The Breast Cancer Research Semipostal

Breast Cancer stamp design

Funding a cure, one stamp at a time.

Artist: Whitney Sherman
Art Director: Ethel Kessler
Date of issue: 1998

Watercolor and ink on board

A 1997 law directed the U.S. Postal Service to issue its first semipostal, a stamp sold with a surcharge to raise funds for a specific cause. Other countries have had mixed success with fundraising stamps, but the subject for the first U.S. semipostal was one that Americans truly took to heart: breast cancer research.

Stamps that highlight sensitive social issues are often extremely difficult to design, especially stamps that focus on diseases. In late 1997, U.S. Postal Service art director Ethel Kessler, herself a breast cancer survivor, began experimenting with concepts involving photographs and the pink ribbon that symbolizes breast cancer awareness. But when the preliminary designs proved to be far too somber, she decided to explore fresh approaches by enlisting illustrator Whitney Sherman of Baltimore, Maryland.

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Breast Cancer Research stamp

Sherman developed numerous pencil sketches and color studies showing women in various poses, all of them intriguing; however, one design really stood out. It pictured a woman reaching above and behind her, as if preparing to conduct a breast self-examination. Mindful of mythology, Sherman remembered Diana, goddess of the hunt—a strong, independent, survival-minded figure—and the artwork developed into a depiction of the goddess reaching for an arrow. Kessler and Sherman finalized this heroic and hopeful image by removing a target from the figure’s right breast and encircling the area with a concise phrase. The text complemented the visuals and clearly encapsulated the message of the stamp: “Fund the fight. Find a cure.”

Combining an evocative design with fundraising for a worthy cause, the Breast Cancer Research semipostal has exceeded every expectation, with more than 440 million stamps sold since its issuance in 1998. The stamp, which continues to enjoy steady sales, has raised in excess of $30 million for breast cancer research.

Below are the preliminary color designs by Sherman for the Breast Cancer Research stamp.

preliminary stamp design
preliminary stamp design
preliminary stamp design
preliminary stamp design
preliminary stamp design
preliminary stamp design

Art of the Stamp