stamp Issue

In 1928 the Post Office Department made plans to significantly lower airmail rates and to issue an impressive-looking airmail stamp, both efforts designed to promote the use of the fast-growing service. The result was the issuance of what became known as the 'Beacon Air Mail Stamp' on July 25, 1928, and the lowering of the domestic airmail rate from ten cents per half-ounce to five cents for the first ounce on August 1.

The stamp was printed in two colors, red and blue—the first bi-color airmail stamp since the 24-cent 'Jenny' of 1918. The Beacon airmail stamp pictured the airmail beacon light on Sherman Hill in Wyoming's Rocky Mountains. Such lights were placed across the country to provide nighttime navigation assistance for the mail planes in the time before radio navigation.

In 1924 the person who maintained the beacon on Sherman Hill was asked to take a photograph of the tower for publicity purposes. When the film was developed, the top of the tower was missing. The Post Office Department asked Omaha photographer Nat Dewell to photograph a beacon light at Wann, Nebraska, and sent pilot Slim Lewis to fly around it in a biplane. Back at his studio, Dewell combined the photos for a composite that showed a complete Sherman Hill beacon with a plane in flight. When Bureau artist A.R. Meissner designed the Beacon airmail stamp, using the Dewell photo composite as a source, he changed the biplane to a monoplane, apparently because a monoplane would look more 'modern'.

The original photograph enjoyed several publicity and advertising uses prior to the issuance of the stamp, including the cover of Aviation magazine in December 1924, the cover of the U.S. Postal Guide for April 1925, and in an advertisement for Goodyear Aviation Equipment published in the February 1926 Aero Digest.

Following the Beacon stamp's issue there was a dramatic increase in the use of the airmail, and many new routes were inaugurated. Because bicolor stamps were produced by the much slower flat plate printing method, in 1930 a single color stamp replaced the Beacon airmail.

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