This American Stamp: The Geophysical Year

Here's what I now know about the International Geophysical Year: the idea started in a living room; it was the century's greatest international scientific project; it encompassed 11 Earth sciences, including aurora, precision mapping and airglow; Sputnik was a product of the IGY. Also, Spandex. Also, these mindblowing stamps. "Superimposed above the solar disc and the fiery solar prominences emanating from it is a segment of Michaelangelo's famous fresco, "The Creation of Adam." The goals of the program: observe geophysical phenomena and to secure data from all parts of the world; to conduct this effort on a coordinated basis by fields, and in space and time, so that results could be collated in a meaningful manner.

Collect results in a meaningful manner will be at the top of my 2010 New Year's Resolution list.

It started with magenta and gold

I just finished a vintage stamp project with a client who was after stamps in gold and magenta, and that integrated Black Heritage stamps in these colors. I know that vintage postage on wedding invitations is nothing new. Stamps can really pull an invitation together, and make it match and look pretty. But vintage postage can also tell a little story.

Each envelope had a combination of state birds, the statue of liberty (which say "liberty for all"), Harriet Tubman, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., W.C. Handy (talk about magenta-- one of the prettiest stamps around) and tropical flowers. Some also included stamps commemorating our nation's capitol. I just adored assembling each envelope, and each conveyed a sense of history.

The other sweet part of this job is how many of the invitees lived on the same street. I addressed envelope after envelope to residents of one street who lived one house down from the next. It was so lovely to think about such a tight knit community making their way to this special celebration.

This American Stamp: Employ the Handicapped

I recently purchased a binder of vintage postage and this page was especially striking. I'd seen the "Employ the Handicapped" stamp before, but never knew the story behind it. This collector carefully pasted in the accompanying article from August 28, 1960. "The stamp," it reads "will picture a man confined to a wheel chair, capably operating a drill press." The stamp was designed by Carl Bobertz, a New York artist. Does anyone know about the original photograph that inspired this design? Or what other work Bobertz has done? All I can find is various comic book covers.

The issuance coincided with the Eighth World Congress of the International Society for the Welfare of Cripples, which was sponsored by the Committee on the Employment of the Physically Handicapped which "promot[ed] employment of physically handicapped workers."

This American Stamp

As some readers might know, Neither Snow offers a vintage postage finding service. I will work with clients to create a suite of postage that matches the colors or themes of their correspondence. Lately I've been inspired to get especially creative and tell little narratives on each envelope. I am excited to announce a forthcoming project that highlights this service for winter 2010. But for now I'd like to tell you a little bit about my passion for vintage postage and postal stationery.

Whenever I sift through old postage I am constantly amazed by America. The feeling is not unlike what I felt last November when Barack Obama was elected president. I experienced complete astonishment. "What, what country is this? I thought I knew America, but I don't really. How could we make this happen?" I am constantly surprised by this country, and with each surprise I feel a greater sense of patriotism and pride.

US postage is one area that never ceases to surprise me. On our postage, we have commemorated and celebrated some truly extraordinary and quirky people, places, things, ideas and events. Sometimes I think about the series of events that went in to creating these miniature canvases with a gummy back: thinking up the thing to commemorate, finding a designer, creating a clear design, rallying public support. Each stamp is like a mini lesson in history. I often think about creating a history curriculum for visual learners based on the country's stamps.

So for the next month I'm going to highlight some of the stamps in my collection that can be characterized as surprising and noteworthy.