US Stamps

Breakup of the Soviet Union caused last-minute changes to joint issue

May 2, 2021, 10 PM

U.S. Stamp Notes — By John M. Hotchner

One of the more striking United States space issues was the Space Accomplishments joint issue with Russia.

Both postal administrations issued se-tenant blocks of four May 29, 1992, with the same designs (United States Scott 2631-2634, Russia 6080-6083).

The fall of the Soviet Union in December 1991 affected these designs.

Planning for this joint issue began in 1990 when the Soviet Union was alive, if not well. The art was a joint project of American artist Robert McCall (1919-2010) and Soviet artist Vladimir Beilin. McCall previously had worked with other Soviet artists.

By late 1991, the two postal administrations had agreed on art for the stamp designs. But in December — at the 11th hour in terms of stamp production — the U.S. Postal Service received a phone call from the Russians saying that in view of the “radical changes taking place” in the Soviet Union, the letters CCCP (the Russian abbreviation for Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) would have to be removed from the uniform of the cosmonaut on the stamp in the upper left.

After discussion back and forth, both the CCCP on the cosmonaut and USA on the American astronaut (on the stamp in the upper right) were replaced.

The first idea was to replace these country designations with flags, but ultimately the cosmonaut and astronaut were identified with the logo of Glavkosmos (the Russian space agency) and NASA (the National Aeronautics and Space Administration), respectively.

However, the original CCCP was left on the Soyuz spacecraft featured on the stamp in the lower right, as well as on a spacecraft on the stamp in the lower right.

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My thanks to Harold Griffin, who provided the original approved art and correspondence on the subject from the personal files of Jack Williams, the USPS program manager for philatelic design at the time this joint issue was being developed.