Works from the National Gallery of Art

1966 and 1967 Traditional Christmas Issues

Postage stamp featuring a young woman holds a baby on her lap as she sits on a curving gold chair.
1966 Christmas stamp issued November 1st in Christmas, Michigan (Scott 1321)
Postage stamp featuring a young woman holds a baby on her lap as she sits on a curving gold chair.
1967 Christmas stamp issued November 6th in Bethlehem, Georgia (Scott 1336)

The first of several Christmas stamps to take inspiration from the early Netherlandish paintings at the National Gallery of Art appeared in 1966. The design, recommended unanimously by the Citizen’s Stamp Advisory Committee, was popular enough that it was revised and used the following year as well (Information Service, June 1966). The elegantly elongated 1967 version shows more of the original painting by Hans Memling, including Mary’s garments and the panel behind her. The stamp was modeled by designer Howard C. Mildner, the vignette done by Edward R. Felver, and the lettering by Kenneth C. Wiram of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP).

Deputy Postmaster General Frederick C. Belen remarked on these two stamps, “from a technical viewpoint, printing this stamp was perhaps the most difficult assignment ever undertaken by the BEP" (Information Service, Nov. 1966). This is because both lithography and intaglio printing methods were used with ink in five colors: dark brown, light brown, red, blue, and orange, which were sometimes combined to create additional colors. For example, blue was first applied for the tapestry, and then orange was laid on top to make a green hue, all using the Giori press (Information Service July 1966).

In addition, the religious theme caused the Post Office Department some difficulty. An assistant to the PMG demonstrated this concern when he wrote to a lawyer, on March 22, 1966, “This would be the most religious design we have ever used on a postage stamp and we would like an opinion from your office as to whether a stamp based on this painting would violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution.”