This is part two of the article, to read part 1 click here.
The Holiday and Elves stamps are available from the USPS here.
How can you not like elves dressing up our mail? I mean, I guess that was exactly the point of the first issues released in the annual year-end holiday parade of new stamps.
The Holiday Elves block of four Forever stamps were formally issued September 15 at the Santa Claus House at North Pole (the one near Fairbanks, Alaska, not the real one!).
The stamps feature a colorful digital illustration of elves preparing toys on a winding conveyor belt in a snow-laden forest.
Don Clark served as artist and designer while Antonio Alcalá was the art director.
Clark’s artwork might be familiar because it has appeared on gift cards and artwork on display at Target department stores.
Clark is an artist and co-founder of Invisible Creature, a widely respected and award-winning design studio he runs with his brother based in Seattle, Washington, according to the artist’s website.
Clark has worked with clients such as Target, NASA, Wired magazine, Nike, Adobe, XBox, The New York Times, and musicians including the Foo Fighters and Kendrick Lamar. Clark’s “love for mid-century design and illustration lays the groundwork for Invisible Creature’s aesthetic and curated line of products for both children and adults alike,” the website says. Books he has illustrated include All is Merry and Bright by Jeffrey Burton and The World Shines for You, also by Burton.
These are Clark’s second set of U.S. stamps. He created the Dragons stamps of 2018.
The pressure-sensitive Elves stamps were printed on the Alprinta 74 by Banknote Corporation of America and are being sold in booklets of 20.
Like many beloved Christmas traditions elves did not become a well-established part of the holidays in America until the 19th century. In the 20th century, as elves became firmly rooted in American Christmas lore, they eventually took center stage in beloved holiday television specials, films and books.
Outside the depiction of Santa Claus – that “jolly old elf” as the legend tells us – this appears to be just the second time that elves have graced a U.S. Christmas postage stamp, the first being a pair of elf cookies in the 2005 Christmas set (Scott 3952). (As for other elves, well, yes, much as I hate to acknowledge any of the stamps in the set, there is Dobby, the House Elf, from the 2013 Harry Potter booklet.)
But if this has prompted you into starting an elf topical collection, here are a few places to look: for Christmas elves, check out the obvious sources, like Finland (dating back to the 1970s), Aland, Denmark, Iceland Norway and Sweden, but toss in Canada, Ireland and Latvia. Non-holiday elves on stamps include those from Australia, Czechoslovakia and Japan.
Antonio Alcalá – Art Director
When did you start working on these stamps?
How and why did Don Clark come to be part of this project?
I saw some winter-themed artwork he did for another client and thought he might be a good fit.
Can you tell us anything about the original assignment – was it specifically elves or more general than that?
The original assignment was specifically for elves. It was meant to suggest the holiday spirit and appropriate for mailers at that time of the year.
Was the assignment a block of four from the start as opposed to another format or was this the artist’s preference?
Yes, the assignment was for a block of four stamps from the beginning.
Using an assembly line is pretty traditional, but this one is so nicely curved, AND it’s outdoors, which is quite unique. How did all that come about?
The idea was to have the holiday elves busy preparing gifts but to also suggest the winter/North Pole environment. An interior scene would be a bit too subtle (window with snow outside? Hot chocolate?), so this approach communicates much more quickly and efficiently.
Did you make any suggestions at the start of the project? Were there any aspects or ideas that just didn’t pan out?
The basic approach developed quickly. Three other directions with elves were also proposed but we fell in love with the setenant approach with the assembly line winding through each stamp.
The colors are well put together; sort of subdued. Was there any thought for more shimmering, shining and other colors, like yellows, pinks, golds or blues?
I don’t believe so. This was a color palette the artist uses and recommended.
Any idea how the toys shown were decided upon? Did the artist choose those? Were there other choices that were eliminated?
The artist chose the toys. The earliest sketches had more and some different toys, but space limitations required a simplification to those shown.
Is there anything else interesting about the creation of these stamps you would like to share?
One of the most difficult parts of the assignment was making the stamps work as a grouping of four, but also as individual stamps, with equivalent typography and balanced compositions.
Virgin and Child
The original Virgin and Child oil painting is held by the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.
The Virgin and Child stamp is available from the USPS here.
In September, the Postal Service revived a longstanding tradition of featuring a masterpiece artwork depicting the Virgin and Child (Madonna and Child) on a religious Christmas stamp.
This stamp features an oil-on-panel painting – Virgin and Child – from the first half of the 16th century by a Florentine artist known as the Master of the Scandicci Lamentation.
Depicting the tenderness of a mother and child, interpretations of the Virgin Mary with the Christ Child take innumerable forms in the Christian art of the Italian Renaissance, the Postal Service said. Imbued with a sense of dignity and grace, this stamp offers a traditional touch for a season of celebration, reflection and family.
According to museum, “The painting was formerly attributed to Andrea del Sarto,” who died in 1543. The painting is 25.7 inches wide and 33.8 inches high.
The painting is in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, site of the first day dedication on September 22.
Art director Greg Breeding designed the stamp, which involved crops from the original work. The painting clearly shows a halo around the heads of both Mother and Child, though you have to look hard at the stamp to see the halo on the reproduced image.
The original painting also has a greater lower section than what is shown on the stamp. What looks like a wooden bench peeking out on both sides of the lower part of Mother figure is unseen on the stamp.
The pressure sensitive Forever stamp is being sold in booklets of 20. It was printed by offset with microprint on the Muller A76 press by Astron Potter USA.
I count this as the 39th time the iconic Christian image has appeared on a U.S. stamp, starting with the first such depiction in 1966, four years after the release of the first U.S. Christmas stamp.
The longest stretch the Madonna and Child appeared on a new Christmas stamp was 22 years, from 1978 to 1999. In recent years, a religious stamp has been released only every two or three years with the Postal Service selling that stamp through the following holiday season or two. All the stamps have featured classic pre-existing artworks held by public institutions.
One of the most thorough websites I found detailing U.S. religious stamps is from Joyful Heart Renewal Ministries and can be found at http://www.joyfulheart.com/christmas/christmas_stamps.htm.
Charles M. Schulz Centennial
The Charles M. Schulz Centennial stamps are available from here.
Happiness is a warm puppy from a beloved comic strip and 10 of his closest friends – all on new postage stamps!
A comfy, happy feeling comes just from holding the new Charles M. Schulz Centennial pane of Forever stamps. Who knows, maybe the joy elicited from this group may even prompt you to send a card or letter to someone special just to share one of these stamps.
The issue celebrates the 100th anniversary of the birth of the country’s (and world’s) best-known cartoonists, Schulz, and characters from his popular comic strip, Peanuts.
The strip debuted in 1950. Schulz, nicknamed “Sparky,” wanted to call it “L’il Folks,” which the Minneapolis native published in the St. Paul Pioneer Press (1947-1950). United Feature Syndicate picked up the strip, but changed the name to avoid any problems with a strip titled “Little Folks.” In interviews later, Schulz said someone from the syndicate picked the name “Peanuts,” which he initially didn’t care for.
At its peak, the strip reached readers in 75 countries, appearing in 2,600 newspapers and 21 languages every day. “Peanuts made Mr. Schulz very rich,” read Schulz’s obituary in the New York Times. “The Peanuts strips, merchandise and product endorsements brought in $1.1 billion a year. And Mr. Schulz was said to have earned about $30 million to $40 million annually.”
The 10 stamps were formally issued September 30 in a dedication ceremony at the Charles M Schulz Museum & Research Center in Santa Rosa, California, Art director Greg Breeding designed the stamps from Schulz’s artwork and an existing photograph by Douglas Kirkland.
Schulz himself is not on a stamp. He is seen in a 1987 black-and-white photo in the center of a pane of 20, two each of 10 designs.
There is a single character on nine of the stamps while an ever-linked pair appear on the 10th. None of the characters’ names are shown; for most of us, they don’t need to be, though millennials now and into the future might be somewhat at a loss. The characters shown, in the pane’s top row, from left, are Charlie Brown, Lucy, Franklin, Sally, Pigpen and Linus; second row, Snoopy and Woodstock, Schroeder, Peppermint Patty and Marcie. Woodstock, a small yellow bird, never spoke, but was quite expressive.
All of the characters appear just as they did for many decades, Charlie Brown in his yellow polo shirt with black zigzag horizontal stripe; Peppermint Patty in sandals; Pigpen with a dirty face and a cloud of dust all about. There are no accessories – no kite in a tree for Charlie Brown; no psychiatrist booth for Lucy; no doghouse for Snoopy; no toy piano for Schroeder. But all the characters, plus the cartoonist at their center, all wear smiles and many have their hands and arms up either in joy or ready to offer a hug.
The stamps celebrate Schulz’s wit and wisdom through his unforgettable Peanuts characters. The groundbreaking comic became history’s most popular and successful strip. The children have a few victories, but plenty of anxiety, unrequited love (yes, the never-seen “little red-haired girl” was based on a crush of the cartoonist’s) depression and coming to grips with disappointments of everyday life, such as Charlie Brown’s never-ending failure to kick a football held by Lucy.
Schulz summed up his creative philosophy in a quote repeated in his obituary in the New York Times.
“I'm astonished at the number of people who write to me saying, ‘Why can't you create happy stories for us? Why does Charlie Brown always have to lose? Why can't you let him kick the football?’ Well, there is nothing funny about the person who gets to kick the football.'”
Debuting in 1950, Peanuts garnered hundreds of millions of readers worldwide. Each character reflects Schulz’s rich imagination and great humanity, and really the essence of the cartoonist, as he told friends, family, colleagues and the public. Charlie Brown, at the heart of Peanuts, is often defeated but always resilient. Schulz’s resonant stories found humor in life’s painful realities including rejection, insecurity and unrequited love.
In the 1960s, Peanuts became a worldwide phenomenon with beloved television specials, books, a Broadway show and countless products. For five decades, Schulz steadfastly wrote, drew, inked and lettered every Peanuts strip — nearly 18,000 of them.
The New York Times obituary offered the following about Schulz, the strip’s creation and the strip’s legacy:
“The strip and he were one,'” said Patrick McDonnell, who draws the cartoon Mutts. “He put his heart and soul into that strip.”
(The) saga of Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Lucy and Linus “is arguably the longest story ever told by one human being,” Robert Thompson, a professor of popular culture at Syracuse University, observed on the PBS NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, longer than any epic poem, any Tolstoy novel, any Wagner opera.
Schulz swore that no one else would ever draw the comic strip and he kept his word. For years he drew Peanuts with a hand tremor. He finally put down his pen when he received a diagnosis of colon cancer after abdominal surgery in November 1999.
His last daily strip ran on January 3, 2000; his last Sunday strip ran February 10, 2000, and he died two days later. His last Sunday page carried a signed farewell in which he said, “Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Linus, Lucy . . . how can I ever forget them . . .” His widow, Jeannie, said, “He had done everything he wanted.”
Schulz, a decorated Army veteran of World War II, won many awards during his lifetime. In 2000, he was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor bestowed by Congress.
The USPS has produced 11 previous Peanuts stamps. In 2000, the Postal Service issued the 34-cent Snoopy stamp, which shows the beloved canine sitting atop his doghouse as a World War I ace pilot. The oft-hailed A Charlie Brown Christmas was honored in 2015 with a set of 10 stamps showing scenes from the 1965 television animated holiday classic.
Not surprisingly, many other nations – including Belgium, the Cayman Islands, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan and Portugal – have issued stamps featuring Peanuts characters.
“Peanuts pretty much defines the modern comic strip,” said Bill Watterson (Calvin and Hobbes). “So even now it’s hard to see it with fresh eyes. The clean, minimalist drawings, the sarcastic humor, the unflinching emotional honesty, the inner thoughts of a household pet, the serious treatment of children, the wild fantasies, the merchandising on an enormous scale – in countless ways, Schulz blazed the wide trail that most every cartoonist since has tried to follow.”