Friday, April 15, 2011

Clap your hands! Stamp your feet!

--Charles Baudelaire

I love stamps. I love the history marked by a postmarked letter, the ubiquitous commemoration of a person, event, movement, etc, the tiny design so powerful in a little one-inch square.

Here are a few of my recent favorites.

the seen-everywhere king and queen stamps

the children's book illustrators stamps

the beautiful Winslow Homer stamp, part of the American Treasures series. I used this for Charlotte's birth announcements.

the abstract expressionist stamps, cleverly arranged on the pane to mimic a gallery-style wall of paintings.

In honor of the 150th anniversary of of the Civil War, the USPS is issuing two commemorative stamps per year of the war. This year's stamps feature the attack on Ft. Sumpter and the First Battle at Bull Run (or, to use the Confederate name, the First Battle of Manassas). 

I quickly ordered my stamps, and they arrived yesterday. They're beautifully oversized and beautifully presented. Here's a little about the art direction:

Art Director Phil Jordan of Falls Church, VA, created the stamps using images of Civil War battles. The Fort Sumter stamp is a reproduction of a Currier & Ives lithograph, circa 1861, titled “Bombardment of Fort Sumter, Charleston Harbor.” The Bull Run stamp is a reproduction of a 1964 painting by Sidney E. King titled “The Capture of Rickett’s Battery.” The painting depicts fierce fighting on Henry Hill over an important Union battery during the Battle of First Bull Run.
For the stamp pane’s background image, Jordan used a photograph dated circa 1861 of a Union regiment assembled near Falls Church, Virginia.

The Civil War turned the Postal Service upside down. Here's an excerpt describing a little of the history:

The outbreak of the American Civil War threw the postal system into turmoil. On April 13, 1861, (the day after the firing on Fort SumterJohn H. Reagan, postmaster-general of the Confederate States of America, ordered local postmasters to return their US stamps to Washington DC (although it is unlikely that many did so), while in May the Union decided to withdraw and invalidate all existing US stamps, and to issue new stamps. Confederate post offices were left without legitimate stamps for several months, and while many reverted to the old system of cash payment at the post office, over 100 post offices across the South came up with their own provisional issues. Many of these are quite rare, with only single examples surviving of some types. Eventually the Confederate government issued its own stamps; see stamps and postal history of the Confederate States.
In the North, the new stamp designs became available in August, and old stamps were accepted in exchange until the end of the year. The whole process was very confusing to the public, and there are number of covers from 1862 and later with 1857 stamps and bearing the marking "OLD STAMPS NOT RECOGNIZED".
The 1861 stamps had in common the letters "U S" in their design. To make them differentiable from the older stamps at a glance, all were required to have their values expressed in Arabic numerals (in the previous series, Arabic numerals had appeared only on the 30¢ stamp). The original issue included 1¢, 3¢, 5¢, 10¢, 12¢, 24¢, 30¢ and 90¢ stamps. Numerals apart, several of these are superficially similar to their earlier counterparts, differing primarily in the design of the frame.
A 2¢ stamp in black featuring Andrew Jackson was issued in 1863 and is now known to collectors as the "Black Jack". A black 15¢ stamp depicting the recently-assassinated Abraham Lincoln was issued in 1866, and is generally considered part of the same series. Although it was not officially described as such, and the 15¢ value was chosen to cover newly-established fee for registered letters, many philatelists consider this to be the first memorial stamp ever issued.
The war greatly increased the amount of mail in the North; ultimately about 1,750,000,000 copies of the 3¢ stamp were printed, and a great many have survived to the present day, typically selling for 2-3 dollars apiece. Most are rose-colored; pink versions are much rarer and quite expensive, especially the "pigeon blood pink", which goes for $3,000 and up.

And now let's look at some stamps and postmarks from the time we are remembering. Here are a few from the Civil War.

Benjamin Franklin, issue of 1861

Thomas Jefferson, issue of 1861

Andrew Jackson, 1863. The "Black Jack."

The C.S.A. Stamp page shows stamps issued by the South, as well as a design showing J.C. Calhoun. This stamp was never issued by the C.S.A. government because the plates for the stamp were captured. Read more about it here.

This isn't nearly the first time there have been stamps issued to commemorate the war. 

I hope you've enjoyed this brief foray into a tiny piece of paper that packs a lot of punch. Are you fascinated by stamps? Do you have any favorites?  

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