Arago: Handstamps


USS Nautilus pictorial cachet handstamp


On August 3, 1958, crew members Frank Holland and John Krawczyk commemorated the first trip by a submarine under the North Pole with this specially-crafted handstamp in the shape of the island of Oahu, Hawaii. Krawczyk built this special cachet in two parts so no one could guess the ship’s still-secret mission. The other handstamp that makes up this cachet, object number 0.221563.2, shows a whale—the symbol for the USS Nautilus—holding an American flag. When the two stamps are overlaid, as in the cover object number 0.221563.6, the whale is planting the flag at the North Pole.

Commissioned by the U.S. Navy in September 1954, the USS Nautilus was the world’s first nuclear submarine. The journey below the pole, made in the midst of the Cold War, was planned in secrecy. The ship first tried to pass under the North Pole in July, but the ice was thicker than anticipated. Crew member John C. Yuill later recalled that the ship was forced to “grope along near the bottom, trying to find a way through into deeper water. It was tedious at times and nail-biting at others as we passed under ever thickening ridges of ice forcing us closer and closer to the sea bottom.” Commander W.R. Anderson ordered the ship to turn around when the ship had only about six feet of space between it and the ice above or the sea floor below. The crew would try again later.

While at Pearl Harbor preparing for the next attempt, Krawczyk had this cancellation device made. He had it created in two parts so no one could guess the ship’s still-secret mission. Holland helped prepare the date cancellation device. The date and time was added at the last minute, once the ship was under the pole, at 11:15pm, August 3.

Crew members helped cancel 1,528 envelopes with Krawczyk and Holland’s hand-made devices. The cachet was added on the outbound trip and the date stamp applied while the sub was seven hundred feet below the pole.

The Nautilus emerged northeast of Greenland on August 5, 1958. Commander Anderson was airlifted off the ship and flown to Washington, D.C., for a press conference. He carried along the specially-cancelled mail in a sack. Postmaster General Summerfield assured Anderson that the mail would be put into the mail stream despite its having been cancelled by a ship crew, not postal workers. True to Summerfield’s word, the envelopes were placed into the mail and made their way to their destinations.

August 3, 1958
rubber; wood; adhesive
Height x Width x Depth: 4 x 3 3/4 x 3 3/4 in. (10.16 x 9.53 x 9.53 cm)
Museum ID:

  • Handstamp
  • Handstamp
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