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The decades most memorable stamps

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Some might say that the decade isn’t over yet, but for most people, the old decade is behind us. In honor of the 2020s, we’re going to take a moment to look back at the last decade and pick out some of the most memorable and innovative United States postage stamp issues.

Printing Innovations

One of the most popular long-running courses at the APS’ Summer Seminar of Philately is “Stamp Technology,” taught by Wayne Youngblood – and for good reason. Over the course of United States’ stamp production, printing technology and methods have changed dramatically. Indeed, many collectors dedicate years towards investigating minute changes in printing technologies in their collections. In 2018, the USPS created four stamps using new methods.

In the stamps below, “Bioluminescent Life,” the highly-reflective rainbow holographic material is meant to mimic the effect of bioluminescence, a type of glowing found in some life forms mostly in the ocean. The February 22, 2018, USPS press release notes that the issues were produced to enhance the reflective qualities of the material. Eight of the stamp images depict creatures of the bioluminescent ocean realm, and two portray land-based species. The creature that’s best-known in the United States is the firefly.

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Bioluminescent Life, courtesy United States Postal Service.

Scratch-and-sniff stickers have been around for decades, but the Frozen Treats Forever stamps were the first printed by the USPS, issued on June 20, 2018.

The stamps feature illustrations of ice pops on a stick and were printed with a coating that smells like ice cream. The first day of issue ceremony was held at the Thinkery Children’s Museum in Austin, Texas.

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Frozen Treats, courtesy United States Postal Service.

Another new technique is found in “The Art of Magic” stamp issue souvenir sheet.

There are five different stamps in this collection, each depicting a different magic trick. The stamps features five distinct magic “categories” with classic representations: a rabbit in a top hat (production), a fortune teller using a crystal ball (prediction), a woman floating in air (levitation), an empty bird cage (vanishing), and a bird emerging from a flower (transformation).

The real magic in the The Art of Magic issue is on the souvenir sheet, depicting a Rabbit-in-hat design with a twist – when the stamp is rotated, you can see a white rabbit popping out of the top hat. This effect – a classic illusion – is achieved with lenticular printing, which changes how the stamp looks based on the angle of the light as it hits the surface.

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The Art of Magic, courtesy United States Postal Service.

Finally, foil printing was used to create the Dragons collection. 

The U.S. Postal Service celebrates dragons, the high-flying, fire-breathing mythological creatures that have roamed our imaginations for millennia. Each of the stamps showcases one of four dragons: a green fire-breathing dragon over a medieval castle and lava-covered mountainside; a purple dragon with orange wings on its back snakes around a white castle; a black dragon with green wings corners a ship on the sea; and a wingless orange dragon surrounds a pagoda. 

Foil printing is a well-known technique for cards, but this is the first time that it was used for stamps. Foil is used on the flames to make them shimmer.

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Dragons, courtesy United States Postal Service.

First Discretionary Semipostal Stamps Printed

Semipostal stamps are not new to the USPS, but the late 2010s welcomed the first to be printed at the USPS’ discretion. The USPS has been authorized to raise money for five causes over the next ten years, with each stamp to be on sale for no more than two years.

The first one was released in 2017 to raise money for Alzheimer’s research. $726,000 was raised from the more than 5 million stamps sold.

The next in the set, this time for people with PTSD, was released in December of 2019. The stamp features a plant sprouting through a pile of dead leaves, which, according to the USPS, “symbolizes the PTSD healing process, growth, and hope.” The money raised from the stamps goes to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs and the National Center for PTSD.

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Alzheimer’s, courtesy of United States Postal Service.
Healing PTSD, courtesy of United States Postal Service.

Our Distant Neighbor Gets Some Mail

In 2015, the New Horizons spacecraft made a flyby of Pluto and sent back incredible images. But did you know there was a stamp on board the craft? In 1991, the USPS issued the Space Exploration stamp collection. The stamps showed pictures of the planets and the spacecraft that first explored them. At the time, Pluto was not yet explored (and was still considered a planet).

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Space Exploration.

One of these stamps (Pluto, Not Yet Explored) was tucked into the New Horizons spacecraft in 2006 when the probe was launched. On July 14, 2015, Guinness World Records awarded the record for the farthest distance traveled by a postage stamp to this U.S. stamp. It’s still going!

In commemoration of the exploration, the USPS issued the Pluto– Explored! Souvenir sheet in 2016. This was issued along with the larger “Views of Our Planets” set, which depicted each planet in our solar system.

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Pluto– Explored! Courtesy of United States Postal Service.

American Philatelic Society

The American Philatelic Society is the largest nonprofit stamp collecting organization in the world, with members in more than 110 countries. Become a member today:

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