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.

 

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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.

 

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Mallary’s personal favorite design? The cactus.

 

 

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

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.”

 

 

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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 AmericanStampDealer.com, “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.”)

 

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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 Stamp War That Almost Was

 

It’s not unusual for wars to start over something small, but rarely have they begun over something as tiny as a single postage stamp. It almost happened.

 

 

stamp red circle.pngIn 1937, the government of Nicaragua printed a new design of Air Mail stamps. It should have been innocuous: the design was little more than a map of the country. But at the top of the map, there was a problem. While the border between Nicaragua and its neighbor, Honduras, was clearly depicted, an area north of that border was colored with the same ink used for Nicaragua and marked “Territorio en Litigio” (Territory in Dispute.)

 

 

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Flag of Nicaragua

At one time, this designation was accurate. In 1821, when Central America assumed independence from Spain, the border between the two countries had been in question. Part of the problem was that the border was not only long (through the widest part of Central America) but also sparsely populated. After a special commission made of up representatives from both countries dissolved after only agreeing to a third of the border, Honduras and Nicaragua agreed to ask Spain to mediate. In 1906, Spanish king Alfonso XIII awarded most of the disputed area to Honduras.

 

 

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Flag of Honduras

The 1937 Nicaragua air mail stamp was considered a direct affront to Honduras, and riots erupted when the stamps first showed up in the latter country. The police had to intervene to stop a mob from taking the Nicaraguan embassy, while media outlets called for “military action to avenge a national insult.” Both countries began sending armed forces to the border. The United States, Mexico, and Costa Rica all joined in a mediation effort until the Central American countries agreed to be peaceable.
The war was averted, but the situation remained tense for many years.

When Mail Delivery Was A Series of Tubes

 

The line associated with the United States Postal Service is well known: “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” But what happens when those legendary couriers are replaced by a vast interconnected system of tubes?

 

Pneumatic-tube-mail.pngIt’s mostly been forgotten, but mail was delivered via pneumatic tubes in some urban areas beginning in the 1890’s. Congestion in city streets, with the mixing of cars and horse-drawn carriages, often delayed mail delivery; underground tubes could deliver letters quickly and efficiently. The pneumatic tube canisters, similar to the ones still used in modern banks, could hold up to 600 letters, and sped under city streets at about 35 miles per hour. In 1893, these mail tubes were installed in Philadelphia, with Brooklyn, Chicago, St. Louis, Brooklyn, and New York City following soon after, with over 56 miles of pneumatic tubing in total.

 

This service was put on hold during World War I, and only restored in New York and Boston after the war. By the middle of the 20th century, the increase in mail volume as well as the explosive growth of urban areas had made the pneumatic delivery system impractical as well as expensive, and it was phased out.

 

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Several European cities used pneumatic mail delivery systems as well; such a system was in limited use in Prague until 2002, and was only closed at that time due to flooding. Berlin, Munich, and Paris all had pneumatic mail delivery, and Italy actually issued stamps specifically for the service; 23 pneumatic mail stamps were issued in Italy between the years of 1913 and 1966. (You can see excellent pictures of the stamps here.)

 

 

 

The most definitive pneumatic mail system in the United States was, unsurprisingly, the one in New York City. The pipes were buried about 6 feet below the city streets, and the workers who operated the tubes were known as “Rocketeers.” In its heyday, the system handled 30% of New York City mail, about 95,000 letters daily.

 

Pneumatic-tube-mail-apparatus.pngHowever, the temptation to send non-traditional items through the tubes proved too much for some. When the tube mail system had its grand opening in 1897, the Rocketeers sent a Bible wrapped in a flag, as well as a copy of the Constitution. They also sent a cat. Yes, that’s right, a live cat (the cat was fine, if a little disorientated.) In one documented instance, a sick cat was sent via pneumatic tube to a veterinarian. Kenneth Stuart, in an article titled “Pneumatic Mail Tubes and Operation of Automatic Railroads,” writes that “other animals that were reportedly shot through the underground tubes included dogs, mice, roosters, guinea pigs, and monkeys. And also: fish. At a 1908 demonstration convened to celebrate the opening of a new tube line from New York’s Broad Street Station, postal workers loaded a tube canister with ‘a glass globe containing water and live goldfish.’ To prove, basically, that they could. And they could. The makeshift tank, luckily for its inhabitants, was sent through the tubes without incidence.”

 

11237633933_8c65cc51e0_h.jpgMichelle Young, writing for the Untapped Cities blog, notes that “In its full glory, the pneumatic tubes covered a 27-mile route, connecting 23 post offices. This network stretched up Manhattan’s east and west sides, from Bowling Green and Wall Street, all the way north to Manhattanville and East Harlem. Anecdotal stories indicate that the system may have extended into the Bronx, with sandwich subs reportedly being delivered via pneumatic tubes from a renown subway shop in the Bronx to downtown postal stations. The system even crossed boroughs into Brooklyn (using the Brooklyn Bridge), taking four minutes to take letters from Church Street near City Hall to the General Post Office in Brooklyn (now Cadman Plaza).”

 

Today, very few remnants of any of these systems can be seen, save for the pneumatic tubes in parts of Prague and the series of Italian pneumatic mail stamps. The reliability and flexibility of automobiles and human mail carriers won out over the shiny new pneumatic technology.

 

A Stamp Saved 6 Million Acres of Wildlife Habitat

 

Hunting season, for many, begins this month, so there’s no better time to look at the history and use of the Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp, or “duck stamp.”

 

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The duck stamp is required by the federal government of the United States in order to hunt ducks, geese, and other migratory waterfowl. 98% of the proceeds from each stamp are used for conservation efforts through the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund. State governments also require stamps for bird hunting, as do many international governments.

 

 

s-l1600 (18).jpgIn 1929, President Herbert Hoover signed the Migratory Bird Conservation Act to preserve wetland habitats for migratory waterfowl; however, this law did not include a permanent source of funding. On March 16, 1934, the Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp Act was passed by Congress and signed by President Roosevelt. The first annual duck stamps had a face value of $1 in 1934, increased to $2 in 1949, and again to $3 in 1959. By 1991, the stamps were $15 face value, and did not see another increase until the stamps rose to $25 in 2015. Most state stamps have a face value of $5, though some, like Louisiana’s non-resident duck stamp at $25, are much higher. Some Native American tribes issue stamps that allow hunting on their reservations (as long as the hunter also has the required federal stamp) which would otherwise be off-limits.

 

 

s-l1600 (19)Duck stamps are usually issued by conservation or wildlife departments; in the United States, the stamps must be created by legislation in order for them to be a valid government issue. Like the funds from the federal stamps, money raised by state hunting stamps is earmarked for conservation, usually in very local efforts. Though many stamps are bought by hunters, some are purchased by collectors, and can carry a premium when bought this way; some stamps are even produced in limited collector editions. Several states issue different stamp sets for hunters and collectors, while others are simply defined by differing serial numbers.

 

One of the most collectable kinds of duck stamp is the Governor’s Edition. Several states issue these stamps as a way to bring in extra revenue; the stamps are usually printed in quantities fewer than 1,000, at face value of approximately $50. The state governor may even hand-sign some of the stamps for increased value, often up to twice the price of the unsigned stamps. These stamps are valid for hunting in the state of issue, but never used as such, as this would significantly lower the collectible value of the stamp.

 

s-l1600 (17).jpgArtist-signed stamps are an increasingly trendy way to collect duck stamps, and usually cost only a premium on top of the cost of a mint stamp. That cost may be increased if the artist for the stamp is now deceased; premiums may also be charged for stamps on which the artist has hand-drawn or painted a unique work of art on top of the stamp design. Living artists may be commissioned to draw such art, sometimes known as a “remarque,” or to add tribute art to a stamp drawn by a deceased artist. Other collectors prefer text stamps: stamps with printed text but no illustration of ducks or other creatures.

 

The initial duck stamp design was created by Jay “Ding” Darling in 1934; Darling was specifically asked to design the stamp by President Roosevelt. It shows two mallard ducks landing in a small pond. Other wildlife artists were asked to submit designs for subsequent stamps, and the first open-entry contest took place in 1949. 88 artists submitted designs that year, with the number increasing to 2.099 entries by 1981. Artist Maynard Reece is a five-time winner of the stamp design contest, taking the top place in 1948, 1951, 1959, 1969, and 1971. The judging panel for the contest is composed of bird, art, and philatelic authorities, appointed by the Secretary of the Interior. The winners receive no prize or monetary compensation for their work, save for a pane of stamps with their design; however, the winners are permitted to sell prints of the design, which are highly prized by collectors.

 

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In the 82 years since its creation, the duck stamp has been a phenomenal success. Sales of the stamps have resulted in more than 6 million acres of waterfowl habitat being conserved since 1934. Duck stamps are not only an excellent modern collectible, but a piece of history and an investment in the future of our spectacular wildlife.

 

Looking for duck stamps for your collection? Check out the stamps available right now in our store.

 

 

How to Stop Worrying and Love Technology

 

With interest in coin and stamp collecting on the decline, many collectors have begun to worry that their beloved pursuits could be in danger of falling into the dustbin of history. Government agencies have begun trying to spark interest in these hobbies as well; the Royal Mail recently released an “Animail” design of highly-colored stamps shaped like animals, designed to appeal to children.

 
pexels-photo-largeOne blogger responded, “Personally I think new blood in the hobby will come from older people.  Many young people don’t ‘collect’ anything these days, not even Panini cards, unless it is Apps on their smartphones or pads.  No, the target audience should be anywhere from 25 upwards, but especially the over 50s, even if they don’t get as much opportunity as a few years ago for early retirement and hours of time to fill…Few young people will use them: even the use of email is being overtaken by things like WhatsApp and Skype.”

 
While the author is welcome to his opinion, this is an unnecessarily pessimistic view of the way technology influences collecting. Coin and stamp collecting have been around for centuries, and there is no reason to believe they will disappear or be relegated only to certain age groups because of emerging tech. Change, on the other hand, is inevitable.
Coins and stamps are intrinsically tied to technology. The artistry and technique present in a coin or stamp is a way to gauge the technology of the culture that produced it, and advances in technology inspire collectibles of greater complexity, detail, and uniformity.
Hoard_of_ancient_gold_coinsBut sometimes it can feel like historic fields such as numismatics and philately are out of place in a world of Tweets, drones, and self-driving cars. Some are even advocating digital currencies to replace bills and coins, while historians and others are insisting that all antique coins be removed from sale and returned to their country of origin. More interpersonal communication happens online rather than via written letters.

 

Devotees of cyber currencies, like BitCoin, claim that these new currencies will soon replace traditional funds. Some, like the proposed Hayek currency, are still backed by gold. According to the press release, the Hayek coin will “be valued at 1 gram of gold at the day’s market price, [and] will serve as a more secure store of value than Bitcoin.” CEO of Anthem Vault, the creator of the Hayek,  Anthem Blanchard cites security concerns as a strong reason to support cyber currency. “Talking with friends of mine in the intelligence agencies, they say this is a real threat.” An attack could DDoS the current financial system, causing widespread chaos. Since cyber currencies do not rely on such central systems, they would theoretically be secure from this kind of attack, making them an attractive replacement for traditional cash, for some people.

 

Traditional stamps are also being challenged by websites like Stamps.com, which allow users to print legal, customized stamps for use on letters and other mailings. Many businesses simply use digitally printed postage instead of stamps, and personal mailings of all types have been on a steady decrease with the rise of the internet.
But new technology doesn’t have to mean an end to old traditions. It can not only enhance them, but actually preserve them, and enable current collectors to share their passion and knowledge with new collectors.

 

The sheer amount of information on the internet is staggering. Instead of spending hours paging through books, trying to find the relevant stamp or coin listing, collectors can ask questions on forums, use Google Image Search, or even reach out on Twitter or Facebook for information and help. On CoinLink.com, Doug Winter writes, “The best thing about the Internet for all hobbies has been the dissemination of information. 10 to 15 years ago, if you wanted information about rare coins you had to dig for it. You could open a Redbook and get mintage figures and you could find information about die varieties in various specialized books. But like the man behind the curtain in the Wizard of Oz, in the past, information was strictly controlled. If you were lucky, you were invited into the secret circle and given some of the information you needed. If you didn’t know the secret handshake, you were pretty much on your own.”

 

Elsewhere on CoinWeek, Jeff Garrett writes, “Nearly every successful rare coin company is now a technology company. Most have at least one or more individuals on staff at all times to solve tech issues, post coins online, create digital images, and tackle other computer-related tasks. Many successful collectors have also become more tech savvy in recent years. Quite a few can perform detailed online research, including locating coins and establishing values. A few years ago, I taught a class at the ANA Summer Seminar on rare coin pricing. Much of the class involved how to properly use online tools available to collectors.”

 

The old stalwarts of numismatics and philately aren’t going anywhere, but they will evolve. Coin collecting has seen a move away from collecting by date, mintmark, and other traditional variables; the new trend is collecting by design or theme. Coin design enthusiasts show their collections and finds on Pinterest and Instagram, taking advantage of the visual nature of these mediums.

 
800px-Brick_storefrontCollectors aren’t the only ones facing change: local brick-and-mortar stores will need to adjust to new technology as well. When smartphone cameras became high enough quality to take high-resolution photos of coins and stamps, collectors began sharing photos online for sale and identification, rather than going to their local store. In addition, collectors could purchase directly from the US Mint and Post Office without a middleman. Auction sites like eBay sealed the deal: now anyone could sell to anyone else, anywhere in the world.

 

Pat Heller, writing for NumismaticNews.com, has some pointed advice for local store owners: “Extend your market. If you do not already deal with customers outside your local market, consider developing a regional or national presence. This can be easier to do if you specialize in some market niche. Serve customers online, by phone, or by any means you can.

 

Technology is changing and advancing every hobby, not just collectibles. The rise of “maker culture” and public maker spaces is providing access to new technology for more and more people to build and create everything from toys to costumes to prosthetic limbs. 3D printers are as affordable as inkjet printers were a few years ago, and will soon be just as ubiquitous.
 

sunrise-1371391077dmNIt’s an exciting time to be a hobbyist; the world is opening up to so many new possibilities. Rather than fear change or dismiss tech-focused younger generations, this is a chance to revolutionize collecting, and invite newcomers. Technology is coming to the world of collectibles: it’s only a question of when and how. The “when” is now, but the how is up to us.

These Unforgettable Journeys Display the Best of Human Courage

Exploration has been a part of the human experience from the very beginning, and we have commemorated our journeys in every form of art imaginable. One of the most popular ways to memorialize our journeys has been on postage stamps. Here are a few of our favorites.

 

The 1930 Europe-Pan American Flight of the LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin

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The LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin was one of the most-traveled airships of all time. Built in Germany in 1926-1928, the commercial craft was named after Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin, pioneer of German airships. During its 12 years of operations, it flew more than 1 million miles in 590 flights.

 

The Graf first visited South America in 1930, as one stop on a flight between Spain, Brazil, and the United States. The ship offered passenger service, as well as express freight and air mail between all four countries. The first such flight left from Friedrichshafen on the 18th of May, 1930, before stopping in Seville and subsequently departing Europe.

 

The LZ 127 docked at Campo do Jiquiá in Brazil, to the welcoming shouts of more than 15,000 onlookers. It proceeded to Rio de Janeiro, then flew to Lakehurst, New Jersey; after departing for Seville on June 2, it returned to Germany. Two years later, the Graf had an established Germany-Brazil passenger, mail, and freight service; this route was active from 1932 to 1937.

 

graf zepplinFor many of its journeys, including the Europe-Pan American flights, the Graf found its funding from franked stamps on souvenir mail. Anyone could buy a stamp with the Graf’s design issued by Spain, Brazil, and the United States, which would be good for mail to be sent on one or more parts of the Graf’s route. In the United States, these stamps were issued in three denominations: $0.65, $1.30, and $2.60. However, since the United States was caught in the Great Depression during this time, very few stamps sold at such high prices. 1,135,000 of the $0.65 stamps were printed, with only about 20,000 sold or otherwise distributed. The numbers for the pricier stamps are low, too; for the $1.30 stamp, 1,005,000 were printed with only 30,000 distributed. The most expensive stamp only sold 5,000 of its 1,070,000 print run.

 

The stamps were withdrawn from sale on June 30, and over 3 million unsold stamps were destroyed; this made the Graf Zeppelin issues the smallest of the United States Post Office Department issues of the twentieth century.

 

Despite the low sales of stamps in the US, the Graf proved the feasibility of pan-Atlantic airship service. It offered regular services between Germany and South America in the summers for five years. The increase in commercial airplane service, as well as the high cost of the gas used in the zeppelin, contributed to the decline of demand for airship services, and the Hindenburg disaster made such journeys seem unsafe to the general public.

 

The LZ 127 was grounded the day after the Hindenburg crashed, and removed from service after its arrival in Friedrichshafen on May 8, 1937. In mid June, the Graf was taken to Frankfurt on its final flight, deflated, and opened as a public museum. Attempts to revive the airship program failed due to tensions between the United States and Germany. On March 4, 1940, Air Minister Hermann Göring ordered the ship to be scrapped for salvage, and melted for reuse by the German military.

 
Antarctic Exploration

800px-Mt_Murphy,_Antarctica.jpgAntarctica has been a land of mystery for thousands of years, as early geographical theories relied on a large southern continent to “balance” the land mass of the known world. “Antarctic” was coined in the second century AD, though it was not until the Cape of Good Hope was rounded in the 15th century that it was revealed to be a continent unattached to any of the other known land masses. Explorer Captain Cook and his crew were the first modern Europeans to cross the Antarctic Circle, though they did not see the mainland.

 

In the 1800s, Russian and British crews made claims to be the first to catch sight of the ice surrounding the continent, but it is unclear who actually gets credit. It is thought that American seal hunter John Davis was probably the first to actually walk on the ice. During the early twentieth century, various expeditions attempted to reach the South Pole, only to end in disaster and loss of life. On December 14, 1911, Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen was the first to reach the Pole, after an arduous race with Robert Scott of England. Scott reached the Pole 33 days after Amundsen, and all five members of his party died on the return journey.

 

48759-01__93433.1434408467.1200.1200Sir Douglas Mawson led the Australasian Antarctic Expedition between 1911-1914, focusing on the coastline between Mount Gauss and Cape Adare. The mission concentrated on mapping and surveying the land, and included discoveries such as Ninnis and Mertz glaciers, Queen Mary Land, and Commonwealth Bay. The Australian Antarctic Territory issued its first stamp in 1957.

 
The Journey to Space

600px-NASA-Apollo8-Dec24-EarthriseThe greatest journey humanity has ever undertaken is the journey off our homeworld and into space. The 1960’s were characterized by an intense focus on human spaceflight, especially the race to land a human being on the moon. Russia and the United States both had scientific and political reasons for attempting this feat, but after a slow start, the United States quickly pulled ahead. On December 21, 1968, the Apollo 8 mission launched: it would be the first time human beings had left the orbit of the earth. Astronauts Frank Borman, James Lovell (better known for his time on the Apollo 13 mission), and William Anders were the first human beings to see the entire planet from space, to see the far side of the moon with their own eyes, and the first to witness an earthrise over the lunar surface. The photo of this event is one of the most famous and evocative photos in history.

 

Due to complications with the Lunar Module, the mission was refocused to go without the module, and to leave a few months earlier than originally scheduled. This placed a great deal of pressure on the astronauts as their training was suddenly intensified. The Apollo 8 mission was the first manned launch of the legendary Saturn V rocket as it blasted off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Taking three days to reach the moon, the crew and craft orbited ten times; the crew took this opportunity to share a Christmas Eve broadcast, which was the most watched television broadcast of the time. Upon returning to Earth via splashdown in the Pacific on December 27, 1968, the three astronauts were named Time’s “Men of the Year.” The Apollo 8 mission was crucial to the success of the later moon landing missions.

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The moon race was of interest to the entire human race, not just the countries directly involved. This contemporary gold foil stamp from Dahomey (now the Republic of Benin) shows the Apollo 8 command module, with a cratered lunar surface behind it.

 

Whether we are exploring the furthest reaches of our own planet, or trying to reach the stars, humanity loves to push ourselves further, and to document our journeys in whatever way we can. Whether it’s stamps, coins, fine art, or just graffiti, we know how to say “we were here!” with style.

 

Each of these stamps is available from our store. Please click the links to see more information or purchase!

A Queen’s Portrait

Queen Elizabeth II of England celebrates her 90th birthday today; after more than six decades as Queen, her image has been imprinted on over 54 million coins, according to the Royal Mint. In celebration of her Majesty’s birthday, here’s a look at the portraits that have graced the coins and stamps of the United Kingdom. 

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 The first image of the Queen used on coins showed an elegant profile of the young Queen by Mary Gillick; Elizabeth was 25 when she began her reign, and is depicted wearing a wreath.

A new portrait, by Arnold Machin RA, was brought into use in 1968, as part of the effort towards decimalization of the currency. The Queen is depicted in the tiara that she received as a wedding present from her grandmother, Queen Mary. (This design was later used for stamps as well; keep reading!)

Between the years of 1985 to 1997, other coins were struck using a portrait by Raphael Maklouf, which added a necklace and earrings to the Queen’s attire. This portrait was the subject of some controversy, as many thought Maklouf depicted the Queen too young; Maklouf insisted that his intention was “to create a symbol, regal and ageless.”

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In 1997, a new portrait was chosen after a design content brought in a high number of excellent proposals. Ian Rank-Broadley returned to the practice of depicting the Queen’s age realistically, in praise of the Queen’s “poise and bearing.” His portrait occupies as much space as possible within the area of the coin, with little blank space.

A new coin unveiled in 2015 is the fifth definitive coinage with the Queen’s image, and the fourth portrait on coins in current circulation.

 

Wilding stampBut the Queen isn’t just on coins; her portrait has appeared on many stamps as well. From 1952 through 1971, the portrait used was based on a photograph taken by famous photographer Dorothy Wilder. Seventy-five designs were considered to frame the portrait, and five basic designs were eventually selected. The stamp designs also include four flowers symbolic of each country in the United Kingdom. Designers Michael Goaman and Faith Jacques considered the person, three-quarters image of the Queen to be inappropriate, and proposed a more classic image that they felt better represented the monarchy. In 1967, the Wilding design was retired, except in regional issues, and was replaced by the Machin portrait.

Machind stampThe Machin portrait, also used on coins, has been used since June of 1967. This simple design consists only of the profile of the Queen and the denomination of the stamp, and are usually monochromatic. Despite their apparent simplicity, the Machin series have a surprising complexity. Variations in color, gum, value, and other considerations give them a wide range of collectibility. While other designs have been proposed, the Machin portrait has remained, due in part to the Queen’s expressed satisfaction with the design.

Appearing on stamps, coins, and other collectibles, Queen Elizabeth II has one of the most recognizable portraits in the world. Happy birthday, your Majesty!

The Society for the Suppression of Speculative Stamps

A curious society arose in the late 19th century that had stamp collectors all in a tizzy. Some collectors were upset that the price of special stamps (namely commemorative stamps) were hiked to high prices and printed only with collectors in mind, rather than the general public.

It was a somewhat ridiculous complaint. This is the notice that the SSSS put out about the reason for its formation: “The Society, in conjunction with the Special Committee appointed by the London Philatelic Society, having taken into consideration the Stamps mentioned below, are of the opinion that they are not worth the attention of Philatelists, and appeal to all Collectors and Dealers to discountenance collecting or dealing in the same.”

The complaint received recognition, but it did not get anything to pass. Most philatelists dismissed it as hogwash. The SSSS was fairly small in number, and therefore did not have the ability to properly assert itself.

The SSSS’s eagerness to stop the issue of unnecessary stamps was perhaps a bit too eager, and as the Postal Service and most collectors did not see the point of the argument against such stamps, the society only lasted from May 1895 to their break up in 1897.

However, during the SSSS’s short lifetime, the Royal Philatelic Society London and the American Philatelic Society did support its cause.

This shortlived, and somewhat hilarious endeavor by a number of stamp zealots ended up with no other purpose than to keep its members occupied for a couple of years.

The First Commemorative Stamps

What is a commemorative stamp? It’s a stamp specifically issued to celebrate a special event, or sometimes a place or person. Whatever subject is celebrated on the stamp, it has to be something special.

The first-ever commemorative stamps emerged from the Columbian Exposition. The exposition celebrated Christopher Columbus discovering the New World, and the stamps reflected that theme. Sixteen stamp designs were printed for the series in 1893.

Observant collectors noted that these stamps had discrepancies among them; different artists designed them and therefore the stamps did not have consistent details.

The denominations of the stamps came under criticism as well. Some came in $2, $3, $4 and $5 denominations – but the most one could spend on a first class postage was $1.36. It would have to be a pretty large, heavy package to use the $5 Columbian.

Lincoln_1866_Issue-15c

Some stamp collectors protested against commemorative stamps after the release of the series, criticizing the raised prices. To affirm their stance they formed the Society for the Suppression of Speculative Stamps (S.S.S.S.). The Society fought against unnecessary stamps made specifically for collectors. Needless to say, the S.S.S.S. did not get very far in its cause, and broke up in 1897, two years after its formation.

Another stamp possibly considered one of the first commemorative stamps was a 15 cent black stamp featuring Abraham Lincoln. It was printed after Lincoln’s assassination, but as the stamp was not proclaimed to be an official memorial, it’s difficult to say whether it was really a ‘commemorative’ stamp.

Of course, many commemorative stamps followed after the Columbian series.