insights

'Tis the season to collect stamps and seals

December 11, 2000 12:20 PM

  • Figure 1. It's a little hard to see against the design of the stamp, but this recent holiday postmark from the United States shows the fingers of the Grinch holding an ornament. Click on image to enlarge.

By Michael Baadke

Anyone receiving mail recently from just about anywhere in the United States has probably seen a postmark similar to the example shown here in Figure 1.

The U.S. Postal Service is marking the Christmas holiday in 2000 with the widespread use of a pictorial postmark that relates to the new Universal Pictures holiday film Dr. Seuss' How The Grinch Stole Christmas.

The postmark reads, "HAPPY 'WHO-LIDAYS' from the U.S. Postal Service!" and includes an image of the hand of the Christmas-hating Grinch holding a holiday ornament.

Christmas is regularly recognized by postal systems all around the world, and, in many cases, these agencies create Christmas postal items that stamp collectors like to save.

Each year brings a new selection of Christmas-theme postage stamps from many post offices worldwide.

It's widely believed that the world's first Christmas stamps were issued by Canada in 1898. These two 2¢ stamps, Canada Scott 85-86, each show a map of the world, with lands claimed at the time by the British Empire highlighted in red.

It's really not much of a Christmas theme, but inscribed near the bottom of the design are the words, "XMAS 1898." Figure 2 shows this early Christmas stamp design, along with one of Canada's Christmas stamps for 2000, a 95¢ stamp depicting a scene from the story of Christ's birth.

Like many countries around the world, Canada regularly issues new Christmas stamps near the end of each year.

The U.S. Postal Service generally has done the same, although in 2000 it chose to reuse the same 33¢ Christmas postage stamps it issued in 1999, releasing only a new set of 20¢ Deer picture postal cards.

The postal cards show the leaping deer that was featured in 1999 on the self-adhesive postage stamps, printed in four varieties, each in a different color.

It's not the first time that the U.S. Postal Service chose to issue a postal stationery item commemorating the holidays: in 1988 it released a 25¢ Holiday Greetings stamped envelope with a snowflake design, Scott U613.

The chart below lists U.S. stamps and postal stationery items that have been issued to commemorate the Christmas holiday. The first was a single 4¢ stamp from 1962 showing two lit candles and a Christmas wreath and bearing the inscription "Christmas 1962."

In recent years, the U.S. Postal Service has regularly issued two types of Christmas stamps. These are identified by USPS as the traditional and contemporary holiday stamps.

The traditional stamps usually picture a classic painting of the Madonna and Child as exhibited in a U.S. museum. The 1999 stamp, for example, shows Bartolomeo Vivarini's Madonna and Child from the National Gallery of Art.

The contemporary stamps show a design with other symbols of the holiday, such as wreaths (1998), holly (1997), family scenes (1996) and Santa Claus (1995).

The first-day postmarks for U.S. Christmas stamps are often provided from appropriately named towns, such as Rudolph, Wis., for this year's Deer picture postal cards.

Along with first-day cancels, collectors each year can obtain many commemorative Christmas postmarks from towns and cities all across the country. Details of how to request many of these postmarks are featured this week on page 30 (in print) in the Postmark Pursuit column by Rachel Supinger.

Years before Christmas designs appeared on U.S. postage stamps, they were found on pictorial postage meter stamps. In Pictorial Meter Stamps of the United States,Douglas A. Kelsey illustrates a 1940 meter stamp showing Santa Claus holding a bottle of Coca-Cola.

Other early imprints include the messages "Season's Greetings," "Holiday Greetings" and "Merry Christmas," along with appropriate pictorial elements showing candles, tree ornaments and Santa Claus. Collectors of philatelic Christmas items can save entire covers bearing postage meter markings.

Although Christmas seals are not valid for use as postage, many stamp collectors have a strong interest in these fund-raising labels.

One such collector is Linn's U.S. Notes columnist John Hotchner, who asks this week on page 6 (in print) for help updating the earliest-known uses for many early U.S. Christmas seals.

The Christmas seal was first developed in 1904 by Einar Holboell, a Danish postal employee. The 1904 seal from Denmark is shown in Figure 3.

In the United States, the American Lung Association provides Christmas seals.

The Scott Specialized Catalogue of United States Stamps and Covers lists U.S. seals issued from 1907 to 1979, near the back of the book, using the catalog prefix WX.

Many collectors interested in Christmas seals join the Christmas Seal and Charity Stamp Society. Information about the group is available on the Internet at http://members.aol.com/betsychuck/cscss.htm or you can send an addressed, stamped envelope to CSCSS, Florence H. Wright, Box 18615, Rochester, NY 14618. A sample copy of the society journal, Seal News, is available from the same address for $1.

The Christmas Philatelic Club is another group that enjoys stamps and related collectibles with a Christmas theme. Information about CPC is available on the Internet at www.hwcn.org/link/cpc or you can send an addressed, stamped envelope to CPC, 312 Northwood Drive, Lexington, KY 40505-2104.

Along with bringing good cheer, your Christmas mail can also bring you a world of interesting Christmas collectibles.


United States Christmas stamps and postal stationery

Year

Scott No.

Design

Format

Year

Scott No.

Design

Format

1962

1205

4¢ Wreath and Candles pane of 100

1990

2514a

same, in booklet pane of 10

1963

1240

5¢ Christmas Tree and White House pane of 100

 

2515

25¢ Christmas Tree pane of 50

1964

1254-57

5¢ Holiday Plants, four designs pane of 100

 

2516

same, in booklet pane of 10

1965

1276

5¢ Angel with Trumpet pane of 100

1991

2578

(29¢)† Madonna and Child by Romano pane of 50

1966

1321

5¢ Madonna and Child by Memling pane of 100

 

2578a

same, in booklet pane of 10

1967

1336

5¢ Madonna and Child by Memling pane of 50

 

2579

(29¢)† Santa Claus in Chimney pane of 50

1968

1363

6¢ Angel Gabriel by van Eyck pane of 50

 

2580-81

same, two types, in booklet pane of 10

1969

1384

6¢ Winter Sunday in Norway, Maine pane of 50

 

2582-85

(29¢)† Santa Claus four designs, in booklet pane of 10

1970

1414

6¢ Nativity by Lotto pane of 50

1992

2710

29¢ Madonna and Child by Bellini pane of 50

 

1415-18

6¢ Christmas Toys, four designs pane of 50

 

2710a

same, in booklet pane of 10

1971

1444

8¢ Shepherds by Giorgione pane of 50

 

2711-14

29¢ Christmas Toys, four designs pane of 50

 

1445

8¢ Partridge in a Pear Tree pane of 50

 

2715-18

same, in booklet pane of 4

1972

1471

8¢ Angels, Master of St. Lucy legend pane of 50

 

2719

29¢ Train (from Toys pane of four) pane of 18*

 

1472

8¢ Twas the Night Before Christmas pane of 50

1993

2789

29¢ Madonna and Child by Cima pane of 50

1973

1507

8¢ Madonna and Child by Raphael pane of 50

 

2790

same, in booklet pane of 4

 

1508

8¢ Needlepoint Christmas Tree pane of 50

 

2791-94

29¢ Contemporary Christmas, four designs pane of 50

1974

1550

10¢ French Angel Altarpiece pane of 50

 

2795-98

same, in booklet pane of 10

 

1551

10¢ The Road-Winter by Currier and Ives pane of 50

 

2799-802

same coil*

 

1552

10¢ Dove Weather Vane pane of 50*

 

2802a

same pane of 12*

1975

1579

(10¢)† Madonna and Child by Ghirlandaio pane of 50

 

2803

29¢ Snowman pane of 18*

 

1580

(10¢)† Christmas Card by Prang pane of 50

1994

2871

29¢ Madonna and Child by Sirani pane of 50

1976

1701

13¢ Nativity by Singleton pane of 50

 

2871a

same, in booklet pane of 10

 

1702

13¢ Winter Pastime by Currier pane of 50

 

2872

29¢ Christmas Stocking pane of 50

 

1703

13¢ Winter Pastime by Currier pane of 50

 

2872a

same, in booklet pane of 20

1977

1729

13¢ Washington at Valley Forge pane of 100

 

2873

29¢ Santa Claus and Stars pane of 12*

 

1730

13¢ Christmas Rural Mailbox pane of 100

 

 

same coil*

1978

1768

15¢ Madonna and Child by della Robbia pane of 100

 

2874

29¢ Cardinal in Snow pane of 18*

 

1769

15¢ Child on Hobby Horse pane of 100

1995

3004-07

32¢ Santa and Children, four designs pane of 50

1979

1799

15¢ Madonna and Child by David pane of 100

 

3007b, c

same, in booklet pane of 10

 

1800

15¢ Santa Claus Tree Ornament pane of 100

 

3008-11

same pane of 20*

1980

1842

15¢ Madonna and Child Epiphany Window pane of 50

 

3014-17

same coil*

 

1843

15¢ Wreath and Toys in Window pane of 50

 

3003

32¢ Madonna and Child by Giotto pane of 50

1981

1939

(20¢)† Madonna and Child by Botticelli pane of 100

 

3003a

same, in booklet pane of 10

 

1940

(20¢)† Felt Bear on Sleigh pane of 50

 

3012

32¢ Midnight Angel pane of 20*

1982

2025

13¢ Puppy and Kitten pane of 50

 

3018

same coil*

 

2026

20¢ Madonna and Child by Tiepolo pane of 50

 

3013

32¢ Children Sledding pane of 18*

 

2027-30

20¢ Winter Play Scenes, four designs pane of 50

1996

3108-11

32¢ Christmas Family Scenes, four designs pane of 50

1983

2063

20¢ Madonna and Child by Raphael pane of 50

 

3113-16

same pane of 20*

 

2064

20¢ Santa Claus pane of 50

 

3107

32¢ Madonna and Child by de Matteis pane of 50

1984

2107

20¢ Madonna and Child by Lippi pane of 50

 

3112

pane of 20* XXX

 

2108

20¢ Child's Drawing of Santa pane of 50

 

3117

32¢ Skaters pane of 18*

1985

2165

22¢ Madonna and Child by della Robbia pane of 50

1997

3176

32¢ Madonna and Child by di Pietro pane of 20*

 

2166

22¢ Poinsettia Plants pane of 50

 

3177

32¢ American Holly pane of 20*

1986

2244

22¢ Madonna and Child by Perugino pane of 50

 

 

same, in booklet bklt. of 15*

 

2245

22¢ Village Scene pane of 50

 

 

same, in booklet bklt. of 30*

1987

2367

22¢ Madonna and Child by Moroni pane of 50

1998

3244

33¢ Madonna and Child Sculpture pane of 20*

 

2368

22¢ Christmas Ornaments pane of 50

 

3245-48

33¢ Wreaths, four designs, booklet bklt. of 15*

1988

2399

25¢ Madonna and Child by Botticelli pane of 50

 

3249-52

33¢ Wreaths, four designs, conv. booklet pane of 20*

 

2400

25¢ One-horse Open Sleigh with Village pane of 50

 

 

33¢ Wreaths, four designs, with margins pane of 20*

 

U613

25¢ Snowflake stamped envelope envelope

1999

3355

33¢ Madonna and Child by Vivarini pane of 20*

1989

2427

25¢ Madonna and Child by Caracci pane of 50

 

3356-59

33¢ Deer Greetings, four designs, margins pane of 20*

 

2427a

same, in booklet pane of 10

 

3360-63

33¢ Deer Greetings, four designs, conv. pane of 20*

 

2428

25¢ Sleigh with Presents pane of 50

 

3364-67

33¢ Deer Greetings, four designs bklt. of 15*

 

2429

same, in booklets pane of 10

2000

to come

20¢ Deer Greetings, four designs postal cards

1990

2514

25¢ Madonna and Child by Antonello pane of 50