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Touring with Commemoratives as the National Story

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 Once joining the corpus of American postage stamps, figures such as Booker T. Washington and Susan B. Anthony enjoyed the promotional efforts of the USPOD to encourage citizens of all ages to read commemorative stamps in the context of American history.

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 Philatelic truck at White House. Washington, D.C., May 9 (Library of Congress photo)Philatelic truck at White House. Washington, D.C., May 9 (Library of Congress photo)

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 One direct postal effort to encourage collecting commemoratives on a nationwide scale was by outfitting a special philatelic truck and sending it to tour the US. The philatelic truck drew upon a successful tradition of circulating books and connecting communities through traveling library programs and bookmobiles in the early twentieth century. While bookmobiles served state-wide or regional populations, the philatelic truck’s audience was national.1 With assistance from the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, the Philatelic Agency designed exhibit cases to fit inside of a panel truck that would travel 20,750 miles, visiting 490 towns and cities. The truck carried displays of US definitive, airmail, and commemorative stamps; postcards and envelopes; and a miniature printing press that stamped out souvenirs while demonstrating the printing processes.2

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 Designed primarily to stimulate interest in stamp collecting in young Americans living in rural areas, the truck was a popular attraction every place it visited, especially in large cities. Interest in the truck began before the tour routes were solidified. Many local postmasters and stamp club members wrote to Postmaster General Farley asking that the truck stop in their town. To encourage visitation and community participation while the truck was in town, local newspapers promoted the truck’s stop in their town, and the mission of the USPOD’s stamp program. The truck’s exhibits were popular with all audiences and it drew its largest crowds in cities, such as Pittsburgh and New York. USPOD officials believed that the effects of the traveling exhibits stimulated philately and gave the public a better understanding of US history as told through American stamps. It also offered citizens  who could not travel to Washington an opportunity to view the catalog of stamps available in the Smithsonian and Philatelic Agency collections. The truck toured from May 1939 until December 1941, with occasional breaks when postal officials granted time off for its crew. Touring stopped after the Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Visiting western states that December, the truck was ordered to San Diego for its last call where it retired permanently.3

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 While touring, the truck’s staff did not sell any stamps, but instead sold a small booklet intended for young collectors.

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 A copy of A Description of United States Postage Stamps, Junior Edition cost visitors to the philatelic truck 10 cents.A copy of A Description of United States Postage Stamps, Junior Edition cost visitors to the philatelic truck 10 cents.

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 The cover art represents two girls and a boy organizing stamps into an album, illustrating that stamp collecting could be as interesting to girls as it was to boys. Inside the booklet, young readers found a complete illustrated catalog of US commemorative stamps from 1893-1938, and two welcoming notes: one from President Roosevelt and the other from Postmaster General Farley.4

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 Addressing the “Junior Philatelists of the United States,” Roosevelt wanted readers to know that he began collecting stamps as a child. Even as president, his stamp collecting practices helped him to “keep up” his interest in history and geography. Importantly, FDR closed his note by telling readers that he believed collecting stamps made individuals better citizens.5 A presidential endorsement carried weight and influence with parents, educators, and young collectors.

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 Welcome letter from FDR,  A Description of United States Postage Stamps, Junior EditionWelcome letter from FDR, A Description of United States Postage Stamps, Junior Edition

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 Postmaster Farley more directly extolled the role and value represented with the catalog of special issue stamps:

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 The purpose of this booklet is to bring to the Youth of America the history of our great Nation as pictured on commemorative and other special issues of postage stamps, and to awaken in the citizens of tomorrow a keener sense of appreciation of the vision and faith of our forefathers who founded on these shores a new form of government, dedicated to the enduring principles of freedom and equality for all.6

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 Farley clearly articulated a vision for reading American commemorative stamps as a historical narrative of US history. With this awakened knowledge of the American past, transferred through the subjects on commemorative stamps, citizens of all ages could be unified in understanding the values of America as a nation. This vision is progressive and triumphalist–and very limited in perspective. Earning a commemorative holds a great pay off for those advocating that their hero or historic event, because when viewed together, the corpus of commemoratives represents a legitimate national narrative.


  1. 13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0
  2. Derek Attig, “Here Comes the Bookmobile: Public Culture and the Shape of Belonging” (Dissertation, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, 2014).  

  3. 14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 James H. Bruns and Bureau Issues Association, The Philatelic Truck (Takoma Park, Md.: Bureau Issues Association, 1982), 31–4. Fittingly, the Philatelic Truck parked outside of Wanamaker’s original department store in Philadelphia, appearing to be an homage Wanamaker’s role in the commemorative stamp program. 

  4. 15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 Bruns and Bureau Issues Association, The Philatelic Truck. United States Post Office Department, Annual Report of the Postmaster-General of the United States for the Fiscal Year Ending June 30, 1939 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1939), 58; United States Post Office Department, Annual Report of the Postmaster-General of the United States for the Fiscal Year Ending June 30, 1940 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1940), 53; United States Post Office Department, Annual Report of the Postmaster-General of the United States for the Fiscal Year Ending June 30, 1942 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1942), 21; and “Philatelic Truck Starts Nation-Wide Tour,” Mekeel’s Weekly Stamp News 53, no. 20 (May 15, 1939): 240. 

  5. 16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 Post Office Department, A Description of United States Postage Stamps, Junior Edition (Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1939). 

  6. 17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 Post Office Department, A Description of United States Postage Stamps 

  7. 18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 0 Ibid., Foreward 

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Source: http://stampingamericanmemory.org/2014version/representing-unity-and-equality-with-new-deal-commemoratives/touring-with-commemoratives-as-the-national-story/