US Stamps

Same photo yields two different Helen Keller stamp designs

Mar 29, 2020, 10 AM

U.S. Stamp Notes by John M. Hotchner

Designing stamps is a challenge. Achieving a meaningful and attractive finished product on a figurative canvas roughly an inch square, give or take, is an art in itself, allowing for plenty of creativity.

Some stamp designs are based on a photograph or live model. Others are the result of an artist’s vision. Regardless of the inspiration, as with nearly all art, the finished product is guaranteed to displease some viewers and critics.

This column focuses on examples of contrasting stamp designs, one from the United States and one from Brazil, that are based on the same artwork, a photograph of Helen Keller (1880-1968) and her teacher Anne Sullivan (1866-1936).

Figure 1 shows the U.S. 15¢ Helen Keller stamp issued June 27, 1980 (Scott 1824), the 100th anniversary of her birth. The 4-cruzeiro stamp from Brazil (Scott 1706), shown in Figure 2, was issued about a month later, on July 28, 1980.

Chances are whether you like them both, or don’t cotton to either, you will like one better than the other. As a means of appreciating the difficult task of designing, I challenge you to think a bit about what it is that you like and don’t like about each.

The vertically formatted U.S. design is muted, reproduced in pastel colors with the two names (Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan) in large type.

The Brazilian stamp, which is horizontally formatted, features an arresting colorful background with the heads of Keller and Sullivan in black outline. Keller is identified in tiny type at bottom center; Sullivan is not identified at all. The two stamps could hardly be more different.

The U.S. stamp was designed by Paul Calle. According to an inscription in the lower right of the Brazilian stamp, it was designed by A.L. Escorel. The photograph they used dates from 1895.

A much later photo of the two women was included with a short article in the June 29, 1980, issue of the Chicago Tribune, shown in Figure 3. Headlined “Deaf and blind, she prevailed,” the article reports on the U.S. stamp that had just been issued two days earlier.

A few other countries have also issued stamps honoring Keller. For example, Figure 4 shows India’s 30-paisa stamp (Scott 867). Like the U.S. stamp, it was issued on her birth centennial, June 27, 1980.

If you wish to remark on the designs of the U.S. and Brazilian stamps, I would be pleased to hear from you by email at, or by mail at Box 1125, Falls Church, VA 22041-0125.

I plan to include a selection of your thoughts and preferences in a future U.S. Stamp Notes column.

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