Giveaway: Step Outside With Scenic American Landscapes Stamped Cards

This set of Scenic American Landscapes stamped cards is available from The Postal Store. Click the image for more info.

Tour the vast scenery of America with this booklet of .

Each set includes 20 cards, with 10 different designs showcasing spectacular photographs originally featured on stamps issued from 1999 to 2012 as part of the Scenic American Landscapes series.

Forever® postage is pre-printed on each card, so using them to send holiday greetings this year is easy. Each collectible set of stamped cards also makes a great gift idea for travel and photography buffs.

The designs included in this set are:

  • 13 Mile Woods, New Hampshire
  • Glacier National Park, Montana
  • Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
  • Hagatna Bay, Guam
  • Lancaster County, Pennsylvania
  • Niagara Falls, New York
  • Nine-Mile Prairie, Nebraska
  • Okefenokee Swamp, Georgia/Florida
  • Rio Grande, Texas
  • Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota

We have three sets of stamped cards to give away. To enter all you have to do is send your name and address to uspsstamps [at] gmail [dot] com. Winners will be chosen at random. The deadline for entries is midnight EST, Thursday, December 13. Good luck!

Anatomy of a Stamp: Sylvia Plath

Today we celebrate writer Sylvia Plath’s 80th birthday. Plath (1932–1963) was honored along with nine other poets on the Twentieth-Century Poets stamp sheet, which was issued earlier this year.

In depicting Plath on the stamp, art director Derry Noyes considered a couple of different options. Early in the stamp development process, Noyes worked with an artist Maira Kalman to create a colorful and lively portrait based on a picture of the artist that the U.S. Postal Service borrowed from the Special Collections library at Smith College, Plath’s alma mater. The art featured the artist’s own handwritten lines from one of Plath’s best-known poems, “Daddy”:

You do not do, you do not do
Any more, black shoe

Design direction sometimes changes, however, and USPS ultimately opted to use a black-and-white photograph of Plath, as well as each of her contemporaries featured on the stamps, instead of having the poet’s portrait illustrated. USPS again chose the resources of a rich archival collection, this time working with archivists at the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona in Tucson. There they found a picture of Plath by the talented photographer Rollie McKenna.

Twentieth-Century Poets Digital Color Postmark Keepsake

Plath’s life events and her poems are famously intertwined. Readers admire her unvarnished examination of life’s complexities, contradictions, and daily challenges, and the ways in which she expressed her own highs and lows in a raw and direct style. In the photograph, Plath sits on a sofa or chair and regards the camera’s presence obliquely, perhaps lost in thought and contemplating new verse.

McKenna’s picture of Plath was taken in 1959. Four years later, less than six months after her thirty-first birthday, Plath ended her life. McKenna’s photograph, among the many others that captured Plath’s intelligence and youthful beauty, is—like Plath’s small but potent body of writing—a touchstone for her legions of devotees.

Anatomy of a Stamp: Bob Fosse (& a Contest!)

If you’re an artist, where do you find inspiration for a painting? And when the canvas is the size of a postage stamp, what special considerations must be made? For his work on the Innovative Choreographers (Forever®) stamps, renowned artist James McMullan turned to photographs depicting the choreographers performing their signature dances.

Aware of the inherent challenge of transposing the complex physicality of dance to the diminutive stamp format, McMullan opted to express the essence of each choreographer’s creation. He painted each choreographer’s characteristic gestures and movements so that at a mere glance we recognize Isadora Duncan’s poeticism, José Limón’s dynamism, and Katherine Dunham’s lyricism.

But Bob Fosse proved an elusive subject. Pictures of Fosse in performance are not as plentiful as photographs of the other three choreographers. Having captured so eloquently the gestural likenesses of Duncan, Limón, and Dunham, McMullan painted a figure in a pose reminiscent of Bob Fosse, which lead to a lot of discussion among researchers, consultants, the art director—Ethel Kessler—and the Postal Service. Was it a problem to show three of the choreographers in performance and not Fosse? Would the balance of the stamps be disrupted by the anomaly of a surrogate Fosse?

The consensus was: Fosse needed to be Fosse. Postal Service researchers went to work again, this time enlisting the support of the Fosse estate. Still, they could not seem to find the right photograph. Finally, after revisiting pictures that had been considered and dismissed and appealing to the choreographer’s estate for assistance with the search, the researchers found a picture that was quintessential Fosse—right down to the hat, cane, and tilt of the head in a gentle bow.

These four Innovative Choreographers helped make dance a truly exciting art in the 20th century. And for all you dance lovers, we have a contest that will test your choreographic knowledge. Are you ready?

Which famous dances are depicted on the stamps for José Limón and Katherine Dunham? 

One lucky winner will receive a copy of —a collectible 32-page, softbound booklet illustrated with historic and great dance-makers of the 20th century.

To enter, send your answers to uspsstamps [at] gmail [dot] com. The winner will be selected at random and notified by email. You have until 11:59 p.m. EDT on Friday, September 14, to submit your answers. Good luck!

Anatomy of a Stamp: Gwendolyn Brooks

Have you ever wondered about the process involved in choosing just the right picture for a stamp? The story about the selection of the Gwendolyn Brooks picture featured on the Twentieth-Century Poets sheet reveals some of the mystery and magic involved in making stamps.

Twentieth-Century Poets Notecard Set (click image to order)

Art Director Derry Noyes reviewed several photographs before selecting a picture of a youthful Ms. Brooks. A version of Noyes’s original picture selection can be seen on the Poetry Foundation’s Gwendolyn Brooks biography page.

Consultation with the poet’s daughter Nora Brooks Blakely shifted the picture selection from that of a youthful portrait to a more mature depiction of the poet. Ms. Blakely sent pictures from her personal collection for the U.S. Postal Service to consider.

During the selection process, Ms. Blakely also recommended that USPS be in touch with Jon Randolph, a Chicago photographer, who had photographed Ms. Brooks many times. Randolph also pulled together a selection from his archive and forwarded the pictures for review. Ultimately, Noyes selected a charming photograph of Ms. Brooks, hands on her hips, posing before bookshelves in her home library.

Love it!

Noyes saw one obstacle to using the photograph, however: The wall of books, she felt, distracted the eye from focusing on Ms. Brooks’s wonderful animated expression. And none of the other stamp portraits featured complex backgrounds. Mr. Randolph gave USPS permission to alter his photograph by removing the background wall of books.

The picture of Ms. Brooks then fit seamlessly alongside those of the other nine poets presented on the sheet.

The Twentieth-Century Poets stamps are available for sale as a pane of 20 stamps or block of ten stamps. Ten stamps—one of each poet—are also included with .

Thrill of Perpetual Motion Captured in Bicycling Stamps

Ask any bicyclists—from city commuters to mountain bikers, and even unicyclists—and all agree that what motivates interest in their sport is the thrill of perpetual motion. Whether gliding on asphalt in the city or flying at break-neck speed down a mountain trail, bicycling is about a feeling of freedom, adventure, ease of travel, exercise and physical coordination, and an appreciation of the open air and nature.

John Mattos’ artwork for the 2012 Bicycling (Forever®) stamp issuance captures the spirit and varied experience of the sport. To create a tableau of four different modes of cycling, Mattos referred to photographs of a child riding with training wheels, a commuter, a road racer, and a BMX rider. In his illustrations, Mattos reduced the detail of the photographs to highlight the graphic elements of the bicycles. The figures moving effortlessly in a frieze-like format represent nobody in particular and therefore could be any one of us, different genders and ages, out for a ride on a pleasant afternoon.

The four se-tenant Forever® stamps are still available for purchase, along with plenty of Bicycling philatelic products. Have you bought yours yet?