By John M. Hotchner
Figure 1. The sixth stamp from the left in the 1973 Postal Service Employees se-tenant set of 10 shows an image modeled on United States Postal Service employee Jo-Anne Tallcouch, who lived in Connecticut. Were the other stamps from the set also based on living models, perhaps postal employees as well?
Figure 2. Graphically illustrated with a mustered-out theme, this cover portrays a soldier leaving service after the end of the Spanish-American War. The cover was sent in 1899 by a corporal.
A new category of living people featured on United States stamps is opened up by a short obituary sent in by U.S. Stamp Notes reader Larry Secchioroli of Connecticut.
He noticed the obituary because it pictured a stamp: the 8¢ Postal Service Employees stamp showing a woman sorting mail into slots.
It is the sixth stamp in the strip of 10 shown in Figure 1, from the se-tenant stamps (Scott 1489-1498) issued in 1973.
Jo-Anne Tallcouch passed away in July 2012. Her obituary notes that she worked for the U.S. Postal Service in Westport, Conn., for 32 years, and her likeness was used on the stamp.
Of course, the stamp is not a photographic likeness of Mrs. Tallcouch. Artist Edward Vebell painted the designs, and it is not inconceivable that he used living models for some or all of the principal figures portrayed. The artist was born in Chicago but has lived in Westport since 1953, which makes the claim in the obituary all the more plausible.
Why is this a big deal? Living people are not supposed to appear on U.S. stamps.
The rule has been circumvented on many occasions as the USPS has interpreted the ban, dating from 1866, to mean that U.S. stamps may not honor living persons.
There are about 75 stamps that have been identified as showing living people; some of them quite high profile. For example, in the case of the Iwo Jima stamp of 1945, the Heroes of 2001 semipostal of 2002, the Star Wars pane of 2007, and the 2013 Harry Potter issue, among others, it was given out that the individual people shown were not being honored; rather, it was the event or, in the case of Star Wars and Harry Potter, the films that were being commemorated.
There are more U.S. stamps based on models or photographs where the person behind the image has been identified.
I am asking if Linn’s readers can add any more information to what we have about the designing of the Postal Service Employees set and the people who might have served as models for the designs.
If so, please contact me, John Hotchner at email@example.com; or by mail at Box 1125, Falls Church, VA 22041. I will report all new information in a future column.
Reading other peoples’ mail is what cover collectors do. Letters and other materials enclosed in an envelope often provide useful glimpses that help to explain the cover itself. And sometimes there is content that has historical value.
Sometimes the enclosed material leaves more questions than answers. If one is a novelist at heart, it is fun to take what you are given and try to construct a narrative of what happened next.
Courtesy of Dwayne Littauer of Louisiana, an example of this is shown in Figure 2. The 1899 cover is from a soldier graphically represented in the cachet as shedding his military uniform and rejoining civilian life after the end of the Spanish-American War.
It is a great cover all by itself, but there is more. The March 6, 1899, dated letter enclosed is addressed to “My Dear Friend Mollie,” and signed “Your Sincere Friend, Corp. Arthur P. Burch.”
In the letter, Burch names his hometown as Toledo, Ohio. He also recounts the process of turning in equipment and says that he and his buddies will be free in 17 more days.
Burch ends by saying, “I bought me a Kodak, it is a little cyclone. I have a nice collection of pictures that will interest you when you see them.”
Littauer added this P.S. when he wrote to me: “I have to believe that the only reason this cover and the letter survived is that Mollie Crowe married Corp. Burch. I’m sure this letter would have caused problem with any other man she married. I think it is also a wonderful glimpse of the joy of getting out of the service and hoping to reunite with the one he has been dreaming about the entire time of his service.”
Anyone might counter that the letter does not support this conclusion because it does not exactly drip with sentiment. But, in those days, men did not often wear their hearts on their sleeve, and there was a good deal more formality in the process of courtship. So, I am tempted to add, “And they lived happily ever after.”
Published 5/6/2014 7:00 AM