Though widely anticipated by stamp collectors and railroad buffs alike, the announcement of three stamps for the 150th Anniversary of the Completion of the Transcontinental Railroad was something of a New Year’s gift to all its fans, revealed at the beginning of January by the U.S. Postal Service:
“Three new stamps in a pane of 18 mark the 150th anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad, a massive engineering feat that reduced travel time across the country from as many as six months to about one week and made the American West an integral part of the nation. Two different stamps feature the Jupiter and the No. 119 locomotives that powered the trains carrying the officers and guests of two train companies to the ‘Golden Spike Ceremony,’ held when the two rail lines were joined at Promontory Summit in Utah. A third stamp portrays the famous golden spike that was a prominent part of the ceremony.”
In 1944, this 3¢ violet stamp marked the 75th anniversary of the Transcontinental Railroad (Scott 922). It shows John McQuarrie’s “Driving the Last Spike, 1869” mural painting from the Union Pacific Railroad Station in Salt Lake City, Utah, reproduced on a picture postcard, shared courtesy of https://alphabetilately.org/US-trains.html
Art director Greg Breeding designed the issue and Michael J. Deas painted the two colorful locomotive stamps. Kevin Cantrell illustrated the stamp depicting the ceremonial golden spike and did the border treatments and typography for all three stamps, to which gold foil has been added to give the finished stamp a special flourish.
The three stamps comprise what is known as a triptych, a term borrowed from the world of art in which it signifies a three-part painting or other art object. To philatelists, it means three related se-tenant postage stamps that together make up a complete design. The best-known U.S. triptych is probably the 1976 ‘Spirit of ’76’ Bicentennial trio of 13¢ stamps, Scott 1631a, showing head-and-torso portraits of the three Revolutionary War Veterans adapted from the famous full-length late 19th-century painting by Archibald Willard.
The stamps had been scheduled to be issued at 3:30 p.m. on May 10 at the Golden Spike National Historic Site, 6200 North 22300th Street West in Promontory Summit, Utah. The Postal Service was represented at the event by USPS Salt Lake City District Manager Michael Mirides. The first-day-of-issue dedication was free and open to the public, although parking near the remote venue was a major hurdle for some.
As the U.S. Postal Service notes, “Building the transcontinental railroad during the 1860s was one of the great achievements of the era. The completion was celebrated with the ‘Golden Spike Ceremony’ on May 10, 1869, when rail lines built by the Central Pacific from the west and the Union Pacific from the east were joined at Promontory Summit in Utah.
“A large immigrant labor force — including a majority of Chinese and Irish laborers — carried out most of the backbreaking and often dangerous work that made the achievement possible. The workforce, totaling more than 20,000 at its peak, also included immigrants from many nations — Germany, Italy, Russia, Czechoslovakia, Poland and others — as well as African-Americans and former Civil War soldiers from both the Union and Confederate armies. Many crews of Mormon workers helped make the final push across Utah.
“Reminiscent of traditional 19th-century oil painting techniques, the three distinct designs of the Transcontinental Railroad Forever stamps evoke the spirit of the era. Two separate stamps feature the Jupiter and the No. 119 locomotives that powered the trains carrying the officials and guests of the two train companies to the Golden Spike Ceremony. Centered between them, a third stamp portrays the famous golden spike that was a prominent part of the ceremony.” It was the last of an estimated 21 million spikes it took to cross the continent by rail.
The March 29 Postal Bulletin, a biweekly USPS publication, instructs Postal Service personnel “The Transcontinental Railroad pane of 18 stamps may not be split and the stamps may not be sold individually.” Similarly, the April 11 Postal Bulletin stated in boldface, “The Wild and Scenic Rivers pane of 12 stamps may not be split and the stamps may not be sold individually,” and the April 25 Postal Bulletin stated the same for “The Ellsworth Kelly pane of 20…”
Thus, to obtain all 25 face-different “Forever” U.S. commemoratives being issued in May, collectors will have to buy 25 additional stamps (15 of the Transcontinental Railroad and 10 of the Ellsworth Kelly stamps), effectively doubling the cost of collecting them from $13.75 to $27.50. If a full-pane-sales-only policy extended out to 12 such months, it would cost more than $300 just to acquire a year’s worth of mint U.S. commemoratives.
I asked USPS Senior Public Relations Representative Roy A. Betts if this new profit-enhancing panes-only policy is perhaps part of a concerted drive to get philatelists to buy and keep stamps in full panes, as many collectors did back in the 1940s and ’50s when such stamps cost 3¢ and 4¢—not 55¢, as they do in 2019. Betts replied “Only [stamps from] panes with a single design can be sold individually.”
Customers have 120 days to obtain the first-day-of-issue postmark by mail. They may purchase new stamps at their local post office or at usps.com/shop. They must affix stamps to envelopes of their choice, address the envelopes and place them in a larger envelope addressed to:
FDOI — Transcontinental Railroad Stamps
USPS Stamp Fulfillment Services
8300 NE Underground Drive, Suite 300
Kansas City, MO 64144-9900
After applying the first-day-of-issue postmark, the USPS will return the envelopes through the mail. There is no charge for the postmark up to a quantity of 50, but there is a 5¢ charge for each additional postmark over 50. All orders must be postmarked by September 10, 2019.