United States Postal Service: design to go

United States Postal Service: design to go

From former presidents to state flowers, when you mail a letter today there are lots of different stamp designs to choose from. But did you know that from the time stamps debuted in the United States in 1847 until 1869 the only design allowed on any stamp was the profile of a notable dead person?

In the beginning, stamp art only featured presidents and others who had made significant contributions to American life. Thus, it is no surprise that the first two stamps ever released in the United States featured Benjamin Franklin and George Washington. It wasn’t until 1869 when two color stamps with pictures of ships, flowers, birds and trains first arrived at local post offices across the nation. In 1893 a whole new type of stamp art was born when Postmaster General John Wanamaker issued the nation’s first collection of commemorative postage stamps honoring Christopher Columbus’ landing in America.

Originally members of congress disagreed with Mr. Wanamaker’s idea of creating the commemorative stamps, which included paintings illustrating how various artists perceived Christopher Columbus’ landing. However, the stamps became so popular that tradition of commemorative stamps lives on today.

Each year, Americans submit proposals to the postal service on thousands of different topics that celebrate the American experience. A group of 12 to 25 people called The Citizen’s Stamp Advisory Committee (CSAC), which is appointed by the Postmaster General, carefully considers every suggestion.

Every year the Committee makes about 35 stamp recommendations to the Postmaster General, who then makes the final decision.

To keep the process consistent and fair, the CSAC developed standards of eligibility for stamp designs. One standard is that no living person can be depicted on a stamp. Except for presidents, a person must be dead for at least 10 years before their profile can be considered. This rule ensures that the person’s accomplishments are portrayed in a historical context. Each past president is honored with a memorial stamp on the first birthday following their death. In total, there are 12 standards guiding the stamp selection process.

After a stamp subject is chosen, an artist is commissioned by the Committee to carry out the project and the artist begins drawing preliminary designs. The designs are presented to the CSAC for its comments. The Committee makes its recommendation to the Postmaster General who makes the final decision. Once the final design is chosen, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing or an outside contractor prints the stamp. The stamps are inspected for flaws and distributed to post offices nationwide for sale.

The next time you place a stamp on the upper right corner of your envelope, look a little closer and you will see a well thought out and carefully crafted work of art that celebrates the American experience.

COPYRIGHT 2005 International Child Art Foundation

COPYRIGHT 2006 Gale Group