USS Constitution Stamp Sets Sail

Despite the rain, more than a thousand of you joined us last Saturday for a wonderful First Day of Issue Ceremony in honor of the new . Thank you to Gov. Barnett; Cmdr. Matthew Bonner, Constitution‘s 72nd commanding officer; Boston Postmaster James Holland; and all the collectors and fans who made the event truly special.

“It is such an honor for Constitution to be immortalized on a Forever stamp,” Bonner said. “And there is no better time than during the bicentennial of the War of 1812 during which Constitution and the Navy played such a pivotal role.”

During the war, USS Constitution became a symbol of the young nation’s independence and an inspiration to future generations. With his 1830 poem, “Old Ironsides,” Oliver Wendell Holmes aroused popular support to repair the venerable ship, which continued to serve in various capacities for much of the 19th century.

Today Constitution, the oldest commissioned warship afloat in the world, is docked at the historic Charlestown Navy Yard in Boston, Massachusetts, and is manned by a crew of active-duty U.S. Navy sailors. She was officially designated as “America’s Ship of State” in 2009. In preparation for the bicentennial of the War of 1812, Constitution has been restored to more closely resemble her appearance during that historic conflict.

The stamp’s First Day of Issue ceremony took place at the USS Constitution Museum in the Charlestown Navy Yard. and can be purchased online.

Huzza! New Stamp Comes Sailing In

Today we are very excited to introduce a brand-new stamp commemorating the bicentennial of the War of 1812, the two-and-a-half-year conflict with Great Britain that many Americans viewed as the nation’s “Second War of Independence.”

The stamp features the oldest known painting of the USS Constitution, a frigate that some of you may know better as “Old Ironsides.” She earned the affectionate nickname after a victorious battle 300 miles off the coast of Nova Scotia. “Huzza!” cried one American sailor as he watched Constitution’s hull repel British shot. “Her sides are made of iron!”

Actually, Constitution‘s hull was made of dense white- and live-oak. The ship was one of six frigates designed by Philadelphia shipbuilder Joshua Humphreys in the 1790s. Their thick hulls were built to carry heavy armament and withstand cannon shot, and their sleek lines made them fast enough to outrun more powerful ships.

Digital Color Postmark Keepsake (click image to order)

The United States had declared war on Great Britain on June 18, 1812. Yet, at the time, the U.S. Navy consisted of fewer than 20 warships of substantial size and faced seemingly impossible odds against a Royal Navy fleet that ruled the world’s seas. The success in battle of USS Constitution and other frigates helped sustain American morale at a time when the U.S. Army’s land campaigns were proving disastrous.

The ship’s early victory took place 200 years ago tomorrow: August 19, 1812. The war, however, continued for another two years. In his war message to Congress, President James Madison had charged the British with violating the nation’s sovereignty by restricting American trade with Europe and by removing seamen from American merchant ships and impressing them into the Royal Navy.

Tensions along the Canadian border and America’s western frontier also fueled war sentiment. Frontier settlers, who themselves often encroached on Native American lands, alleged that the British incited Native Americans to conduct raids on their homes and supplied them with arms. Expansionist “War Hawks” in Congress were convinced of the need to seal off the British from Indians in the northwestern frontier by invading Canada, and perhaps even forcing the British out of Canada.

Although the young republic barely escaped defeat, disunion, and bankruptcy, it survived the conflict and in the crucible of war forged a national identity. USS Constitution became a symbol of the young nation’s independence and an inspiration to future generations.

Today Constitution, the oldest commissioned warship afloat in the world, is docked at the historic Charlestown Navy Yard in Charlestown, Massachusetts, and is manned by a crew of active-duty U.S. Navy sailors. She was officially designated “America’s Ship of State” in 2009.

First Day of Issue Ceremony Program (click image to order)

The painting of Constitution that appears on the stamp was created by Michele Felice Cornè circa 1803 and is considered to be the most accurate contemporary depiction of the ship. The painting is owned by the U.S. Navy, and you can see it in person at the USS Constitution Museum, where it is currently on long-term loan.

The War of 1812: USS Constitution Forever® stamps are being issued in self-adhesive sheets of 20 stamps each. (Forever stamps are always equal in value to the current First-Class Mail one-ounce rate.) They are available and in Post Offices nationwide.

Elizabeth Bishop’s Perfect Poetic Gems

Elizabeth Bishop has been called a “writer’s writer’s writer,” suggesting the admiration other poets feel for her work. Her total output was small, but she polished her poems to gleaming perfection. In works such as “Filling Station,” “The Moose,” and “First Death in Nova Scotia,” she displayed the precise observation, intellectual strength, and understated humor that continue to win admirers.

Bishop was born February 8, 1911, in Worcester, Massachusetts. Her father died when she was an infant, and her mother, who eventually took her to live with maternal grandparents in Nova Scotia, suffered a series of breakdowns before being permanently hospitalized.

Despite these disturbances, childhood offered her satisfaction and interest. She loved learning the alphabet. Years afterward, she remembered: “It was wonderful to see that the letters each had different expressions, and that the same letter had different expressions at different times. Sometimes the two capitals of my name looked miserable, slumped down and sulky, but at others they turned fat and cheerful, almost with roses in their cheeks.”

In 1917, Bishop’s paternal grandparents brought her back to Worcester, a wrenching experience. “I felt as if I were being kidnapped, even if I wasn’t,” she later wrote. She lived with relatives, in Massachusetts and Nova Scotia, over the next several years, and entered Vassar College in 1930. A librarian there introduced her to the poet Marianne Moore, who encouraged her interest in writing and selected some of her work for publication in an anthology, giving an early boost to her career.

After graduating from Vassar in 1934, Bishop began an extended period of restless travel, staying in New York, Key West, and other places before settling in Brazil, where she lived for the greater part of two decades. She returned to the United States in the late 1960s, finally moving to Boston, where she taught at Harvard University.

In Bishop’s work, opposites are fused. Reticence and control—passionate feeling and also coolness—mark her writing. Her poems walk the line between public and private, the marvelous and the ordinary, and other contradictions. This heightened awareness or “double vision” came to her in childhood, as recounted in her well-known poem “In the Waiting Room,” in which she remembers sitting in a dentist’s office as a girl of six: “But I felt: you are an I, / you are an Elizabeth, / you are one of them.

Bishop is celebrated for her powers of description and precise observation. There is something of the careful mapmaker’s exactness in her poems, reflected in the titles of several of her books, such as North & South (1946), Questions of Travel (1965), and Geography III (1976). Her poetry is aware of economic inequality and the edgy relationship between rich and poor. “Pink Dog” touches on the brutality of society in regard to outcasts. Scenes of hungry people during the Depression inspired her to write “A Miracle for Breakfast.”

Her autobiographical prose poem “In the Village,” widely considered a classic, presents life in the maritime village of her childhood as enchanting if not fully understood. Poignantly portraying the tension of living with an unbalanced person (her mother), it begins: “A scream, the echo of a scream, hangs over that Nova Scotian village. No one hears it; it hangs there forever….”

Digital Color Postmarks (click to order)

In the words of one critic, her poems “accommodate the smallest details and the largest issues.” Bishop’s poems seem open to almost any subject, including even a dirty filling station, and consistently defy expectation. “First Death in Nova Scotia” finds surprising humor in a child’s struggle to make sense of the death of a younger cousin. In “The Armadillo,” a festive fire balloon splatters against a cliff “like an egg of fire” and sends animals in the vicinity into a panic; with great subtlety, Bishop calls aerial bombing to mind, and “The Armadillo” turns out to be an anti-war classic, comparing human beings to the frightened animal with “a weak mailed fist / clenched ignorant against the sky.”

Elizabeth Bishop died suddenly of a cerebral aneurysm at her home in Boston on October 6, 1979. She received many awards and honors during her lifetime, and interest in her work continues to grow.

Bishop is one of ten poets featured on the Twentieth-Century Poets pane. The stamps will be issued on April 21 in Los Angeles, California, but you can preorder them today!