Charles Ransom Chickering was a freelance artist who designed some 77 postage stamps for the U.S. Post Office while working at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in Washington, DC. His career as a professional artist began while working as an illustrator for the U.S. Army recording and drawing medical illustrations of the wounded and dead during the First World War.
On October 7, 1891, Charles Ransom Chickering was born in the Smithville section of Eastampton Township, New Jersey. His artistic ability was evident from an early age and in high school he was offered a scholarship to attend the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art. This began his career as an illustrator. He graduated from this school in 1913 and soon sold his first illustrations to Collier’s Magazine where his career as a freelance book and magazine illustrator was assured.
When World War I began Chickering had to halt his career to enlist in the US Army. He was originally assigned to the infantry where he was soon transferred to a cavalry unit. While drawing in his spare time, the Army recognized his talents and started to assign him more unusual tasks. While stationed in France he was assigned to make medical illustrations of body-part wounds of soldiers who died in battle and were brought in for autopsy. Several of these drawings can still be seen in the Smithsonian collection in Washington, DC. In 1919 he was discharged from the Army. According to 1920 census records he once again continued his career as a freelance illustrator after the war.
The magazine industry grew rapidly between WWI and WWII. Chickering during this time was able to find plenty of opportunities producing illustrations for a number of magazines. Including Collier’s, Good Housekeeping, The Country Gentleman, Everybody’s Magazine, Blue Book, Redbook, Cosmopolitan, Liberty, and the Saturday Evening Post. Some of his drawings were also used in Blue Book stories like Lady on the Warpath, The Blackout Murder, A Matter of a Pinion, and Be Sure Your Sin Will Run You In.
When World War II began, Chickering once again put his talents to use contributing to the war effort. Recognized for his illustrating ability working for the Army during the first world war he was commissioned by the government and designed recruitment posters for the Navy Department. Among his most famous posters was the Uncle Sam poster of 1942. He also designed posters that promoted awareness and the need for successful civilian war production.
Following the war, he had made connections with government officials and embarked on a career designing U.S. postage stamps. In 15 years of work, Chickering was credited for designing 66 stamp designs that were produced unaltered, into the final stamp design, such as the one used in the Opening of Japan commemorative issue of 1953, while 11 other designs were modified somewhat and incorporated into a stamp format.
While designing postage stamps with their frequent historical themes Chickering often spent much time researching and studying historical documents, letters, paintings, statues and photographs before creating the design for a postage stamp. When he designed the Gettysburg Address issue he studied a statue created by Daniel Chester French to create the image of Lincoln on the stamp, while the credo inscribed on the stamp is taken from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address itself.
In his later life Chickering developed heart problems which ultimately claimed his life while living in Island Heights, New Jersey, on April 29, 1970. During the months leading up to his death Chickering was still designing and producing first day covers some of which were consequently released after his death. The theme for the design of his final cachet was the South Carolina Settlement stamp issued in September 12, 1970. Chickering will always be remembered as a talented artist who created some of the most iconic imagery in U.S. history.