By Michael Baadke
A new United States forever stamp will be issued June 9 to celebrate an act of Congress from 200 years ago.
The Flag Act of 1818 forever changed how Americans view the most familiar and beloved symbol of their country. Although the alternating red and white stripes and the white stars against a blue field had existed for decades, the Flag Act defined how the flag would look and established how it would evolve as the nation expanded.
The nondenominated (50¢) stamp shows a graphic representation of the 20-star U.S. flag that developed from the 1818 act, which declared that the flag should have 13 horizontal stripes alternating red and white, and a union of 20 white stars on a field of blue.
When the act was approved on April 4, 1818, there were 20 states in the Union: Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, South Carolina, New Hampshire, Virginia, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Vermont, Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, Louisiana, Indiana and Mississippi.
The 20 stars on the flag then represented those 20 states, and the act declared that a new star would be added to the flag on the next July 4 after each new state was admitted.
It didn’t take long to begin planning for adjustments, because Illinois was admitted to the Union eight months later on Dec. 3, 1818.
The new stamp will be issued in a pane of 20 on June 9 with an 11:30 a.m. Central Daylight Time first-day ceremony during the 68th Appleton Flag Day Parade at Houdini Plaza, 100 W. Lawrence St., in Appleton, Wis.
For collectors wishing to attend the event, the Postal Service recommends registration to gain entrance.
Pat Mendonca, the USPS senior director for the postmaster general, will represent the Postal Service at the first-day ceremony.
The stamp design was created by Kit Hinrichs, a graphic designer and flag aficionado who previously designed the Flag forever definitive stamp issued in four varieties Feb. 9 (Scott 5260-5263).
“Hinrichs shows a flag with crisp folds and a layering effect that conveys a sense of the dynamism of the young nation,” according to the Postal Service.
Along with the 20-star flag illustration that dominates the center of the horizontal design, the commemorative stamp shows the title “Flag Act 1818” in gray reading up along the left side, and “Bicentennial” in gray reading down the right side. “USA Forever” is printed in black in a single horizontal line above the flag near the upper right corner.
Ethel Kessler also contributed to this project as USPS art director. The stamps were offset-printed by Ashton Potter in panes of 20.
As this story was going to press, the Postal Service had not announced if a press sheet of the new stamps would be made available.
The Flag Act enacted 200 years ago is straightforward and concise, describing in some 100 words what the flag would look like “from and after the fourth day of July next” (that is, in 1818), and how it shall be changed by adding one star with the admission of each new state.
The wording of the act is pictured in full on this page.
It was, in fact, the third and final Flag Act to be enacted by Congress.
The first, in 1777, resolved that the flag would consist of 13 alternating stripes of red and white, and 13 stars “representing a new constellation.”
After Vermont and Kentucky were admitted to the Union, the Flag Act of 1794 specified that the flag should have 15 stripes and 15 stars.
The Flag Act of 1818, celebrated by the new commemorative stamp, clearly foresaw that the flag design would become unwieldy if the number of stripes continued to increase each time a new state joined the nation. And it circumvented the need for Congress to act on the flag design every time a new state was ratified.
The bill was signed into law by President James Monroe.
The 13 red and white flag stripes restored in 1818 have been accepted as representing the country’s 13 original colonies.
The new stamp is the latest in a large number of U.S. stamps that show a historic flag rather than a contemporary flag.
The U.S. flag first appeared prominently on the 1869 30¢ ultramarine and carmine Eagle, Shield and Flags stamp (Scott 121).
The 1926 2¢ Battle of White Plains issue (Scott 629) is one of the earliest to depict a U.S. flag from a different era, showing a rendition of what is commonly known as the Betsy Ross flag or the Francis Hopkinson flag, with 13 alternating stripes and a circle of 13 stars in the blue field.
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Historic flags were a popular stamp design element around the time of the 1976 U.S. bicentennial, including the 13-star flag shown again on the 13¢ Flag Over Independence Hall definitive of 1975 (Scott 1622-1622C), and the 15-star and 15-stripe Fort McHenry flag (known as the “Star-Spangled Banner”) on the 15¢ Americana series definitive issued in 1978 (1597).
A set of 20 33¢ commemorative stamps was issued under the banner “The Stars and Stripes” on June 14, 2000, and displayed 20 different historic flags from the nation’s history, including one stamp that depicts today’s 50-star flag (Scott 3403).
Although information about first-day covers was not revealed by the Postal Service prior to this issue of Linn’s going to press, the Postal Service did publish illustrations of two pictorial cancels for the Flag Act of 1818 stamp, so it is anticipated that FDCs with color and black cancels will be made available for purchase.
The similar illustrations show the text “First Day of Issue” and “Flag Act of 1818” in a style resembling an old-form letterpress. A solid bar with repeating stars also appears on each of the two different first-day cancels.