The missing element of stamp design
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?
Published 2015-06-17 Last updated 2021-01-17