Animals, flowers and fun planned for 2021 U.S. stamps
By Michael Baadke
After contending with the COVID-19 pandemic, rampant wildfires, an endless string of hurricanes and a contentious presidential election, many Americans have had enough of 2020 and are looking forward to 2021.
Perhaps with that in mind, the United States Postal Service has revealed much of its new stamp program for the coming year, and according to Stamp Services director William Gicker, “We made a special effort to include a little fun.”
Along with serious tributes to Japanese-American soldiers of World War II (planned as an intaglio stamp printing) and nuclear physicist Chien-Shiung Wu, the Postal Service will offer eight stamps celebrating backyard games such as cornhole and horseshoes, four stamps depicting Western wear including a cowboy hat and an ornate boot, and espresso drinks for the caffeine connoisseur on another set of four.
Only one stamp revealed in the Postal Service’s Nov. 12 announcement commemorates a historic anniversary — the bicentennial of Missouri statehood — but the agency pointed out that the 63 new stamps unveiled so far represent only part of the coming year’s program.
That might also explain the absence of any stamps representing the long-running Black Heritage series or the newer Music Icons series, both of which are popular with collectors.
Other familiar stamp series are represented, beginning with a set of five Mid-Atlantic Lighthouses stamps with artwork by Howard Koslow, who painted these designs and those of the previous Lighthouse issues prior to his death in 2016.
Collectors will also see a new Love stamp in 2021, and a new Butterfly stamp for nonmachineable mail.
And the year will begin with a Happy New Year wish on a forever stamp welcoming the Year of the Ox, the second stamp in the current series.
Several multistamp issues are planned, including 10 brightly colored flower stamps, another set of 10 recognizing “pre-industrial farm animals,” and four stamps denominated for postcard use that show seasonal views of American barns.
A surprising new holiday issue offers four stamps to celebrate Day of the Dead. The annual early November event has its roots in Mexico but is also observed in other Latin American countries and by many in the United States.
Four stamps in a set titled Message Monsters show cartoonlike creatures that can be augmented with “dozens of self-adhesive accessories.”
Individual stamps planned for 2021 run the gamut from a Happy Birthday issue to a Raven Story stamp paying tribute to Native American traditions, and include a brightly colored “Mystery Message” stamp plus an additional-ounce rate stamp showing the brush rabbit, a native of the American West.
Following are the details of the 19 issues unveiled so far, based in part on the Postal Service’s descriptions. Unless otherwise noted, the stamps are nondenominated forever stamps, which are expected to remain unchanged in 2021 from the current 55¢ rate.
Go For Broke: Japanese American Soldiers of WWII. Some 30,000 Japanese American soldiers served in the U.S. Army during the WWII, and this vertical commemorative stamp, based on a photograph but rendered by intaglio printing, recognizes their contributions and sacrifices.
“Go for Broke” was the motto of the all-Japanese-American 100th Infantry Battalion and 442nd Regimental Combat Team, according to the Postal Service, and came to represent all Japanese-American units formed during WWII.
Brush Rabbit. The additional-ounce rate, currently 15¢, will increase to 20¢ on Jan. 24, and the Postal Service will issue a new stamp that can be applied to domestic letter mail that exceeds the 1-ounce limit for a forever stamp.
Using artwork by Dugal Stermer, the stamp shows a brush rabbit and will please many collectors by including the common name of the rabbit underneath its portrait and the scientific name (Sylvilagus bachmani) curving above its back.
The Brush Rabbit stamp will be issued in a pane of 20 and in a coil of 100.
Lunar New Year: Year of the Ox. The second stamp in the planned series of 12 features a decorated three-dimensional mask showing the head of an ox, with original artwork by Camille Chew, who also created the rat mask pictured on the 2020 Year of the Rat stamp (Scott 5428). These stamps are expected in a pane of 20.
The first day of the upcoming Year of the Ox is Feb. 12, 2021.
Chien-Shiung Wu. A vertical commemorative with a portrait by Kam Mak celebrates nuclear physicist Chien-Shiung Wu (1912-1997).
“During a career that spanned more than 40 years in a field dominated by men, she established herself as the authority on conducting precise and accurate research to test fundamental theories of physics,” the Postal Service said.
Love. The Love stamp for 2021 uses a digital graphic design by Bailey Sullivan spelling out the word LOVE in two-tone bold block letters. Four hearts and other elements against a dark blue background fill out the rectangle.
Garden Beauty. These 10 horizontal definitive stamps follow 2020’s similar vertical Wild Orchids issue (Scott 5435-5454).
The new stamps provide a garden mixture consisting of a pink flowering dogwood, a rose-pink and white tulip, an allium or ornamental onion, a pink and white Asiatic lily, a magenta dahlia, a yellow and pink American lotus, a pink moth orchid with mottled petals, a pink and white sacred lotus, an orange and yellow tulip, and a yellow moth orchid with a pink center.
The Garden Beauty stamps will be issued in a double-sided pane of 20, which the Postal Service describes as a booklet. Art director Ethel Kessler designed the stamps using existing photographs by Allen Rokach.
Mystery Message. Twenty small brightly colored boxes containing intricate patterns are stacked in rows to fill a single square forever stamp. A closer look reveals that the design by USPS art director Antonio Alcala contains lettering that spells out a mystery message.
If you would like to decipher the message yourself, you can check your answer at the end of this article.
Colorado Hairstreak Butterfly. The Postal Service again tapped artist Tom Engeman to create the illustration for the eighth stamp in the Butterfly series for nonmachineable mail such as square greeting cards.
The stamp art is highly stylized and simplified, according to the Postal Service, but it provides an attractive representation of Colorado’s handsome state insect.
The new stamp presumably will replace the California Dogface Butterfly stamp issued Jan. 27, 2019 (Scott 5346).
Barns. Four stamps at the postcard rate (planned to increase 1¢ to 36¢ on Jan. 24) will each show a barn in one of the four seasons. Designed by Ashley Walton, the stamps feature original artwork by Kim Johnson.
The designs, according to the Postal Service, show “a round barn surrounded by the hazy light and warm colors of fall; a gambrel-roofed barn in summer; a forebay barn in an early spring countryside; and a Western barn on a winter’s night.”
Backyard Games. Eight stamps in a pane of 16 depict the familiar outdoor games of horseshoes, bocce, flying disc, croquet, baseball, tetherball, badminton and cornhole. The artwork by Mick Wiggins shows game equipment enlarged in the foreground, with the participants in the background.
Mike Ryan designed the stamps.
Day of the Dead. Human skulls make their debut on U.S. stamps with four decorated examples on four different stamps to celebrate the Mexican holiday that remembers the departed.
The festive designs by Luis Fitch each include candles and floral elements, along with decorative personal touches for each skull.
Heritage Breeds. Ten more animals will be showcased on a pane of 20 stamps featuring heritage breeds, which the Postal Service describes as “pre-industrial farm animals that are enjoying renewed attention for their versatility, adaptability and unique genetic traits.”
The featured breeds are the American mammoth jackstock donkey, the Narragansett turkey, the Cayuga duck, the San Clemente Island goat, the mulefoot hog, the cotton patch goose, the American cream draft horse, the Barbados blackbelly sheep, the milking Devon cow, and the Wyandotte chicken. Zack Bryant designed the stamps with photographs by Aliza Eliazarov.
Raven Story. “Merging traditional artwork with modern design touches, this stamp depicts one of many stories about Raven, a figure of great significance to the indigenous people of the Northwest Coast,” the Postal Service said in its description of this single forever stamp.
“Among the cultures of the region, the raven plays an essential role in many traditional tales, including stories about the creation of the world. Inspired by the traditional story of Raven setting free the sun, the moon and the stars, Tlingit/Athabascan artist Rico Worl depicts Raven just as he escapes from his human family and begins to transform back into his bird form.”
Western Wear. Four stamps with a decidedly Western feel depict a cowboy hat, a belt buckle with a longhorn skull, a cowboy boot with a spur and a Western-style shirt with a floral pattern.
Cacti, snakes, stars and roses are among the decorative elements surrounding the subjects in the illustrations by Ryan Feerer.
Mid-Atlantic Lighthouses. Koslow’s paintings of lighthouses first appeared on U.S. stamps in 1990 (Scott 2470-2474). The set of five stamps was the first of seven he completed before his death in 2016 at age 91.
The seventh and final set will be issued in 2021 and depict mid-Atlantic lighthouses: Thomas Point Shoal, Md.; Montauk Point, N.Y.; Harbor of Refuge, Del.; Navesink, N.J.; and Erie Harbor Pierhead, Pa.
Missouri Statehood. A photograph of Bollinger’s Mill State Historic Site by landscape photographer Charles Gurche is shown on the new stamp marking 200 years of Missouri statehood.
Missouri became the 24th state in the Union on Aug. 10, 1821.
Message Monsters. The Postal Service describes this set of four as inviting interactivity with “dozens of self-adhesive accessories” to personalize mail franked with these diverse monster stamps.
“Decorations include hearts, hats, voice balloons, flowers and thought bubbles,” with artwork by Elise Gravel. The stamps will be issued in a pane of 20.
Espresso Drinks. A set of four stamps in a double-sided pane of 20 features four coffee drinks depicted in digital art by Terry Allen.
Each illustration includes the name of the drink in “art deco-inspired lettering”: caffe latte, espresso, caffe mocha and cappuccino.
Happy Birthday. Three U.S. stamps expressing birthday wishes were issued during the early years of this century. This new version with a digital illustration by Rodolfo Castro, and designed by Castro with Lisa Catalone Castro, recalls the “childhood excitement of a birthday party.” In this confetti celebration, a pointed party hat substitutes for the A in HAPPY, and other party decorations inspiring the remaining letters.
“A handwritten letter shows the recipient how much you care. The stamp you choose to adorn your envelope adds an extra important touch,” Gicker said to introduce the planned issues.
“The new 2021 stamps are designed to look beautiful on your envelopes, to be educational, and to appeal to collectors and pen pals around the world.”
USPS art directors credited for the announced 2021 stamps are Antonio Alcala (Go For Broke: Japanese American Soldiers of WWII, Lunar New Year, Mystery Message, Day of the Dead, Raven Story, Message Monsters), Ethel Kessler (Chien-Shiung Wu, Garden Beauty, Brush Rabbit, Happy Birthday), Derry Noyes (Colorado Hairstreak Butterfly), and Greg Breeding (Love, Barns, Backyard Games, Heritage Breeds, Western Wear, Mid-Atlantic Lighthouses, Missouri Statehood, Espresso Drinks).
Issue dates and locations for these stamps were not revealed by the Postal Service. Formats for the stamps are noted where known.
The lettering on the Mystery Message forever stamp spells out “MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE!”
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