Refresher Course

'Tis the season to collect stamps and seals

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.

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.
 
Figure 2. The world's first Christmas postage stamp (top) was issued by Canada in 1898. The 95¢ stamp at bottom is also from Canada, issued more than a century later in 2000.
 
Figure 3. Denmark issued the world's first Christmas seal in 1904. Though not valid for postage, Christmas seals are collected by many.

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 designsbklt. 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