Video: Honoring The Visionary Ray Charles

Two stamp release events — held last week in Atlanta and Los Angeles — paid tribute to Ray Charles, the extraordinary composer, singer, and pianist. If you weren’t able to attend, this video provides some wonderful highlights. Enjoy!

And remember: the Ray Charles Forever® stamp is on sale now. The stamp is available online at usps.com/stamps, by calling 800-STAMP24 (800-782-6724), and at Post Offices around the country.

Painting in U.S. Senate Collection Featured on New War of 1812 Stamp

The recently issued Battle of Lake Erie stamp commemorates one of the most important engagements of the War of 1812. This battle, fought 200 years ago on September 10, 1813, is considered a turning point of the war. For the stamp art, art director Greg Breeding chose to reproduce William Henry Powell’s famous painting, Battle of Lake Erie.

BattleLakeErie-Forever-single-v4The oil-on-canvas painting was commissioned by Congress in 1865 and completed in 1873. It depicts the heroic action of Master Commandant Oliver H. Perry and a portion of his crew as they rowed a small boat through a hail of gunfire from Perry’s ruined flagship, the Lawrence, to the Niagara. After taking command of the Niagara, Perry was able to save the day by pursuing four of the largest British ships and forcing them to surrender.

Powell’s nearly 17- by 27-foot painting looms large in the east stairway of the Senate wing in the U.S. Capitol and is part of the U.S. Senate Collection.

It was not Powell’s first painting of the Battle of Lake Erie. In 1847, the Ohio artist had received a commission from Congress to paint Discovery of the Mississippi by De Soto for the U.S. Capitol Rotunda. This prestigious assignment led to another one, when his home state commissioned him to portray the Battle of Lake Erie. The completed work, Perry’s Victory on Lake Erie, was displayed in the rotunda of the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus in 1865. In March of that year Congress commissioned Powell to execute a similar painting for the U.S. Capitol.

FDC Full Sheet

This 9.5 x 8-inch envelope bears an affixed sheet of 20 Battle of Lake Erie Forever® stamps cancelled with official First Day of Issue black pictorial and standard postmarks. Click the image for details.

As did many artists portraying key historical events, Powell took certain liberties with the facts. He chose, for instance, to portray the Stars and Stripes flying from the bow of the small boat that ferried Perry to the Niagara. In actuality, Perry carried with him his private flag, emblazoned with the words “Don’t Give Up the Ship,” in honor of his good friend Captain James Lawrence, who had uttered them only a few months earlier as he lay mortally wounded in a naval battle with the British.

Powell also made the questionable additions of an African American and of Perry’s young brother, Alexander, to the crew of the small boat. Alexander is shown anxiously tugging at Perry’s coat, evidently urging him to sit down to avoid being struck by gunfire. (This information comes from the Web site of the Office of the Senate Curator.)

Despite these licenses, Powell’s painting is widely admired and has been reproduced in numerous books and articles about the War of 1812. Its beauty and power, even at stamp size, remains undiminished.

The Battle of Lake Erie stamp is available now at usps.com/stamps, by calling 800-STAMP24 (800-782-6724), and at Post Offices around the country.

Valuable Inverted Jenny Error Spotted at Ceremony!

[From guest contributor Laurie]

OK, that headline’s a bit of a tease. It just so happens that the Inverted Jenny stamp’s release ceremony coincided with another big stamp event – the grand opening of the new William H. Gross Stamp Gallery at the National Postal Museum in Washington, D.C.

One of the highlights of the new stamp gallery is the “Gems of American Philately” exhibit. Here, visitors can view a block of four of the famous 1918 Inverted Jenny stamps. So while the enthusiastic crowd that stood in line to have their new Inverted Jenny stamps cancelled didn’t notice any mistakes with the 2013 versions… it was exciting to see the originals in the same place!

Before and after the festive ceremony, stamp fans toured the new exhibit, kids designed their own stamps, and a kindly looking Benjamin Franklin strolled around the museum floor.

The new Inverted Jenny stamp is available online in the Postal Store, by calling 800-STAMP-24 (800-782-6724), and at Post Offices nationwide.

Tomorrow Is National Public Lands Day: Got Plans?

“This land is your land, this land is my land.” – Woody Guthrie

If you take Woody Guthrie’s famous words literally, you might be interested in National Public Lands Day, which just happens to be tomorrow, Saturday, September 28. Public lands belong to all Americans . . . and just like your own backyard, sometimes these spaces need a little work!

To celebrate National Public Lands Day, volunteers will gather together at sites as varied as state parks, community gardens, beaches, and wildlife preserves to lend a helping hand. You can find a place that’s looking for volunteers in your area by visiting http://www.publiclandsday.org/npld-sites.

This year’s celebration marks the 20th annual National Public Lands Day. In honor of the anniversary, here’s a quick stamp quiz:

Which two 2013 stamps depict places where you can volunteer on September 28th?

Answer: The 1963 March on Washington and The Civil War: 1863

Public Lands DuoThe 1963 March on Washington stamp showcases the National Mall in Washington, D.C. On National Public Lands Day, volunteers will rake leaves, pick up litter, and beautify the area.

One of the two stamps included on The Civil War: 1863 souvenir stamp sheet depicts the Battle of Vicksburg. Volunteers at Vicksburg National Military Park will plant roses at the historic Shirley House on September 28.

Public lands are perennial stamp subjects. (In 2012, they were shown on the New Mexico Statehood and the Glacier National Park stamps). Pitching in on this special Saturday is a way to keep these lands healthy and beautiful for future generations . . . and for future stamps!

Lewis Hine: Made in America

DCP Keepsake

This collectible keepsake package includes one randomly selected pane of Made in America stamps and one randomly selected Digital Color Postmark First Day Cover. Click the image for details.

We love the iconic portraits of industrial workers found on the Made in America Forever® stamps—and while it’s obvious that those pictured are working hard, have you ever thought about the work of the photographer who created the images?

Documentary photographer Lewis Hine (who was born on this day in 1874) created 11 of the 12 stamp images, and four of those document the construction of the Empire State Building, the tallest building in the world from 1931 to 1972. Look at the photos, and take a second to think about this: Where exactly was Hine standing when he took those photos of construction workers balancing on steel girders, with nothing but empty sky behind them?

Capturing those classic scenes involved some risk. In 1930, Hine wrote about one of his most adventurous days at the Empire State Building in a letter to a friend:

My six months of skyscraping have culminated in a few extra thrills . . . just before the high derrick was taken down, they swung me out in a box from the hundreth floor—a sheer drop of nearly a quarter of a mile—to get some shots of the tower. The Boss argued that it had never been done and could never be done again and that, anyway, it’s safer than a ride on a Pullman or a walk in the city streets. So he prevailed.

During his career, Hine also achieved fame as a social reformer.

Hine duo

USPS has issued two other stamps featuring photographs by Lewis Hine, in 1998 (Celebrate the Century: 1910s; left) and 2002 (Masters of American Photography; right).

Best known for pictures of immigrants, child laborers, and industrial workers, he viewed his subjects with compassion and their harsh surroundings with an unflinching eye. His photographs of children working in mines, mills, and factories led Congress to try to regulate child labor, but the Supreme Court declared early laws unconstitutional.