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Finding Christmas in Stamp collecting


Finding Christmas in Stamp collecting

The first U.S. Christmas stamp from 1962, with the USPS James Stewart stamp are both canceled with a 2012 Bedford Falls Station pictorial from Seneca Falls, NY.

Image © USPS

The USPS reminds us that 2012 was the 50th anniversary of the issuance of their first Christmas stamp. It was released by the USPOD in Pittsburgh PA on Nov. 1, 1962. The 2012 Christmas stamps are a block of four, its single Santa and sleigh design covering all the stamps.

A grand old man of philately, George Linn, credited with the first cacheted first day cover, and the founder of the still-published philatelic weekly Linn's Stamp News took some credit for the event, as he had been lobbying for years to get a Christmas stamp released.

Britain, Canada and Christmas Stamps

The USPS was late to the Christmas stamp party - the first was Canada's so-called map stamp of 1898 - as for a long while there was resistance from those who felt a Christmas stamp was a religious stamp. If such a thing was issued by the U.S. post office, they reasoned, it would break the rule of the separation of church and state.

Canada's stamp grew out of a controversy: when those suggesting the map stamp to Queen Victoria said it would honor the prince and she rather brusquely asked "What prince?" a quick thinking William Mullock is said to have replied, "Why, the Prince of Peace, of course." She never knew that it was originally going to honor the Prince of Wales.

Mullock, was a member of the House of Commons and also Canada's Postmaster General, who successfully got Canada on board for the U.K.'s Imperial Penny Postage system. The Christmas stamp was also part of the first Penny Postage issue.

Much of our current idea about Christmas comes from England, although the U.K. didn't issue its first Christmas stamps until Dec. 1, 1966. But Great Britain has been influential in molding the world's thinking about the spirit of Christmas via Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. In 2012 Royal Mail issued a number of stamps noting the bicentennial of the author's birth. Although none referenced A Christmas Carol, other British area stamp issuers, including Ascension Island, Jersey, Antigua and Barbuda, Pitcairn Island, Gibraltar, and Turks and Caicos featured characters from the story.

A Wonderful Postmark

Although there has never been a U.S. stamp issued for the film It's a Wonderful Life (1946) the recent Jimmy Stewart stamp gave cachet makers the chance to use the film in the cachets on their FDCs as well as on event covers. And another stamp is only one degree of separation away from the film: The Great Directors stamp of 2012 honoring director Frank Capra.

The film, a portrait of American life in the 1940's shows the trials and travails of small-town everyman George Bailey, leading up to the Christmas themed denouement. Believing that director Capra based the film town Bedford Falls on Seneca Falls NY, that town for some time has periodically become a cinematic holiday wonderland thanks to its resemblance to the fictional Bedford Falls. The post office even offers a special Bedford Falls Station postmark. And in 2012 it featured a pair of angel wings and the phrase "Every person's life touches so many other lives."

Seneca Falls, steeped in small town tradition like Bedford Falls, shares many aspects with the movie town. Architecture, a canal, history as a mill town, and globe streetlights contribute to the effect. There is also the large Italian population (represented in the film by Mr. Martini), a bridge of the sort that George wound up at in desperation (the real life version had an attempted suicide and an angel who dove in to save someone)...and the list goes on.

Another Christmas film that depends on things postal is Miracle on 34th Street, where a man claiming to be Kris Kringle is found in a court of law to be exactly what he says he is when the NYC post office (8th Ave. and 31st St.) delivers mail addressed to Santa Claus. Philatelically the miracle would have been at Gimbels, with its "Famous Stamp Department" run by Jacques Minkus. But Macy's, not Gimbels is at 34th St. Surely if it had been Gimbels and not Macy's that brought Santa into town in the Christmas parade, the miracle would have had a different address.

In any event, there is plenty of Christmas to be found in stamp collecting. Those who wish to pursue the collecting area may look into the Christmas Philatelic Club, an affiliate of both the American Philatelic Society and American Topical Association.

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