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Abstracts of Papers

Winton M. Blount Postal History Symposium
"Stamps and the Mail: Imagery, Icons, & Identity"
Thursday and Friday, September 30 - October 1, 2010
Smithsonian National Postal Museum, Washington DC


"Stamps of the American Quadrant of Antarctica and the South Atlantic Islands"
Keynote Speaker
Jack Child, Ph.D.
Professor of Spanish and Latin American Studies and Affiliate Professor of International Service
American University, Washington, DC

The so-called “American Quadrant of Antarctica” runs from the Prime (Greenwich) Meridian to the 90 degrees west meridian. Three countries claim sovereignty over pie-shaped pieces of this Quadrant. These three partially overlap, and the three countries involved (Argentina, Chile and the United Kingdom) have had moments of tension, and one war in 1982. These geopolitical situations have also found an expression in the Antarctic stamps of these nations. Four other South American countries have significant Antarctic interests, and some 12 nations (including the United State, Russia and the People’s Republic of China) have scientific bases in this area. All of these nations with an Antarctic interest have published Antarctic-themed stamps. Outside of this American Quadrant of Antarctica lie a number of islands (most notably the Falklands/Malvinas and South Georgia) which have a connection to Antarctic claims, and they also have stamps which reflect, and sometimes provoke, the tensions involved. This presentation will use visuals of these stamps, plus related photographs taken by the speaker in his 13 trips to Antarctica and the South Atlantic Islands.


"Official Needs, Post Civil War Nationalism and the Designs of United States Stamps in the Nineteenth Century"
Steven R. Boyd, Ph.D.
Professor of History, University of Texas at San Antonio

Several considerations determined the designs of U.S. postage stamps of the nineteenth century. First, the very purpose of the stamps shaped the content of the earliest designs. Limitations of size and printing technology proved to be a second factor establishing the content of stamps in the first decades of U. S. postage.  Political messages appeared with the addition of symbols of national (i.e. federal) hegemony in the post Civil War era. Finally, in the 1890s special events – themselves with nationalistic implications – expanded once more the panorama of postal designs. Throughout the nineteenth century functional expressions of post office necessity coexisted with historical, cultural and political messages to establish the content of U.S. postage stamps.

The crucial role of the purpose of a postage stamp is unconsciously assumed by most twenty first century Americans. A stamp designates that the postage has been paid – the postal cancellation applied at the post office – and that the envelope on which it rests can be delivered.  For a people accustomed to a direct and personal interaction with a postal employee who would stamp the envelope paid or in some other way designate official government receipt of payment for delivery, the idea of simply affixing a stamp to the envelope must have been an innovation cautiously accepted.  How was the purchaser of the stamp to know that it was an official governmental issue and what service in terms of miles of delivery did that stamp insure?  Similarly, how could the post office be certain that the stamp on the envelope submitted for mailing had not been previously used.  The designs of U.S. stamps were intended to ameliorate these concerns on the part of patrons and to simultaneously deter postal fraud.

A second factor shaping the designs of U.S. stamps was size.  Once the post office adopted stamps as the medium of proof of payment, factors of cost and printing technology moved to the fore.  Stamps needed to be big enough to allow the purchaser and postal employee to determine that the stamp was an official U.S. government issue and of a particular denomination Size may have been shaped by the amount of space available on envelopes, the example of the British stamps previously issued, or the cost of printing – the smaller the item the less the cost.

Third, stamps, from the outset did convey subtle messages.  Washington’s image occurred in mid-nineteenth century American culture more than that of any other individual before the Civil War. His countenance conveyed a complex range of practical as well as historical and political significances. Post war designs expanded the galaxy of stars who appeared on postage stamps to include Lincoln and other presidents, various Union officers , American eagles and shields (nineteenth century symbols of the nation), and in the 1890s individuals and events associated with Columbus’ discovery and the expansion of America celebrated in Omaha in 1898.

The most complex of these images – and the addition of more color to them – occurred only on stamps of higher denomination or size.  Thus, the 1869 ten cent American Eagle and shield pales in comparison to its larger brethren, the thirty cent issue which displays  vibrant and nationalistic red, white and blue colors and American flags.  Lower denomination stamps simply could not sustain the greater cost of production of a larger size and denomination.

Although technology  and consumer confidence in U.S. stamps are materially different than 150 + years ago, designs on twenty first century stamps continue to reflect the influence of size and official post office needs even as they bear different messages and honor more and different men and women than did their counterparts of the earlier century.


"Remembering the Past, Shaping the Present with Commemoratives"
Sheila A. Brennan, Ph.D.
Center for History and New Media, George Mason University

In the U.S., patriotic commemorations flowered following WWI.  Negotiations of public memory occurred when commemorative or memorial committees, comprised of community, business, and cultural leaders, campaigned for a limited-issue federal postage stamp. Beginning in 1920 with the Pilgrim Tercentenary issue, commemorative stamp subjects were moving away from solely advertising world’s fairs as the Department began celebrating battles, anniversaries, and individuals that were part of greater cultural trends that sought to define Americanness in post-World War I America. Because of the accessibility of American commemoratives—both in size and through imagery—these stamps served to reinforce and naturalize an exceptionalist and triumphant vision of the American past that obscured the complicated legacies of conquest, slavery, and inequality.

This paper will examine imagery of commemorative stamps and circumstances of their printing that celebrated regional anniversaries held at Plymouth Rock, Mayport, Minneapolis, Lexington and Concord, and Valley Forge, and stamps honoring military, cultural, and political heroes, such as Casimir Pulaski and Theodore Kosciuszko. Knowing of the postal service’s power to sell an idealized and patriotic vision of the American past, some citizens sought commemoratives as part of grander strategies fighting for social and political equality while others perpetuated a romanticized view of colonial America. The battle for recognition on a federal stamp also reflected contemporary struggles over immigration restrictions, and the construction of race and definitions of citizenship in the U.S.

Conversations revolving around these stamps, in correspondence or in the public media, demonstrate how the USPOD became a powerful institution that legitimized and distributed historical narratives, and one that allowed ordinary citizens to engage with its government. Americans always maintained a close relationship with the postal service, and when successfully petitioning for a stamp on behalf of their cause some citizens actually influenced postal decisions and public memory.


"National Identity - the Stamps of Series 1902"
Roger S. Brody

In the Fall of 1902, the United States Post Office introduced a new definitive series of postage stamps. The Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP) was charged by the Post Office Department (POD) to create the stamp designs, produce engraved dies and print the series. The stamps incorporated several features not seen before on United States postage. The purpose of this paper is to illustrate the importance of these images in the context of a nation transitioning from a rural society into an international and commercial power.

Eight years earlier the Bureau had assumed the government contract to produce the nation’s postage stamps from the American Bank Note Company. The Bureau had been producing the nation’s revenue stamps since the Civil War, but when they produced their first series of postage stamps they used the American Bank Note Company dies adding minor changes to the upper frame design. All of the subjects of the 1894 series were men who had been Presidents, or figured prominently in the government, the Revolution or the military.

The new series eventually comprised sixteen face different designs, including a special delivery stamp. Three individuals depicted had never appeared on U.S. postage, including Martha Washington, the first American woman to appear on a U.S. stamp. The approved designs created by the BEP’s chief designer, Raymond Ostrander Smith, are widely recognized for their distinctive frames, a Smith trademark. Each frame incorporated historical references to the portrait subject using allegorical figures and symbols. But it was more than Smith’s artistic imagination that was to define the Series of 1902.

America’s “open door” policy along with two prominent figures at the turn of the 20th Century, indirectly were responsible for the important changes and the distinctive design elements of the series.

The American narrative is the story of immigration. From the landing at Jamestown in 1607 to the current migration from Central and South America, there has been no greater population surge in the nation’s history than the two decades spanning the entry into the 20th Century.

America had an “open door” policy that welcomed the “homeless and tempest-tossed”, as described in Emma Lazarus’ sonnet. Mostly emigrating from Europe and Asia, 16 million immigrants landed on both shores of the continental United States between 1890 and 1910.

Industrial magnet, aspiring politician and influential newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst was one among many including Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, Secretary of State John Hay and Vice President Theodore Roosevelt, who advocated a national expansionist policy that eventually took the nation to war against Spain. After the destruction of the battleship Maine in Havana harbor, Hearst, used his newspaper empire to create sensational anti-Spain journalism that overcame President McKinley’s hopes for a peaceful outcome with Spain.

The practical result of the 1898 war with Spain was the nation’s gaining control of Caribbean and Pacific islands territorial possessions. In addition to acquiring a great deal of real estate, US population increased by an additional 10 million people. It is not surprising that soon after the conflict; Roosevelt supported the 1904 strategic acquisition of the Panama Canal Zone from the Republic of Panama. US postage now franked new territorial mail across the Caribbean and the Pacific Ocean.

Outdoorsman, conservationist and politician Theodore Roosevelt, who became president upon the assassination of McKinley, recognized the nation’s industrial capacity and emerging influence in the international fabric dominated by European colonial empires and rising Japanese militarism in Asia. This new identity would be reflected in the designs of the new series of postage stamps, especially the 2¢ stamp replacement design of 1903.

By 1902 one third of the nation’s population was first generation Americans. Almost all of these new citizens spoke little or no English and all of them were completely unfamiliar with United States history and the people on their stamps. Less than 2 percent of the nation had telephone service and international underwater cable service was limited and expensive. Thus, the mails remained the primary means of commercial and social communication both domestic and foreign.

This was the era that welcomed the Series 1902 postage stamps. The images, icons and identity features of the series uniquely addressed the challenge.


"The Statue of Liberty: Icon of Freedom and Hope"
Harry Charles, Ph.D.

Johns Hopkins University

The Statue of Liberty (or officially “Liberty Enlightening the World”) was dedicated on October 28, 1886. Given by France, to the people of the United States, the Statue of Liberty commemorated the centennial of the US Declaration of Independence and represented the long friendship between the two nations established during the American Revolution. The Statue stands 46 meters tall and is made of pure copper sheathing hung on an internal metal framework (originally iron and now stainless steel). The model for the Statue’s design was sculpted by Frederic Auguste Bartholdi. The Statue is mounted on a rectangular stonework pedestal that has a foundation in the shape of an eleven-pointed star. Overall the statue plus its pedestal and foundation rise 97 meters above the ground. The Statue is located on Liberty Island (formerly Bedloe’s Island) in New York Harbor.

Worldwide the Statue of Liberty is one of the most recognized symbols of the United States and has symbolically served as the bastion of hope for millions of immigrants who journeyed to the United States by ship and for other oppressed peoples around the globe. Replicas of the Statue of Liberty exist or did exist in many counties ranging from the obvious ones in France (including Paris and Bartholdi’s home town) to some not so obvious such as Austria, Germany, Italy, Japan, China, Brazil, and even Vietnam (during French Colonial days). In the Peoples Republic of China a ten meter tall “Goddess of Liberty” made an appearance as a symbol of freedom and hope in the Tiananmen Square Uprising of 1989. The Statue of Liberty in New York is visited by over three million Americans and foreign travelers each year.

As a work of art, the Statue abounds with symbolism. The classical appearance (Roman robes and sandals) was derived apparently from Libertas, the ancient Roman goddess of freedom from slavery, oppression, and tyranny. The raised right foot symbolizes forward movement while the Statue’s left foot tramples broken shackles at her feet. The torch in her right hand signifies enlightenment while the stone tablet in her left arm represents knowledge. The tablet is inscribed with the date of the Declaration of Independence July IV  MDCCLXXVI.

This article traces the history of the Statue of Liberty on stamps. Many nations of the world have issued stamps featuring the Statue of Liberty and the principles for which it stands. In fact, the statue of Liberty was featured on foreign stamps and U.S. Cinderella stamps long before it appeared on any official postal issue of the United States. The philatelic importance of and symbolic messages carried by Statue of Liberty stamps will be discussed. Emphasis will be placed on the early stamp issues prior to the centennial celebration, although some mention of the enormity and scope of the philatelic tributes to the Statue during its centennial will be made. Items to be featured include mail and other correspondence associated with the initial Statue erection during the 1880s as well as the engraving that led to the design of the first United States stamp honoring Lady Liberty.


“'The postage stamp needs to be an all-country-stamp…' -Danish Postage Stamps and National Identity, 1940-1945"
Janus Clausen

Post & Tele Museum, Copenhagen, Denmark

This paper investigates how, Danish postage stamps was a carrier of national identity, during the German occupation, 1940-45. With the use of primary sources, and Benedict Anderson’s theory of “Imagined Communities”, it takes a closer look upon the creating of postage stamps, trying to understand what motivations that lies behind, and why some motives and occasions could not be issued. It concludes that the Post- and Telegraph Service (P&T) had three motives when making stamps, all a part of creating and strengthening the national identity: 1) the stamps had to tie the country together, not leaving any part of the country outside the community. 2) The stamps had to save and secure what is Danish, by “recapturing” old national heroes who made their work, outside Denmark. 3) The stamps had to present Danish identity towards foreign countries, and show how the consciousness of the present, helps to strengthen the country, during the German occupation. At last it ties together Anderson’s idea of an imagined community and “Official Nationalism”, pointing out, that the occupation in April 1940 makes a new time for the government, and thereby also the state, and the P&T. That means, that the leading groups option, to influence the citizens on how they sense the national identity is changed, and makes the P&T more conscious about how to create and carry national identity, on postage stamps.

  The use of Benedict Anderson’s theory about national identity is a suggestion for adapting a theoretical frame, which is widely recognised and criticised for its theory of how national states are created and constructed. Anderson uses the term “print capitalism” to show how people imagine themselves as a part of a community without knowing nearly all people in the community. My theory is that postage stamps have a similar function: Postage stamps are a gallery for the whole nation, about the nation, created by the state, and supposed to tie together the people across the country.

The paper is based on my BA-thesis, delivered in December 2008 and which is to be published as an article in the Danish history journal “1066” in 2010. The article concentrates on the identity during the Danish occupation, so will this paper but with a more theoretical view of the possibilities for studying postage stamps and national identity. The process of choosing motives and, not less interesting, rejecting other motives and themes have so far not been studied as a part of creating a national identity – this is done with sources from the P&T.


"Bearing Philatelic Witness: Stamp Design in Post-Communist Eastern Europe and the Successor States to the Soviet Union"
Robin Gates Elliott, Ph.D.

Smithsonian National Postal Museum

The purpose of postage stamps, first introduced in Great Britain in 1840, is to pay to send an item through the mail. Since then, governments have realized that postage stamps could serve additional functions. One such function was the dissemination of propaganda. Propaganda, material produced and circulated to influence public opinion is nothing new; but the use of postage stamps to disseminate it is a twentieth-century phenomenon.

The first countries to appreciate and utilize the propaganda potential of postage stamps were the major European dictatorships of the 193 Os: Hitler’s Germany, Mussolini’s Italy, and Stalin’s Soviet Union. Following World War II, when Stalin extended Soviet control to the countries of Eastern Europe, the Communist parties of those countries followed the philatelic example of the Soviet Union and utilized postage stamp design as a means of propaganda to promote the Party line.

But what came next in philately, after the Soviet Union itself and Communist hegemony in Eastern Europe had landed in the proverbial “dustbin of history?” What did the countries of Eastem Europe and the successor states to the Soviet Union choose to put on their stamps-now that they had the choice? Obviously, an analysis of two decades’ worth of stamp design in approximately 30 countries is a vast undertaking. The purpose here is to examine a representative sample of one subset of stamp designs, designs which publicize and thus bear witness to the repression and atrocities that had occurred under Communist rule, both Soviet and local. The stamps can be divided into two groups according to their design: explicit and implicit.

Explicit design leaves no doubt as to precisely what is being remembered-and why. Explicit stamps have been issued by Ukraine (the artificial famine, 1932-33), Poland (the execution of approximately 20,000 Polish Army officers on Stalin’s orders, known as the Katyn massacre, in the spring of 1940), Lithuania (the deportation of Lithuanian citizens by the USSR in June 1941), and Hungary (the Soviet suppression of the Hungarian Revolution in the fall of 1956).
Implicit design is less obvious. On the surface, these stamps are simple commemoratives: a picture of the deceased, plus his name and dates-nothing more. Those who are portrayed, however, suffered wider Communist rule. Three were clerics who were persecuted: .Jozsef Cardinal Mindszenty (issued by Hungary), Stefan Cardinal Wyszynski (issued by Poland), and Cardinal Joseph Slipyj (issued by Ukraine). Two were associated with the Prague Spring, a brief period of reform in Czechoslovakia ended by the invasion of Warsaw Pact troops in August, 1968: Alexander Dubcek, leader during the Prague Spring (issued by Slovakia), and Jan Palach, a university student who committed suicide to protest the invasion (issued by Czechoslovakia).

The stamp designs discussed here are in sharp contrast to those which appeared in the Soviet Union throughout its history and in Eastern Europe during the post-war period. They were a part of public mourning and nation-wide remembrances which included setting the historical record straight, freed from the Party line with its official distortions and lies. For however brief a time, the reality was no longer state vs. society but the state united in solidarity with society in bearing witness to the victims of a tragic past.


"Issuance Policies and Nation Projects: iconography and imaginary in postage stamps of the Argentine Provinces and Confederacy"
Mónica Farkas

Buenos Aires University, Argentina

The early Argentine adhesive postage stamps for pre-paid postal services were issued by the Provinces of Corrientes (1856), Buenos Aires (1857), the Argentine Confederacy (February 1858) and Cordoba (October 1858). Even though the structures most refractory to the process of dissolution following Independence were those units of analysis that we refer to as province-regions, a special interest in centralizing the issuance policy as well as postal services into a single jurisdiction was already present in the debates previous to national unification in 1862 pertaining the integration of a larger political unit.

This paper aims at establishing the ways in which those pre-1862 postage stamps allow for the visualization of some aspects of those competing political centralization projects. It is in this light that we shall consider the historic processes in which we see postage stamps as a part of that symbolic national corpus, as a metaphorical transposition of the conflicts arising from the fundamental issues relating to the organization of the State; what is the specific, differential manner in which that transposition takes place in postage stamps in the context of a given visual culture; what operations are put in place to shape the public’s gaze and collective subjectivity, materialized in this state-created device which, as a normative, institutional voice, enables us to resume the debate on the invention of tradition and how iconographic and technical decisions are articulated.


"You Need to Get Your Head Examined:  An Analysis of the Unchanging Portrait of Queen Victoria on Nineteenth-Century British Postage Stamps"
Catherine J. Golden, Ph.D.

Skidmore College

The Penny Black, the world’s first postage stamp bearing the portrait of young Queen Victoria, made its debut in England on May 6, 1840.  The stamp launched an ever-widening postal network as other countries quickly adopted the postage stamp, but the design itself—the focus of this presentation—is encoded with political, historical, and cultural messages.  Donald M. Reid in “The Symbolism of Postage Stamps:  A Source for the Historian” (1984) advances the importance of stamps as “bearers of symbols, as part of a system of communications” (225). What does the Penny Black’s neoclassical, elegant design—virtually unchanged (aside from the color of the stamp) from its adoption in 1840 until the death of Victoria in 1901—teach us about the identity of the Victorians who designed, commissioned, made, purchased, used, and collected postage stamps?

Exploring the symbolism of the Penny Black, I will raise and answer the following questions about the stamp’s design, modeled after William Wyon's neoclassical portrait of young Queen Victoria on the City Medal of 1837, commemorating her first visit to the city of London at age 18 (after her accession to the throne).  How did the Victorians react to seeing the Queen’s head on a postage stamp as well as the coinage? The postage stamp was an egalitarian measure to bring an affordable post to all social classes, but the stamp made more visible the power and agency of the Queen by bringing her royal authority into nearly every home in her entire kingdom on a daily basis. Queen Victoria’s inauguration symbolized a movement away from the corruption, injustice, and disease long associated with the England of Victoria's predecessors, George IV and William IV, often referred to as her elderly "wicked uncles." Does the stamp celebrate her youth and comparative innocence? Why is there no inclusion of nation on the stamp along with the bust of the queen? As Reid notes, “To this day England has never thought it necessary to identify her stamps with more than her sovereign’s portrait” (228). Might the Queen’s head thus embody the notion of nation?

Did the "Queen's head" also symbolize what today we call Victorian values—moral propriety, domesticity, and family affection—as well as Empire, power, and morality? Why did the “Queen’s head”—Victorian slang for postage stamp—essentially never change in the UK, although the coinage did? If we think of a postage stamp as a projection of Victorian identity, then the stamp essentially presented the same image of the United Kingdom from 1840 until the dawning of the twentieth century.  However, Queen Victoria and England underwent major changes in life and politics during her 54-year reign:  the young, newly crowned monarch (preserved on the stamp), who came to the throne during the agitation for Uniform Penny Postage, became a blushing bride (she married her beloved Prince Albert on February 11, 1840); a devoted wife; a mother of nine children and, with Prince Albert, a proponent of family values; a grieving widow (Prince Albert died of typhoid fever, December 14, 1861); a doting grandmother; an old woman; and, ultimately, a demanding and increasingly reclusive, unpopular monarch.

In the final part of my presentation, I will examine colonial stamps, such as those of British India, which show an older version of Queen Victoria.  In contrast, the iconic design of young Victoria reigned in the UK unwavering and supreme as the official face of nineteenth-century England.  The humble Penny Black with its image of a young monarch thus played a contributing role in solidifying the myth of Queen Victoria that still reigns today.


"The Levant Fairs of Mandate Palestine: a Semiotic Evaluation"
Arthur H. Groten M.D

While one can look at the semiotics of a philatelic item in isolation, there is much to be learning about its social, political and historical context by looking beyond that item to its related ephemera, such as advertising covers and promotional materials that use the same image. Further, some images are used to exemplify an on-going activity but those images themselves may change with the changing message of their users.

This paper presents a classic example of this evolution as it occurs in relation to the Levant Fairs held in Palestine during the British Mandate. There were seven such fairs. The final icon of the fairs was the flying camel, selected because its initiators were told that the event would occur “when camels fly.” But that icon itself underwent two significant changes after having replaced earlier ones for smaller fairs.

By tracing its changing imagery, a greater understanding of the fairs and their importance can be reached. This is done through the philatelic and related non-philatelic evidence.


"US Citizen Stamp Advisory Committee"
John Hotchner

This presentation will include the following:

  • the US CSAC - its history, functions and operation,

  • US design as a function of subject selection, including a look at how subjects have evolved (1847-2010), and,

  • how art has developed facilitated by societal change and technology.


"Stalin on Stamps: Design, Propaganda, Politics"
Alexander Kolchinsky, Ph.D.

Research Assistant Professor, Dept. of Neurology, 
University of Illinois at Chicago, retired

Joseph Stalin, dictator of the Soviet Union from 1929 until his death in March 1953, was one of the central figures of the 20th century. His image was extensively used on Soviet stamps and later, after WWII, on the stamps of other socialist countries as well. These stamps were used as an important venue of propaganda directed particularly at international audiences. Here I explore some aspects of the use of Stalin's likeness on stamps.

Although Stalin appeared on many Soviet stamps between 1934 and 1955, the majority were issued after WWII, when totalitarian control became especially harsh. Unlike many other contemporary dictators, i.e., Hitler, Franco, Bierut, Gottwald and others, who were depicted on numerous definitives, the ideological context in which Stalin appeared on Soviet stamps in most cases went beyond his personal glorification, representing him as a faithful follower of Marxism-Leninism, the subject of popular admiration and the symbol of Soviet achievements. Some stamps used paintings and drawings by sycophant artists in order to support the massive falsification of Soviet history in accordance with its official version.

On other stamps, Stalin's presence manifested itself in a more discreet way, sometimes only as quotes from his speeches or writings. Stalin himself tightly controlled the appearance of his likeness on stamps: it has always been a complex interplay between self-aggrandizement and pretense of modesty. Strictly speaking, only one philatelic item was dedicated to Stalin personally during his lifetime, the souvenir sheet of 1949.

Further, I will also demonstrate how the visual content of stamps issued in the USSR in the 1940s and 50s sometimes reflected covert changes in Soviet politics. For instance, the absence of Stalin from stamps commemorating 50 years of the founding of Russian communist party (summer and fall of 1953) hinted at a re-evaluation of his legacy. In Poland, GDR, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria, Stalin's image was used on stamps primarily to support and enhance the power of their own totalitarian regimes. At the same time, the design of these stamps reflected political realities of individual countries, as well as national specifics. After 1956, when the peoples of socialist countries experienced a certain relief from ideological pressure, they sometimes used stamps depicting Stalin for expressing their political views through “the language of philately.”

I will also explore the use of Stalin's image on the stamps of People's Republic of China and Albania, which remained within the realm of Stalinist ideology after 1956, when the de-Stalinization of other socialist countries began. After 1956, stamps of PRC and Albania expressed political defiance toward the USSR and often appeared in response to specific developments in their relations.

Although Stalin's regime destroyed millions of human lives, Russia never completed the process of de-Stalinization. In some recently published history textbooks Stalin is considered a positive figure, and he re-appeared on Russian stamps for the first time since 1955.


"The Transformation of British West Indian Postage Stamp Designs 1860-1970"
Richard Maisel, Ph.D.

Associate Professor, New York University

The change from the traditional design of postage stamps in the mid 1800’s to the modern pictorial style in the mid 1900’s was universal.  But the path each postal authority followed in making this change was different and the designs each developed were unique. This presentation will describe the path followed by Britain’s West Indian Colonies (BWI) in the change from portraying their monarch to their mountains on their postage stamps. It also examines the forces both internal and external to the postal system which shaped this change.

The presentation will be divided into three sections. In the first section some background information will be provided on the colonies, their postal systems and the complex institutional arrangements involved in designing their stamps. The later involved the authorities in the colonies who pressed for more modern designs, the colonial office in London which resisted the change, and the printers who actually designed the stamps.

The second section will present the results of a statistical analysis which establishes the two main periods in BWI postage design. In the first period, from 1860's, when most BWcolonies issued their first stamps to late 1920’s, the portrait of the monarch was the dominating feature on the stamps, while in the second period a dual design  showing both the monarch and a pictorial feature of the colony predominated. The change from one period to the next can be linked to a major reorganization of the colonial office and its policies as the Commonwealth began to replace the Empire. The analysis also point to a number of other developments in each major period including: (1) an early use of pictorial designs during the years between 1898 and 1903 when Joseph Chamberlin, a farsighted public official held sway over the Colonial Office; and (2) the change to a more modern but less elegant pictorial design in 1958-59 associated with the change from recess to photoengraved production methods.

The third section contains two detailed analysis of BWI stamps designs. The first analysis documents the evolution of the dual monarch-pictorial design in period from 1912 to 1925.  This shows how the dual design started as a small stamp with a simple frame portraying the monarch and a colonial emblem, which evolved into the large stamp with an elaborate frame and then into the dual monarch-pictorial design. The second analysis shows how size of the monarch portrait in the dual design diminished over time in response to the growth of self government and independence in the colonies.


"Soviet Postal Material and State Propaganda, 1917-1945"
William Moskoff, Ph.D.
Hollender Professor of Economics and Biology, Emeritus
Lake Forest College

This is a proposal to offer a paper on how the Soviet Union used various types of postal material as propaganda during the critical period from 1917 to 1945, that is, from the time of the revolution through the end of World War II.  This was a turbulent and uncertain period that encompassed a civil war (1918-20), the collectivization of agriculture (1929-34), the Great Purges (1936-38) and the four years of war against Germany from 1941-45.  Amidst the violence and instability of this period, the overarching task of the regime was to change the nation from an illiterate, peasant dominated, agricultural society, to an industrial giant.         

The regime had a variety of weapons at its disposal to persuade its population to aid them in its efforts. One of those weapons was propaganda: propaganda in school classrooms, in movies, on posters, in the press---and in the postal system.  Once the Bolsheviks took over state institutions, they began to develop their special brand of propaganda.  While propaganda has come to have a negative connotation, suggesting nefarious intentions of the government, in this case it was also another means for socializing the nation; Soviet propaganda was simply another way of altering the way their citizens saw their world.  In fact, the postal system turned out to be a relatively inexpensive and efficient means of propaganda, providing a way to reach large numbers of people who were at best poorly educated, if not illiterate, and in so many ways were highly unsophisticated.  The pictorial images of postal cards and stamps played an important role and were of value in a world where many could not read.

There are multiple examples of where the propaganda machinery and the postal system intersected: in national emergencies such as World War II; in educating the public as in the breast-feeding campaign of the 1920s and 1930s; in the efforts in the 1930s to get people to trust their savings to banking institutions; in elevating the status of individuals as, for example, in creating a cult of personality around Stalin’s longtime crony, Kliment Voroshilov. In the period 1927-1934 alone, the Soviet Union produced more than 300 propaganda-advertising postal cards with themes that covered a wide variety of political, economic, and social issues, such as teaching mothers how to take care of infant children, how to perform a variety of agricultural tasks, and urgent pleas to fulfill ambitious economic plans.

In the face of the highest infant mortality rate in the west, the Soviet Union conducted a campaign to get mothers to breast feed their children so as to cut down on the staggering numbers of infants who were dying of diarrhea. Postal cards and stamps were used to persuade mothers to change the way they were feeding their children as well as to educate them on how to provide proper care for their children.

In the Soviet Union, localized emergencies evoked national solutions.  The great famine in the Volga region (1921-22) in which an estimated five million people died, led to an effort through the postal system to help raise relief funds and the same was true after the 1924 flood in Leningrad.  World War II offers a particularly special insight into how postal material was used to mobilize the sentiments of the nation to fight the Nazis. Postal cards and stamps--with their vivid and often dramatic images--were used to inspire citizens to protect the homeland, to demonize the enemy, to create bonds of national unity, and in general to focus the energy of all citizens on winning the war.

Postal cards, postcards and stamps served to make concrete the oversimplified views that marked the Soviet outlook on the world.  There was neither subtlety nor ambiguity in these postal materials. The truths of the world were known and postal material gave voice to these simple veracities. There was always a homiletic quality about them.  They were in fact often short sermons on what was the correct way to think and behave.


"New Zealand Presents Itself to the World through Postage Stamps"
Robert Odenweller

Editor, Collector Club Philatelist

The main thrust of this presentation is the two competitions for the designs, how they feature geographic, fauna (in the form mostly of birds), flora, and historical events of the pictorial definitive issues of 1898 and 1935.  I'll be illustrating some of the submissions along with accepted stamps, and will add a philatelic element in discussing the production problems that led to their interesting complexity.


"Contemporary Cultural Attitudes in Ukraine: Using Postal History, Marcophily, and Philately as a Gateway to Historiography and Cultural Memory"
Andrew Oleksiuk

Adjunct Faculty, Interactive Arts and Media, Columbia College Chicago

This paper reveals the complexities of Ukraine’s contemporary cultural identity though its postal history, marcophily and philately. Ukraine’s geopolitical identity has seemingly shifted from being on the verge of joining the European Union and NATO, to instead creating stronger ties with the Russian Federation. Ukraine’s most recent postal era began in 1991 after the collapse of the USSR, but both its national and multicultural roots reach much deeper. Philatelists have often focused on Ukraine’s classic 1917-1920 independence period. However, a broader reading of Ukraine's postal history as a social and political history informs our understanding of the semiotics of this relatively young sovereign multicultural democracy. As in other post-Soviet republics and elsewhere in Eastern Europe, Ukraine’s cultural memory is a political and cultural battleground. An objective approach examining the semiotics of Ukrainian cultural identity yields a toolset for cultural sensitivity for the contemporary scholar. The contemporaneous explosion of the Internet in Ukraine's media landscape in this period serves to strengthen the relevance of postal history study as a trans-modern analog to social media and analysis. This study examines the complex makeup of the semiotics of Ukraine's national identity utilizing the stamps and postal markings of the postal administrations that have historically served Ukraine's current territory: among them: Austria, Hungary, Russia, RSFSR and USSR, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Romania.


"Hermes: Message and Messenger"
Diane DeBlois, Robert Dalton Harris Ph.D.,

Co-Editors, The Postal History Journal
and Sune Christian Pedersen, Ph.D.
Curator, Head of Research, Exhibitions and School Service,
Post & Tele Museum, Copenhagen, Denmark

Hermes, messenger to the Greek Gods (Mercury to the Roman), was a natural choice to represent modern postal entities, and to appear on postage stamps.

The first and second seals of the United States Post Office featured Hermes; the first postage stamp of Denmark in 1851 incorporated Hermes’ staff, and an early essay showed a head of Hermes. But, by the 1830s, the USPOD had switched to an express rider. And the Danes subsequently preferred strictly monarchical symbols in their stamp designs. In exploring these particular decisions, and other uses of the Hermes’ image, we will show how “reading” iconographical details informed by framing, precedent, and timing to external developments.

In terms of postage stamp design, Hermes’ three attributes - traveler’s hat, winged sandals, herald’s staff - embody the full range of the postal ideal of certainty, celerity, and security. As a postal icon Hermes more often represented the extension of the postal service to Newspaper Post, Special Delivery, Parcel Post, Air Mail, etc. Hermes also was used to promote international communications, appearing on postage stamps celebrating the UPU.

The three authors co-curated an exhibition, “Hermes, Message & Messenger,” that opened at the Post and Tele Museum in Copenhagen on 27 April 2010 and will continue until November. This presentation, and paper, will use images gathered from our private and institutional collections for this exhibition – not just on postage stamps but from ephemera of transportation, telecommunications, and business - to show the complementarity of stamp design and the “marketplace”.

We come to conclusions about Hermes embodying progressive ideals of postal potentials. 


"Stamps as Icons/Icons as Stamps: The Case of Vatican City’s Cold War Philatelic Propaganda"
Daniel A. Piazza

Assistant Curator of Philately, Smithsonian National Postal Museum

Following World War II, more than 60 million Eastern European Catholics found themselves persecuted by Stalinist regimes. Mass deportations of Catholics to Siberia, the imprisonment and execution of the clergy, the destruction of churches, and the liquidation of sacred relics were all standard operating procedure.

The Vatican was powerless to address this oppression through military intervention or economic sanction. Rome’s only recourse (besides prayer) was to call attention to the crisis in hopes of moving other state actors to respond. Scholars have identified numerous vehicles used in this effort, including shortwave broadcasts over Vatican Radio; worldwide circulation of the official Vatican newspaper, Osservatore Romano; and countless papal encyclicals and speeches on the subject.

To date, however, no one has considered Vatican-issued postage stamps in this context. The present paper examines 26 commemorative postage stamps (19 unique designs) issued by the Vatican during three papal reigns (Pius XII, 1939-1958; John XXIII, 1958-1963; and Paul VI, 1963-1978) and proposes that stamp design was an important component of the Vatican’s overall “soft power” campaign against communist persecution of the church.

All of these stamps portray icons formerly venerated in Soviet-dominated countries. A few of them show icons in the very literal sense—works of religious art intended to move the viewer to worship. Others depict iconic people and places, meant to remind the viewer of Catholicism’s deep cultural roots behind the Iron Curtain (with a special emphasis on Poland, Lithuania, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia). The Vatican often engaged expatriate artists to design these stamps, including two of the greatest Eastern European religious artists of the late twentieth century: Casimira Dabrowska (1890-1972) of Poland and Vytautas K. Jonynas (1907-1997) of Lithuania.
The specific stamps under consideration are:

  • Series of 1954 depicting the Madonna of the Gate of Dawn, Vilnius as “Mother of Sorrows”

  • Series of 1956 depicting the Black Madonna of Czestochowa as "Queen of Poland"

  • Series of 1959 honoring St. Casimir as Patron of Lithuania

  • Series of 1963 honoring Sts. Cyril and Methodius as “Apostles to the Slavs”

  • Series of 1966 honoring “A Millennium of Christianity in Poland”

  • Series of 1968 depicting the Holy Infant of Prague

  • Series of 1971 honoring “A Millennium of Christianity in Hungary”

  • Series of 1973 honoring the millennium of the Diocese of Prague


"The Case of Thirty-Five Esthetic and Political Messages: The Famous Americans of 1940"
Steven Rod

Who is famous? What contributes to fame? Who decides these answers? These question took a giant place on the American agenda back in the late 1930’s, when the United States Post Office Department was preoccupied planning the “Famous American Series of 1940.” The idea for this series was promoted as far back as 1935, when it was being called a series in honor of “Heroes of Peace”.

This unprecedented commemorative series – a set of 35 stamps – was the largest commemorative stamp series ever issued. The selection process and the ultimate stamps themselves were encoded with historical, cultural and political messages.  The 35 Famous Americans were issued over a 10 month period, beginning on January 29, 1940 and ending on October 28, 1940

Two happenings stand out when looking at the story behind the Famous Americans. One is that up until the very last minute, numerous changes kept being made in the series. The second is the unprecedented participation of the public in determining those who should be honored.  Members of the public, and particularly stamp clubs around the nation, became actively involved in expressing their choices. Since 1940, this “voting” has been rivaled only twice: in 1993 when the USPS promoted balloting for the forthcoming 29-cent Elvis stamp, (you had to vote for either the ‘young Elvis’ or the ‘old Elvis’); and when then again when USPS also held nationwide balloting to select the subjects of the “Celebrate the Century” Series.

Many of the early announcements about this series were altered or changed in rapid succession. Controversy reigned supreme over the final selection of the 35, and many people continued to bemoan the absence of their favorites from this series.  A major qualification was that all 35 had never appeared on a US stamp prior to this series. The public complained about numerous missing honorees.

Our United States stamps are “Portraits in Miniature” of our country’s history. These 35 stamps feature truly beautiful portraits of those who have made significant contributions to our American way. The story behind each of them is filled with politicking, lobbying advocacy and intrigue. This paper will explore and develop the manner in which the USPOD involved the general public, as well as the philatelic community; the voracious politicking which place for several years on behalf or against prospective stamp subjects, and imagery which surround the issuance of the stamps over the ten month period.

Certainly this experience was a foreshadowing of the Citizens Stamp Advisory Committee which was to be created 18 years later.


"The Trans-Mississippi Exposition Commemorative Stamp Issue and National Identity at the Turn of the Twentieth Century"
Tessa Sabol

Bureau of Engraving and Printing, Historical Resource Center

In 1898, America was at a cross-road.  With the settlement of the country from ocean to ocean and the frontier declared closed, the nation was struggling to find a new identity that would bring together the disparate cultures of the eastern and western United States.  Consequently, the holding of the Trans-Mississippian Exposition in 1898 was not only a method of raising the morale of a disconcerted people, but also a venue to promote a unification of the East and West through the creation of a single, national view of the past—a sense of a shared history based on a blurring of the literal and the metaphorical depictions of the West.

To celebrate the Trans-Mississippian Exposition, the Federal Government issued a series of commemorative postage stamps.  However, the stamps were not just celebratory but also served as a means for the Government to endorse a combination of Western nostalgia and a sense of industrial and scientific progress to reassure the nation and create a sense of national pride.  The nine postage stamp designs chosen speak to Eastern and Western citizens differently, but in a way that attempted to solidify national confidence in achievement and future progress as well as to reaffirm what makes the United States great, while glossing over the unpleasant, indelicate aspects of national history. 

Were these stamps successful in this task?  To answer that, many factors relating to the West and the country as a whole must be addressed, including turn-of-the-century politics and government, Western life, popular and artistic depictions of the West, and the role that World’s Fairs played in United States culture.  For the purposes of this paper, the series is divided into three categories: Native American Relations in the United States, Western Industry, and United States Westward Expansion.   Through a close examination of the stamps, primary sources, and past research, this paper argues that the stamps successfully brought together a divided nation through a multiplicity of symbolic messages.


"Postage Stamps as Cultural Markers"
Jack Trammell, Ph.D.

Sociologists often make use of so-called “cultural artifacts” to better understand a given culture and its comparative context.  Moreover, they often focus on the ordinary objects of everyday life, rather than the exotic or the extreme, so as to gain insight into the experiences of the average person at a given point in time and then to eventually paint a more vivid picture of the larger patterns of existence within the overall culture. 

Perhaps ironically, it is the seemingly most ordinary of artifacts that reveal the most about a culture and a people, and so it is with postage stamps.  In one sense, no more than small pieces of ordinary paper that are often cancelled and thrown away without a care (not by Philatelists, of course), stamps are in fact extraordinary social objects that reveal much about industrialism, modernism, group behavior, Western history (and sometime hegemony), and the near universal human striving to remain in touch with people physically removed from their presence. 

The story of the postage stamp is in the modern sense the story of humans, and they serve quite readily as revealing cultural markers, telling us much about the people we have become and the cultures that we live in.   They are arguably much more useful than many other cultural artifacts that might alternatively be examined, in part because they are so ubiquitous.