US Stamps

By John M. Hotchner

No smoking policy on U.S. stamps includes removal of cigarettes

June 05, 2015 09:13 AM

  • Blues singer, songwriter and guitarist Robert Johnson was honored on a 29¢ stamp (Scott 2857) in the 1994 Jazz Singers/Blues Singers set of eight. Johnson is shown smoking in the photograph that was the basis for the stamp. However, his cigarette was removed for the design.

Linn’s reader Michael Zlotnick sent some information on cigarettes and stamp art, suggesting it might make an interesting article.

First, it must be said that many of the people being commemorated on today’s stamps grew up in a society where smoking was the norm. While that is no longer the case, we should not be surprised that cigarettes are often present in photographs of people honored on United States stamps.

Nor should we be surprised that in today’s culture, where smoking and second-hand smoke are associated with health problems, the U.S. Postal Service has chosen to show honorees without cigarettes when photographs are converted to stamp art.

The removal of cigarettes during the design process has happened a few times.

Blues singer, songwriter and guitarist Robert Johnson was honored on a 29¢ stamp (Scott 2857) in the 1994 Jazz Singers/Blues Singers set of eight. Johnson is shown smoking in the photograph that was the basis for the stamp. However, his cigarette was removed for the design.

George Amick reported in the 1994 Linn’s U.S. Stamp Yearbook that Postal Service spokesman Monica Hand told the Associated Press that the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee had this done “because they didn’t want the stamps to be perceived as promoting cigarettes.”

Similarly, the original photograph of Jackson Pollock used for a 33¢ stamp in the Celebrate the Century series pictures the artist with a cigarette dangling from his mouth, but there is no cigarette shown on the stamp (Scott 3186h).

Cigarettes also were removed from photographs of composer Bernard Herr­mann (Scott 3341) and writer Thornton Wilder (3134).

Actor James Dean was commemorated on a 32¢ stamp issued in 1996 as part of the Legends of Hollywood series (Scott 3082). While the stamp itself was created from a photograph in which Dean is not smoking, the image in the selvage was based on a photograph by Roy Schatt of Dean walking down the center of a street with a cigarette in his mouth. It was removed.

Although some people reported that the cigarette is missing from the design of the Bette Davis stamp, that apparently is not the case. Instead, the design for this 42¢ stamp in the Legends of Hollywood series (Scott 4350) is based on a photograph showing the actress in a fur coat from the film All About Eve, according to Amick writing in the 2008 Linn’s U.S. Stamp Yearbook.

Are there any U.S. stamps in which the subject is smoking? Only one comes to mind, the 1982 20¢ Franklin Delano Roosevelt stamp, in which he has a cigarette and holder in his left hand.