US Stamps

The 1938 Prexie series began with a design contest

Feb 22, 2023, 12 PM

U.S. Stamp Notes by John M. Hotchner

The United States 1938 Presidential definitive stamp series, nicknamed the Prexies, is almost 85 years old (the 1¢ Washington stamp was issued April 25, 1938). However, because I grew up with the Prexies and think of myself as about 50, the age of the series is an inconvenient fact.

The Prexies lured me into the stamp hobby. I saw them as having a classic, simple, consistently applied design throughout the series up to the three dollar denominations ($1, $2 and $5). The rich colors also appealed to me.

Figure 1 shows eight of the 32 stamps in the series.

Half-hearted attempts to achieve consistency in U.S. definitive series design ever since have been failures, with only one exceptional success: the Transportation coils series of 1981, with a multitude of new designs over more than a decade.

The first and last stamps of the Transportation series are pictured in Figure 2: the 18¢ Surrey 1890s stamp issued May 18, 1981 (Scott 1907), and the 20¢ Cog Railways 1870 issued June 9, 1995 (2463).

I would give an honorable mention to the Liberty series of 1954, but I feel that more than a half dozen of its stamps depart from the basic concept.

This is not to say that all the diverse designs for definitive stamps (what the Postal Service calls “mail use” issues as contrasted to commemoratives, which it considers as being for collectors) are failures. Many have been outstanding.

But there is little design integrity within most U.S. definitive issues, and I think that is not only a loss artistically, but also something of a loss to the USPS if one considers that the Prexies and the Transportation coils were a great hit with collectors.

So, where did the Prexies design concept come from?

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