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1980 American Architecture Series Issue

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15-cent Smithsonian Institution single

Released at the convention of the National Trust for Historic Preservation on October 9, 1980, the four stamps of the 1980 American Architectural commemorative series comprise the second group of American Architecture Series stamps issued since 1979. The featured buildings include the Trinity Church (Boston), the Smithsonian (Washington, DC), Lyndhurst (Tarrytown, New York), and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Each embodies the very best of nineteenth-century American architecture. According to the United States Postal Service, these specific buildings were chosen for depiction based on their "enduring beauty, strength and usefulness," a fitting description for them all.

Designed by four of the most outstanding architects in American history, these buildings have stood the test of time in terms of beauty and sound structure. When constructed, they extended the limits of American architecture and inspired originality and ingenuity throughout the field of architecture. Henry Richardson, James Renwick, Alexander J. Davis, and Frank Furness, the respective architects, boldly designed these buildings, which represent patriotism, creativity, and fearlessness while inspiring a deep sense of nationalism in any American who visits them.

Artist Walter D. Richards of New Canaan, Connecticut, designed the stamps for this series. The Postal Service's production of the four 15-cent stamps of the 1980 American Architecture Series totaled 152,420,000 stamps.

Reference: "U.S. Chronicle." The American Philatelist 94, no. 11 (1980): 976.

Adam Bleznak

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15-cent Smithsonian Institution single

"Every man is a valuable member of society who by his observations, researches, and experiments procures knowledge for men," stated English scientist James Smithson (1765-1829), prominent researcher in the fields of chemistry, mineralogy, and geology. Raised in England, James Smithson devoted his life to the proliferation of scientific knowledge to the masses. No greater example of his benevolence exists than in his final will and testament, in which Smithson allocated nearly all of his estate — $508,318 — to the government of the United States of America with instructions "to found at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an Establishment for the increase & diffusion of knowledge among men." Although numerous theories exist, no one knows for sure why he made this bequest.

Considerable controversy arose in England and in the United States over the gift. Richard Rush, an American lawyer and diplomat, traveled to England to represent the United States in court and retrieve the endowment. For ten years officials in the United States heatedly debated how exactly the funds should be allocated, and on August 10, 1846, President James K. Polk signed into law a bill establishing the Smithsonian Institution. The bill sanctioned the construction of a "suitable building of plain and durable materials and structure, without unnecessary ornament, and of a sufficient size, and with suitable rooms or halls, for the reception and arrangement, upon a liberal scale of objects. . ." The result was one of the most highly regarded architectural masterpieces in the country, the Smithsonian 'Castle.'

Officials chose James Renwick, Jr., to design the building. Though Renwick had no professional training in architecture, he used his historical knowledge and his engineering education to design a Gothic Revival structure reminiscent of the cloistered and scholarly atmosphere of English colleges. Based on the drawings in German Gothic and Romanesque copybooks, the red sandstone structure is known for its asymmetric composition, collection of ramparts, towers and chimneys, and its unique windows and stone capitals. Renwick intended the building to resemble European architecture, but he incorporated new styles in order to contest the trend of American builders imitating English structures.

Located on the edge of the National Mall, the Smithsonian 'Castle' originally housed offices, lecture halls, libraries, and laboratories. Today it is the administration building and information center for the Smithsonian's nineteen museums, research facilities, and galleries.

Walter D. Richards designed the 15-cent Smithsonian stamp of the 1980 American Architecture Series. The stamps of this series were among the last American commemorative stamps produced on a Giori printing press.


  • "Smithsonian Institution Building, the Castle." Smithsonian. si.edu/visit/infocenter/sicastle.htm (accessed December 5, 2008)
  • "James Smithsonian." Smithsonian Institution Archives. siarchives.si.edu/history/exhibits/documents/smithson.htm (accessed December 5, 2008)
  • "James Renwick." Smithsonian Institution Archives. siarchives.si.edu/history/exhibits/documents/renwickdrawing.htm (accessed December 5, 2008)

Adam Bleznak

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15-cent Trinity Church single

The American Architect and Building News conducted a poll in 1885 that asked its readers to list "the ten buildings which the subscriber believes to be the most successful examples of architectural design in the country." The results granted American architect Henry Harold Richardson (1838-1886) honors for five of the top ten structures, including the Trinity Church in Boston, Massachusetts. The Trinity Church received nearly 85 percent of the votes, decisively ranking it among America's architectural masterpieces.

Born in Louisiana and educated at Harvard, H.H. Richardson left the country in 1859, conflicted by the turmoil leading to the American Civil War. While in Paris, he studied at the prestigious Ecole des Beaux Arts. He returned to the United States to design many historic buildings, among them Sever Hall located at Harvard University and New York State Capitol. The crown jewel and most definitive work of his career was the Trinity Church in Boston, which established "Richardson-Romanesque," a style defined by high, round headed arches, lintels made from contrasting stones, and wrought iron ornaments. Richardson's style influenced many famous architects, including Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright.

Richardson designed the Trinity Church for the renowned clergyman Phillips Brooks (1835-1893) after the fire of 1872. Built in Boston's Back Bay neighborhood, Trinity helped define Copley Square as the city's new cultural center and represented a departure from the city's Puritan past. The church's construction on the tidal marshland of Back Bay was crucial to what became one of America's most ambitious public works projects to-date. The ninety-million ton tower, typical of the Richardson-Romanesque style, has been supported alone by the same four-thousand cedar piles and four enormous granite pyramids since its construction. The water level beneath the church is regulated daily to prevent the piles from rotting.

The Trinity Church is truly one of the most beautiful buildings not only in Boston but also in the entire country, and it helped establish Richardson as the leader in building solutions and design formulas in America.

Walter D. Richards designed the 15-cent Trinity Church stamp of the 1980 American Architecture Series. The stamps of this series were among the last American commemorative stamps produced on a Giori printing press.

References: "Trinity Church." Boston History and Architecture. iboston.org/mcp.php?pid=trinityChurch

Adam Bleznak

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15-cent Penn Academy single

Walter D. Richards designed the 15-cent Penn Academy stamp of the 1980 American Architecture Series. The stamps of this series were among the last American commemorative stamps produced on a Giori printing press.

The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the oldest art school and museum in the country, opened its doors in 1805. The first institution of its kind, the academy grew slowly in popularity and international esteem. It held its first exhibition 1811, and throughout the next fifty years, attendance steadily increased. By 1871, the Pennsylvania Academy was ready for a new home. Administrators commissioned a former Civil War captain, Frank Furness, to design the building.

Unlike many of his colleagues, Furness did not study architecture in Europe during the war. Even though the great European architects of his day — Ruskin and Viollet-le-duc, for instance — influenced his work, his lack of direct contact allowed him to achieve an original, truly American mode of design. Contemporaries knew Furness for his eclectic, polychromatic approach to the Modern Gothic Revival style, to which he employed dramatically over-scaled and boldly articulated forms. Furness is credited with designing nearly 650 buildings, most located in the Philadelphia area. He designed the Philadelphia Zoo Gatehouses, Merion Cricket Club, and the inspirational monument to the Lancers located on the battlefield at Gettysburg.

From warehouses to hospitals to schools and banks, Furness left his distinctive architectural touch on the city of Philadelphia and developed the American architectural style that influenced many famous designers such as Louis Sullivan, one of Furness's most prominent understudies. Still, among all of his creations, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts building might be Furness's most influential and important project. It is a building steeped in historical significance and a cornerstone in the development of the American architectural style in Philadelphia and the rest of the country.

The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts building opened on April 22, 1876, while the country celebrated its centennial. A boldly opulent, seventy-feet-tall building, it is decorated with sandstone, red brick, pink granite and purplish terra cotta. Dominating the building's face is an enormous gothic window that facilitates the transition of this motif to the inside. As gorgeous as it is, the building's exterior pales when compared to the lavish interior, where gilded floral patterns decorate the majestic Venetian red walls. The ceiling itself is something to admire, painted blue and dotted with shining silver stars.


Adam Bleznak

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15-cent Lyndhurst single

Lyndhurst, a nineteenth- century Gothic Revival mansion, sits high atop a grassy knoll overlooking the Hudson River in Tarrytown, New York. The mansion is this style's premier example still standing in the United States. Alexander Jackson Davis designed the building for former mayor of New York City, William Paulding, Jr. (1770-1854). Originally called the 'Knoll,' it was constructed in 1838. The home immediately drew much attention, and critics soon dubbed it 'Paulding's Folly' because they found its jutting turrets and asymmetrical shape unattractive. However, as the perception of wealth and the allure of property changed with the growing nation, so too did perceptions of the mansion.

After Paulding's death in 1854, George Merritt (1807-1873), a merchant and inventor of a revolutionary railcar spring, purchased the house from Paulding's heirs. In 1864, George Merritt called upon Alexander Jackson Davis once again to add an extension to the house, nearly doubling it in size. A dominant four-storied tower, a new north wing, dining room, and servants' quarters all meshed seamlessly with the exterior's irregular shape. Merritt also commissioned Ferdinand Mangold to re-design the landscape and construct the nation's first steel-framed conservatory. The grounds of the Lyndhurst property are a particularly extraordinary example of nineteenth-century landscape, including rolling lawns, accented shrubs and specimen trees, and a long, winding entrance drive. It was Merritt who renamed the home "Lyndenhurst," after the linden trees planted throughout the property.

Jay Gould (1836-1892), railroad developer and owner of Western Union Telegraph, Union Pacific Railroad, and New York Elevated Railway, purchased the house in 1880. Gould used Lyndhurst, his shortened version of the name, as a summer home and country retreat until his death in 1892. His daughter Anna (1878-1961), Duchess of Talleyrand-Perigord, donated Lyndhurst to the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1961.

Walter D. Richards designed the 15-cent Lyndhurst stamp of the 1980 American Architecture Series. The stamps of this series were among the last American commemorative stamps produced on a Giori printing press.

Reference: "A Short History of Lyndhurst." Lyndhurst. lyndhurst.org/history.html (accessed December 5, 2008)

Adam Bleznak

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