Exploring U.S. Geography & World History Through Cancelled Stamps
By Dr. Mick Zais, State Superintendent of Education for South Carolina.
There are many similarities between stamp collecting (Philately) and coin collecting (Numismatics). Both involve collecting items produced by national governments, represent denominations of money and favor depicting important past leaders. This post highlights a unique element of stamp collecting – knowledge about where a specific stamp has traveled in its lifetime. The only information about where a coin has traveled is where it started its journey (the location of the mint). The beauty of used stamps is that the cancellation marking can illustrate a dynamic story adding in some cases multiple layers of depth to an individual stamp’s narrative already composed of the who, what, why and where of its design and production.
The beauty of specializing in one stamp or a series of stamps is that your collection can encompass all aspects of philately – domestic and overseas postal history usages, EFOs, first day covers, production information and related material, precancels, perfins, plate blocks, event and advertising covers, and more. Since 1998, I have collected all material related to every stamp and postal history area of the 1936-37 U.S. Army Issue.
For this post, I have chosen the lowest denomination of this five stamp issue, the 1-cent Washington & Greene to demonstrate the dynamic nature of cancels in illustrating far more about an individual stamp’s story than the typical facts about its production (which would be the most information available on any given coin).
The stamp features George Washington’s Mount Vernon home flanked by engravings of Washington and Nathaniel Greene based on paintings by the famous American portrait artists John Trumball. The building between the two portraits is Mount Vernon, George Washington famous home. The stamp’s design was approved for production on November 19, 1936. The next day the Bureau of Engraving and Printing received an order from the Post Office Department to produce 75 million of this 1-cent stamp. Less than a month later on December 15, 1936, the 1-cent Washington & Greene stamp was released to the public. This denomination was the only one of the five Army Issue stamps to be issued in 1936 with the remaining four stamps issued during 1937.
Each of these date specific connections illustrate only a tiny fraction of the potential date and location links that these used 1-cent Army Issue stamps have to people, places and events in history. Imagine the number of connections that all existing used 1-cent Army Issue stamps would have cumulatively! So next time you look at a used stamp with a legible postmark cancellation on the Postal Museum's Arago website, in your collection, or at a stamp show, imagine the links that stamp has to a specific day in history and a specific location in the world. If you’re lucky, that stamp may have a great story that still has to be told.