Lots of collectors like trains on stamps. But there are trains on stamps, and then, to paraphrase Samuel L. Jackson’s character Neville Flynn from Snakes on a Plane: there are motherfucking trains on motherfucking stamps.
Have a look at these beauties marking the 150th anniversary of the completion of the first transcontinental railroad across the USA:
There’s some cute design work going on. The Transcontinental Railroad was built across the United States from each direction, with the ceremonial meeting of the tracks taking place at Promontory Summit in Utah in May, 1869. The two engines depicted each hauled a trainload of dignitaries to the ceremony – Jupiter from the west, and No. 119 from the east. The so-called golden spike was then driven into the ground between them to ‘finish’ the railroad. This significant engineering feat cut the time it took to cross the nation from months down to about a week.
American pop culture gives us a certain depiction of an old steam engine: the bulbous chimney, the cattle-grid cowcatcher, a giant headlight, a colorful paint scheme and brass trim all over. It’s only when I see old American locomotives that I’m reminded that they actually looked like that! If the framing was a bit wider, you’d see a moustachio’d villain tying a damsel to the rails. It’s a shame they went for the golden spike in the middle stamp, instead of two runaway convicts pumping one of those see-saw handcars.
The stamps feature a beautiful gold foil layer that doesn’t come across in the image above. Luckily, here’s my friend Stacy with a demonstration! Thanks Stacy!
American heroes finally acknowledged
This anniversary has differed from the 100th anniversary in 1969 by overtly acknowledging the immigrant labor that was involved. From the USPS website:
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.
The public commemorations of the anniversary and the stamp issue have honored this immigrant workforce (and also noted the costs of the railroad borne by Native Americans). I kinda wish these workers could have been recognized in the stamps themselves. Americans could do with a reminder of how much their prosperity is due to the back-breaking efforts (and, too often, deaths) of immigrants. Especially the Chinese of the time, who were virtually labeled as sub-human by some of those in power. Not that it should remind you of anyone.
Fans of trains on stamps should keep watching the blog. There’s something exciting for you coming down the tracks.
Post office murals are off the wall
While we’re in the States, a belated shoutout to USPS for the stamps released in April celebrating the tradition of post office murals.
Beginning with the Great Depression, the US Government commissioned artists to enliven public buildings with morale-boosting works depicting the “American Scene”. A bunch of those works graced the walls of post offices, and are still in situ today. I realize now that I must have seen a few when I was there a few years ago, without knowing the back-story.
Depicting five of these works, this attractive issue is a testament both to the times, and to the aesthetic benefits of getting your stamp proportions just right when depicting artwork.
These things aren’t a competition, but for the record, my favorite, predictably, is the mural entitled Air Mail, painted by Daniel Rhodes at the Piggott Post Office in Arkansas. It’s got a plane, a postman, a pilot… but there’s something about that foreboding grey sky that I just love. It speaks to the historical determination on the part of postal staff to get the mail to where it needs to go, long before the days of overworked, underpaid sub-contractors leaving a card in your letterbox saying you weren’t home, instead of walking five extra steps to ring your bell and find out that you were.
Runner-up: Kenneth Miller Adams’ cubist–ish Mountains and Yucca, from Deming Post Office in New Mexico, just ahead of Kiowas Moving Camp from the Anadarko Post Office in Oklahoma.
Kiowas Moving Camp is one of 16 murals painted by Kiowa artists at Anadarko. If you’re passing through Oklahoma later this month, I read in the latest Linn’s Stamp News that these murals will be a feature of the program at the Oklahoma Philatelic Society‘s OKPEX 2019 stamp show, June 28-29. (Update your website, guys!)
I’m not done covering recent US issues. I look away for one moment (well, OK, I’ve struggled two watch for a few years now) and the USPS puts out a whole spate of goodies. But the next issue will get a whole entry to itself. Stay tuned…
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