Stamps of war

By Breck Pegram, Kentucky Stamp Club Published:

It is not hard to imagine that stamps have played a part in war – before, during and after.

The stamps of the United States have played a role starting before World War II. The people and events going back to the American Revolution have been commemorated on stamps starting in the early part of the 20th century.

One very interesting stamp from the World War II era is Scott #905 which was used extensively as a three-cent definitive stamp. This stamp was used to carry first class letters and the rate at this time was three cents.

The stamp was violet and featured an eagle with the words “Win the War” across the middle of the image. It was anticipated that this would be a very widely used stamp and some 20,600,000,000 of them were printed. The stamp was issued on July 4, 1942. Your grandparents will remember this stamp well.

Presidents helped

Three stamps that were issued in 1940 just before hostilities broke out had the president of the United States lending a hand in their design.

President Franklin Roosevelt helped in the design of what is known as the National Defense Series. A one-cent stamp in green featured the Statue of Liberty; a two-cent stamp in red featured an anti-aircraft gun at Roosevelt’s suggestion; a three-cent stamp finished out the series featuring a torch of enlightenment.

The president even sketched out how the two-cent anti-aircraft gun should look on the stamp. More of the three-cent Torch of Enlightenment stamps were printed as you might expect since the first class rate was three cents at that time.

Interestingly, the Kentucky Statehood stamp was issued June 1, 1942 here in Frankfort just before the three-cent “Win the War” stamp came out. Only 63 million of these stamps were printed.

The production of the Kentucky Statehood stamp was evidently affected by the production of the “Win the War” stamp. I have often wondered if we have people here now who attended the First Day ceremonies. From the few accounts that I have heard, it was a lower-key program than might have otherwise been expected had the war not broken out only six months before.

Overrun countries

Another stamp series that was a wartime issue intended to focus the public on what the nation was fighting for and against was what is known as the Overrun Countries Issue.

In 1943 the U. S. Post Office Department issued 13 five-cent stamps with the flags and names of 13 nations that had been occupied by Germany, Italy and Japan. These, I think, were intended to remind Americans of the plight of these countries then under the rule of the Axis nations. These were multi-colored stamps and accurately depicted the flags of the 13 nations.

Interestingly, the printing of the Overrun Countries stamps necessitated a contract being given to the American Bank Note Co. of New York for the printing. The reason for this was simply that the Government Printing Office did not have the printing equipment to properly print these multi-color stamps with the flags of the individual countries.

There was also the problem of plate numbers. On the sheets it was decided to print the name of the country rather than plate numbers. This seems to have solved the problem.

While all of this was going on the stamp hobby was coping with another problem. Paper companies were having their production and inventories regulated and overseen by the government. Everything in the country that was needed for the war effort was being diverted.

There was no 1943 Cadillac, Chevrolet or Ford. Soon there were no stamp hinges. It took a tremendous amount of political arm-twisting to get this remedied. Before long the government officials in charge of paper production regulation were convinced that stamp collecting, a hobby that they had earlier approved to continue, should have the stamp hinges needed to do this.

A stamp hinge is a small piece of glassine paper that has some adhesive on it to hold stamps on an album page.

We’ll continue this discussion of stamps and war in a future column. There is much left to say.

I’d like to invite you to our upcoming meeting 2 p.m. Saturday at Memorial Baptist Church, 130 Holmes St. Club members will be happy to answer your questions about our very interesting hobby.

Breck Pegram is president of the Kentucky Stamp Club.

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