Charles Ransom Chickering

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.

Navy recruitment poster, 1942 

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.

Fractional Currency

First issued in August 21st 1862, Fractional Currency, was ‘paper coins’ that served as a stand in for the shortage of silver and gold coins of the time. The causes of this unusual issue of official Fractional Currency at a time when people still preferred coins of high intrinsic value can only be found in looking at cases of cause and effects of war and life during the time of the Civil War.

A commonly stated reason for the fractional currency is that during the Civil War all of the gold, silver and copper coins in circulation disappeared due to the desire to save money and hoard coins because of their precious metal content. While this is certainly a factor and the most stated reason for Civil War Tokens, this only acted as one trigger for the manufacturing of the Fractional Currency.


1862 $1 Greenback

It would appear that the initial hoarding of hard money was caused by little more than an ingrained distrust of paper money. For example, a Yankee worker, whose livelihood was completely bound to the money of the North, would feel more secure when his paper wages had been converted to gold and silver. Often referred to as “faith paper” because one was never sure of the actual value of the paper money they were being given.

This expressed preference for coins inevitably depreciated Greenbacks. Gold coins commanded a premium of three percent over U.S. and state paper money in January, 1862. Thereafter the depreciation of Greenbacks accelerated, until at one point in 1864 it required $285 in paper to purchase $100 in gold. The distrust of the Government was also maintained by the national debt, which reached its high-point during the war in 1865 at $ 2.8 billion.

A monetary situation whereby gold commanded a substantial premium over a like face value of paper dollars swiftly drove gold coins from commercial channels, effectively removing the United States from a gold standard. It also created a favorable condition for the exporting of silver coins.

In 1858 Canada unofficially adopted the coinage of the United States and used it widely in domestic trade. The West Indies and many Latin American countries also imported large quantities of U.S. silver coinage for domestic use. During June and July of 1862, more than $25 million in subsidiary coins vanished from circulation in the North. The shortage of silver coins, particularly in the eastern United States, would not be relieved until the summer of 1876. The Philadelphia Mint continued a small production of silver coins; bullion dealers obtained them directly from the Mint and exported them abroad. By 1863, nearly the entire production of silver coins was exported.

The withdrawal of subsidiary silver coins in 1862 stopped the practice of everyday commerce. The smallest denominations of official money available were discounted $5 Legal Tender Notes and the copper-nickel cents which had been fed into circulation in great quantities to retire demonetized Spanish silver coins and the large copper cents.

When first forced upon the public in 1857, the copper-nickel cent, was intrinsically worth about 60 percent of face value and was considered a nuisance. But with the disappearance of silver coins the copper-nickel became the only alternative. Cents were bundled in bags of 25, 50 and 100 in an attempt to equal 1-cent piece and $5 bills.

The disappearance of nearly all official coinage resulted in an outpouring of private emergency money. State bank notes of $1 and $2 denominations were cut into fractional parts. Other banks issued notes in denominations of $1.25, $1.50, and $1.75. Eastern cities issued their own fractional notes. Merchants, reviving a practice prevalent during the coin shortages of 1837 and 1857, made change in their own promissory notes, which were notes of small value, redeemable in merchandise at the issuer’s place of business. In like manner, private issues of the collectible Civil War tokens began.


Horace Greeley

First issued by the Federal Government in 1847, the adhesive postage stamp had become a well-established part of the public routine. They were of official origin, had a constant value, and were easily obtained. In early July, 1862, Horace Greeley, publisher of the New York Tribune, suggested that stamps pasted on a half sheet of paper, with the other half folded over the stamps to protect from wear, would work as a coin substitute.

Methods of protecting the stamps were quickly developed. They were pasted on sheets of light vellum paper or encased in small envelopes. Pasting the stamps on sheets of paper still did not provide them sufficient protection from wear and those enclosed in envelopes were better protected, but the method of protection provided an opportunity for petty theft because few recipients had the time to check the contents of each envelope.

The method of stamp packaging which best satisfied the requirements of visibility and protection was patented on August 12th, 1862, by a New England inventor named John Gault. Gault encased a single postage stamp in a round brass frame with a clear mica front piece. The reverse of this case displayed advertising messages. But for the eventual authorization of Postage and Fractional Currency, Gault’s encased postage stamps would probably have become the go-to means of “spending” postage stamps. The timing of Gault’s encased stamps also worked against their quantity distribution, the Postmaster General, Montgomery Blair, was still not on board with the idea of using postage stamps for money, and was doing everything in his power to prevent quantity sales of stamps. All methods of using stamps for money that had been employed prior to July 17th, 1862, suffered the ultimate disadvantage of being illegal.

On July 17th 1862, President Lincoln signed into law, providing that “postage and other stamps of the United States” were to be received for all dues to the U.S. and were to be redeemable at any “designated depository” in sums less than $5. The law also prohibited the issue by “any private corporation, banking association, firm, or individual” of any note or token for a sum less than $5. But there was the problem of who would redeem nearly exhausted specimens of stamps which had been circulating for some time. Postmaster Blair refused to take them in trade for new stamps and the Treasury would not exchange them for paper money because they hadn’t issued them in the first place.

A  further decision was then made to distinguish the stamps by issuing them in a larger, more convenient size, and to print them on a heavier, un-gummed paper. Credit for the final form in which Postage Currency appeared is given to General Francis Spinner, Treasurer of the United States. Spinner pasted unused postage stamps on small sheets of Treasury security paper, signed his name on them and passed them out to his friends as samples of currency.


Spinner’s Initial Signed Design

Congress responded to Spinner’s suggestion by authorizing the printing of reproductions of postage stamps on Treasury paper in arrangements patterned after Spinner’s models. In this form, the “stamps” ceased to be stamps; they became, fractional Government promissory notes. The notes would be issued without legal authorization until passage of the Act of March 3rd, 1863, which provided for the issuing of fractional notes by the Federal Government.


4th Issue 10 Cent Fractional Currency

Five issues of Postage and Fractional Currency in the total amounted to $369 million were printed and released to circulation between Aug. 21, 1862, and Feb. 15th, 1876. Congressional Acts of January 14th, 1875, and April 17th, 1876, provided for the redemption of Postage and Fractional Currency in silver coins, and all but about $1.8 million worth was returned to the Treasury for redemption. The remaining notes are still deemed legal tender and can purchase their face value equivalent in goods and services today.

Classic Flower Stamps Have a Special Story


The art featured on US stamps can come from anywhere, but it’s always special when the artist comes from your area. While listing sets of stamps for our eBay store, we came across a sheet of beautiful flower stamps, that were not only created by an artist from a nearby town, but also signed by that artist.




Anacortes artist Karen Mallery had been painting for several years before she got a brilliant idea: her work should be on stamps! She sent a letter to the United States Postal Service with her proposal, and went back to the business of painting flowers.





aThree years after her original proposal, the Postal Service finally replied: they wanted to commission her to paint a block of four garden flower stamp designs. Mallary was thrilled, and decided to do a flower for each region of the United States. She chose Jacob’s ladder for the north, the California poppy for the west, waterlily for the south, and trillium for the east. When the review committee received her work, they loved it so much that the project was massively expanded.



s-l1600 (1)Mallary ended up painting 50 stamp designs, something completely unheard of for a first-time stamp artist. The flower paintings were also reproduced in a 64-page album, including details about each flower. There was one condition: Mallary couldn’t tell anyone about her big project. She was doing research at the Lady Bird Johnson National Wildflower Research Center at the time, and they assumed Mallery was producing a book. “I didn’t tell them otherwise,” the artist stated.


The designs were completed in 1991, and printed in 1992, after a delay caused by first-class postage rate uncertainties.




Mallary’s personal favorite design? The cactus.



A signed commemorative sheet of these stamps is currently available in our eBay store.

Farewell, Cassini





Reflections from methane lakes on the moon Titan, seen by Cassini. Photo credit NASA.

This week, one of humanity’s most successful space missions came to an end as the Cassini spacecraft dives into the atmosphere of the planet Saturn. Cassini is the 4th spacecraft to visit Saturn, and has given the world a closer look at that planet and its moons than has ever been possible before. It has shown us the plumes erupting from icy Enceladus, and the sun shining off the methane lakes on Titan. As it heads toward Saturn, the craft will be guided on a series of moves through the inner rings of Saturn, to continue gathering scientific data and images for as long as possible.



Spacecraft are a popular theme for stamps around the world; NASA spacecraft have appeared on stamps from dozens of countries outside the United States. Cassini is pictured on several of these stamps.





On this stamp from the Central African Republic, Cassini appears with a portrait of the Polish astronomer Copernicus, against a backdrop of Saturn.






Madagascar also released a Cassini  stamp in 2011, in a set with 3 other spacecraft.




maldives set


The Maldives released an entire set dedicated to its 10th anniversary.








Burundi also released a set of stamps, one with Cassini and the other depicting the Hubble Telescope.




Farewell, Cassini, and thanks for all the science!




[All images public domain or fair use.]

The Short Sweet History of Newspaper and Periodical Stamps



In the early years of the United States Postal Service, the mail system was used for more than just letters and packages. Newspapers and other periodicals have been part of the mail service from the beginning, though sometimes they proved to be more trouble than they were worth. The short history of newspaper and periodical stamps shows a new mail service struggling to provide good service at reasonable prices.



1895_5_Proof.jpgBefore the creation of newspaper stamps in 1865, all postage rates were payable upon delivery. The problem was, this often left post offices with newspapers and periodicals that were never collected, causing both a loss of money, and more paperwork. In addition, while periodicals received lower rates through the mail system, the items moved slowly, causing publishers to look for other ways to deliver their periodicals.



The post office tried to win back business by slashing rates for anyone willing to pay postage on periodicals quarterly, but this didn’t solve the problem. By the 1860’s, trains and steamboats were the preferred mode of transport as publishers sent newspapers to local distributors. Postal agents who worked on trains and other vehicles were permitted to take receipt of paper and periodicals, with fees paid in cash, but the system proved ripe for embezzlement, as the agents often simply pocketed the money.


In 1865, the post office adopted a method that had become popular in Austria: the newspaper stamp. William Dennison, the Postmaster General of the time, stated: “New stamps have been adopted of the denominations of 5, 10 and 25 cents for the prepayment of postage on packages of newspapers forwarded by publishers or news dealers under authority of law, whereby a revenue will be secured hitherto lost to the department.”


The first newspaper stamps were very large, measuring 51 by 95 millimeters, not counting the substantial margins. Washington was featured on the five cent stamp, Franklin on the ten cent, and Lincoln on the twenty-five cent stamp. Sources differ as to when the first of these stamps were issued: if the April 1, 1865 date is correct, then Lincoln was still alive when the stamp with his likeness was released. Regardless, it was the first time his portrait appeared on any stamp.



Newspaper deliver through the mail was streamlined in 1875, and a year later, Postmaster General Edward W. Barber reported, “Previous to the time when this law began to operate, no stamps were required for the prepayment of postage on newspapers sent to regular subscribers, as the postage was collected in money quarterly at the office of delivery. Last year [1874] there were 35,000 offices at which newspaper postage was collected, while under the present system, the whole amount is collected at 3,400 offices where newspapers and periodicals are mailed. The postage is computed on the whole issue, the proper amount in stamps handed to the Postmaster, who gives the publisher a receipt as evidence of payment, and on the stubs of the receipt book he affixes and cancels the stamps which correspond in value with the sum mentioned on the receipt. In no case are stamps affixed to the papers that pass through the mails.




The new 1875 periodical stamps were renowned for the beauty of their design, featuring allegorical illustrations of the goddesses of Freedom, Justice, Agriculture, Victory, History, Wisdom, Home, Peace, Commerce, and Youth, with the final stamp featuring a young Native American woman.




1895_10_ProofAccording to Linn’s Stamp News, “The newspaper stamps of 1875 and later were never designed or intended to be affixed directly to bundles of papers. At first the stamps were sold in advance to publishers, who would turn in the required amount when shipments of papers were presented for mailing. A receipt was issued to the publisher, and the stamps were affixed to the receipt stub maintained by the post office and were canceled, initially by punching and later by pen cancellation. Later, the sale of newspaper stamps to anyone was forbidden. The publisher paid the postage in cash, and the postal employee affixed the required number of stamps to the receipt stub and canceled them. Stubs with affixed stamps were periodically turned in for accounting and destruction. The used newspaper stamps of this era in collector hands today were salvaged from postal rubbish.”



Newspaper and periodical stamps were only used until 1898, when they were devalued, and returned for credit. Given the way in which these stamps were used and discontinued, the unused stamps are more common, while those which were used are a good bit more rare. One such stamp is currently for sale in our eBay store.



[Photos credit Stamp Smarter, used by fair use.]

Stars and Stamps



One of 2016’s most popular Forever stamp sets was the National Parks set, with the stunning view of star paths over Mount Rainier being the stand-out image; this beautiful photograph made the cover of the official USPS 2016 Forever Stamp Yearbook. Astrophotographer and astronomy educator Matt Dieterich, who took the photo, talked to us about how this beautiful stamp came about.



Past and Present (PP): First of all, tell us a little bit about how you got started with astrophotography.

Postmaster General Dedicates National Parks Stamps: Special Dedication Ceremonies at 14 Locations Including Simultaneous Live Webcast from MD/VA Assateague Island National Seashore. Matt Dieterich, photographer of Mount Rainier National Park Stamp.Matt Dieterich (Matt): I began taking astrophotos in 2007 as a 16 year old in high school. My curiosity for the night sky was jump-started after taking an astronomy class in high school, thanks in part to a passionate and motivating teacher, Mrs. Batson from North Hills Senior High in Pittsburgh, PA. Even though my grades weren’t the best in her class, I was eager to learn about the constellations and night sky in the planetarium we had at school. That year in high school, I received a small telescope from my parents, but I wanted to show people what I was seeing through the telescope. I learned that connecting a camera to the telescope was a great way for me to share astronomy with others.



PP: How did you get started in astronomy education and outreach? Why is astrophotography an effective form of outreach for you?

Matt: For the last 10 years, the goal of my photography has been to use the images as astronomy education tools. I shared the photos with friends, family, my teachers, and on various astronomy forums online. I loved showcasing beautiful objects in the night sky that the human eye cannot see. For me, astrophotography is an incredibly effective outreach tool because it gets people excited about science. I am thrilled seeing how inquisitive people are about the photos, especially kids, during outreach presentations. Simply put, astrophotos spark creativity, curiosity, and inspiration for learning. As a firm believer in education by hands-on activities, astrophotography is a perfect way to get kids involved in science.



PP: How did this photo go from your camera to being on a stamp?

stamp setMatt: When I took my camera out after teaching an astronomy program at Mount Rainier National Park in June 2015, my goal was not to capture an image for a stamp. I drove down to Reflection Lake and setup my camera, tripod, and shutter release cable to capture a timelapse video. The Northern Lights were active that night, a rare event which happens maybe once every couple years at Mount Rainier. Weeks later I edited the timelapse video into my first star trails photo. This type of image is a great beginner way to capture the stars. I joke now realizing that my astronomy teacher in high school told me to try that technique 10 years ago when I started astrophotography… I guess I am glad I waited to create my first star trails under the right circumstances!


Serendipity connected me with a person in Washington D.C. looking for a national park night sky photograph to be on a Forever Stamp collection celebrating the upcoming National Park Service 100 year anniversary. My boss forwarded me the email from that person seeing if I had any astrophotos to submit to her that I shot from Mount Rainier. I gave her a link to my online gallery and she immediately fell in love with the Northern Lights star trails over Mount Rainier. A few days later I had confirmation that my photo would be on a stamp, which I had to keep a secret for 8 months until the official USPS press release.



PP: We are based in Washington, so of course we’re thrilled to see one of our most recognizable parks featured on a stamp. What was your favorite part of working at and photographing Mount Rainier National Park?


Matt: My favorite part about working at Mount Rainier National Park was sharing the natural resources with visitors. Everyone I was able to spend time with at the park was enthusiastic and connected to nature, which for me is a huge aspect to living a healthy life. Having lived in a big city my whole life, I very much enjoyed how quiet the park was as well. One joy of the National Parks is that they are preserved regions where nature can be observed and experienced with minimal impact of humans.Thanks to the quiet nature of Mount Rainier, time seemed to slow down and I was able to live fully in the present moment, a certain kind of peace I have been striving to find.



Photo credit Matt Dieterich

As a photographer, living inside the park for 3 months helped me connect to the landscape. I was able to plan certain shots and wait for the weather to create the conditions that made for a unique photo. For instance, being at the park allowed me to create my first Astronomy Picture of the Day photo of the Perseid Meteor Shower from Sunrise, and of course the Northern Lights display seen in my Forever Stamp at Reflection Lake. In my experience, landscape and astrophotography require “being in the right place at the right time,” which means being on location at Rainier for months helped me create some incredible photos.



PP: Do you think it’s significant to have astrophotography represented on something as ubiquitous as a stamp? How does that advance your goals for education and outreach?


Matt: Having astrophotography represented on a stamp is huge. In today’s society, we have lost our connection to the night sky because city lights block out faint starlight. Sharing images that spark curiosity about what the night sky looks like away from bright city lights is something I care deeply about. I have used my stamp to help advocate for the protection and conservation of dark night skies during all my outreach programs. Most importantly, I showcase my work to raise awareness for reclaiming the night sky if we properly light our cities at night. I want my work to spark an emotional connection in the viewer. If we are not emotionally connected to the night sky like our ancestors were, will we want to become stewards of that resource?



PP: Finally, what’s it like to see your work on a real US stamp, and then on the Forever Stamp Yearbook?

Matt: For me, seeing my work on a stamp is humbling, but I know there’s more I need to pursue via photography. Having my photo on a stamp taught me that the public views astrophotography as art, something they want to hang on their wall and enjoy for years to come. Little did I know a hobby of mine that started in high school would turn into a lifelong pursuit of sharing my passion for science and the outdoors with others through astrophotography.


Ironically, my I had no clue my stamp made the Forever Stamp Yearbook cover until a week ago. My high school chemistry teacher who I stay in touch with sent me the email link. I was shocked, and of course humbled again by the fact that the image is so well received.



You can find Matt’s work online here, complete with prints to order. He is also on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

John Lennon, Amateur Philatelist


He’s known for creating some of the greatest music of the 20th century, and changing the face of rock and pop forever. He was also a kid who avidly collected stamps.


1.JPGLennon had a difficult beginning in life; his father was a merchant seaman who was away for months at a time. He went missing without leave when John was 4, and though he returned later that year and offered to fulfill his financial duties to the family, John’s mother (who had found another partner) refused. John’s aunt Mimi took him in, and though his father once tried to take John and emigrate to New Zealand, the child ultimately stayed with his aunt in Liverpool. His cousin Stanley, who was 7 years older, lived nearby, and often took John to the movies.



2.JPGWhen John was about 10, Stanley gave him a partially-filled stamp album that he had been working on. John studiously erased Stanley’s name and began filling the empty spaces in the album. (In true boyish nature, he also drew facial hair on the images of Queen Victoria and King George VI on the cover of the album.) John removed the stamps from letters that came in from New Zealand, America, and other countries, adding them to the appropriate pages.



4.JPGWhile the stamp album is still incomplete, it’s not hard to picture the future musician as an isolated child, sitting with his stamp album and dreaming of visiting the countries the stamps came from. None of the stamps in the album are particularly valuable in themselves. Former National Postal Museum curator Wilson Hulme commented to Smithsonian Magazine, “Typically, young boys aren’t interested in rarity,” he said. “They tend to concentrate on geography and colors. If they come back to collecting when they have more time and money, that’s when collections become exceptional.” Of course, as a Beatle, John Lennon did tour the world, and not only visited the countries represented in his album, but was himself eventually featured on stamps around the world as well.


(All images from Smithsonian Magazine, used by fair use.)

The First Stamps of Ireland


On December 6, 1922, Ireland began printing its own stamps; prior to this date, Irish stamps were of British origin. To celebrate the new country, these stamps were printed with images of Irish lore and national pride.




The most instantly recognizable is the outline of Ireland (or “Eire”), surrounded by Celtic knot designs, with shamrocks at the top of the stamp. The Emerald Isle floats in a stylized sea, under a decorated arch.






swordAnother stamp in the series depicts the Claíomh Solais (pronounced somewhat like “kleeve-solish”), the Sword of Light. The Sword of Light appears in many Irish and Scottish folktales. Most of these tales involve a hero on a bridal quest who is required to pass three tests; he often succeeds due to help from servants, animals, or supernatural beings. The sword itself is often kept by a supernatural guardian who must be defeated before the hero can possess the weapon. In many cases, it is the object of the hero’s affection who informs him how to defeat the guardian of the sword. Some consider the Sword of Light to be one of the four treasures of the Tuatha Dé Danann; this idea is especially popular in Japan. The sword also has many similarities with tales of Arthur’s sword Excaliber, which was said to shine with the light of thirty torches when he drew it.


The arms of Ireland, with the arms of the four traditional Irish provinces quartered on it, is the design on another stamp in the series. The provinces are Leinster, Munster, Ulster, and Connacht.





harpLeinster has the traditional Irish harp as the main design, which is based on the Brian Boru harp, a Gaelic harp from the late medieval period, and may be the oldest extant harp in the world. Stone carvings of the classic triangular Irish harp are found from the 10th century forward, and evidence that these harps were in use in the first millennium BCE. It has always been one of the preferred symbols of Ireland. A right-facing version of the harp is also used as the logo for Guinness Beer.


crownsMunster’s arms feature three old-fashioned crowns with five visible rays, likely derived from the Lordship of Ireland (though some link it to Robert de Vere’s dukedom of Ireland in 1386).



handUlster is represented by a combination arms: the cross of the arms of the de Burgh with the O’Neill’s red hand. Since these early stamps were monochromatic, the colors in the coats of arms could not be accurately depicted.


eagleThe arms of Connacht are also a combination; on the left side, an eagle, and on the right, a hand holding a sword. It is thought that these arms derive from the Schottenklöster (Gaelic monastery) in Regensburg, Germany. These arms combined the symbol of the Holy Roman Emperor (protector of the abbey) with the symbol of the O’Briens, one of whom was listed as a fundator of the abbey. It is possible that these arms were given to King of Connacht Ruaidrí Ua Conchobair, who was the last High King of Ireland prior to the Norman invasion.


crossThe last stamp in the series is a stylized cross with shamrocks and Celtic knotwork. One of the most potent figures in Irish history and folktales is Saint Patrick, who brought Christianity to the island in the fifth century. Patrick was a child in Roman Britain when he was kidnapped and sold into slavery in Ireland. After escaping, he felt called by God to return to Ireland as a missionary. It is said that Ireland has no snakes because Saint Patrick drove them out. He is also said to have escaped the grasp of a murderous king when he and his followers were turned into a herd of deer when assassins passed by. Irish Christianity retained a distinctive flavor for centuries, and even influenced the color of liturgical garments in the modern Western church.


Irish stamps are not only beautiful, but full of stories and a good addition to any collection.

The Basics of Grilled Stamps


No matter how good a system is, someone will try to manipulate it. Though the early Postal Service was a wild success (enough that the first price change was a reduction in rates), the government became concerned about stamp reusage. While no definitive proof exists that people were reusing stamps in large numbers, it was a possibility. Many post offices had no official stamp-canceling devices and simply marked stamps with an ink pen, or with intricate “fancy cancels” carved from cork. Some of the cheaper inks used for cancelling stamps could simply be washed off.


Although several devices were patented, the Post Office decided to use a device that would imprint each stamp with a small pattern of geometrical bumps, intended to lightly damage the fibers of the stamp and make cancellation ink indelible. Initially called “embossing,” this mark is now referred to as a “grill.”



s-l1600 (54).jpg

Stamp sheets would first be gummed, then the grill would be embossed on the paper, then the stamp would be printed with the design. (In fact, this knowledge can be used to detect gum that has been added to a grilled stamp in hopes of increasing its value. According to, “If you have an unused grilled stamp with gum, check the points very carefully to detect if there is any residual gum. A gum spillover of this type is the simplest means of detecting a regumming job. Remember the process; gumming, embossing (or grilling) and then printing.”)




Grilling was standard for a relatively short period of time, from 1867 through 1871, though some stamps have been found grilled as late as 1875. This short period of use, combined with 11 different types of grilling, resulted in making certain grilled stamps extremely rare and valuable. The 1-cent Z-grill stamp was thought to be one of the rarest USPS stamp, with only two such stamps in existence, until a 15-cent Z grill stamp was discovered, also with only two known stamps.


The first grill, now known as the “A” grill pattern, covered the face of the stamp; however, this made the stamps too fragile to be easily handled during production, leading to tears during perforation and other issues. The grill soon became a pattern pressed into a small area of the stamp, which was more successful. As different embossing equipment was tested, the pattern of the grille changed slightly, leading to the wide variety of grill types.


Grill types are designated by their size (the number of points on the pattern), which direction the points have been stamped (up or down), and which way the ridges lie (horizontal or vertical.) Points being “up” or “down” refers to whether or not the grill points are raised above the printed surface of the stamp, or sunk into it. The American Stamp Dealer relates a way of simplifying identification of stamp grills: “To make the tips of the pyramids show up, take an ordinary #2 lead pencil, turn the tip sideways and mark up a small area on a piece of scrap paper. Then rub the tip of your index finger over this area until the fingertip is covered with carbon. Then place the used stamp on a flat surface bottom side up. Now rub your finger over the grilled area of the stamp. This technique is best suited for grills with “Points Down” rather than for grill types A, B or C. The tips of the pyramids will pick up the carbon from your finger tip and will thus become more plainly visible. Once the task is completed, I use a simple “bath” in warm (not hot) water with just a drop of dishwashing liquid to make the stamp presentable once again. This technique is not necessary for those grills with ‘Points Up’ as the grill points should show up clearly anyway. Do NOT use this carbony technique on unused stamps that have any part of gum remaining.”


Grilled stamps are a fascinating remnant of a specific moment in our postal and technological history. It’s no wonder they are so highly prized!



The 75th Anniversary of Pearl Harbor



2cf8cdd99510ac4ceb98ec4d7688be054bb5ef4a75 years ago today, over 300 Japanese airplanes (as well several midget submarines) attacked the United States Navy ships stationed in Pearl Harbor. All of the 8 battleships stationed there were attacked, and 4 were sunk (6 of the ships were repaired and returned to service.) 2,403 Americans were killed and 1,178 others were wounded. 188 U.S. aircraft were destroyed, as well. Though intended to keep America out of the Pacific theater of WWII, it served as a catalyst for the United States’ participation in the war.




This event has been commemorated on many stamps over the years. In 2014, the United States Postal Service issued a stamp depicting the USS Arizona Memorial, intended for use on Priority Express envelopes. Army aviator and Pearl Harbor survivor Albert Thomas was on hand to help introduce the stamp.



18-stamp-bennett-inside.jpgAccording to the Cronkite News, “Thomas, who served as an Army pilot, said he remembers finishing breakfast in the mess hall and walking out to the patio when he saw a mustard-colored Japanese airplane fly over on a bombing run. ‘He was low enough, when he looked out of the cockpit I could see that he didn’t have his goggles over his eyes, that his goggles were over his forehead meaning the cockpit was closed,’ he said. ‘I want to honor the Pearl Harbor survivors that are no longer with us,” he said. “May they be remembered down to the last man. I say to them, rest in peace brothers, rest in peace.’”



pearlh8The United States isn’t the only place you can find Pearl Harbor stamps. This dramatic Ugandan stamp shows Japanese planes in flight over the harbor after the attack.





A series from Sierra Leone earlier this year commemorates the battle with images of the planes of the era.







A stunning sheet from Gambia illustrates the history of WWII in the Pacific Theater, beginning with the attack on Pearl Harbor.





75 years after the attack, we still remember the loss of life and the bravery of those who responded on that day, as well as those who sacrificed during the years of the war.