Fifty stars for 60 years: stamps for the American flag
By Michael Baadke
The 50th star was added to the flag of the United States on July 4, 1960, following an executive order signed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower on Aug. 21, 1959.
After decades of the U.S. flag’s stars periodically growing in number as the country added new states, the changes simply came to an end after Hawaii joined the fold on the date of Eisenhower’s order.
From 1957 to 1960, the United States Post Office Department issued three stamps showing the national flag, all commemoratives representing the flag then current, and each one different by the number of white stars in the flag’s blue field.
On July 4, 1957, a 4¢ Old Glory stamp was issued, printed in dark blue and deep carmine to reproduce the flag colors of red, white and blue (Scott 1094).
The stamp was designed by Victor S. McCloskey Jr. (1908-88), who began his career with the Bureau of Engraving and Printing as an engraver but became a designer after just a few years.
Alaska was admitted into the Union on Jan. 3, 1959, and on July 4 of that year, a 4¢ 49-Star Flag stamp was issued (Scott 1132). It was designed by Stevan Dohanos (1907-94), who contributed many different stamp designs over the course of his career. Dohanos would be named to the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee in 1966 and worked as an art director for the Post Office Department.
Dohanos also designed the nation’s first 50-star Flag stamp, another 4¢ issue that was placed on sale exactly one year after its most recent Flag stamp predecessor, on July 4, 1960, less than a year after Hawaii became the 50th state on Aug. 21, 1959 (Scott 1153).
The designs of all three of these stamps were engraved by Charles A. Brooks (1905-93), who engraved many U.S. stamp designs over the course of nearly 30 years at the Bureau.
Although the 1957 and 1959 stamps were produced in a horizontal format and the 1960 stamp was vertical, all three were intaglio-printed on the Bureau’s Giori press. Sheets of 200 stamps were cut down to panes of 50 that were sold at the nation’s post offices.
The stripes of the U.S. flag appear behind the portrait of the Girl Scout on the 4¢ Girl Scouts USA stamp issued July 24, 1962 (Scott 1199), but the next true Flag stamp wasn’t issued until Jan. 9, 1963, when the 50-star flag was featured with a small engraving of the White House on a 5¢ stamp (1208).
In recent years the number of U.S. Flag stamps issued has increased in frequency and in quantity.
In 1999 two different definitive stamps, the 33¢ Flag and City and the 33¢ Flag and Chalkboard, were issued within 16 days, on Feb. 25 and March 13, respectively (Scott 3277-3282 and 3283). Both presumably show 50-star flags, though Old Glory is closely cropped on each, making star counting impossible.
The most recent 50-star flag to appear on a U.S. stamp came on Jan. 27, 2019, with four stamps issued as horizontal definitives (Scott 5342-5345). The designs are the same on all four nondenominated (55¢) forever stamps, except for variations in the placement of microprinting.
Two stamps came from coils produced by two different contract printers, Ashton Potter USA and Banknote Corporation, and the other two came from double-sided panes of 20, a format the U.S. Postal Service describes as a booklet, from the same two printers.
USPS art director Antonio Alcala designed the stamps using his photograph taken at Chicago’s Navy Pier.
The U.S. Flag forever stamped envelope issued this year on June 15 is, in a sense, a 60th anniversary celebration of the 50-star flag, which has been featured on so many different stamps from the United States and other countries.
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