After the excitement of opening day of the Great American Stamp Show, the crowds were back at it again on Friday, descending on Hall C of the Huntington Convention Center of Cleveland to search for philatelic treasures, attend society meetings, and discover all GASS 2023 has to offer.
First Day Ceremonies
Thinking of You United States Postal Service
The USPS kicked off Friday's first day ceremonies with the debut of the Thinking of You issue, a set of five Forever stamp sold in sheets of 20 which feature "whimsical artwork and stickers with messages of encouragement for use on envelopes." The series' artwork was created by LA-based artist Ellen Surrey. Dawn Hamman, President of the American Topical Association, served as MC for the event, Cara Greene (Vice President and Controller of USPS) was the dedicating official, and Nicole Harrell (Supervisor, Distribution & Operations of Cleveland for the USPS) returned with the USPS Honor Guard troop for the National Anthem and presentation of colors. APS Executive Director Scott English delivered the welcome at the ceremony, taking a moment to take a selfie with the crowd (and being sure to include youth exhibitor Christina Esbeck, who was disappointed not to have made it into the previous day's picture). Also representing the ATA was Jennifer Miller, the Association's Executive Director, who spoke on the collectibility of the issue, which features a variety of popular topics, including ice cream, cake, cats, and dogs. Miller was careful to keep her remarks brief, saying "I don't want to make this speech too long, because I'm 'thinking of you.'"
Rounding out the ceremony were Greg Breeding, the art director of this and many other USPS issues, and Christina Esbeck. Breeding shared with the crowd that he was thrilled to work on this issue, in part because he's working on introducing his young granddaughter to the world of philately, and knows she'll be delighted to receive an envelope featuring the designs. He also mentioned that he fought to include both a slice of birthday cake and a cupcake in the issue, saying (with a significant glance at Esbeck), that "it was a very tense moment in [his] career." Esbeck, who is well-known in philatelic circles for her cupcake collection and exhibit, was the final speaker. She noted that this was the first time that the U.S. has issued a cupcake stamp, and expressed her hope that such a fun and joyful issue would encourage more people to send paper letters.
Boston 2026 Label First Day Ceremony Boston 2026 World Expo
The second ceremony of the jam-packed day was the unveiling of the third limited-edition Boston 2026 show label. Chris Lazaroff, the Boston 2026 Committee USPS Liaison, and APS Executive Director Scott English both delivered welcomes, remarking on the international show's ability to build excitement in the worldwide philatelic community, and the opportunity to show off how the U.S. does philately. Newly appointed Boston 2026 President (and APS Board member) Yamil Kouri also urged the gathered audience to support the show, and the decade of diligent behind-the-scenes work that has already been done to ensure its success.
The third label was designed by award-winning stamp and cachet designer Chris Calle, who also designed the previous labels and accompanying cachets and postmarks. Calle's artwork will be be issued yearly in the lead up to the 2026 show. The design of the third label prominently features the 1973 USPS Boston Tea Party block of four stamps, a portrait of Samuel Adams, and the iconic "Join, or Die" segmented snake flag (a design attributed to Benjamin Franklin). In his remarks at the first day ceremony, Calle noted that he himself is a proud New Englander, and is pleased to have the opportunity to spread the word of the show via the patriotic The Road to Boston label series.
Martin Mörck's 1000th Stamp Posta Faroe Islands
In their second first day ceremony at GASS 2023, representatives of Posta Faroe Islands took the stage to issue yet another stamp "brought to you by the number 1000": the 1000th stamp created by Master Engraver Martin Mörck. Jay Bigalke returned as the ceremony MC, while Svanbjørg Manai of Posta Faroe Islands delivered a heartfelt speech detailing her history working with Mörck over the years and touching on a few of the 48 stamps he had designed for Posta. Armagan Özdinç, philatelist, APS member, and arguably Mörck's biggest fan, also delivered remarks, praising Mörck's work and giving the audience a sneak peek into the process of creating the issue, a secret mission that began in 2021 (originally without Mörck's knowledge, though Özdinç and Manai eventually let him in on the secret).
The artist himself was also on hand to speak, sharing stories of his upbringing among artists, his varied career, and his love of the Grateful Dead with the gathered audience. Though he was always drawn to engraving, Mörck is a true renaissance man, and took time away from his career as a freelancer for a variety of postal services to learn to build stone walls and boats. He said at the ceremony, however, that he knows he made the correct choice to stick with engraving, because "I wake up at 6 every morning with a very good feeling and itchy fingers."
The issue, featuring the painting Returning from Fishing by Emil Krause, is the largest known hand-engraved stamp, beating out the previous record held by Czesław Słania. You can read more about how the issue came to be in Özdinç's words here.
The ceremony concluded with a surprise; Bigalke revealed that the Scott Catalog is producing a checklist of Mörck's work, to be released later this year.
Rattlesnake Island Local Post 2023 Issue Unveiling Rattlesnake Island Local Post
For the final ceremony of the day (and of GASS 2023), Rattlesnake Island Local Post, the last bastion of local post in the U.S., revealed the designs of their 2023 issue. APS Executive Director Scott English served as MC, calling RILP "as American as it gets" and encouraging the gathered crowd to support local post by buying up the RILP booth's stock and sending letters with RILP stamps to friends and family. RILP Postmaster General Dave Gill then spoke about the history of RILP and his part in restarting the local post in 2022. RILP artist Beth Gregerson was also on hand to discuss the finer points of the creation of the 2023 and past issues, giving insight into the creation of the stamps and the choice of subjects.
The 2023 issue unveiled at the ceremony commemorates the 210th anniversary of the Battle of Lake Erie, and features three designs, traditional for RILP's annual issue. 2023's designs include a portrait of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, the brig Niagara, and an illustration on Perry being carried across the lake by rowboat, holding the iconic "Dont Give Up the Ship" flag. RILP will release the issue at a first day ceremony on the anniversary of the battle, You can visit RILP.org to learn more about obtaining the issue and to read about the first day ceremony in Gill's own words.
Friday saw record crowds at the APS Youth Booth, where volunteers (including YPLF fellows and their parents) directed visiting children to a large pile of kid-friendly stamps and a variety of activities designed to spark interest in philately and postal history. The YPLF was also engaged in slinging covers and YPLF t-shirts to collectors at their own booth directly across the way, gaining valuable experience selling philatelic materials while raising money for the fellowship program (and finding some interesting covers for their own collection as well!).