January is often one of the busiest months of the year for new U.S. stamps and 2023 was no exception with 10 face different stamps, including two high value stamps reviewed here in last month’s journal. This was an especially busy year as new postage rates went into effect January 23.
Among the rate increases were the standard domestic first-class letter rate, which rose from 60 cents to 63 cents and the domestic postcards, which rose from 44 cents to 48 cents.
The month of January brought the continuation of releases in three long-time popular series – Lunar New Year, Love and Black Heritage – plus new stamps meant for use on postcards, the second ounce on first-class letters and a modern rarity. Well, it’s not a rarity in the sense known to most collectors, but an actual denomination printed on a new stamp happens only rarely in the modern age of forever postage.
The new Red Fox stamp is available online here.
The U.S. Postal Service began 2023 with a true stamp oddity – a modern stamp with a denomination – “40 cents” – printed on it. Aside from high values for Express Mail, finding digits on stamps has become somewhat of a rarity compared to the great proliferation of phrases like “forever” and “three ounce.”
The handsome Red Fox stamp was issued January 5 without a dedication ceremony but with an official first day locale of Fox, Arkansas (ZIP code 72051), population of about 400, according to Randy Bonds who runs the post office on Highway 263, a satellite for the Shirley, Arkansas Post Office about 12 miles away.
Bonds said he sold about $20 of Red Fox stamps in connection with the first day, including some walk-in collectors and a submission of four or five items from a collector in California.
When I inquired in my hometown about the stamp, postal clerks didn’t have it and thought it might have been produced to meet the postcard rate, which actually rose from 44 to 48 cents on January 23, the same date as other postage increases. No, the unusual 40-cent stamp was created for other reasons.
The stamp is “the product of a lobbying campaign by bulk mailers who convinced postal executives that the new stamp could boost first-class mail volume,” explained Bill McAllister in the Washington Post.
“Stephen Kearney, a former USPS stamp executive who led the campaign, told Linn’s Stamp News that bulk mailers will use the new 40-cent Red Fox stamp in combination with other stamps on their postage-paid return envelopes that will be franked with enough postage to meet the new 63-cent letter rate that went into effect January 22.
“An exact 63¢ franking would not be easy with most of the current low-denomination Fruits stamps that mailers typically use, Kearney said. The new 40-cent stamp will make smaller combinations of stamps adding up to 63 cents much easier, he said.”
The stamp features a pencil-and-watercolor illustration created from preexisting artwork by Dugald Stermer (1936–2011). Stermer masterfully captured the fox’s softness, striking coloration and gaze toward the viewer, the Postal Service said. His calligraphic labels in the stamp’s white background, under the animal’s face and between its alert ears, provide the common and scientific names, respectively: “RED FOX,” in widely spaced capitals, and “Vulpes vulpes.” In tan, centered below the artwork, the stamp reads “40c USA,” in a sans-serif typeface.
The stamp is being sold in panes of 40 and coils of 3,000 and 10,000. Whether they are from the pane or either coil, the stamps are the same size – an image area 0.73 of an inch wide and 0.84 of an inch high; with an overall stamp size of 0.87 of an inch wide and 0.98 of an inch high – according to the USPS. The stamps are printed by Banknote Corporation of America.
Art director Ethel Kessler designed the stamp. Kessler has used Stermer’s artwork on previous postal items, including an azulillo Chilean blue crocus on a 2017 postal card and the additional ounce Brush Rabbit stamp in 2021.
The new School Bus stamp is available online here.
A yellow school bus parked in front of a schoolhouse that flies an American flag and features a clock tower showing a time of 7:50 (a.m.) appears on a new stamp issued January 5.
The stamp, which costs 24 cents, pays the second ounce rate on a domestic first-class piece of mail. It was one of the few postage rates that did not increase on January 22. The stamp was officially issued January 5 in High Point, North Carolina. No formal dedication ceremony was scheduled.
The stamp’s background is ecru, while the school, flag, and lettering are tan. The school building’s few details — windows, door, clock face, and “School” lettering — are also ecru. The body of the bus is bright yellow, its tire rims are gray, and its tires, door, windows, bumpers, trim, and details are black. In addition, black lettering on its side states “Local School District.” The bus stands on a thick black line that serves both as a road and a border separating it from the words “additional ounce” in capital letters along the stamp’s bottom edge.
Artist Steve Wolf, of Austin, Texas, worked with art director Greg Breeding and designer Mike Ryan to create this stamp.
The stamps are sold in panes of 20 and coils of 100. The pane and coil School Bus stamps are different sizes, according to technical details from the USPS. The pane stamp has an image area of 1.05 inches wide and .77 of an inch height with an overall stamp size of 1.22 inches wide and .91 of an inch high. The coil stamp has an image area of .73 of an inch wide and .84 of an inch high with the overall size being .98 of an inch wide and .87 of an inch high.
Banknote Corporation of America printed both stamps with offset and microprint processes on the Gallus RCS press.
Lunar New Year – Rabbit
The Lunar New Year – Year of the Rabbit stamp is available online here.
The fourth stamp in the latest Lunar New Year stamp series celebrates the Year of the Rabbit and was issued in a formal ceremony January 12 at the Asian Art Museum, in San Francisco.
The design is similar to the first three stamps in the series of Forever first-class domestic stamps that celebrated the years of the Rat (2020), Ox (2021) and Tiger (2022). Art director Antonio Alcalá designed the stamp and pane with original art by Camille Chew, who has designed the artwork for all stamps in the series by creating original three-dimensional masks.
Calling to mind the elaborately decorated masks used in the dragon or lion dances often performed in Lunar New Year parades, this three-dimensional mask depicting a rabbit is a contemporary take on the long tradition of paper-cut folk art crafts created during this auspicious time of year, the Postal Service explained. The rabbit mask design incorporates colors and patterns with symbolic meaning.
Like the other stamps in the series, the stamps appear in panes of 20 printed on the Gallus RCS press via offset, foil stamping, Flexographic and microprint processes. The Postal Service listed the colors as Cyan, magenta, yellow, black, Pantone 7579 orange, Pantone 7563 light brown, gold foil Luxor MTS 413 and teal foil Luxor MHC 327.
The USPS offered the following on the holiday:
Lunar New Year is an important holiday for many Asian communities around the world. It is primarily celebrated by people of Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Tibetan, Mongolian, Malaysian and Filipino heritage. Across these varied cultures, many traditions exist for ringing in a new year of good luck and prosperity.
Personality traits and attributes are often associated with people born in the year of a particular animal. Those born in rabbit years are said to be elegant, graceful and kind. Pink, red and purple are lucky colors for rabbits, and plantain lilies are also said to be fortunate.
Lunar New Year celebrations culminate on the night of the first full moon after Lunar New Year’s Eve, known as the Lantern Festival in Chinese culture. In the United States and elsewhere, the festival is marked with grand parades and brilliant lanterns decorating public spaces.
Stay tuned for Part 2 later this week!