What are souvenir cards?

Jan 1, 2000, 8 AM

Privately made souvenir cards have been known for decades. They can be of postcard size or larger. Many bear a stamp or group of stamps. Not until 1960, however, did any official stamp-producing government entity produce what are termed "official souvenir cards."

The first to do so was the U.S. Post Office Department and later, the U.S. Postal Service. The Bureau of Engraving and Printing started producing its own souvenir cards both for the stamp and coin fields in 1969. In 1972 the United Nations Postal Administration followed suit.

These are the only official producers of these nonpostal, but highly collectible, cardboard souvenirs of stamps and stamp collecting. Private souvenir cards abound today, produced for national and regional stamp shows and bourses. Only those made by the USPOD, the USPS, and the BEP are within the scope of this chapter.

At a 1960 First International Philatelic Congress, held in Barcelona, Spain, the Post Office Department offered its so-called Barcelona souvenir card free to any show attendee who wanted one. These six-by-eight-inch cards featured the "Landing of Columbus," an engraving taken from the reverse side of an 1875 $5 National Bank Note.

They were almost totally ignored by the showgoers, even though they were free. So many were left over following the Barcelona show that the postal employee assigned to ship the USPOD's exhibit back to Washington used the cards as stuffing for the packing crates. Today, that shunned Barcelona card lists at $375 in mint condition.

Catalogs often show this card as "Number 2," listing a card produced for the Postage Stamp Design Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1954 as "Number 1." Most serious souvenir card collectors disagree, maintaining that the Philadelphia card was strictly unofficial compared to the Barcelona item.

Since the debut of its Barcelona card, the USPOD and USPS have sponsored more than 65 additional souvenir cards, but have placed a heavy emphasis on cards for foreign stamp shows. In 1987 the USPS began overprinting postal cards for these exhibitions. The BEP faces the same confusion among collectors and catalogs as the USPS. Which BEP card was first?

Catalogs may show the SIPEX 1966 card, which bore three multicolored views of Washington, D.C., and was inscribed "Sixth International Philatelic Exhibition." This card was wholly sponsored by the union printers of the Bureau, however, not by the BEP itself. For that reason, most collectors regard the SANDIPEX souvenir card honoring a 1969 San Diego stamp show as the BEP's first.

Both the USPS and BEP have been victims of occasional errors on their souvenir cards just as with stamps. The initial printings of the USPS 1976 ITALIA card had Giuseppe Garibaldi's name spelled "Guiseppe." The BEPs NAPEX 80 card is minus the comma the BEP always puts between "Washington" and "D.C." Other historical errors, printing gremlins and even cancellation mistakes have plagued both issuing houses.

Most souvenir cards require special mounting since they are so large, usually about 8½ by 10½ inches. With its NAPEX 80 card, the BEP reduced its souvenir cards to 6 by 8 inches, but that wasn't to last for long. In 1984 the Bureau went back to the larger size it has always maintained for all its numismatic souvenirs.

Souvenir cards may offer collectors the chance to own official reproductions of some very rare stamps, both foreign and domestic. Usually, however, these stamps are reproduced without any denomination of value.

Those interested in learning more about these official, but nonpostal cards may wish to contact the Souvenir Card Collectors Society, William V. Kriebel, 1923 Manning St., Philadelphia, PA 19103.