US Stamps

Lloyd de Vries

The challenges facing U.S. first-day cover collectors during 2017

May 10, 2017 07:00 PM

  • The Total Solar Eclipse stamp, to be issued June 20, will appear as shown at left, until warmed by human touch. The stamp’s thermochromic ink then will alter the image, as seen at right.
  • The digital color postmark for the Dorothy Height stamp is typical, with a large size and only a tiny bit of it actually canceling the stamp. Those submitting first-day covers may request different postmark placement, to leave more space for a cachet.

First-Day Covers — By Lloyd de Vries

This is shaping up to be a challenging year for first-day cover producers and collectors.

Here it is, five months into the year, and United States new-issue collectors (and that includes FDC collectors) still don’t know most of this year’s stamps.

As of the beginning of May, only one issue has been announced for June (the just-revealed Total Solar Eclipse stamp), one for July (Andrew Wyeth), and two slated for August issuance at stamp shows.

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On the “definite” list for the remaining four months of the year are only one more commemorative (Father Ted Hesburgh, Sept. 1) and the Christmas issues. This stamp schedule doesn’t seem likely.

Missing from the announced list are any issues for the Legends of Hollywood or Music Icons commemorative series.

The centenary of the entry of the United States into World War I was April 6. Is the U.S. Postal Service really going to entirely skip commemoration of U.S. participation in that war, the event that made this country a world power?

It takes time to research, plan, and commission or develop artwork for a cachet. One alternative is to rush production, if possible, but that invites errors and poor quality.

Another alternative is to put the FDCs on the market long after the always-fickle public has lost interest. Established collectors will wait for a favorite issue or cachet to reach the market.

However, FDCs would reach more noncollectors interested in the stamp subjects, through online auction sites and other Internet-based media, if the covers were available when they were still timely and new. This also could attract new people to stamps and the stamp hobby.

A locally produced first-day ceremony (and one that isn’t thrown together in a few weeks) might be more interesting to noncollectors, garner more nonphilatelic publicity, and, again, expose more people to our hobby.

Some existing collectors will travel significant distances to attend ceremonies if they have enough notice to make reasonable travel arrangements.

Some cachetmakers are working around the short advance notice for new issues either by servicing FDCs without cachets and adding theirs later, or by purchasing the uncacheted FDCs sold by the USPS.

How might cancellation ink react with Total Solar Eclipse thermochromic ink?

Speaking of the Total Solar Eclipse stamp, set for issuance June 20 in Laramie, Wyo., it will be interesting to see not only how the postmark inks react with the unusual thermochromic ink and special process used to print the stamp, but also how FDC collectors will display their eclipse covers.

Will collectors want those looking at their collections to keep putting their fingers on the stamps? How many cachetmakers will incorporate photosensitive elements into their designs?

FDC postmark placement is important

When the USPS services first-day covers in advance of orders for retail sale, such as through Stamp Fulfillment Services, it places the postmarks far to the left, so that only a small part of the stamp is covered by the cancel.

For example, in the digital color postmark (DCP) for the Dorothy Height stamp issued Feb. 1, the stamp is canceled by the four small purple dots in the upper-right part of the large and elaborate postmark.

Inasmuch as most DCPs and pictorial first-day postmarks these days are almost 3 inches wide, they take up much of the space that might be used for a cachet. They become almost a “stealth cachet” by the USPS.

However, if you submit your own covers for servicing with these postmarks, you can request that the cancel be placed in a different location, such as far to the right.

With the Height stamp, for example, that would add an additional seven-eighths of an inch in width to the cachet area. That might not sound like much, but when you are working with a “canvas” that is only 6½ inches by 3½ inches, it could be significant.

If you have a preference for postmark placement, use a sketch or computer mockup to make clear to the USPS where you want the cancels placed.

Atlanta to host Americover 2018

The American First Day Cover Society has chosen the Atlanta area for Americover 2018. The annual convention and first-day cover show will be held at the Hilton Atlanta Northeast Aug. 3-5, 2018. That is the same facility used by Southeastern Stamp Expo, another World Series of Philately show, held in January each year.

The AFDCS also is in the final stages of talks for an Americover 2019 location.