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.

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.]

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!



Mickey’s Stamps and the Power of Imagination


88 years ago, one of the most recognizable characters in the world was born: Mickey Mouse. Over the decades, Mickey has been in over 200 television shows and movies, 29 video games, and countless stuffed toys and other merchandise. What many people may not know is that Mickey has also been extremely popular on stamps.



Starting in 2004, the United States Postal Service released a series of “The Art of Disney” stamps, with themes of “Magic,” “Celebration,” “Imagination,” “Friendship,” and “Romance,” starring some of Disney’s most memorable scenes, and featuring at least one Mickey stamp with each set.



Mickey stamps were also released in Grenada, featuring scenes of Mickey and his friends playing sports, in school, and in various other settings.



Many other countries have put Mickey and his companions on stamps; Sierra Leone and St. Lucia even showed them in space!



In the Maldives, Mickey and friends help deliver the mail, while Mongolia celebrates some of Mickey’s beloved short films.


Happy birthday, Mickey Mouse, and thanks for all the magic!


(We have a number of Micky and Disney stamps and coins; please click here to see what is available.)

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.)




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.




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.

The Hero on the Stamp

Sometimes ordinary days become days that change history. And often, it’s the ordinary people who do the changing.

On the morning of November 7, 1907, a railroad brakeman named Jesús Garcia Corona went to work, as usual. He worked on the train line that ran between Nacozari, Sonora, Mexico, and Douglas, Arizona; he had started working for the Moctezuma Copper Company as a waterboy at age 17, and worked his way up to switchman and then to brakeman.
When he reported for work that morning, the train’s operator, who would ordinarily oversee safety, had called out sick. In the operator’s absence, two cars of dynamite had been hooked up behind the engine, rather than at the back of the train. The train was departing from Nacozari when sparks from the engine began blowing out of the smokestack and onto the cars of dynamite.
Locomotora_conmemorativa_del_Héroe_de_Nacozari_Sonora.jpgThinking quickly, Jesús slowed the car while another crewman tried to dump the smoldering dynamite boxes off the train, but the heavy boxes were too hard to move and had already caught fire. Jesús began driving the train out of town in reverse, at full throttle. He didn’t dare leave the train to run itself along the tracks; Nacozari was downhill and the train might slip back into town. Nacozari also had large gas reserves and dynamite in storage; an explosion could trigger a deadly chain reaction. Jesús warned the rest of the crew of the train to jump clear, insisting on driving alone.
The daring brakeman managed to drive the train well away from the town before the cars of dynamite exploded. Jesús Garcia Corona was credited with saving the town from disaster, and though his body was destroyed in the blast, a monument was erected in his honor. He was 25 years old. The American Red Cross declared him a Hero of Humanity, and many landmarks in Mexico bear his name. November 7th was declared Railroader’s Day for Mexican railroad workers. The town he saved changed its name to Nacozari de García.
983_001Jesús Garcia Corona has been commemorated on two stamps: one from 1957 and, more recently, in 2007. An ordinary railroad worker became the hero on the stamp by placing the lives of others above his own.