2001: A U.S. Love Letter Stamp Odyssey
Looking back today, 18 years later, it seems almost too obvious. If we must have Love stamps — and we must; they’ve proven very popular with postal patrons — then how could the U.S. Postal Service overlook the very letters that are its livelihood?
The first Love stamps dedicated to love letters were introduced in 2001, 28 years after the USPS issued Robert Indiana’s iconic “Love” design as an 8-cent stamp in 1973. But in fact the best U.S. stamps concerning the power of the letter were released 27 years earlier: eight 10-cent stamps issued in 1974, just the year after that first Love stamp, in conjunction with the centennial of the Universal Postal Union. A block of eight is shown above, with images by distinguished artists including Michelangelo, Gainsborough and Goya underscoring the theme that “Letters Mingle Souls.” That line was coined by the English poet John Donne, in the opening to his poem To Sir Henry Wotton: “… more than kisses, letters mingle souls, / For thus, friends absent speak…”
It is in precisely that spirit that the letters of John and Abigail Adams were the perfect subject of the 2001 Love Stamps. To gauge their importance in the lives of these remarkable people, visit the website of the Massachusetts Historical Society (MHS), where 1,160 of the letters they now curate may be viewed and their transcriptions read at leisure.
Mystic Stamp Company accurately says of these writings, “Frequently separated, John and Abigail Adams stayed connected to one another through witty, newsy, passionate letters.”
That is true, though most of the passion was over affairs of state, deeds and misdeeds of influential men, and current events at the farm. John regarded Abigail not only as a loving spouse upon whose support he relied, but as an astute adviser on matters political as well, and the two corresponded as eyewitnesses to the most events of their age. Their marriage endured more than 50 years, with the last letters sent between them in 1801, as John left the White House ...
Continue reading this article by Fred Bauman, featured on pages 166 - 169 of the Feburary 2019 issue of The American Philatelist. The monthly magazine is just one of the many benefits of membership in the American Philatelic Society. Learn more and become a member: stamps.org/Join-Now
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A "Spectacular" Cover
Franked with two 10¢ Washingtons, this large, ornate cover festooned with Cupids was “widely regarded as the most spectacular 1847 issue Valentine cover extant” in the 2013 Siegel sale of the William H. Gross Collection of 1847 and 1851-56 Issues.
The multicolored card with fine embossing in ivory and pale rose within featured bouquets at the corners and a rosy-cheeked portrait of a fetching young lady in an oversized golden frame above this hand-picked pasted-in quatrain in ornate script:
“When first I saw
Those sparkling eyes
I felt love’s flame
Within me rise.”
The 20 cents postage paid the distance to Lakeville, then reckoned as more than 300 miles, including an additional 10 cents for excess weight. The cover was hammered down to a bidder at $9,000.
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‘Burn as Usual’
Alexandria ‘Blue Boy’ Franked One-of-a-Kind Love Letter
On July 1, 1845, new postal rates came into effect: 5 cents per half-ounce for letters travelling 300 miles or less, and twice that for letters going farther. Postmasters in a handful of U.S. municipalities wondered why they couldn’t prepay the rates with postage stamps, introduced in Great Britain in 1840.
They issued their own provisional stamps before Congress finally authorized the U.S. postmaster-general to do so in 1847, and these early imperforate adhesives are some of the scarcest and most sought-after items in the American album.
Three of the stamps are unique 5-cent denominations known only used on cover. Primitive handstamped 1846 postmaster provisional stamps of Boscawen, New Hampshire, and Lockport, New York, are each today valued at $300,000. But the most elusive of these provisionals is the 1846 5-cent typeset black on blue paper stamp mailed in November 1847 from Alexandria to Richmond, Virginia.
Six examples of this design in two styles were printed in black on buff-colored paper, but the “Blue Boy,” as its name implies, is the only one printed on bright blue paper. For its value, Scott shows only a long dash (—), used when an item is so scarce or infrequently available that there is no way to establish a reliable catalog value.
The last time this cover changed hands – 38 years ago in Geneva – it was reportedly acquired by an anonymous collector in Europe for $1,000,000 U.S. It was the first single U.S. philatelic item to break the million-dollar barrier, a record the Blue Boy held for many years.
But here’s the thing; this cover shouldn’t exist.
The lover who mailed it clearly marked it “Burn as Usual” — a sign that the young lovers between whom the cover passed had concealed their mutual affection before by destroying the evidence, obliterating the paper trail. Neither his nor her family approved of their relationship.
One dedicated, thoughtful woman, May Day Taylor, took up the challenge of trying to find out who these lovers were, and what had become of them. The recommended arson was avoided of course, and the couple was eventually united — a happy ending for all concerned.
Taylor wrote a book, "The Alexandria Blue Boy: the Postmaster, the Letter and the Legend" and she told the story as well in the May 2006 American Philatelist, which APS members a can access online from the American Philatelic Research Library's homepage then follow the links for "Digital Library".