US Stamps

By John M. Hotchner

U.S. 8¢ Rotary International stamp infrequent on overseas mail

February 20, 2014 08:01 AM

  • Figure 1. The 8¢ Rotary International stamps were intended for use on letters sent abroad by surface transportation, but many were used as multiples to pay special service rates on domestic mail.

  • Figure 2. International surface mail usages of the 8¢ Rotary International stamp are not easy to find. These two examples were used in 1961 during the 4¢ period (top) and in 1955 during the 3¢ first-class rate period (bottom). The 1955 cover was a casualty of the Cold War.

  • Figure 3. Compare the torch on these 1954 and 1974 Statue of Liberty designs against the Rotary International torch. They are clearly not the same.

  • Figure 4. The cartoon caption contest stamp for March is this stamp showing the title character of the Harry Potter franchise. The rules to enter the contest are in the accompanying article. Entries must be received at Linn’s by March 24 for a chance to win a prize.

From Nov. 1, 1953, until the start of the 4¢ first-class rate on Aug. 1, 1958, 3¢ postage was needed to move a letter by surface transportation within the United States, and 8¢ was needed for a letter sent abroad via surface mail.

Very few nonairmail international-rate stamps were available or issued during this time: the 8¢ Martin Van Buren stamp in the Presidential series (Scott 813), the 8¢ Liberty stamp in the Liberty series (1041, 1041B, and 1042), the 8¢ Rotary International commemorative stamp (1066), and the 8¢ Ramon Magsaysay (1096) and 8¢ Simon Bolivar (1111) stamps in the Champion of Liberty series.

As overseas surface transportation of mail was then losing market share to airmail, the 8¢ Rotary International stamp is especially difficult to find used on cover during the 3¢ rate period.

The 8¢ Rotary International stamp was sometimes used to pay for special service on a domestic letter. The cover in Figure 1 shows multiples of the stamp fulfilling such a use on registered mail.

The 3¢ rate period had only 3½ years to run when the Rotary International stamp appeared Feb. 23, 1955, and only 54 million of the stamp were sold, compared to the normal run of 120 million or more for most commemoratives.

Despite the fact that most international surface mail in the 4¢ rate era was paid by 8¢ Champion of Liberty issues, the 8¢ Rotary International stamp was also usable until July 1, 1961, when the surface rate went up to 11¢.

A 1961 cover to Argentina is shown at top in Figure 2.

The lower cover in Figure 2 was not accepted for delivery by the Czechoslovakian government. Why not? The stamp design is probably the culprit — especially the part that features the torch.

Anything in a stamp design or cancel that seemed to the Czechs like U.S. propaganda in favor of liberty and freedom was a candidate for refusal.

In this case, the torch resembles a representation of the Statue of Liberty, though it was not. The Post Office Department described it in an official release as “carrying enlightenment to all the world.”

The torch is of a different design than Miss Liberty’s. Take a look at the 8¢ Liberty stamp of 1954 and the 18¢ airmail of 1974 in Figure 3 for verification.

Cartoon contest

I am not a fan of the recent U.S. Harry Potter issue, and I have followed with interest the published letters to Linn’s on the subject.

The set has three strikes against it. It portrays a foreign subject; it shows living people, no matter how you rationalize it; and it features 20 subjects, which is 19 too many, if anyone believed it really had to be done at all.

But no one can deny that the Harry Potter, through intrinsic merit and hugely successful marketing, has become a phenomenon in this country and elsewhere. It is no surprise that the U.S. Postal Service and others want to ride the wave.

I could pretend it doesn’t exist and ignore it, but it does and I can’t, so I have selected the forever stamp showing Harry Potter himself in Figure 4 as the March cartoon caption contest stamp.

So put yourself behind Harry’s specs and consider what you might be thinking or feeling about the series, author J.K. Rowling, the stamps, or the hornets’ nest that the stamps set off. Or be inspired by anything else that appeals to you.

Two prizes will be given, one each for the best philatelic and nonphilatelic lines. The important thing is to use your sense of humor, because entries with a humorous twist have the best chance of winning a prize.

Put your entry (or entries) on a postcard if possible and mail it to me, John Hotchner, Cartoon Contest, care of Linn’s Editor, Box 29, Sidney, OH 45365; or send your entry by e-mail to Include your mailing address.

The prize for each winner will be the book Linn’s Stamp Identifier (with a retail value of $12.99), or a 13-week subscription to Linn’s (a new subscription or an extension). To be considered for a prize, entries must reach Linn’s no later than March 24.

Why not enter now while you’re thinking about it?