Although I’ve been collecting stamps for well over 20 years, it has only been within the past two or three that I’ve had any contact at all with the mail art community. I do not think of myself as an artist; even my Philosateleian Post creations I refer to as local post stamps, not artistamps. There is a fine and sometimes blurred line between the two, but that is perhaps a subject for some other time.
Just because I’m not an artist myself, however, doesn’t stop me from being impressed and sometimes amazed at some of the pieces that individuals in the mail art community create. For example, consider this cover that I received in the mail last week.
The cover’s designer, Linda W., took a fragment of an old envelope which was addressed to a patient at an infirmary in Louisville, Kentucky, and combined it with an illustration of a woman on her sickbed, along with an illustration of a human skeleton and several medical-themed stamps.
I’m not even sure how to describe this any further other than to say it is awesomeness. I certainly wouldn’t endorse the destruction of a valuable cover, but the fragment with which Linda started was so ragged that it had no value in philatelic terms. Because of that, it is a joy to see that it could be reused and repurposed to create a work of art.
Grateful Dead on Purgatory Post's first perforated stamps
Psychedelic rockers Grateful Dead are the subject of the newest modern local post stamp from Scott A.’s Purgatory Post. The stamp, which features artwork from a concert poster, commemorates the band’s 50th anniversary.
While I’m not the biggest fan of the art style of the 1960s and 70s, I think you have to admit that Scott nailed the lettering!
Although the Grateful Dead stamp is Purgatory Post’s 163rd issue, it is the first to be perforated with Scott’s recently acquired Rosback hand perforator. The results are quite impressive, and I look forward to seeing Scott’s future perforated stamps.
A while back while browsing around looking for one thing or another, I ran across a blog post from the National Postal Museum regarding United States Post Office Department mailsters, three-wheeled delivery trucks that were mass-produced in the late 1950s and 1960s.
Mailsters could apparently fit into small spaces, and to my eye are pretty nifty looking vehicles. They had some flaws, however; as blog post author Nancy Pope points out, mailsters were “vehicles that could be immobilized by three inches of snow, tip over if driving around a corner more than 25 mph, caught in a wind gust, or even by large dogs jumping on them.
Continuing, Pope writes that the mailster was “a hotbed of flaws, including defective front axles, defective and inferior shaft linkage, defective drive couplings, defective universal joints, defective door locks, defective fuel pumps, and defective brake pedal mountings.” Not exactly the sort of thing you want to be relying on to carry you through your appointed rounds.
Fortunately for mail delivery, the Jeep was available to take over, and the mailster became a part of post office history.
When Richard McPherren Cabeen wrote his Standard Handbook of Stamp Collecting 50 years ago, he dedicated at least one chapter to stamp design, and he identified three elements that should be present on every stamp.
“The design of a stamp should contain elements which will cause it to be recognized wherever it may travel as postage on a letter,” wrote Mr. Cabeen. “It should indicate the intended use, the country of origin, and the face value in the currency of the country.” Wouldn’t he be surprised to see current United States stamps!
Of the three elements Mr. Cabeen identified, the one that we can unequivocally say still appears on all U.S. stamps is the country name, often rendered as “USA.”
An argument might be made that the intended use is also still indicated by the word “Forever,” or by the various phrases found on the new stamps issued in connection with the most recent rate changes. By “intended use,” Mr. Cabeen meant an inscription indicating whether a stamp was regular postage, or air mail, or official. The newer inscriptions could be read to mean, “This stamp is intended to pay postage on a two-ounce letter,” or, “This stamp is intended to pay postage on a letter being mailed globally.”
What’s missing from most modern United States stamps, however, is the face value. To be certain, there are plenty of arguments in favor of having “Forever” stamps that are always valid for mailing a regular letter with no makeup postage needed. For example, the need for makeup stamps is largely eliminated. Quite frankly, the USPS could probably save some more money by not coming up with multiple new designs for certain rates every year; think back to when a set of definitives would be used for years, if not decades.
There’s something about a specified value, though, that to me makes a stamp look like a stamp. Maybe it’s not as big a deal as perforations, or the die cutting intended to mimic the appearance of perforations on modern self-adhesives, without which a stamp doesn’t quite look like a stamp. But I think it does make a difference. A specified face value is a visual cue that indicates a stamp is worth something, and without it, that stamp looks more like a sticker.
What’s your opinion? Does a face value on a stamp make it look more like a stamp, or does it not really matter?