Arago: National Postal Museum Issue

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National Postal Museum Issue

The Smithsonian's National Postal Museum (NPM) opened to the public on July 30, 1993, and was celebrated on that day with the issuance of a se-tenant block of four commemorative stamps. The stamp designs feature historical moments in U.S. postal history and depict objects and themes represented in the museum's inaugural exhibit galleries.

According to the museum's founding director, James H. Bruns, the National Postal Museum helped determine which objects and images would be used in the design. Many of the elements depicted in the stamps were represented in the museum's inaugural displays including a Concord stage coach, a 1930s mail truck, and the Inverted Jenny stamp. Bruns said that the "stamps were in effect like a miniature visit to the Museum."

The Citizen Stamp Advisory Committee (CSAC) and NPM had input in deciding what would be featured on the stamps. Committee members at that time were interested in classical themes and historical events. Unlike other commemorative stamps, the NPM issue used four stamps to convey the sense of traveling through time.

Interestingly, two artists worked on the design, Lou Nolan and Richard Schlecht. Art Director Derry Noyes thought that the artist Richard Schlecht "did a very good job in conveying the message" through stamps as well as telling the story of transportation. Schlecht's long career as an artist with National Geographic helped him in working with the interpretation of historical themes. Noyes explained that the stamps are "semi-jumbo" (a little larger) than usual. The complex design features portraits and line drawings. The main figures are framed by a circular white background.

The stamp depicting the 18th century features Benjamin Franklin, reflecting his career as printer, postmaster and statesmen. He is represented by a printing press, mail rider, and Independence Hall. The Franklin portrait is based on the well-known painting by Joseph-Siffred Duplessis which can be found in the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery.

A Civil War soldier, Concord stagecoach, and pony express rider embody the 19th century. The 20th century is represented by airmail pilot Charles Lindbergh, a railway mail car, a 1931 Model A Ford mail truck, and JN-4H "Jenny" bi-plane #38262. The fourth stamp features the art of letter writing, using memorable words from a California gold rush letter; four prized U.S stamps (Scott 39 90c George Washington, Scott 295 2c Empire State Express, Scott C3a 24c Inverted Jenny, and Scott C13 65c Graf Zeppelin), an undated postmark from Milledgeville, Georgia and a barcode representing contemporary mail processing technology.

The artwork was completed in ink and watercolor collage on board. The stamps were printed using the offset-intaglio process by the American Bank Note Company. The artist's line drawings became engraved black images of a printing press, stagecoach; airplane, mail truck, letter, and cancellation. In some cases, these elements deliberately overlap the central image.

The National Postal Museum is a joint effort between the Smithsonian Institution and the U.S. Postal Service. It was appropriate that the stamps were dedicated on July 30, 1993, in an opening day ceremony at the museum that included representation from the U.S. Postal Service, James H. Bruns and Robert McC. Adams, then Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution.

For further Reading:

Woerk, Michael and Jordan. An American History Album: the Story of the United States Told Through Stamps (Buffalo, New York: Firefly Books (U.S.) Inc., 2008).

Van Gorden Phd., Phyllis, "Eyeing the Artistic Elements of U.S. Postage Stamps."Philateli-Graphics 26, no. 4 (October 2004), 32-39.

References:

Amick, George. Linn's Stamp Yearbook 1993. Sidney, Ohio. pp.167-181.

Brockert, Joseph P. Telephone interview with the author on September 9, 2008.

Bruns, James H. Email interview with the author on August 15, 2008.

Comstock, David A. Gold Diggers and Camp Followers, 1845-1851. Grass Valley, CA: Comstock Bonanza Press, 1988.

Noyes, Derry. Telephone interview with the author on September 11, 2008.


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