New Issues

New Stamps to Honor John Lennon

At 11:00 a.m. Eastern Time today — September 7, 2018 — the United States Postal Service will hold a dedication ceremony at the Namburg Bandshell in New York City’s Central Park in order to officially unveil its newest entry in the Music Icons series, a set of four stamps utilizing the same design in different colors depicting singer and songwriter John Lennon. The event will be officiated by U.S. Postmaster General Megan J. Brennan. “Beloved around the world, Lennon was successful both as a founding member of the Beatles and as a solo artist. Lennon’s music continues to speak for truth, peace, and tolerance,” the Postal Service said in a press release on July 11.

The September 7 release date fits with the design of the stamp and “Imagine,” the song he wrote and the album by that name, which was issued on September 9, 1971. The stamp features a photograph of John Lennon taken by rock-and-roll photographer Bob Gruen in August 1974 during the photo session for Lennon‘s 1974 album Walls and Bridges. The original black-and-white photograph has been treated in gradations of color.

United States--John Lennon--September 7, 2018
United States–John Lennon–September 7, 2018
United States–John Lennon–September 7, 2018 full pane

The self-adhesive stamp pane is designed to resemble a vintage 45 rpm record sleeve. One side of the pane includes 16 non-denominated (50-cent) Forever stamps and brief text about Lennon’s legacy as well as the image of a sliver of a record seeming to peek out the top of the sleeve. A black-and-white photograph of Lennon seated at his white piano appears on the reverse, along with Lennon‘s signature and the Music Icons series logo. Taken by photographer Peter Fordham, the original photograph was used to promote Lennon‘s landmark 1971 solo album, Imagine. Art director Antonio Alcalá worked on the stamp pane with designer Neal Ashby.

The stamps were offset printed by the Banknote Corporation of America in Browns Summit, North Carolina, using the Alprinta 74 press in a total quantity of 40,000,000 stamps. The print run was made using the colors Cool Gray 7, Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black on phosphor, block tagged, paper with pressure sensitive adhesive. The plate consisted of 96 stamps per revolution. They have an overall size measuring  1.225 x 1.225 inches (31.115 x 31.115 mm) while each individual pane measures 7 x 7 inches (177.8 x 177.8 mm).

Official USPS first day of issue postmarks for the John Lennon stamps, September 7, 2018
Only authorized design for pictorial postmarks used in conjunction to the 2018 U.S. John Lennon stamp

In addition to the official USPS first day of issue postmarks (standard black & white and digital color cancellations), only one pictorial cancellation has been authorized for the John Lennon stamps. The word “Station” or the abbreviation “STA” is required somewhere in the design, because these will be temporary stations.

John Winston Ono Lennon was an English singer, songwriter, and peace activist who co-founded the Beatles, the most commercially successful band in the history of popular music. He and fellow member Paul McCartney formed a much-celebrated songwriting partnership. Along with George Harrison and Ringo Starr, the group would ascend to worldwide fame during the 1960s.

John Lennon performing on June 5, 1964
John Lennon, as pictured in an advertisement for Imagine from Billboard magazine's September 18, 1971, issue (page 36). Photo taken by Peter Fordham.
John Lennon, as pictured in an advertisement for Imagine from Billboard magazine’s September 18, 1971, issue (page 36). Photo taken by Peter Fordham.

He was born as John Winston Lennon on October 9, 1940, in Liverpool, where he became involved in the skiffle craze as a teenager. In 1957, he formed his first band, the Quarrymen, which evolved into the Beatles in 1960. Lennon began to record as a solo artist before the band’s break-up in April 1970; two of those songs were “Give Peace a Chance” and “Instant Karma!” Lennon subsequently produced albums that included John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band and Imagine, and songs such as “Working Class Hero”, “Imagine” and “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)”. After he married Yoko Ono in 1969, he added “Ono” as one of his middle names. Lennon disengaged himself from the music business in 1975 to raise his infant son Sean, but re-emerged with Ono in 1980 with the album Double Fantasy. He was shot and killed in the archway of his Manhattan apartment building on December 8, 1980, three weeks after the album was released.

Strawberry Fields in Central Park, New York City, with The Dakota in the background. Photo taken on December 27, 2013.
Strawberry Fields in Central Park, New York City, with The Dakota in the background. Photo taken on December 27, 2013.
John Lennon collected stamps as a young boy. The Smithsonian's National Postal Museum in Washington, D.C. obtained his childhood stamp collection in 2005. Photo taken on September 17, 2016.
John Lennon collected stamps as a young boy. The Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum in Washington, D.C. obtained his childhood stamp collection in 2005. Photo taken on September 17, 2016.

Lennon revealed a rebellious nature and acerbic wit in his music, writing, drawings, on film and in interviews. Controversial through his political and peace activism, he moved from London to Manhattan in 1971, where his criticism of the Vietnam War resulted in a lengthy attempt by the Nixon administration to deport him. Some of his songs were adopted as anthems by the anti-war movement and the larger counterculture.

By 2012, Lennon’s solo album sales in the United States had exceeded 14 million units. He had 25 number-one singles on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart as a writer, co-writer, or performer. In 2002, Lennon was voted eighth in a BBC poll of the 100 Greatest Britons and in 2008, Rolling Stone magazine ranked him the fifth-greatest singer of all time. In 1987, he was posthumously inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Lennon was twice posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: first in 1988 as a member of the Beatles and again in 1994 as a solo artist.

United States–John Lennon–September 7, 2018 strip of five from USPS Postal Bulletin
New Issues

United States Stamp Issues – July-August 2018

The last set of stamps covered here was the O Beautiful sheet of 20 released on the Fourth of July.

Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? – Bloomington, Minnesota: July 14, 2014
United States - Scooby Doo - July 14, 2018
United States – Scooby-Doo – July 14, 2018

On July 14, the USPS released a single stamp in a pane of 12 portraying the cartoon character Scooby-Doo from the animated TV series of the same name, produced from 1969 to the present day. Writers Joe Ruby and Ken Spears created the original series, Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!, for Hanna-Barbera Productions in 1969. This Saturday-morning cartoon series featured four teenagers — Fred Jones, Daphne Blake, Velma Dinkley, and Norville “Shaggy” Rogers — and their talking brown Great Dane named Scooby-Doo, who solve mysteries involving supposedly supernatural creatures through a series of antics and missteps.

Following the success of the original series, Hanna-Barbera and its successor Warner Bros. Animation have produced numerous follow-up and spin-off animated series and several related works, including television specials and made-for-TV movies, a line of direct-to-video films, and two Warner Bros.–produced theatrical feature films. Some versions of Scooby-Doo feature different variations on the show’s supernatural theme, and include characters such as Scooby’s cousin Scooby-Dum and nephew Scrappy-Doo in addition to or instead of some of the original characters.

Scooby-Doo was originally broadcast on CBS from 1969 to 1975, when it moved to ABC. ABC aired the show until canceling it in 1986, and presented a spin-off featuring the characters as children, A Pup Named Scooby-Doo, from 1988 until 1991. New Scooby-Doo series aired as part of Kids’ WB on The WB Network and its successor, The CW Network, from 2002 until 2008. Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated aired on Cartoon Network from 2010 to 2013, and Be Cool, Scooby-Doo! aired on Cartoon Network from 2015 to 2018. Repeats of the various Scooby-Doo series are broadcast frequently on Cartoon Network’s sister channel Boomerang in the United States as well as other countries. In 2013, TV Guide ranked Scooby-Doo the fifth Greatest TV Cartoon of All Time.

The new Forever stamp is part of a campaign highlighting a new social responsibility initiative called Scooby-Doo DOO GOOD and pictures Scooby-Doo helping out by watering a blossoming plant in a flowerpot — a simple act symbolizing a component of the “Doo Good” campaign’s to provide young people with tools and activities geared toward enriching the environment. The campaign, launching this year in partnership with generationOn, the youth division of Points of Light, also focuses on helping the hungry and acting as animal allies. Art director Greg Breeding worked closely with Warner Bros. Consumer Products, Inc. to design this stamp.

Scooby-Doo first day of issue postmarks
Scooby-Doo first day of issue postmarks

The stamp was issued in Bloomington, Minnesota, on July 14, Forever-priced at the First-Class Mail rate) in one design, in a pressure-sensitive adhesive pane of 12 stamps. The Scooby-Doo! pane of 12 stamps may not be split and the stamps may not be sold individually, according to the USPS announcement. The stamps were printed using the offset process by Ashton Potter (USA) Ltd. at Williamsville, New York with a total of 252,000,000 stamps printed.

World War I, Turning the Tide – Kansas City, Missouri: July 27, 2018
United States - World War I - July 27, 2018
United States – World War I – July 27, 2018

With this stamp, released on July 27 in Kansas City, the Postal Service paid tribute to the sacrifice of American soldiers and millions of supporters on the home front who experienced World War I. Entering World War I (1914–1918) in its later stages, the United States helped turn the tide of war in favor of the Allies. The stamp art features a close-up of a member of the American Expeditionary Force holding the U.S. flag. Barbed wire can be seen in the background, as well as an airplane in flight and smoke rising up from the battlefield. The artwork was painted in airbrush on illustration board, a technique that evokes the propaganda posters used during World War I. Art director Greg Breeding designed the stamp with art by Mark Stutzman. There were 20,000,000 Forever stamps issued in self-adhesive panes of 20.

he American Expeditionary Forces was a formation of the United States Army on the Western Front of World War I. The AEF was established on July 5, 1917, in France under the command of General John J. Pershing. It fought alongside French Army, British Army, Canadian Army, and Australian Army units against the German Empire. A minority of the AEF troops also fought alongside Italian Army units in that same year against the Austro-Hungarian Army. The AEF helped the French Army on the Western Front during the Aisne Offensive (at the Battle of Château-Thierry and Battle of Belleau Wood) in the summer of 1918, and fought its major actions in the Battle of Saint-Mihiel and the Meuse-Argonne Offensive in the latter part of 1918.

olumn of American troops passing Buckingham Palace, London, 1917
Column of American troops passing Buckingham Palace, London, 1917

By June 1917, only 14,000 American soldiers, who were often called “Doughboys”, had arrived in France, and the AEF had only a minor participation at the front through late October 1917, but by May 1918 over one million American troops were stationed in France, though only half of them made it to the front lines. Since the transport ships needed to bring American troops to Europe were scarce at the beginning, the U.S. Army pressed into service passenger liners, seized German ships, and borrowed Allied ships to transport American soldiers from ports in New York City, New Jersey, and Virginia. The mobilization effort taxed the American military to the limit and required new organizational strategies and command structures to transport great numbers of troops and supplies quickly and efficiently. The French harbors of Bordeaux, La Pallice, Saint Nazaire, and Brest became the entry points into the French railway system that brought the American troops and their supplies to the Western Front. American engineers in France also built 82 new ship berths, nearly 1,000 miles (1,600 km) of additional standard-gauge tracks, and over 100,000 miles (160,000 km) of telephone and telegraph lines.

Aerial photo of the National WWI Museum and Memorial with the Kansas City skyline. Photo taken on October 8, 2014.
World War I first day of issue postmarks
World War I first day of issue postmarks

The first day ceremonies for this World War I stamp were held at the National World War I Museum and Memorial of the United States in Kansas City, Missouri, which was known as the Liberty Memorial during the nearly twenty years that I lived in the area. Originally opened in 1926, in 2004 the United States Congress designated it as America’s official museum dedicated to World War I. The Museum and Memorial are managed by a non-profit organization in cooperation with the Kansas City Board of Parks and Recreation Commissioners, reopening to the public in December 2006 with an expanded, award-winning facility to exhibit an artifact collection that began in 1920. The National World War I Museum tells the story of the Great War and related global events from their origins before 1914 through the 1918 armistice and 1919 Paris Peace Conference. Visitors enter the exhibit space within the 32,000-square-foot (3,000 m²) facility across a glass bridge above a field of 9,000 red poppies, each one representing 1,000 combatant deaths.

The Art of Magic – Las Vegas, Nevada: August 7, 2018
United States – The Art of Magic – August 7, 2018
United States – The Art of Magic souvenir sheet

On August 7, 2018, in Las Vegas, NV, the U.S. Postal Service will issued The Art of Magic stamps (Forever-priced at the First-Class Mail rate) in five designs, in a pressure-sensitive adhesive pane of 20 stamps. Art director Greg Breeding designed the stamps, and Jay Fletcher created the illustrations and served as the typographer. These were offset-printed by the Banknote Corporation of America in Browns Summit, North Carolina.

The stamps celebrate the art of magic with digital illustrations of five classic tricks magicians use to amaze and delight audiences:

  • A rabbit in a hat (production),
  • A fortune teller using a crystal ball (prediction),
  • A woman floating in the air (levitation),
  • An empty bird cage (vanishing), and
  • A bird emerging from a flower (transformation).

A souvenir sheet including three copies of the disappearing rabbit stamp has also been released.

In ancient times, Greeks and Persians had been at war for centuries, and the Persian priests came to be known as magoi in Greek. Ritual acts of these Persian priests were termed magika, which eventually meant any foreign, unorthodox, or illegitimate ritual practice. During the 17th century, many books were published that described magic tricks. Until the 18th century, magic shows were a common source of entertainment at fairs. A founding figure of modern entertainment magic was Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin, who had a magic theatre in Paris in 1845. John Henry Anderson was pioneering the same transition in London in the 1840s. Towards the end of the 19th century, large magic shows permanently staged at big theatre venues became the norm.

Poster promoting mind-reading.

As a form of entertainment, magic easily moved from theatrical venues to television magic specials. Performances that modern observers would recognize as conjuring have been practiced throughout history. For many recorded centuries, magicians were associated with the devil and the occult. During the 19th and 20th centuries, many stage magicians even capitalized on this notion in their advertisements. The same level of ingenuity that was used to produce famous ancient deceptions such as the Trojan Horse would also have been used for entertainment, or at least for cheating in money games.  At least one magic author has suggested that more books are written about magic than any other performing art. Although the bulk of these books are not seen on the shelves of libraries or public bookstores, the serious student can find many titles through specialized stores catering to the needs of magic performers.

Dragons – Columbus, Ohio – August 9, 2018
United States – Dragons – August 9, 2018

Four designs featuring dragons were issued on August 9, 2018, during the American Philatelic Society’s Stamp Show held August 9-12 in Columbus, Ohio. The self-adhesive pane of 16 stamps celebrates dragons, the high-flying, fire-breathing mythological creatures that have roamed our imaginations for millennia. Each of the stamps showcases one of four dragons:

  • A green fire-breathing dragon towering over a medieval–inspired castle;
  • A purple dragon with orange wings and sharp black armor on its back snaking around a white castle;
  • A black dragon with green wings and green armor on its back swooping past a ship on the sea; and
  • A wingless orange dragon weaving its way around a pagoda.

Each of the stamps and the header feature orange foiled highlights that add a fire-like glint. At the top of the pane, “Dragons” appears alongside a black fire-breathing dragon. The stamps are digital illustrations created by artist Don Clark of Invisible Creature studio, while Greg Breeding served as art director. These were offset printed with hot foil stamping by the Banknote Corporation of America using the Alprinta 74, Müeller-Martini Custom press. There were 30,000,000 stamps printed.

Fifteenth-century manuscript illustration of the battle of the Red and White Dragons from Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain
Fifteenth-century manuscript illustration of the battle of the Red and White Dragons from Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain

According to Wikipedia, a dragon is a large, serpent-like legendary creature that appears in the folklore of many cultures around the world. Beliefs about dragons vary drastically by region, but dragons in western cultures since the High Middle Ages have often been depicted as winged, horned, four-legged, and capable of breathing fire. Dragons in eastern cultures are usually depicted as wingless, four-legged, serpentine creatures with above-average intelligence.

The earliest attested dragons resemble giant snakes. Dragon-like creatures are first described in the mythologies of the ancient Near East and appear in ancient Mesopotamian art and literature. Stories about storm-gods slaying giant serpents occur throughout nearly all Indo-European and Near Eastern mythologies. Famous prototypical dragons include the mušḫuššu of ancient Mesopotamia, Apep in Egyptian mythology, Vṛtra in the Rigveda, the Leviathan in the Hebrew Bible, Python, Ladon, Wyvern, and the Lernaean Hydra in Greek mythology, Jörmungandr, Níðhöggr, and Fafnir in Norse mythology, and the dragon from Beowulf.

Manuscript illustration from Verona of Saint George slaying the dragon, dating to c. 1270

Manuscript illustration from Verona of Saint George slaying the dragon, dating to c. 1270

The popular western image of a dragon as winged, four-legged, and capable of breathing fire is an invention of the High Middle Ages based on a conflation of earlier dragons from different traditions. In western cultures, dragons are portrayed as monsters to be tamed or overcome, usually by saints or culture heroes, as in the popular legend of Saint George and the Dragon. They are often said to have ravenous appetites and to live in caves, where they hoard treasure. These dragons appear frequently in western fantasy literature, including The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien, the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling, and A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin.

Dragons first day of issue postmarks

The word “dragon” has also come to be applied to the Chinese lung (龍), which are associated with good fortune and are thought to have power over rain. Dragons and their associations with rain are the source of the Chinese customs of dragon dancing and dragon boat racing. Many East Asian deities and demigods have dragons as their personal mounts or companions. Dragons were also identified with the Emperor of China, who, during later Chinese imperial history, was the only one permitted to have dragons on his house, clothing, or personal articles.

U.S. Air Mail Centennial (red) – College Park, Maryland: August 11, 2018
United States – U.S. Airmail Centennial (red) – August 11, 2018
Airmail first day of issue postmarks

The United States Air Mail (red) stamp issued on August 11 was the second stamp issued in 2018 by the Postal Service to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the beginning of regular airmail service. The first stamp, issued in May and printed in blue, paid tribute to the pioneering spirit of the brave Army pilots who initiated the airmail service on May 15, 1918. This second stamp, identical to the first except that it is rendered in red, commemorates the beginning of airmail delivery through the U.S. Post Office Department on August 12, 1918. Both stamps were printed in intaglio and feature a drawing of the type of plane typically used in the early days of airmail, a Curtiss JN-4H biplane. The stamp design evokes that earlier period. The stamp designer and typographer was Dan Gretta, while Greg Breeding served as the art director. The stamps were printed by Ashton Potter (USA) Ltd. on a Stevens Vari-Size Security Press in self-adhesive panes of 20 with a total quantity of 20,000,000 stamps printed.

I covered the initial May 1918 flights in an article for my blog, A Stamp A Day, earlier this year.

Global Poinsettia – Kansas City, Missouri: August 26, 2018
United States – Global Poinsetta – August 26, 2018

Global Poinsettia is a new Global Forever international rate stamp that can be used to mail a 1-ounce letter to any country to which First-Class Mail International service is available. The stamp was released in Kansas City, Missouri, on August 26 and is the first Global Forever Holiday stamp issued since 2014. . These stamps can also be used domestically. At present, they would pay $1.15 in postage. A striking photograph of a poinsettia arranged against a white background graces this round holiday stamp. Taken from above, the photo captures the beauty of the green leaves, the red bracts, and the yellow flowers in the center of the plant. William J. Gicker was the art director and Greg Breeding designed the stamp with an existing photograph by Betsy Pettet. Offset printed by the Banknote Corporation of America using an Alprinta 74 press, 100,000,000 of the stamps have been printed in self-adhesive panes of 100.

The poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) is a plant species of the diverse spurge family (Euphorbiaceae) which is indigenous to Mexico. It is particularly well known for its red and green foliage and is widely used in Christmas floral displays. It derives its common English name from Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first United States Minister to Mexico, who introduced the plant to the U.S. in 1825.

Red Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima).
Red Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima).

The plant’s association with Christmas began in 16th-century Mexico, where legend tells of a girl, commonly called Pepita or Maria, who was too poor to provide a gift for the celebration of Jesus’ birthday and was inspired by an angel to gather weeds from the roadside and place them in front of the church altar. Crimson blossoms sprouted from the weeds and became poinsettias. From the 17th century, Franciscan friars in Mexico included the plants in their Christmas celebrations. The star-shaped leaf pattern is said to symbolize the Star of Bethlehem, and the red color represents the blood sacrifice through the crucifixion of Jesus.

Global Poinsettia first day of issue postmarks

Poinsettias are popular Christmas decorations in homes, churches, offices, and elsewhere across North America. They are available in large numbers from grocery, drug, and hardware stores. In the United States, December 12 is National Poinsettia Day.


New Issues, Thailand Philately, Uncategorized

Happy Birthday, King Rama X

Today is the Thai holiday of Wan Khao Phansa (วันเข้าพรรษา) marking the beginning of Vassa, the three-month rains’ retreat also known as Buddhist Lent, following yesterday’s holiday of Wan Asanhabucha (วันอาสาฬหบูชา) commemorating the Buddha’s first discourse. This year, however, the twin Buddhist holidays coincide with another important holiday, that of Wan Chaloem Phra Chonmaphansa Somdet Phra Chao Yu Hua Maha Wachiralongkon Bodinthrathepphayawarangkun (วันเฉลิมพระชนมพรรษาสมเด็จพระเจ้าอยู่หัวมหาวชิราลงกรณ บดินทรเทพยวรางกูร), which in English is simply the Birthday of King Rama X, incorporating his title and a small part of his full name. His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn (Rama X) was born on July 28, 1952, and ascended to the Thai throne upon the death of his father, King Bhumiphol Adulyajej (Rama IX), on October 13, 2016. For more on King Rama X, please see my post on Asian Meanderings.

For collectors of Thai stamps, today marks the long-delayed release of the first King Rama X definitive stamps, 12 denominations ranging from 1 baht to 100 baht for a total face value of 250 baht. In addition to sheets of 20 for each value, all 12 are also available in a souvenir sheet. Additionally, Thailand Post has released a 10-baht commemorative stamp marking the king’s 66th birthday today.

This has been a relatively quiet year for Thai stamps; I have yet to report on a Thailand-Romania joint issue that was released at the end of May and a booklet and postal card released to mark the World Cup championships that appeared without prior announcement in mid-June. August usually sees an abundance of releases with annual commemorations of Thailand Post Day, ASEAN Day and Mothers Day (the Queen’s birthday) but thus far I haven’t seen any new issue announcements. I hope those will appear soon.

General Pursuits

“Exploring Stamps” on YouTube

Until recently, I was only a casual YouTube watcher generally seeking out the occasional country, historical, or wildlife documentary, kiddie videos to entertain my younger students, and old live music clips or full concerts. I’d dabbled in searching for stamp-related videos from time to time but wasn’t often impressed with what I found. Earlier this year, I discovered “vlogs” — video blogs — and became hooked on several involving expat life in Japan and here in Phuket, Thailand, as well as several concerning food (Hellthy Junk Food and The Burger Show chief amongst these). Still, I couldn’t find anything similar related to philately.

Maybe I just didn’t search hard enough.

It took reading a recent article on another blog, The Punk Philatelist, to become aware of Exploring Stamps. I spent a couple of hours this Sunday watching episode after episode (most are around five minutes long), starting from the very first and continuing through the start of Season 2. As often happens, I feel I’m a bit late to the party as a Google search turned up a number of discussions on stamp collecting message boards as well as an earlier blog article. Apparently, the series was even featured in The American Philatelist earlier this year.

The basic premise is very similar to what I’ve been doing with my A Stamp A Day blog for the past two years: the host, Graham, uses his tongs to fish out a random stamp from a large cardboard box and then learns what he can about the stamp itself as well as the subject matter portrayed thereon. Where my articles tend to the lengthy and try to give all the information I can find, Graham condenses his findings into a highly entertaining few minutes that keeps you watching. Along the way, he touches on many different aspects of the hobby as well as geography, history, and so much more.

The production quality of the videos is top-notch. His use of simple graphics, different camera angles, props, and even green-screen effects make each episode a joy to watch. The videos are educational enough that I learn something new from almost every episode. He speaks very clearly as well in language that would be understandable to school children. I’ve long desired to incorporate stamps into my lessons here in Thailand; Graham has given me a roadmap to follow.

Graham has Twitter and Instagram accounts in addition to his YouTube Channel on which he gives hints to upcoming Exploring Stamps episodes. While he doesn’t have a regular blog, he does have a landing page on WordPress which provides links to each of Exploring Stamps’ other social media outlets, including an interesting site and app called Snupps which Graham explained in an early video.

Now, to continue watching….

New Issues

O Beautiful Stamps!

With the release today, July 4, 2018, of the “O Beautiful” pane of 20 se-tenant stamps, the United States Postal Service is unleashing another beautiful set in a year full of them. I can’t recall another recent year so full of attractive stamps. It also seems that they are being issued at a more or less “reasonable” rate rather than too many all at once.

This particular set sees the Postal Service commemorating the beauty and majesty of the United States through images that correspond with one of the nation’s most beloved songs, “America the Beautiful.” The lyrics were written by Katharine Lee Bates, an English professor at Wellesley College, and the music was composed by church organist and choirmaster Samuel A. Ward at Grace Episcopal Church in Newark, New Jersey. The two never met.

In 1893, at the age of 33, Bates had taken a train trip to Colorado Springs, Colorado, to teach a short summer school session at Colorado College. Several of the sights on her trip inspired her, and they found their way into a poem she called “Pike’s Peak”, including the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, the “White City” with its promise of the future contained within its gleaming white buildings; the wheat fields of America’s heartland Kansas, through which her train was riding on July 16; and the majestic view of the Great Plains from high atop Pikes Peak.

Plaque commemorating the song, "America the Beautiful" atop Pikes Peak. Photo taken on July 1, 1999.
Plaque commemorating the song, “America the Beautiful” atop Pikes Peak. Photo taken on July 1, 1999.

On the pinnacle of that mountain, the words of the poem started to come to her, and she wrote them down upon returning to her hotel room at the original Antlers Hotel. The poem was initially published two years later in church periodical The Congregationalist to commemorate the Fourth of July. At that time, the poem was titled “America” for publication. It quickly caught the public’s fancy. Amended versions were published in 1904 and 1911.

The first known melody written for the song was sent in by Silas Pratt when the poem was published in The Congregationalist. By 1900, at least 75 different melodies had been written. A hymn tune composed in 1882 by Samuel A. Ward, the organist and choir director at Grace Church, Newark, was generally considered the best music as early as 1910 and is still the popular tune today. Just as Bates had been inspired to write her poem, Ward, too, was inspired. The tune came to him while he was on a ferryboat trip from Coney Island back to his home in New York City after a leisurely summer day and he immediately wrote it down. Supposedly, he was so anxious to capture the tune in his head, he asked fellow passenger friend Harry Martin for his shirt cuff to write the tune on. He composed the tune for the old hymn “O Mother Dear, Jerusalem”, retitling the work “Materna”. Ward’s music combined with Bates’s poem were first published together in 1910 and titled “America the Beautiful”.

Historical marker at Grace Church in Newark where Samuel Ward worked as organist, and wrote and perfected the tune "Materna" that is used for "America the Beautiful".
Historical marker at Grace Church in Newark where Samuel Ward worked as organist, and wrote and perfected the tune “Materna” that is used for “America the Beautiful”. Photo taken on September 24, 2016.

Ward died in 1903, not knowing the national stature his music would attain since the music was only first applied to the song in 1904. Bates was more fortunate since the song’s popularity was well established by the time of her death in 1929.

At various times in the more than 100 years that have elapsed since the song was written, particularly during the John F. Kennedy administration, there have been efforts to give “America the Beautiful” legal status either as a national hymn or as a national anthem equal to, or in place of, “The Star-Spangled Banner”, but so far this has not succeeded. Proponents prefer “America the Beautiful” for various reasons, saying it is easier to sing, more melodic, and more adaptable to new orchestrations while still remaining as easily recognizable as “The Star-Spangled Banner”. Some prefer “America the Beautiful” over “The Star-Spangled Banner” due to the latter’s war-oriented imagery. Others prefer “The Star-Spangled Banner” for the same reason. While that national dichotomy has stymied any effort at changing the tradition of the national anthem, “America the Beautiful” continues to be held in high esteem by a large number of Americans.

"America the Beautiful" sheet music (page 1 of 3), 1917. Image from the Library of Congress
“America the Beautiful” sheet music (page 1 of 3), 1917. Image from the Library of Congress.

According to the USPS announcement, each of the 20 stamps on the O Beautiful! pane features a photograph that helps illustrate one of five phrases from the song’s famous first verse: “Spacious Skies” (top row), “Waves of Grain” (second row), “Mountain Majesties” (third row), “The Fruited Plain” (fourth row), and “Sea to Shining Sea” (bottom row). Art director Ethel Kessler designed the pane using existing photographs taken by Timothy T. De La Vega, Kevin Ebi, Larry Michael, David Muench, Sean Ramsey, Benjamin Williamson, Gary Crabbe, Tim Fitzharris, Yva Momatiuk, and John Eastcott. Ashton Potter (USA) offset printed the stamps in Williamsville, New York, on the Mueller A76 press. A total of 60,000,000 self-adhesive stamps were printed.

United States - $2 Statue of Freedom - June 27, 2018
New Issues

United States Stamp Issues – June 2018

United States - Flag Act of 1818, released June 9, 2018
United States – Flag Act of 1818, released June 9, 2018

Since my last “catch-up” article on U.S. New Issues, there has been only a couple of releases by the United States Postal Service, starting with a single Forever stamp issued on June 9 in Appleton, Wisconsin, marking the 200th anniversary of the Flag Act of 1818. The basic design repeats that used for the U.S. Flag definitive stamp released on February 9; that stamp bore a 50-star flag while the newer stamp features a flag with 20 stars, the number of states in the Union when the Flag Act of 1818 was implemented. According to the USPS press release, “The flag‘s crisp folds and layering effect convey a sense of the dynamism of the young nation.” Ethel Kessler of Bethesda, Maryland, served as art director for the project with stamp design and typography by Kit Hinrichs of San Francisco. The stamps were printed by Ashton Potter (USA) Ltd. at Williamsville, New York, using the offset process in a quantity of 200,000,000. They were released in self-adhesive panes of 20.

Flag Act of 1818 black & white pictorial First Day of Issue cancellation - June 9, 2018
Flag Act of 1818 black & white pictorial First Day of Issue cancellation – June 9, 2018


Flag Act of 1818 digital color First Day of Issue cancellation - June 9, 2018
Flag Act of 1818 digital color First Day of Issue cancellation – June 9, 2018

The Flag Act of 1818 (3 Stat. 415) was enacted by Congress on April 4, 1818. It provided for the modern rule of having thirteen stripes to represent the original thirteen colonies and having the number of stars match the number of states. It also provided that subsequent changes in the number of stars be made on July 4, Independence Day.

As the result of the lack of a Flag Act between 1794 and 1818, there were no official U.S. flags with sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, or nineteen stars. No flag laws were enacted to accompany the admission of new states to the Union during this period.

NAPEX Station, McLean, Virginia, pictorial postmark commemorating the Flag Act of 1818 - June 9, 2018
NAPEX Station, McLean, Virginia, pictorial postmark commemorating the Flag Act of 1818 – June 9, 2018

An Act to establish the flag of the United States.
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress Assembled, That from and after the fourth day of July next, the flag of the United States be thirteen horizontal stripes, alternate red and white: that the union be twenty stars, white in a blue field.
And be it further enacted, That on the admission of every new state into the Union, one star be added to the union of the flag; and that such addition shall take effect of the fourth day of July then next succeeding such admission.

United States - Frozen Treats (10 designs) - June 20, 2018
United States – Frozen Treats (10 designs) – June 20, 2018

Next on the USPS calendar was a set of 10 designs depicting Frozen Treats released in Austin, Texas on June 20 in a double-sided pane of 20. The Frozen Treats stamps showcase whimsical watercolor illustrations and are printed with a coating that “evokes a sweet summer scent,” according to the Postal Bulletin — the first U.S. Scratch & Sniff stamps.. Art directors Antonio Alcalá and Leslie Badani designed the stamps with original art by Margaret Berg. Ashton Potter USA) Ltd. printed 100,000,000 of the stamps using offset and the “flexographic” manufacturing process on the Muller A76 press.

Frozen Treats black & white pictorial First Day of Issue postmark - June 20, 2018
Frozen Treats black & white pictorial First Day of Issue postmark – June 20, 2018

Frozen Treats digital color First Day of Issue postmark - June 20, 2018

Frozen Treats digital color First Day of Issue postmark – June 20, 2018

The release date fits with the season, as Americans enjoy cool, refreshing ice pops on hot Summer days. Modern frozen treats are available in many varieties. Ice pops are made by large manufacturers, home cooks, and artisanal shops. In recent years, frozen treats containing fresh fruit such as kiwi, watermelon, blueberries, oranges, and strawberries have become more common. In addition, flavors such as chocolate, root beer, and cola are also popular.

United States - $1 Statue of Freedom - June 27, 2018
United States – $1 Statue of Freedom – June 27, 2018
United States - $2 Statue of Freedom - June 27, 2018
United States – $2 Statue of Freedom – June 27, 2018
United States - $5 Statue of Freedom - June 27, 2018
United States – $5 Statue of Freedom – June 27, 2018

Many of the stamp designs for 2018 have been quite striking but my favorite thus far are the Statue of Freedom stamps scheduled for release this coming Wednesday, June 27. I’ve long been a fan of stamps that re-create classic images used on previous stamps but slightly modernized as these three stamps are. The stamps of this issue feature the head of the statue that tops the United States Capitol dome, in a modern interpretation of an engraved vignette originally created for a 1923 stamp, the $5 Head of Freedom Statue on Scott #573. The tightly cropped enlargement, rendered in emerald green, indigo, and brick red, highlights the solid and dashed lines as well as the cross-hatching characteristic of engraved illustration. Art director Greg Breeding designed the stamps using John Eissler’s engraved artwork.

United States - Scott #573 (1923) source: Wikipedia
United States – Scott #573 (1923) source: Wikipedia

Scott #573 was part of the U.S. definitive series of 1922–1931 — 27 stamps issued for general everyday use. Unlike the definitives previously in use which presented only a Washington or Franklin image, each of these definitive stamps depicted a different president or other subject, with Washington and Franklin each confined to a single denomination. The 1, 2 and 5 dollar denominations were printed only once, early in 1923, with the Flat-Plate printing press, unlike most of the others which were later reprinted with the Rotary Press also. The 5-dollar and highest denomination of the series features the Head of Freedom Statue which stands atop of the U.S. Capitol dome in Washington, D.C.. The bi-colored stamp with its blue colored vignette and red frame required the manufacture of two plates, one for the vignette and one for the frame and required two separate passes through the printing press. The image of “America” was engraved by John Eissle and was modeled after the statue Freedom Triumphant in War and Peace by Thomas Crawford which was erected on December 2, 1863, atop the Capitol building in Washington D.C.

Digital color and black & white pictorial cancellations for the Statue of Freedom stamps - June 27, 2018
Digital color and black & white pictorial cancellations for the Statue of Freedom stamps – June 27, 2018

The $1 and $2 Statue of Freedom stamps will be issued in a pressure-sensitive adhesive (PSA) pane of 10 stamps while the $5 Statue of Freedom stamp will be issued in a PSA pane of 4 stamps. All three will be released on June 27 at the Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, headquarters of the American Philatelic Society and will replace the odd “Waves” stamps that were designed more for security than for design considerations. The Statue of Freedom stamps were printed in intaglio — a process that is used when counterfeiting is a particular concern — by the Banknote Corporation of America in Brownsville Summit, North Carolina, on a Alprinta 74 press. There were 100,000,000 copies of the $1 stamp, 30,00,000 of $2, and 5,000,000 of the $5 denomination printed.

There are a number of interesting stamps coming in July with a 20-stamp sheet of images based on the song “America the Beautiful”, the first U.S. stamp appearance of the cartoon dog Scooby Doo, and a single World War I centennial commemorative. I’ll report on those next month…



General Pursuits

Stamp Art?

Photo by Mark Jochim on May 23, 2018
Photo by Mark Jochim on May 23, 2018

I have been extremely busy at work since the new school year began in mid-May (yes, we start as schools back in the U.S. are just letting out for the long summer holiday) and haven’t had much free time to work on most of my blogs. The workload shows no signs of lessening in the near future but I am trying to prepare a New Issues update with recent USPS design and issue announcements.

In the meantime, I offer this piece of “stamp art” on display in the Phuket, Thailand, shopping mall where I work. Now, Thailand at this time of year — the monsoon season — isn’t exactly the most stamp-friendly of environments. A collector really needs to be on a constant alert that his or her mint stamps are protected from the extremely high moisture content in the air as the humidity fluctuates from intense dryness to sweating walls. I’ve taken to (trying not to) order many stamps at all between around mid-April until October when the rains (usually) let up. I’ve had more than one packet sent from overseas that, upon opening, was full of mint stamps glued together.

France - Scott #C28 (1949) used (1)
France – Scott #C28 (1949) used (1)

At any rate, stamp collecting in a popular hobby in the Kingdom and occasionally comes out into the open with random images such as the one above suddenly appearing in odd places. The one above, portraying a French airmail stamp from 1949, is on the fourth floor of the Central Festival shopping mall in the center of Phuket island, past the cinemas (and preceded by a long line of “coming attractions” posters. It’s across from the “poor man’s” food court used mainly by mall employees. I don’t often venture to this area of the mall — my office and classroom are in the basement near the parking garage — but I accidentally came across some newly-installed ATM’s on the third floor (the ones by the banks on the second floor are always crowded and frequently run out of cash!) and, after happily withdrawing from one, I took an escalator upstairs only to see this stamp on the wall as I ascended. Hopefully, they will add more as time goes on….

France - Scott #C28 (1949) mint, never hinged
France – Scott #C28 (1949) mint, never hinged

I actually own three copies of France Scott #C28, one mint and the others used. Of course, neither has a giant bald eagle flying out of the right side of the stamp. Designed and beautifully engraved by Pierre Gandon, the 100-franc brown carmine airmail stamp portrays the Alexander III Bridge and Petit Palais in Paris. It was issued on June 13, 1949, to mark the International Telegraph and Telephone Conference in Paris, held from May to July of that year. With some 85,152,500 copies of the stamp printed, it’s not nearly as rare as some of the other French airmail stamps issued around that time at around US $7.50 for unused and $5.50 for used copies. I’m still holding out for Scott #C26 — 500-franc bright red with an aerial view of Marseilles (US $58 for a mint copy but a much more doable $6 used) — and Scott #C27 — 1000-franc sepia and black on bluish paper portraying an aerial view of Paris ($150 mint, $28 used).

Perhaps the biggest question is, Why did the management of Central Group pick this particular stamp to grace their wall? I can think of one other piece of local “stamp art” — in the historic Old Town, as a matter of fact — and that one features a French stamp as well, if memory serves. I’ll have to seek it out again the next time I’m in that area, this time camera in hand. If I see any others, I will feature them here on Philatelic Pursuits….as time allows.