US Stamps

By George Amick

Linn's 2014 stamp popularity poll opens for voting; USPS issued 125 stamps, stationery items in 2014

November 26, 2014 09:00 AM

  • One of 125 varieties of postage stamps and postal stationery issued in 2014 by the United States Postal Service, this $5.60 Priority Mail stamp showing New York City’s Verrazano-Narrows Bridge was issued in March.

The United States Postal Service issued 125 varieties of stamps and postal stationery in 2014 that qualified for Scott catalog listings. The number was 33 fewer than were issued the year before and 63 fewer than in 2012.

The cost of collecting one of each variety also declined slightly: $100.26 this year, compared to $103.79 and $140.18 in the two preceding years.

As usual, the largest stamp category was commemoratives, with 53, all denominated as forever stamps. There were 44 definitives and 19 special stamps, some of them denominated to reflect new mail rates that took effect last Jan. 26.

One semipostal stamp, two postal cards and six stamped envelopes completed the total.

Seven forever stamps — five definitives and two specials — differ from varieties issued in 2013 only in their 2014 year dates. A USPS spokesman explained that when a regular-issue or special-issue forever stamp is reprinted in a new year at a new postage rate, the only design element that will change is the date.

The year’s most discussed issue was a pane of eight commemorative stamps depicting vintage circus posters and, more specifically, a related souvenir sheet containing two additional varieties: a $1 Clown stamp and two intaglio-printed 50¢ stamps with a design inspired by the 5¢ Circus Wagon Transportation coil definitives of the 1990s (Scott 2452, 2452B, 2452D). The three stamps in the souvenir sheet are die-cut, as are its ornately curved outer edges.

Collectors could obtain the souvenir sheet as a mint single only by purchasing the Postal Service’s The 2014 Stamp Yearbook for $64.95, a price that includes the item and an assortment of other mint stamps from 2014. The Postal Service also offered uncut press sheets containing 12 souvenir sheets for face value, $24, but the stamps themselves have no die cuts.

Linn’s readers protested that the scheme was exploitative, while Linn’s editor Charles Snee wrote that “not being able to buy the sheet separately [is] a slap in the face to the stamp collectors who sustain the Postal Service’s stamp program.”

The editors of the Scott catalogs are expected to cite the souvenir sheet and its stamps in a footnote, but not assign them separate catalog numbers because of Scott’s policy against listing varieties that are intentionally created in small quantities for philatelic marketing. For this reason, they aren’t included in Linn’s tally of collectible varieties in 2014.

For the third year, the USPS offered new stamps in uncut press sheets, both with and without die cuts between the individual stamps. All 2014 commemoratives were available in these formats, as were several stamps in other categories. As in the past, Scott noted and valued the imperforate varieties in its Scott Specialized Catalogue of United States Stamps and Covers, but didn’t assign them catalog numbers, and Linn’s doesn’t count the imperforate varieties in its annual totals.

The largest commemorative set of 2014 was a convertible booklet (double-sided pane) depicting 10 colorful American songbirds, each perched on a tree branch or among flowering blossoms.

A pane containing eight varieties celebrates the 75th anniversary of comic-book crime fighter Batman and shows four images of the Caped Crusader and four of the Gotham City Bat-signal searchlight — the latter on circular stamps — as they evolved over the years. Batman previously had appeared on two varieties of the 20-stamp DC Comics Super Heroes pane of 2006 (Scott 4084).

Other commemorative sets honor five celebrity chefs and display four paintings by Hudson River School artists. A four-stamp pane displays a continuous image picturing fruits, vegetables, fresh foods and flowers for sale at a farmers market.

Two-stamp sets continue the series commemorating the sesquicentennial of the Civil War (the subjects were the Battles of Petersburg and Mobile Bay) and honor Medal of Honor recipients from the Korean War. The latter stamps are identical to the 2013 pair for World War II Medal of Honor winners except for their 2014 year date, and, like that set, are contained in a folded pane of 20 that the USPS calls a “prestige folio.”

A pair of commemoratives picture basketball star Wilt Chamberlain in the uniforms of two National Basketball Association teams for which he played and are elongated vertically to showcase the athlete’s 7-foot 1-inch height. The designs identify him simply as “Wilt,” recalling a memorable stamp of the past in which only the name “Elvis” was given.

The Music Icons series had two entries, featuring Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. As with previous stamps in the series, postal clerks were instructed to sell only full panes of 16. The Hendrix stamps are laid out in blocks of four in which the orientation of the stamps rotates around the center, evoking a psychedelic experience.

Other series with new stamps in 2014 were Lunar New Year, marking the Year of the Horse; Black Heritage, honoring U.S. Rep. Shirley Chisholm, the first African-American woman elected to the House of Representatives; Legends of Hollywood, which returned after a two-year hiatus to feature Charlton Heston; and War of 1812 Bicentennial, illustrating the bombardment of Fort McHenry in Baltimore Harbor.

Stand-alone single stamps were issued for the sesquicentennial of Nevada statehood and to honor Harvey Milk, one of the country’s first openly gay public officials and a man who has become an icon of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. The latter stamp bears a photographic portrait of Milk with six squares of color arranged vertically, evoking the rainbow colors of the gay pride flag.

Milk, a member of the San Francisco board of supervisors who actively campaigned for gay rights, was assassinated at city hall in 1978, along with the city’s mayor, George Moscone, by Dan White, a former city supervisor. Milk was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama. The conservative American Family Association, which opposes the social acceptance of homosexual behavior, denounced the stamp and urged its members not to use it and to reject any letters bearing it.

As usual, the year’s definitives include a new American flag forever stamp design, which, like a commemorative cited earlier, marks the 200th anniversary of the bombardment of Fort McHenry. It was that event that inspired a witness, Francis Scott Key, to write a poem, which, set to an existing melody, became the U.S. national anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner. The stamp displays a modern nighttime photograph taken at Fort McHenry National Monument of fireworks that suggest “bombs bursting in air” and a 15-star, 15-stripe flag like the one that Key, “by the dawn’s early light,” saw “still there” above the fort. The design was used for seven stamps in three formats.

A strip of five coil stamps featuring photographs of different types of ferns was issued with 49¢ denominations in January and as forever stamps in March, for a total of 10 varieties. Both sets were intended primarily for large-scale users of first-class mail. The denominated stamps were produced in rolls of 3,000 and 10,000; the forever versions were in rolls of 10,000 and were the first large coils with more than 100 stamps to bear a forever designation.

In April, another set of forever coil definitives, titled “Red, White and Blue,” also was produced in rolls of 10,000. The four stamps display four interpretations of the American flag that differ only in the shapes of their undulating red and white stripes and the numbers of stars in their fields of blue. The similarity of the designs prompted one Linn’s letter writer to complain that the Postal Service’s clear motive was “to extract additional funds from the collecting fraternity.”

A set of four forever definitives pictures popular winter flowers — amaryllis, cyclamen, paperwhite and Christmas cactus — while a two-stamp set shows two Ford 1932 Deuce roadsters modified as hot rods: one red, the other black with orange flames along its body.

The forever definitives that bear designs from previous years, but with 2014 year dates, are the Flag For All Seasons quartet from 2013, and a Purple Heart stamp, the ninth collectible variety since 2003 to display the medal that is issued to members of the armed forces who die or are wounded in combat.

Several definitives were issued with denominations appropriate for the year’s new mail rates.

A 21¢ stamp to cover each additional ounce of first-class mail pictures the head and face of Abraham Lincoln from the statue by Daniel Chester French at the Lincoln Memorial. It was issued in two varieties, pane and coil, and replaced a 20¢ stamp with the portrait of another iconic president, George Washington.

A 70¢ Distinguished Americans stamp for the 2-ounce rate honors aviation pioneer and instructor C. Alfred “Chief” Anderson, whose trainees included future members of the famous Tuskegee Airmen of World War II, while a 91¢ stamp in the Literary Arts series, for the 3-ounce rate, pictures Ralph Ellison, author of the novel Invisible Man. In 2009, collectors were told that future Literary Arts stamps would be denominated to meet specific postal needs in years when first-class postal rates were increased. The Postal Service hasn’t followed that practice consistently, but it did so with the Ellison stamp, and for that reason Linn’s counts it as a definitive.

A 34¢ stamp for the domestic postcard rate, showing a hummingbird in flight, was issued in coil and pane varieties. The illustrator, Nancy Stahl, has created artwork for numerous definitives featuring animals, mostly in predominantly blue hues.

The fourth stamp in the Postal Service’s Butterfly definitive series carries a 70¢ denomination and shows a computer illustration of a great spangled fritillary butterfly.

The large square stamps in the series cover the special rate for nonmachinable (square or odd-shaped) envelopes, which for the second consecutive year was also the rate for 2-ounce first-class letters.

The illustrations are adapted from a poster showing 21 different American butterflies, their wings spread as if mounted on a specimen board, that was created several years ago by veteran U.S. stamp artist Tom Engeman, who frequently sends samples of his work such as this to clients, potential clients and friends.

There were two new Priority Mail stamps in the American Landmarks series. The first, depicting New York City’s Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, came in March, bearing the then-current basic rate of $5.60, and replacing a 2013 $5.60 Priority Mail stamp that shows the Arlington Green covered bridge in Vermont. In September, after the rate rose to $5.75, the USPS issued a stamp with that denomination showing Glade Creek Grist Mill in West Virginia.

A third American Landmarks stamp was produced to fulfill the new $19.99 postage fee for a Priority Mail Express flat-rate envelope. As consistently happens when the rate for this next-day service increases, the stamp set a new record for high face value. It pictures the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii, which straddles the sunken hull of the battleship and marks the resting place of 1,102 of the 1,177 sailors and marines killed when the vessel was sunk by Japanese warplanes on Dec. 7, 1941. The artwork for the three stamps was created by Dan Cosgrove, who has illustrated all U.S. Priority Mail and Express Mail stamps since 2008.

The year’s only stamp with moisture-activated adhesive was a 4¢ Chippendale Chair coil stamp — the first stamp issued in 2014 — that carries a 2013 year date. It was produced in rolls of 10,000 by Ashton Potter and Guilford Gravure. A previous moisture-activated Chippendale Chair coil had a 2007 year date and was made by Sennett Security Products. The new variety originally was set for issuance in late December, a USPS spokesman explained, but it was decided to defer the event to Jan. 2, 2014, “to get beyond the busy holiday season.”

Among the year’s special stamps, the traditional Love forever stamp depicts a pink heart in what the USPS called “a stunning digital interpretation” of traditional, ornately cut and painted love letters. Another forever stamp, dubbed “Where Dreams Blossom,” displays the stylized bouquet design that was used for a 2013 issue, but with a 2014 year date.

Two special stamps were given 70¢ denominations to fulfill the first-class rate for 2-ounce mail that often applies to wedding invitations sent with RSVP cards and other enclosures. Both display previously used stamp designs and one, showing a photograph of a wedding cake, represents the fifth use of the image, which first appeared on a 61¢ stamp in 2009. The other, showing stylized flowers and the words “Yes I Do,” previously appeared on a 66¢ stamp of 2013.

Among several special forever stamps created for winter holiday mailings are a Winter Fun block of four depicting ice skaters, children building a snowman and making a snow angel, and a cardinal on a branch. These were printed in convertible booklets of 20 and ATM-vended panes of 18 for a total of eight varieties.

Four stamps depict images from the television production Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, marking the 50th anniversary of the show. The popular Christmas special, produced in stop-action animation by Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass, first aired in December 1964 and is rebroadcast annually. A plan to also issue a souvenir sheet of two Rudolph stamps was announced in the USPS Postal Bulletin but later was abandoned because of “production and time constraints.”

A Christmas Magi stamp, similar to the Holy Family stamp of 2012, shows the three wise men on camels silhouetted on a hill with the radiant Star of Bethlehem overhead. Another seasonal stamp reproduces the design of the previous year’s Christmas Poinsettia stamp, but with a 2014 year date.

There were two global forever stamps, both in the circular shape used for the first two in 2013. These will always be valid for an amount equal to the prevailing 1-ounce letter rate to foreign addresses, which in 2014 was $1.15. One, a definitive, shows a view of the globe with North America in the center and the surrounding oceans in blues, greens, yellow, oranges and reds to represent variations in surface temperatures. The other, a special stamp with a Christmas holiday theme, depicts a wreath with silver bells and a large red bow.

The Postal Service issued a new variety of its first semipostal stamp, to help fund breast cancer research, that uses the same design but differs in its year date (2014 rather than 1998), its stamp printer (Banknote Corporation of America for Sennett Security Products instead of Avery Dennison) and its printing process (offset instead of gravure). The original stamp sold for 40¢, which covered the 1998 first-class letter rate of 32¢ plus an 8¢ surcharge; the 2014 version sells for 60¢ (49¢ plus 11¢).

For most of 2014, the Breast Cancer Research stamp was the only semipostal stamp available from the Postal Service.

The Save Vanishing Species semipostal of 2011 had been removed from sale Dec. 31, 2013, but returned to post offices in October under new legislation sponsored by Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and signed by President Obama.

The year saw eight postal stationery items, including five stamped envelopes with wintry themes. Two of the latter have imprinted designs from the 2014 Winter Fun block of four stamps, two show images of magnified snowflakes that appeared on nondenominated coil stamps for bulk mailers issued in 2013, and one displays the central image of the Christmas Poinsettia Forever stamp of 2013 and 2014. There also were a forever postal card and double-reply card depicting a stylized tree in greens and browns and a Priority Mail envelope with an imprint reproducing the $5.60 Verrazano-Narrows Bridge Priority Mail stamp issued on the same day. For the second consecutive year, the USPS issued no picture postal cards, a format it had employed annually since 1992.

Among the stamps that were announced for 2014 but saved for another year were a set of 12 honoring pioneers of graphic design, and two Floral Wedding stamps, one nondenominated and the other for 2-ounce mail, bearing black-and-white flower images. The Pioneers of Graphic Design set previously had been postponed from April to October of this year because of licensing problems.

Vote for your favorite U.S. stamps

Vote online at beginning at noon on Dec. 8.