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Monday Morning Brief | Popular culture on U.S. stamps

April 17, 2017 08:00 AM

Does every United States stamp show some element of American history? Watch as Linn’s Stamp News associate editor Michael Baadke examines how popular culture came to be a significant part of the U.S. stamp program.

Full Video Transcript:

Welcome to the Monday Morning Brief for April 17, 2017.

Over the past 30 years or so we’ve seen a significant increase in the number of United States stamps that honor figures from popular culture, including television shows and other media.

The first United States stamps were issued in 1847 and paid tribute to Benjamin Franklin and George Washington. Historical themes populated America’s stamps almost exclusively for about a century before the Famous Americans series appeared in 1940.

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That stamp series intentionally broke new ground by honoring poets, artists, composers and writers, such as John Philip Sousa and Mark Twain.

In 1961, a commemorative series honoring American artists began, followed by an American Poets series in 1970.

But it was the Performing Arts series in 1978 that really got the pop culture ball rolling, starting off with a 13¢ stamp honoring the Singing Brakeman, Jimmie Rodgers. Rodgers was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986, the same year as a guy known as the King of Rock and Roll — Elvis Presley.

A U.S. stamp honoring Elvis was issued in 1993, and that’s really when the big debate began. Some collectors celebrated having Elvis on a stamp, saying it would generate greater interest in stamps and stamp collecting. And it probably did. But others were horrified that the father of our country was being replaced on stamps by the man who sang You Ain’t Nothin’ But a Hound Dog.

The Elvis Presley stamp was a financial and publicity success for the Postal Service, and the pop culture stamp train has only picked up steam in the years since. A stamp honoring Marilyn Monroe kicked off the Legends of Hollywood series in 1995, and Bugs Bunny became a Looney Tunes stamp star in 1997.

By the way, I asked the Postal Service last week if we could expect a new Legends of Hollywood stamp, or a Music Icons stamp, in 2017. The answer was that there was nothing to announce, so we’ll just have to wait and see.

In the meantime, we’ve had stamps starring Bart Simpson, and Harry Potter, and Wonder Woman, but in that same time period we’ve also had stamps that honored military heroes like Audie Murphy, and civil rights leaders like Rosa Parks, and even a statesman named Benjamin Franklin.

I don’t imagine everyone will love every stamp that is issued by the United States Postal Service, but the nice thing is that we can pick and choose what we want to collect.

Stamp collectors often say that their interest in stamps and their interest in their nation’s history goes hand in hand. And it’s a fact that when we think of history, we probably think of people like Ben Franklin rather than cartoon figures like Bart Simpson. But the fact of the matter is that right now we can look back 77 years and say that Mark Twain meant something to us all in 1940, and he still does today. And seven decades in the future, people will be able to look back and see a few of the characters that entertain us today. And that’s a part of our history, too.

For Linn’s Stamp News and the Scott catalogs, I’m Michael Baadke.