Christmas stamp history includes Cuba and George W. Linn
By Michael Baadke
While researching in the Linn's library a few weeks ago, I came upon a column written by then-editor Michael Laurence in the Dec. 22, 1986, issue.
|Cuba issued its first Christmas stamp in 1951. The United States would follow 11 years later.
|The first U.S. Christmas stamp, issued in 1962, was a bicolor issue showing a wreath and candles.
|This year's multitude of U.S. Christmas stamps includes a new round international-rate stamp with a Christmas wreath design.
The subject was the tireless campaign of Linn's founder George Ward Linn to persuade the United States Post Office Department to issue an appropriate stamp mailers could use to send Christmas greeting cards.
I wrote about this subject last year to mark the 50th anniversary of the first U.S. Christmas stamp, but Laurence's editorial reminded me that there is more to the story.
Laurence reported that in the 1930s and 1940s, Linn embarked on a campaign for a U.S. stamp showing Santa Claus.
Many collectors of the day were already sending their cards off to post offices in towns with names one would associate with Christmas, such as Bethlehem, Pa., and Santa Claus, Ind., to obtain special postmarks that would add a holiday touch to their cards and letters.
But much to Linn's chagrin, there was no U.S. Christmas postage stamp, and he repeatedly directed editorials toward the Post Office Department in an effort to see one created.
While the USPOD resisted his entreaties, the government of Cuba in 1951 produced the first national postage stamps issued expressly for use on Christmas greeting cards.
The bicolor 1-centavo and 2c stamps, in red and green and inscribed "Navidades" (Scott 469-70), each show a poinsettia plant in the center surrounded by a collection of ringing bells.
The stamps were so popular in Cuba and worldwide that people were soon mailing their cards in bulk to Havana to be remailed with the attractive holiday stamps affixed.
"The Universal Postal Union subsequently prohibited this practice," Laurence wrote, "but for a while it was a minor industry in Havana."
Despite the success of the Cuban stamps, more than a decade would pass before the first U.S. Christmas stamp would be issued on Nov. 1, 1962.
The U.S. stamp was bicolor green and red, not unlike the 1951 Cuban issue, though it showed a round Christmas wreath and two burning candles. An inscription in a red tablet near the bottom of the stamp reads "Christmas 1962" (Scott 1205).
Postal customers and stamp collectors have had U.S. Christmas stamps available to them every year since.
This year offers a bounty of colorful holiday stamps, including two varieties of a Poinsettia stamp, a Holy Family stamp, a stamp depicting a Madonna and Child painting, a four-stamp set showing gingerbread houses, and an international-rate stamp with a Christmas wreath.
Though the 2013 Wreath stamp is round, self-adhesive and doesn't include any candles, its subject matter still takes me back to the country's first Christmas issue from 51 years ago.