THE PEOPLE who select the nation's stamps are, by profession, designers. And good designers like good designs. That's probably why one of the classic American designs -- the Art Deco 20th Century Limited train -- is making its second appearance on a U.S. stamp within a year.
Hailed as a model of streamline design, the train appeared last September on a 32-cent stamp, one of 15 celebrating the achievements of the 1930s. It's coming back Aug. 26, this time in a sheet of 33-cent stamps that celebrate five Art Deco trains.
The "Daylight," the "Congressional," the "Hiawatha" and the "Super Chief" were, along with the "Limited," trains that literally moved the nation in the 1930s and 1940s. In the days before airlines, trains were the principal means of transportation for people and their mail.
The "Congressional" will be remembered by many Washingtonians as designer Raymond Loewy's sleek electric train that sped between New York and Union Station under the slogan "Every Mile Electrified!"
The "Daylight" ran between Los Angeles and San Francisco; the "Limited" between New York and Chicago; the "Hiawatha" connected Chicago, Milwaukee and the Twin Cities; and the red-and-silver "Super Chief" linked Los Angeles with Chicago and became the nation's most popular toy train model in the process.
Trains long have been a popular stamp subject around the world, but until now most U.S. stamps have featured early, wood-burning locomotives. With this colorful sheet, called the "All Aboard!" stamps, the Postal Service is printing trains that many Americans can recall riding, not seeing in train museums or a Wild West movie.
"The All Aboard! stamps pay tribute to American industry and design, they recall the great heritage of our railroads," said Norman E. Lorentz, the Postal Service's chief technology officer, who will dedicate the stamps during a stamp show in Cleveland. The stamps will go on sale across the nation that day.
Like last year's train stamp, the new ones are the old-fashioned lick-and-stick stamps. Ashton-Potter USA Ltd. printed 120 million of the stamps on its offset presses in upstate New York. Featuring original watercolor paintings by Ted Rose of Santa Fe, N.M., the stamps will be sold in sheets of 20.
Howard Paine of Delaplane, Va., designed both this year's train stamps and last year's "Celebrate the Century" sheet that featured the "20th Century Limited." That stamp featured a poster from the Albany Institute that, like the new stamp, offered a view of the approaching locomotive with the distinctive cowling that designer Henry Dreyfuss placed over what had been a rather ordinary J-3a steam locomotive.
AFTER one year of sales, postal officials are saying that the first U.S. "semipostal" stamps have raised $7.8 million for breast cancer research. A semipostal is a stamp that raises money for a cause in addition to paying for postage.
That is well short of the funds that the stamp's sponsors had hoped it would raise when legislation authorizing the stamp was enacted in 1997. At that time there were suggestions that a semipostal could raise as much as $60 million. Since then officials have lowered their estimates for the 40-cent breast cancer stamp to about $21 million, assuming all 280 million of the stamps are sold.
After the sales conclude, the General Accounting Office will report to Congress on the stamp's performance. Postal officials, who initially opposed the stamp, have said it has been an invaluable tool in building goodwill for the agency.
Some members of Congress want the agency to issue stamps to raise funds for other diseases and ailments, reinforcing the concerns of postal officials about whether the federal agency should be used for fund-raising.
CANADA POST has retreated from its controversial plan to limit sales of its 68-stamp Millennium Collection to individuals who purchase one of 200,000 books containing the stamps. The proposal had created a furor among collectors and prompted demands for over-the-counter sales of the stamps at face value.
On July 28, Andre Ouellet, chairman of Canada Post, announced that the stamps will also be offered in 17 souvenir sheets, each with four stamps, at face value. "It is clear to us that there is a market for these stamps beyond the pages of the book and we plan to do all we can to meet the demand in both formats," he said in a statement.
INDIVIDUALS seeking first-day postmarks of the All Aboard stamps should buy them at a post office and place them on addressed envelopes. These should be mailed in a larger envelope to: All Aboard stamps, Postmaster, 2200 Orange Ave., Room 206, Cleveland, OH 44101-9991. Requests should be postmarked by Sept. 25.
Next week in this space: Photography columnist Frank Van Riper.