US Stamps

Stamp illustration regulations changed over time: U.S. Stamp Notes

May 3, 2021, 8 PM

By John M. Hotchner

I was surprised to see the 1948 3¢ Indian Centennial stamp (Scott 972) pictured on the 1951 Oklahoma Philatelic Society convention label shown nearby.

Why? Because there was a long-term ban on reproducing United States stamps in such a way as to facilitate the use of such illustrations for genuine postage.

Indeed, there was a total ban on showing printed images of U.S. stamps for 66 years, from 1872 to 1938.

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However, the 1872 law was not enforced with vigor until 1882. This made the printing of stamp albums and stamp catalogs extremely difficult, and led to a change in the law in 1923 to permit the frames of U.S. stamps to be shown at four times the normal size.

Fifteen years later, Congress passed the Hayden-Duffy Act on Jan. 17, 1938. This act provided that full illustrations could be used if they were of a size less than 75 percent of the actual stamp, or more than 150 percent of the normal size.

Also, this law required that the illustrations could be in black-and-white only. Color was strictly forbidden.

This was the law in effect when the Oklahoma sheetlet was produced. Note that the stamp — normally a golden-brown — is in black-and-white, and the image is 75 percent of normal.

Some 35 years later, the law was again changed to allow for color reproduction of stamps.

I think we can all agree that this was a positive change, and that our periodicals, stamp catalogs, advertising, auction catalogs, and indeed the U.S. Postal Service’s own sales catalogs are better for it.