The 50th anniversary of an important piece of civil rights legislation focused on equality is acknowledged on a set of four new stamps and flowers of all types bloom on seven new stamps issued in March by the U.S. Postal Service. The legislation known as Title IX was created to bring equality between the sexes in regards to resources devoted to programs in all institutions that benefit from federal funding.
The USPS almost annually releases stamps showing flowers, but there have been more than usual this year as more stamps have been needed to accommodate rate changes set in January. A pair of stamps showing flowers serving the non-profit rate were issued in February. In March, the USPS released seven face-different stamps showing flowers, accommodating three rates. All the stamps are currently available at post offices or via the national Philatelic Fulfillment Center, by mail, phone or internet.
The U.S. Postal Service helped celebrate the start of Women’s History Month in March by issuing a block of four stamps celebrating the 50th anniversary of the landmark federal legislation known as Title IX (Figure 1).
Figure 1. Information and ordering details for the Title IX block of four are available from the U.S. Postal Service here.
The 37-word law states: No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.
“The law is one of the most significant pieces of civil rights legislation in American history,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona in a U.S. Postal Service video promoting the new stamp. Title IX was enacted by Congress and signed into law by President Richard Nixon on June 23, 1972.
The stamps, released five days before International Women’s Day, were formally issued in a live ceremony March 3 in a ceremony at the U.S. Department of Education in Washington, D.C.
The stamps feature dark blue silhouettes of four female athletes: a runner, a swimmer, a gymnast and a soccer player. Yellow laurel branches, symbolic of victory, rest in their hair and on the swimmer’s cap. The Forever stamps are sold in panes of 20.
“Title IX” appears written across the women’s cheeks, intended as an empowering message about the inclusion of women and girls in all educational settings,” the Postal Service said.
Artist Melinda Beck designed the stamps. The art director was Derry Noyes.
“I can personally attest to the positive impacts of Title IX. I have seen my daughter excel with the increased opportunities available to her. I am thankful she can grow up knowing these rights are not only deserved but expected,” said Amber McReynolds, the lone female member of the USPS Board of Governors and dedicating Postal Service official during the ceremony.
“The law forever changed how girls and women would experience life in the United States,” said Olympian de Varona, who also participated in both ceremonies. De Varona, 74, held multiple world records in swimming, was on the U.S. Olympic team at the age of 13 in 1960 and won two gold medals at the 1964 Olympics. After her competitive days she became one of the first female national sports broadcasters and has been a women’s sports advocate for many years. From 2006 to 2018, de Varona served on the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee, where she lobbied for Title IX stamp.
“Sports participation provides women with the tools necessary to flourish in our competitive world, from learning goal setting and respecting adversaries to honoring codes of conduct ad blossoming into national leaders,” de Varona said at both ceremonies. “Sports equips women for success for the rest of their lives. That is the ethos captured by this stamp.”
This is the first of two women’s sports issues scheduled this year from the U.S. Postal Service. On May 19, the USPS will issue four stamps depicting Women’s Rowing in Philadelphia. The release comes the day before the two-day Stotesbury Cup Regatta in the same city. The Stotesbury is the world’s oldest and one of the largest high school rowing competition for boys and girls teams.
A quartet of Mountain Flora nondenominated Forever stamps released March 14 celebrate the beauty of mountain flowers with images of a purple pasqueflower, an orange-red wood lily, a bright yellow alpine buttercup and a dark pink Woods’ rose (Figure 2).
Figure 2. A strip of seven shows how the Wood Lily stamp drops out temporarily to accommodate the plate block number. Information and ordering details for the Mountain Flora stamps are available from the U.S. Postal Service here.
Artist Lili Arnold’s hand-drawn illustrations, refined digitally, create a block-print aesthetic. The stamps have been produced in booklets of 20 and coils of 3,000 and 10,000. Ethel Kessler served as art director. The stamps carry a formal first day locale of Alpine, Wyoming. Arnold gave a basic description of how she created the artwork in an email interview.
“My specialty is block prints which are hand-carved and hand-printed. I did consider trying to create block prints of the floral images, but there were too many unknown factors in play. Hand-carving blocks takes so much time, and every carved line is final, so it leaves little to no room for edits along the way.
“Because this stamp project required a very small scale and potentially multiple revisions, I wanted to work in a format which allowed more experimentation and openness to change, so I ended up working digitally on my iPad and Apple Pencil. I used an app called Procreate to create outlines, color layers, details and mock-ups of the final stamps.”
The stamps do indeed have an appearance of block prints.
“While working digitally doesn’t always capture the essence of handmade block prints, I believe we achieved an awesome alternative digitally that works perfectly on the small stamp scale,” Arnold said.
In addition to the images, the stamps carry text that includes the name of the flower, “Forever / USA” and the issue year, “2022.” The stamps were originally to be issued February 17, but were delated because of a paper-supply issue, according to a story in Linn’s Stamp News.
Ashton Potter (USA) Ltd. printed the stamps with an offset process on the Muller A76 press. The booklet stamps and coils are slightly different sizes, the USPS noted in news releases. The booklet stamps have an image area of .77 of an inch wide by 1.05 inches high while the whole stamp is .91 of an inch by 1.19 inches.
All the coil stamps have an image area of .73 of an inch by .84 of an inch and an overall size of .87 of an inch by .98 of an inch. The plate numbers for both types begin with a P followed by four digits. Plate numbers on the coils are found on every 27th stamp.
The plate number appearing on an odd-numbered stamp combined with a four-stamp set creates a bit of an unusual sequence around the stamp with the plate number, points out a Linn’s Stamp News article on the issue.
You can collect these any way you wish, but Scott has assigned a left-to-right catalog number order as Wood Lily (Scott 5672), Alpine Buttercup (Scott 5673), Woods’ Rose (Scott 5674) and Pasqueflower (Scott 5675), with a strip in that order, from left, as 5675a.
Note that the plate number always appears on a Pasqueflower stamp so a strip of seven with the plate number in the center loses an adjacent Wood Lily stamp.
Using its quarterly Philatelic USA catalog (as a print product or online), customers can order strips of 25 ($14.50) with plate numbers from both size coils by using product numbers 750903 (coil of 3,000) and 761103 (coil of 10,000). (When I tried to order online, technical difficulties prevented me from completing the order. If that happens, you can order by phone at 844-737-7826.)
Arnold is an artist and designer who began her creative career as a graphic designer. “I encourage all of you out there who have a creative inkling to give it a shot even if it begins with just a crazy illustration from an idea you got from a weird dream.”
Interview with Lili Arnold – Stamp Artist
Do you recall when you started working on these stamps?
I started working on the stamp project in March of 2020, which was a hopeful distraction during the pandemic. I was so excited and inspired I was ready to drop everything to work on it.
How did you and the USPS (Ethel Kessler) get connected?
Ethel contacted me through my website; I believe she was led to my work through friends. Once she saw my work, she thought that it might translate nicely to a stamp. I was beyond thrilled to connect with her. I was happy to re-create my style in the itty-bitty stamp format.
Are these your first postage stamps?
Yes, these are my first stamps. If I have the opportunity to create more in the future I definitely will; it was truly an enjoyable project.
Did you choose the flowers for the stamps or were they suggested?
Initially, Ethel decided on the mountain flora theme, so I ran with that and through my research I chose five flower varieties that I thought looked nice together. Then Ethel and her team narrowed it down to the final four. We wanted a nice variety of colors and compositions that also felt harmonious.
Was there anything in particular that prompted you to choose these flowers?
I am particularly drawn to flowers that have large, elaborate, or simply interesting blooms or textures. I love to work with intricate line work in my carving process when making block prints, so creating in this style I naturally gravitate toward plants that give me the opportunity to express that.
Did you have to make many tweaks on these pieces? If so, can you give us any specifics?
I did a couple of revisions in terms of composition for one or two of the pieces. If I recall correctly, the Woods Rose main bloom was moved down toward the center of the stamp to feel a bit more balanced.
How large were the artworks when finished?
The digital artboards I used to create these pieces was somewhere around 5000 pixels by 7000 pixels, just so I had the option to capture extreme detail if I needed it.
What were the biggest challenges and biggest triumphs in this project?
To be honest, there were no big challenges that stand out to me. I was amazed and thrilled with how easy it felt to create the artwork and how practically seamless the logistical process was. Working with Ethel was amazing, too. She gave me so much creative freedom and trusted my artistic instincts throughout the whole journey. I think the triumph of the project was seeing the four artworks put into a stamp book mockup; it was the moment when everything started to feel real!
Is there anything else you would like to add about the process or project?
I was pleasantly surprised to find out that USPS will be producing beautiful, embossed notecard sets with the four Mountain Flora images in addition to the stamp books and rolls.
A colorful and intricate flower known as the African daisy as seen from above appears on a new global Forever postage stamp meant for international first-class mail (Figure 3).
Figure 3. Information and ordering details for the African Daisy global Forever stamp are available from the U.S. Postal Service here.
This stamp was formally released March 14 in Kansas City, Missouri, without a first day of issue ceremony. The current rate for international first-class 1-ounce mail is $1.30. The stamp is sold in panes of 10.
This is the eighth global Forever stamp since the format started in 2013 with an Earth from space image and an issuance value of $1.10. All stamps in the series have been round self-adhesives with die-cut simulated perforations. The first flower, and the fourth stamp overall in the set, was the Echeveria stamp of 2017. Stamps issued in the series in 2013 and 2018 were designed to send Christmas mail.
Greg Breeding designed the stamp with existing photography by Cindy Dyer, of Alexandria, Virginia. William Gicker was the art director.
Native to southern Africa, the flower shown is from the Osteospermum genus and are widely available in U.S. nurseries. The stamp is round and features a photograph of an orange African daisy against a white background. The photo was shot from above and shows the detail of the central disk formed by tiny tubular florets surrounded by petal-like ray florets.
“That African daisy (on the stamp) was actually a plant I added to my garden in spring of 2018,” Dyer said in an email.
This is the 11th image Dyer has had produced on U.S. stamps. Her previous stamps include Ferns (five stamps) 2014, Water Lilies (four stamps) 2015 and Kenilworth Park (as part of the National Park Service 100th Anniversary 16-stamp panel) in 2016.
On her website (https://cindydyerphotography.com/main.html) Dyer describes herself as many things, including graphic designer, photographer, painter, gardener, animal lover, poet and “insanely curious.”
Interview with Cindy Dyer - photographer
Your website and background present your many talents in the visual arts, but at this point are you primarily a professional photographer or do you still do other types of visual projects?
I am a freelance graphic designer by profession. My photography now comprises about 25 percent of my income, in the form of portraits, events and the occasional wedding. I’ve also had a few botanical photography shows that have been profitable from sales of prints, canvases and greeting cards. And, of course, my connection to the USPS has been a nice feather in my cap.
Congratulations on getting your 11th stamp overall and the fourth issue! How did you come to get linked up with the Postal Service?
I had my first solo show of botanical photographs in 2012 at Green Spring Gardens, in Alexandria, Virginia. It’s the first time I had my work displayed other than on my website, blogs and Facebook page. Ann Jordan, wife of freelance USPS stamp art director Phil Jordan, walked daily in the park and happened upon my botanical show. She knew that Phil had been assigned a few flower-related stamp requests, so she mentioned to him that he should go see it. The next thing I knew, I got a call from PhotoAssist, the agency that works with the USPS on stamp acquisitions and contracts, asking me if I wanted to work with the USPS. That started the ball rolling with Phil as art director of the fern stamps that debuted in 2014.
I see you do a lot of different types of photography, but your botanical photos are gorgeous. Do you consider this your specialty now?
I consider my botanical photography more a passion than a specialty. I love photographing a variety of subjects, ranging from people to places, but I do consider my botanical images some of my best work. I have been involved in photography since high school, but it wasn’t until I started gardening in 2000 that I started focusing on flowers as a favorite subject. I wanted to record my gardening progress, so I began to really delve into macro and botanical photography. The more I shot, the stronger the images became. I discovered I really do have a knack for growing things and each year I add new perennial plants (oftentimes too many!) to the garden, specifically intending to photograph them when they bloom. Some of my favorite flowers to shoot are Bearded irises, tulips, coneflowers and poppies. I really consider every shot a “portrait” of that particular flower, much like when I photograph a person. I have spent upwards of 15 minutes on one single bloom, trying to capture it in its best light, from different angles, diffused and not diffused.
What is your go-to camera (or cameras) for this kind of photography?
I’ve always been a “Nikon girl,” and am currently shooting mostly with my D850 and the Nikkor 105mm micro lens (one of Nikon’s premier lenses, in my opinion) for my botanical images. I will sometimes do sweeping garden shots with my 28mm or a 50mm. I’ve been shooting with my iPhone for at least a dozen years and find it invaluable in the garden! I consider it my “second body” when I’m out photographing. I especially love using the Camera+ app to shoot macro with the iPhone 12 Pro Max. Most of the time I will shoot my floral subjects with both the Nikon and the iPhone. I rarely shoot botanicals without the tripod. I use the iPhone without a tripod.
What is the biggest challenge for botanical photography?
One of the biggest challenges of photographing flowers is the unpredictability of nature, so I’m forced to make adjustments on the basis of ever-changing conditions. Wind isn’t your friend when you’re photographing gardens, although I’ve gotten some beautiful shots of flowers blowing in the wind. Lighting conditions factor in as well, choosing to soften the light with a diffuser or work with direct sunlight or backlighting. Strangely enough, overcast skies make my task of saturated images much easier. The light is softer, and I don’t have to use the diffuser on those days! I also try each season to shoot the same floral subjects in a different way — different times of day, backgrounds, angles, etc. Another challenge is not only capturing the best angle in the best light, but also paying as much attention to the background as I do the subject.
Can you offer us amateurs one or two tips on botanical photography?
First, always carry a diffuser with you! While I do sometimes make flower portraits in direct sunlight, my preference is to diffuse the subject, so the harsh shadows are minimized. If you don’t have a diffuser handy, you can block the sunlight with your body (or a friend’s body!). The downside of that is you’re not utilizing the sunlight to light your subject as much anymore. With a diffuser, the direct sunlight is softening shadows. This works with portraits, too! Second, pay as much attention to your background as you do your subject. Adjust your angle to eliminate a distracting background element. I often look for color contrast in my backgrounds, too, such as a bright purple iris against lime green foliage or white blooms against dark leaves. Third, slow down. The best results don’t come with a one-and-done approach.
Do you have any idea exactly where and when the photo shown on the new African daisy stamp was taken?
That African daisy was actually a plant I added to my garden in spring of 2018.
Do you recall when you passed this photo over to the USPS and did you know specifically what kind of a stamp it was for?
I shot images of that African daisy just a few months before I was asked if I had any “photos of round flowers shot overhead.” I sent about a dozen different flowers for consideration. I wasn’t aware that there were global stamps, so I had no idea that was the format for which the image was being considered back in 2018.
Can you say if the photo you sent over is pretty much what we see or was it cropped? If so, how much?
I silhouetted all the “round flower” photos I sent over for consideration, so they were all cropped square with the background removed.
Have you done any stamps for any other countries?
No, but that would be an exciting opportunity! Got any connections for me?
Tulips and Sunflower Bouquet stamps
The Postal Service on March 24 issued paired flower stamps – but in a way of showing customers that they can be used independently, formally issued them in different cities.
The stamps look similar as they show art from the same photographer but have different rates and orientations. The stamps were designed by art director Ethel Kessler, with digital photography by Harold Davis.
A first class Forever stamp shows a bouquet of tulips featuring a luminous, almost ethereal assortment of overlapping tulips in red, orange, yellow, purple and white against a bright white background (Figure 4).
Figure 4. Information and ordering details for the Sunflower Bouquet stamp are available from the U.S. Postal Service here.
The horizontal-oriented stamp – with a formal release locale of Mount Vernon, Washington – can be paired with the Sunflower Bouquet stamp and be used on RSVP envelopes often enclosed with wedding invitations. In addition to regular correspondence, it is also perfect for party invitations, thank-you notes and important announcements, the USPS suggested.
A 2-ounce vertically oriented Sunflower Bouquet stamp (Figure 5) – formally issued in Lawrence, Kansas – features an array of sunflowers, irises and other small flowers and is priced to accommodate the weight of heavy invitations, oversize greeting cards and other mailings that require extra postage.
Figure 5. Information and ordering details for the Tulips stamp are available from the U.S. Postal Service at here.
The Sunflower Bouquet stamp costs 78 cents at the time of release and are sold in panes of 20. The stamp features a still life image of several orange-and-yellow sunflowers intermingled with irises, dahlias, echinacea (coneflowers) and other small red, purple, white, and pink flowers against a white background.
To create the image for the Tulips stamp, Davis backlit a wide, horizontal arrangement of flowers on a light box, the Postal Service said. Since this composition was wider than his camera could photograph at high resolution, Davis made three separate images, moving from left to right. Each image was exposed six times at different exposure values. He digitally combined the resulting 18 captures to form the single image.
In an email, Kessler seemed ecstatic about the creation and resulting stamps for this issue.
“I am a big fan of photo use on stamps,” wrote Kessler. “Aren’t these photos outstanding?!”
Indeed, because stamps are small you might especially want to use your magnifier on these, because the petals just pop to life as you study them up close.
These complementary issues are what in recent years have been known as Wedding stamps – a 2-ounce rate stamp to mail an invitation and a similarly designed first-class stamp for the reply. Actually, the two-rate issue started with Love stamps in 1994. By 2003, though, there was a single Love stamp followed a couple months later by two matching Wedding stamps with the 1- and 2-ounce rates.
Kessler has been involved with much of this series’ evolution.
“In the process of researching what’s next for stamps that could be used for wedding invitations, celebrations, and even wider uses, I came upon Harold’s images,” Kessler said. “How could I not have known about them before, when I’m looking at photography all the time?”
Kessler said she was thrilled to be able to use images from Davis.
“The first images of Harold’s that I saw brought a luminescence that is rare to find.” Kessler said. “They glowed from the inside. I needed to find out more. And lots more were available.”
Kessler pointed out that Davis is “one of the most prolific writers about photographic techniques” and has just been awarded 2022 Photographic Society of America Progress Award, which “recognizes a person who has made an outstanding contribution to the progress of photography or an allied subject.”
“This is one of the most important honors in the professional photography world.” Kessler noted.
But, as lovely as a great photographer’s work can be, not everything works on a stamp, Kessler noted.
“The challenge with his work is that the bigger it gets, the more detail you can see and the more gorgeous and impactful; but the smaller it gets, well, the smaller it gets.”
Kessler admitted it was challenging to find the graphic quality that would work small, with the density and detail needed to read at stamp size.
“But he has shot thousands of images, so finding the needle in the haystack is a fabulous journey,” Kessler said.
The images on the stamps are exactly how Davis shot them, noted Kessler. “No additional tweaks were necessary.”
Davis, a Manhattan native, opened up a photography business not long after graduating from Rutgers University with a law degree. He quickly established himself as an award-winning photographer. He is also the author of many best-selling photography books, including The Way of the Digital Photographer (Peachpit Press) and the highly praised Achieving Your Potential as a Photographer: A Photographer’s Creative Companion and Workbook (Focal Press.)
Davis is an acknowledged master of digital black and white photography and has created bodies of work related to night photography and surrealist, impossible imagery, according to his website (www.digitalfieldguide.com). An innovator in post-production, he has coined the now widespread terms “hand-HDR” and “multi-RAW processing.”
Davis explains his work on his website:
“My work lies at the intersections of many styles and disciplines: between east and west, classicism and modernism, photography and painting, and the new technologies of the digital era versus the handcraft traditions of the artisan.
“A great deal of thought goes into my work, but it shouldn’t have to take thought to enjoy it. At the simplest level I am trying to evoke – at both conscious and unconscious levels – a sense of serenity, wholeness, and wonder. My work can be experienced and enjoyed simply and organically for its structure and beauty.”