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Christmas stamps

December 4, 2013
By Ted Rowe , Marshall Independent

Every Christmas since 1965 I have mailed my Christmas cards by getting the stamp cancelled on the First Day of Issue. For most of the 1960s that meant getting the cards written, addressed and sent off to the particular post office where the Christmas stamp was being issued. Some of those post offices had unique, but fitting names for the Christmas season: Bethlehem, Pa., Santa Claus, Ind., Noel, Mo. More recently a lot of the cancellations for the First Day of Issue have been in NYC.

Getting my cards or letters out in time, quite often meant getting them completed in early October. That took lots of planning. It also meant lots of work for the postal workers as they had to affix the stamps on the envelopes before they could be cancelled.

About 20 years ago, however, the U.S. Postal Service took pity on those of us getting the First Day of Issue Cancellation by allowing us to purchase the stamps at our local post office, affixing the stamps and sending the stamped envelopes with cards or letters to the issuing office. We had 30 days in which to get the stamped envelopes to the cancelling post office. That change had me using my skills as a procrastinator, putting off getting the cards and letters completed until sometime in November.

Possibly recognizing how much of a procrastinator some of us can be, the post office later gave us a 60-day reprieve from the date of issuance. This year's Christmas stamps had the first day of issue on Oct. 10 for the Christmas Poinsettia, Oct. 11 for the Holy Family and Christmas Madonna and Child stamps, Oct. 24 for the global ($1.10) Christmas Wreath stamp and Nov. 6 for the Gingerbread Houses (which I think look like Christmas though technically they are not Christmas stamps.) All of those stamps this year are being issued out of NYC. What those dates mean is that I have until the beginning of next week in order to send my Christmas greetings off or later if I want to settle for the Gingerbread Houses.

The downside of getting that First Day of Issue Cancellation is that the postal service does not do a rush job on the cancelling, so my greetings have been known to arrive at the recipient's home sometime in late January or early February. Oh, Fiddlesticks!


The tradition in the Rowe household from my earliest memories was that my parents cleared the dining room table on a Sunday afternoon in mid-December and instead of playing Monopoly as we often did when the weather was cold, the table became the assembly line for Christmas cards. My parents went over their lists, eliminating some from the previous year's list and adding some new ones to the lists. They each then wrote a note and I believe my sister (six years older than me) helped write the addresses while my brother and I got to put on the stamps. Each envelope got two stamps: One on the front for the postage and one on the back for Christmas Seals (TB primarily). During some of the years in the 1940s we were careful to tuck the envelope flap inside rather than licking and sealing because there was a cheaper rate for mailing letters that were not sealed (1.5 cents or 2 cents as I recall rather than the 3 cents for first class postage.)

centsThough we are all aware that a first class stamp costs more these days, the rates taking inflation into account have remained fairly constant. Based on 2012 dollars with stamps at 46 cents, the most expensive first class rates were 71 cents in the late 1870s: The actual stamps at that time were 3 cents for first class mail which was the rate from 1866 to 1882 when the cost was 2 cents, a rate that lasted until 1933 except for the war year of 1918 which was 3 cents. The rates for 1933 to 1959 were 3 cents. Since that time the rates have increased every few years up to the present 46 cents. The cheapest inflation adjusted rates were in the decade of the 1920s when the rates were all in the 20 plus cents range, the cheapest being in 1920 itself when the rate was just 23 cents.


Just a quick bit of trivia about Christmas Seals. They were originally used to raise funds to fight tuberculosis which today has morphed into the American Lung Association. The seals were first issued in the U.S. in 1907. The first Christmas seals worldwide were apparently issued in 1904 by Denmark.

In the early 1900s, a major cause of death in the U.S. was tuberculosis where patients with tuberculosis were often isolated in sanitoriums. A sanitorium in Delaware in 1907 was about to close if funds ($300) could not be raised. A cousin, Emily Bissell, of one of the doctors explained the plight to her. She designed and printed special holiday seals and sold them at the post office for a penny each.

With a legion of committed volunteers, she raised 10 times the stated goal partially in response to the support of President Roosevelt that was Teddy, not Franklin Delano.

The American Lung Association continues its work to the present day and is still partially supported by Christmas Seals. The expanded vision of The American Lung Association includes work on research and fights against lung cancer, asthma, dangerous poisons in air pollution, and second hand smoke.

Until next time: Oh, Fiddlesticks!



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