Refresher Course

When a stamp is issued it's time to celebrate

By Michael Baadke

Even though thousands of postage stamps are issued each year all over the world, many countries still celebrate the issuance of every new stamp with a ceremony and a special postmark.

Figure 1. An actor portraying Mark Twain speaks to stamp collectors at a postage stamp first-day ceremony.
 
Figure 2. Special souvenir programs are often provided free for those who attend the first-day ceremony.
 
Figure 3. First-day covers are another type of souvenir. These two covers note the first day of issuance for stamps in the United States (top) and Canada (bottom).
 
Figure 4. Two examples of earliest-known usages: a classic from 1847 (bottom) and a modern from 1998 (top).

The United States Postal Service sponsors first-day ceremonies in different cities around the country several times each month. In most cases, the ceremonies are free and open to anyone who would like to attend.

In another story of this issue of Linn's, you can read about the plans for the first-day ceremony for the Four Centuries of American Art stamps that will be released Aug. 27.

Those 20 stamps will be officially placed on sale for the first time during a single ceremony at the American Philatelic Society Stampshow 98 in Santa Clara, Calif.

Even when only one stamp is being released, like the 32¢ Alfred Hitchcock stamp issued Aug. 3, the Postal Service usually arranges for a special celebration.

From time to time, stamps are issued during major stamp shows and exhibitions, such as the upcoming Four Centuries of American Art issue at Stampshow.

The first-day ceremony shown in Figure 1 took place during Stampshow two years ago at the Orlando, Fla., Convention Center. The stamps being issued on Aug. 22, 1996, were the 32¢ Riverboats set of five.

Often the stamp is issued at a location that relates in some way to the subject that is being honored.

For example, the 32¢ Lila and DeWitt Wallace stamp was released July 16 in Pleasantville, N.Y. The Wallaces founded the monthly publication Reader's Digest, which has its headquarters in Pleasantville.

When the site of a new stamp ceremony is announced, the city and state is listed each week in Linn's U.S. Stamp Program.

If you look in this week's program, you will see that the Postal Service plans to issue on Oct. 1 five stamps that together show a panoramic Space Colony design. The first-day ceremony for this futuristic issue is scheduled for Kennedy Space Center, Fla.

Linn's makes every effort to publish the exact time and location of the ceremony in a special story before the stamp is issued, as with the previously mentioned Four Centuries of American Art story in this issue.

Unfortunately, the Postal Service sometimes does not release the information about the ceremony location until it is too late to be printed in a weekly publication.

If a stamp ceremony is taking place near you, but you haven't found the details in Linn's, you can always try contacting the post office that is hosting the ceremony and asking for information about special events. You may be able to get ceremony details that way.

Most stamp ceremonies are attended by a Postal Service representative, such as a regional executive or corporate vice president — sometimes even the United States postmaster general himself.

Other dignitaries may also attend, such as Congressmen, celebrities, and stamp artists or designers.

In the Figure 1 photo, an actor portraying author Mark Twain entertains the crowd of stamp collectors attending the Riverboats ceremony. Among those attending was artist Dean Ellis, who painted the five Riverboat designs that were used on the stamps.

At most ceremonies, all who attend receive a free first-day ceremony program that lists each of the invited guests and dignitaries. The program also has affixed to it the stamp or stamps that are being issued, canceled with a special "First Day of Issue" postmark.

In Figure 2 a program for the 32¢ self-adhesive Yellow Rose stamp is shown. The first-day cancel in the program includes the issue date (Oct. 24, 1996) and the first-day location (Pasadena, Calif.).

The American Ceremony Program Society is a group of collectors of ceremony programs. For information, write to ACPS secretary John Olmstead, Box 1595, Washington, DC 20013-1595.

Often the dignitaries who are present gather at tables following the ceremony and autograph programs for collectors. At larger events, the line to the autograph table can stretch pretty far.

Another popular collectible object associated with a stamp's first day of issue is the first-day cover.

The word "cover" is used to describe an envelope prepared for mailing, or one that might have already been mailed. It can also refer to postal cards, parcel wrappers or other mailable items that would have a stamp or stamps upon them.

The first-day cover (FDC) is another item that is a souvenir of a stamp's first day of issue. The envelope is franked with the stamp, which means the stamp is placed on the envelope, usually in the upper-right-hand corner, just as if it were going out in the mail.

The envelope then receives the special first-day cancel, usually the same postmark that is used on the first-day ceremony program.

Two FDCs are shown in Figure 3. At the top of the illustration is a cover for the 32¢ Year of the Tiger stamp issued Jan. 5 in Seattle, Wash.

Below the Tiger cover is a Canadian FDC for four Winnie the Pooh stamps that were issued Oct. 1, 1996, in White River, Ontario, Canada.

Both covers include decorative images on the left side. This type of artwork is called the cachet (pronounced "ka-SHAY").

The Tiger cover was produced and sold by the American First Day Cover Society, a group of collectors who enjoy creating or collecting FDCs.

For information about the society, write to AFDCS, Box 65960, Tucson, AZ 85728.

The Winnie the Pooh cover was created and sold by Canada Post, the government postal authority in Canada.

The United States Postal Service also sells FDCs, but without a cachet. Many companies and individuals in the United States make different cacheted envelopes for each new stamp issue.

A special cancellation area is provided at the first-day ceremony so collectors can obtain the first-day cancel on their covers, if they wish.

Another alternative is mailing the cover to a special address to get the postmark by mail.

Although the cancel is dated on the stamp's first day of issue, it is often applied after that actual day.

Collectors may buy the new stamp at the post office after it is issued, prepare the cover, mail it in to the address provided, and it will be returned to them within a few weeks.

The U.S. Postal Service requires this be done within 30 days of the issue date.

The first-day cancel address for each stamp depends on where the stamp is issued. The address is published in Linn's in a box that contains technical specifications for the new stamp.

Postal authorities haven't always celebrated the release of a new stamp with this type of ceremony. Often, the stamps were placed on sale on a certain date, but with little notice.

For classic stamps, such as those from the 1800s, finding a cover that was mailed on the first day of sale often means discovering an important piece of postal history.

For some stamps, no FDCs are known to exist. In those cases, the cover showing the earliest-known use (often abbreviated EKU) is usually cited in catalogs and other stamp hobby reference works.

One of the first U.S. stamps, the 10¢ George Washington (Scott 2), was issued July 1, 1847, but there are no known covers bearing that date.

The EKU for this stamp is July 2, 1847, documented by the postmark on the cover shown at the bottom of Figure 4.

In the Scott Specialized Catalogue of United States Stamps, the earliest-known use is often listed along with other historical information about the stamp. It's not unusual for a modern U.S. stamp to accidentally go on sale at a post office somewhere before the official first day of issue.

When the new stamp is used and receives a postmark, it is known as an early release, and the earliest known is also called an EKU.

As an example, the EKU for the Madam C.J. Walker stamp is Jan. 16, 1998, despite the fact that the stamp was not officially issued until Jan. 28. At the top of Figure 4 the stamp is shown on a cover canceled with the early postmark.

This type of early marking is a fine example of modern postal history, and the collector who finds such a marking should save the stamp and cancel intact on the original cover.