Postal Service Puts Its Stamp on Lincoln Fete

Posted February 6, 2009 at 3:39pm

Nowadays, former President Abraham Lincoln is everywhere: in books, at museums, in theaters and, starting today, in new stamps.

To mark the 200th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth on Feb. 12, the U.S. Postal Service has issued four first-class commemorative 42-cent stamps.

David Failor, executive director of stamp services, said the stamps were the Postal Service’s way of showing respect for Lincoln, who was not only president but also the postmaster for New Salem, Ill.

“He was one of us,” Failor said. Lincoln became postmaster on May 7, 1833, at the age of 24. How he became a postmaster was unclear. One account said the wives in New Salem were unhappy that the prior postmaster, who also owned a store, was too busy selling whiskey to men to attend to postal duties. Another story said that President Andrew Jackson appointed Lincoln to the post.

The art in the four stamps depict significant moments in Lincoln’s life.

The first stamp shows Lincoln as a rail-splitter. Dated 1846, the picture in the stamp uses the earliest-known photograph of him, depicting a young Lincoln splitting logs for a rail fence. The Republican Party used this image of him to enhance his appeal to the working class when he ran for president in 1860.

The second stamp pictures Lincoln as a lawyer and is based on a photograph of him inside an Illinois courtroom taken by Abraham Byers on May 7, 1858. Lincoln was not content with his life as a rail-splitter, so when he moved to New Salem, he participated in a debating society, attended sessions of the local court and studied law on his own. In 1837, he became a law partner in Springfield, where he practiced for nearly 25 years.

The third stamp pictures Lincoln as a politician. It is based on a photograph of him debating Stephen A. Douglas, a Democrat, during their battle in 1858 to represent Illinois in the U.S. Senate. Mathew Brady took the photograph on Feb. 27, 1860. Lincoln was practically unknown when he ran against Douglas, who won the election. But on Feb. 27, 1860, Lincoln’s well-researched speech arguing that government should stop the spread of slavery paved the way for his nomination as the Republican candidate for president.

The fourth stamp shows Lincoln the president. It depicts Lincoln as commander in chief conferring with Gens. Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman toward the end of the Civil War. The stamp is based on “The Peacemakers” (1868), a painting by George P. A. Healy. The picture of Lincoln superimposed on the stamp was taken by Alexander Gardner on Nov. 8, 1863.

This is not the first time the USPS has featured Lincoln on stamps. In fact, the postal service already issued 74 Lincoln stamps. The first was a Lincoln stamp issued in 1867. The previous one before this latest release was issued in 1968.

The idea to issue Lincoln stamps this year came from the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission. “In 2003, we sent a letter to USPS suggesting that they issue a stamp to mark the occasion of Lincoln’s bicentennial,” said David Early, the commission’s communications director. The design of the stamps was identified three years later.

Mark Summers, noted for his scratchboard technique, created the artwork for the stamp, under the direction of art director Richard Sheaff.