If you have ever stopped by the post office to buy a special type of stamp for a wedding invitation or a holiday card, then you have had the pleasure of admiring the various stamp designs that the U.S. Postal Service offers.
As we increasingly communicate by e-mail, we are losing something special that we take for granted–these delightful pieces of miniature artwork that commemorate our American heritage. The United States postage stamp should be considered a national treasure.
Americans did not always use stamps to send a letter. Government-issue stamps were not required in the United States until 1856. Up until that time, various payment methods were used. Sometimes the recipient paid for the letter once delivered; other times the postmaster would stamp or mark a letter to indicate pre-payment.
In 1893 Postmaster General John Wanamaker came up with the idea of creating a special stamp to honor something, and the first commemorative stamp honored the World Columbian Exposition held in Chicago that year. Since that time commemorative stamps have been created to immortalize a wide variety of things including the states, the presidents, American heroes, great inventions, monumental days in history, and popular icons.
The most recent commemorative stamp, issued last week, honors editorial cartoonist William Mauldin (1921-2003). During World War II, Mauldin created two mud-covered, combat-weary characters, Willie and Joe, who brightened the spirits of U.S. soldiers and gave Americans at home a better understanding of the day-to-day life of an infantryman. In 1945 he received a Pulitzer Prize for his work.
If Mauldin hadn’t been honored on a postage stamp in 2010, we wouldn’t have had occasion to be reminded of what a little humor could mean to Americans during wartime.
While American ingenuity will doubtless find many other ways to honor our heritage, the very simplicity and beauty of honoring some aspect of our country on a beautifully designed postage stamp will be hard to match.