The National Park Service Isn’t Just Parks! (USA)

To celebrate the centennial of the National Park Service in 2016, the USPS issued a sheet of 16 stamps, each associated with a particular NPS location—parks, seashores, and even an aquatic garden. I confess, my preconceived notion of another series of park photographs caused me to give the sheet just a cursory look. Big mistake!

This year, ordering stamps for my mailing needs, I included the NPS sheet in my order. Examining the stamps, three years after issue, I was struck by the Bandelier National Monument stamp. “What an unusual photograph,” I thought, “such unusual colors.” Then, looking closer and reading the back of the sheet, I discovered the image wasn’t a photo at all, but a pastel-on-paper by Helmuth Naumer, Sr. (1907-1990). (This is a humiliating confession by a supposed “serious” philatelist.) And there were two paintings among the stamps as well. “Why,” I thought, “would a sheet of scenic stamps include three rendered as art and 13 as photographs?”

Back to the Naumer pastel, Administration Building, Frijoles Canyon (1935-1936), which I originally thought a highly unusual photograph. Naumer used pastels so as not to lose time mixing oil paint, because of “the fleeting effects of sky and water and our own New Mexico landscapes with fast changing colors sweeping rapidly across it…” And Naumer has captured, at least for me, the sensations of those changing colors and the movement of light and clouds across the landscape.

He was born in Germany and 1907, and in 1926 moved to the U.S. motivated by stories of cowboy life he had read about in novels. In 1932 he settled in Santa Fe and began working with pastels. Naumer said that, “…coming to the Southwest was like coming home.“ He was commissioned by the National Park Service to create artwork for newly built visitor centers constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps. In 1935 and 1936 he created fourteen pastels for Bandelier National Monument, which remain in the museum’s collection.

So, having failed to initially notice the artwork content of the NPS centennial sheet, Naumer’s pastel introduced me not only to a unique artist but to the fact that the National Park Service is not just parks. In fact, of the 419 park sites spread across the U.S., 385 have museum collections—from fossils to fine art—all specific to the mission of the individual park. That museum system is the largest in the world, with individual park collections ranging in size from less than 100 objects to over six million—all focused on the natural and cultural heritage of the U.S.

And to answer my earlier question of why three artworks and 13 photographs: the National Park Service is parks…and much more!

Trees and Houses…I just like ’em. (Great Britain, Liechtenstein, Slovenia, USA)

Why do I collect stamps? The images! Many collectors want to delve into the meaning behind those images—to explore. I do that too, but oftentimes it’s simply the imagery that excites and satisfies me.

I always look closely at stamps featuring houses and trees. Why? I’m just interested in the amazing variety of structures people build for themselves.

And trees—they don’t entice like flowers, but the simplicity of their appearance—trunk, branches, leaves—has more affinity for me. And maybe it’s their size too. Maybe it’s because I climbed so many as a boy and could hide in the cover of their leaves—watching all from above. And maybe too it’s because we children could play with our little cars and soldiers and cowboys in the raised roots of the fat old oaks behind our house.

Perhaps I’m a topical collector. I haven’t organized a collection of either houses or trees, but when I’m ready, my first stop will be the American Topical Association. There I’ll find others who share my interests, as well as the ATA’s comprehensive topical stamp checklists.

Let me know what your favorite stamps are that picture houses and trees.



A friend called last night. He was extremely agitated. He’d made a mistake at work. His job requires working six and seven days a week. He isn’t able to exercise regularly. His sleep is impaired. Yes, my friend made a mistake at work, but what about his superiors who have allowed overwhelming responsibilities to be part of my friend’s job? He has to find balance in his life. I’ve been there. Daily I’m still there…trying to find balance. Some days I’m more successful than other days.

In 1709 Alexander Pope’s poem, “Essay on Criticism, Part II,” included these well known lines, “…To err is humane; to forgive, divine.” (In the early 18th century, “humane” was the accepted spelling for “human.”)

A pressman made a mistake in 1918, hence the Inverted Jenny. What reprimands did he receive when the discovery was made? And yet that mistake has had a divine influence on stamp collecting ever since.

And who was responsible for perforating Spanish stamps from 1865 to 1950 (That’s 85 years!) when the majority of those stamps were rather poorly centered? Who cares? The hunt for well-centered examples is an exciting challenge for collectors. And for me, those off-kilter stamps are simply fun to look at. Do you agree?

I hope my friend is feeling a bit better today. He’s an extraordinary individual, probably the most intelligent person I know. I hope he finds some of the joy that’s simply another dimension of our off-kilter mistakes. “…to forgive, divine.”

Transportation Stamps Move Mail

In the late 1980s and 1990s it was common for charities to solicit donations using direct mail campaigns that included pre-stamped return envelopes. The transportation coil stamps on the envelope above paid the then current 25-cent first class letter rate. This fund-raising tactic using ‘real’ stamps naturally grabbed my attention. It seemed new, different…and risky!

Looking through an accumulation of collection material recently, I came across a very similar, but much older, use of a ‘real’ stamp (the 2-cent “Empire State Express” issue from the Pan-American Exposition series) to pay for the mailed reply to another solicitation. Interestingly, a transportation stamp was also provided to cover mailing costs in the very early 1900s.

I’d be interested if anyone can provide additional information about this “Profitable Advertising” sample.



130,000,000,000+ anyone? The 3¢ Jefferson ‘Prexie.’

Stamp collecting began for me as a very young boy with the purple 3¢ Jefferson. It was a scheme of my Mom’s to keep me occupied with ‘busy work.’ She gave me envelopes from the day’s mail (where Jefferson reigned), safety scissors, paste, and cardboard. Cutting Mr. Jefferson from countless envelopes, slicing away perforations with abandon, pasting rows and rows of that bust on cardboard was stamp collecting to me. What a marvelous time I had!

The 3¢ Jefferson was part of the USPOD’s Presidential Issue definitive series (called ‘Prexies’ by many collectors) issued in 1938 that featured all 29 U.S. Presidents through Coolidge. The set also included two fractional-cent denominations with busts of Franklin and Martha Washington, and another featuring of the White House. Face values ranged from ½¢ to $5, so every possible postal usage was covered.

Courtesy of Mount Vernon Ladies’ Assn.

A national competition was held to determine the design of the series, and the entry by Elaine Rawlinson, a New York artist, was selected. Her 1¢ rendering was based on a bust of Washington (right) by sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon. The 3¢ Jefferson was also based on a bust by Houdon, with the die portrait engraved by Carl T. Arlt and the lettering by James T. Vail.

To my eyes now, the overall look of these stamps is bland, but as a child these disembodied heads and color varieties were mesmerizing. 1¢ and 2¢ versions also appeared on our mail, and very occasionally higher denominations. I was ‘happy as a clam’ with this busy work involving little colored heads.

The 3¢ Jefferson was the workhorse of first class mail from 1938 to 1954, when the 3¢ value from the 6th Bureau Issue was introduced. Will we ever see another stamp issued in a quantity of 138,000,000,000?

For much more info about The Prexies, I suggest a book with that title authored by Roland E. Rustad.

The Famous Inverted Jenny Frame

We all know about the Inverted Jenny…Right? But a few days ago I learned that the Jenny airplane really isn’t inverted!

What??? That’s right, it’s the red frame image on the stamp that’s upside down.

Hand-operated Spider Press
Hand-operated Spider Press

I’m not playing with you (and perhaps you already knew this), but here’s what I learned. The stamp’s two colors (red and blue) were intaglio printed one-at-a-time on a hand-operated Spider Press by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP). The red stamp frame design was printed first. That created stacks of paper sheets filled with red frames, but no blue airplanes. When the ink had dried on those sheets, they were reprinted in blue, again one-sheet-at-a-time, which added the Jenny airplane (a standard Curtiss JN-4) to the stamp image. It’s generally believed that mistakenly one of the red frame sheets was put on the press inverted. Voilà! A sheet of stamps with a plane apparently flying upside down was created. In reality, however, it was the frame design standing on its head. SO…we have either the famous ‘Inverted Frame’ stamp or the ‘Inverted Jenny.’ You, of course, know which name stuck.

A detailed (and interesting) history and analysis of the design and printing of this stamp has been published online by Siegel Auction Galleries, Inc. Definitely worth checking out.