Sunday, February 25, 2024

Can you tell us how this stamp came to be selected for issue by the Post Office Department (interview question #4)?

Arthur E. Summerfield was the 57th Postmaster General (1953-61), an appointee of President Eisenhower. He presided over a modernization of the Post Office Department (known as the United States Postal Service since 1971). On March 26, 1957, just three months before the beginning of the International Geophysical Year, he created the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee (CSAC) in order to utilize public input to recommend stamp subjects to the PMG for final approval. These suggestions were to pay more attention to the design and aesthetic appeal of stamps and also to reinforce the interests of stamp collectors.

CSAC (Post Office Department photo; from the Bureau Specialist, vol. 28, June, 1957, p. 184)

CSAC held its first meeting at the Post Office Department in Washington, D. C. on April 30, 1957. Shown are, from left to right, Robert E. Fellers, Director, Division of Philately, Post Office Department; Abbott Washburn, Deputy Director, United States Information Agency; Franklin R. Bruns, Jr., Curator, Division of Philately and Postal History; H. L. Lindquist, Chairman, National Federation of Stamp Clubs; Sol Glass, President, Bureau Issues Association, Inc.; Summerfeld; Arnold Copeland, President,The Westport Artists, Inc.; Ervine Metzl, President, Society Of Illustrators; William H, Buckley, President, New York Art Directors Club; and L. Rohe Walter, Special Assistant to the postmaster General. The Committee includes representatives of the post office department, the communities of philatelists, and the profession of designers/illustrators. Very brief bio notes for each member were given in an earlier post.

On Nov. 2, 1957, Summerfield made known a list of nine selections for commemorative postage recommended by CSAC to be issued during 1958, one of these being a stamp honoring the International Geophysical year. The stamp was announced in the Postal Bulletin of April 24, 1958. The U.S. ended up issuing a total of 18 commemorative stamps and three airmail stamps in 1958.

Ervine Metzl designed the IGY stamp with an original drawing on which the stamp was based. Metzl, an illustrator who was on the CSAC as a representative of the art and design community, explained that “In the small confines of a postage stamp we have endeavored to picture a man’s wonder at the unknown together with his determination to understand it and his need for Spiritual inspiration to further his knowledge.” He discussed his ideas of effective graphic design in his book The Poster: Its History and Its Art (Watson-Guptill Publications, New York, 1963, 183 p.). Metzl designed a total of 10 U.S. postage stamps.  

Illustration of Ervine Metzl, from the jacket of his book The Poster: Its History and Its Art 

Monday, February 19, 2024

The U.S. IGY stamp is rather dramatic. Just exactly what does it depict (interview question #3)?

 On to question #3 for my interview:

The U.S. IGY stamp is rather dramatic. Just exactly what does it depict?

Let's look at the stamp again (in quadruple, as a plate block):

Scott 1107 plate block from my collection

Drawing on a previous post, there are two main elements in the stamp image: the outreached hands and the solar surface.

The nearly touching hands are excerpted from The Creation of Adama fresco painted ca. 1510 by Michelangelo as part of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in The Vatican. It illustrates the biblical creation narrative from the Book of Genesis in which God breathes life into Adam.

The postcard from my collection shown below contains an image of The Creation of Adam. The IGY stamp on the card has the cancellation date and place for the FDOI of the stamp, but does not bear the First Day of Issue slogan. 

Postcard FDOI front, with Michelangelo's Creation of Adam, US 182 in my collection

As for the image of the solar surface and solar prominences in the stamp, among the fourteen scientific areas of study for the IGY, #6 was the study of solar activity. The Postal Bulletin dated April 24, 1958, volume 79, issue 20080, states that:

The design of the stamp is based on a photograph of the sun and depicts an area of intense solar activity such as occurs periodically and is among the phenomena being studied during the 18-month long period of the International Geophysical Year.
Ervine Metzl, the designer of the stamp, explained that 'In the small confines of a postage stamp we have endeavored to picture a man's wonder at the unknown together with his determination to understand it and his need for spiritual inspiration to further his knowledge.'

I noted several aspects of Scott 1107 in this postThe orange solar prominences add a nice touch of color. This was the fifth [correction to the original post] U.S. stamp (after Scott 1042 Statue of Liberty, 1094 Old Glory, 1096 Magsaysay, and 1098 whooping cranes) printed using the engravure/intaglio method by the Giori Press, which allowed for simultaneous application of two or three differently colored inks. It was also one of the last three U.S. stamps issued with a 3¢ denomination. The rate for first-class postage had been unchanged since 1932, but went to 4¢ on August 1, 1958. This 26-year period was the longest in U.S. postal history with no rate change.

These days, much attention is given to the integrated teaching of STEM fields - science, technology, engineering, and math. This can be taken a step further to integrate pedagogies and understandings from the humanities/arts, as indicated by the acronym STEAM. Scott 1107 anticipated the STEAM spirit by incorporating imagery derived from both the arts and the sciences to suggest the importance and awesomeness of studying the natural world.

One thing I like about the U.S. stamp design is that it does not focus on national chest thumping. Some other countries' IGY stamps used Antarctic maps to pictorialize their territorial claims, to note historical scientific accomplishments related to the themes of the IGY, or to honor IGY missions carried out by particular countries. The U.S. IGY stamp instead celebrates the general theme of science and the acquisition of knowledge during that period of large-scale international scientific cooperation.

Thursday, February 08, 2024

Why am I collecting IGY philatelic items (interview question #2)?

So, continuing from the last post, I want to answer another question for my interviewer. But as they suggested I might want to do, I will alter the question. I am going to modify what my last post indicated would be question #3, and move that up above what had been suggested for question #2.

So I will change the original question #3,

I understand that this stamp is one of your favorites. What is your fascination with this stamp? How did it become one of your favorites?,

to the following:

How did you become interested in the IGY and the collecting of related philatelic items?

This will lead me to basically answer the original question anyway!

In several indirect and more direct ways, my life intersected the IGY. I was born in 1950, the month after the idea for the IGY was hatched over dinner at James Van Allen's house in Silver Spring, MD, and just a few miles away from the location of that soireeMy education was shaped by the emphasis on science education that followed the launching of Sputnik during the IGY. For example, I remember watching Time for Science on WTTG-tv in the Washington, D.C. market during elementary school. It was first broadcast during the IGY in 1958. My summer jobs during college were all in Earth science fields, at the U.S. Soil Conservation Service, the U.S. Weather Bureau, and at the University of Maryland working on electronics packages for rockets investigating the near-space environment. After my B.S. in engineering physics at Cornell University, my first real job was with Fairchild Space & Electronics Co., working on the communications satellites ATS 6.

I eventually received my graduate degrees in geophysics from the Department of Geosciences at the University of Arizona. Two luminaries of the IGY were in my department, Hugh Odishaw and Larry Gould, and Maury Davidson worked for Newmont Mining in Tucson where I had a summer job. In those days, the number of older geoscientists who had links to the IGY was probably not insignificant, although I was mostly unaware of the IGY in those days. After I got my Ph.D., I became the first tenured professor specializing in geophysics at Franklin & Marshall College.

In the early 2000s, being in my early 50s and having a mid-life crisis of sorts, I felt an urge to start collecting something. After some ruminating, I decided to start collecting items related to the IGY. This was an acknowledgment of how the IGY had impacted my childhood, my education, and, and my career in geophysics, but also anticipated the upcoming semi-centennial of the IGY in 2007-08. My collection now consists of hundreds of philatelic items (stamps, covers, etc.), technical and popular books and magazines, and miscellaneous memorabilia. My stamp collection was a more focused revival of a childhood hobby of general stamp collecting, partly relying on family in England, Belgium, the Soviet Union, and Israel, and my mother's work at a publishing firm. I did have a used U.S. IGY stamp (Scott 1107), issued on May 31, 1958, the day after my 8th birthday, in my childhood 1961 Minkus stamp album.

My childhood IGY stamp and Minkus album


Some covers from my collection with the IGY stamp that are in the Mellone catalogs

More on the design of the U.S. IGY stamp in the next post.