Hurray for the American Stamp!

By | January 26, 2012

On January 20, the U.S. Postal Service released five gorgeous stamps. The artistry of American stamps is nothing new, of course, but this collection reminded me of the potential value of decorative stamps in targeted direct mail campaigns.

In searching for high resolution versions of the five stamps, I happened upon a wonderful website,

For those interested in the art and design of U.S. stamps, the site features a video interview with the five USPS art directors who bring illustrative meaning to “decorative stamp.”

Ethel Kessler talks about the talents of the five people who work on the stamps. “Each of us has different passions, different strengths. And we’re relentless, [asking] what can we do at every level to enrich it.”

Phil Jordan, who created the USPS Civil War series, says his effort seeks to honor past acts of courage or accomplishment. Getting there wasn’t easy. “What evolved was a labor of intense scrutiny… I wanted to express what people were thinking and what the common person was doing, particularly the common soldier.” Was all the research worth it? “What we have, we know will stand up to scrutiny,” says Jordan.

Kessler researched the Nobel Prize winners series just as diligently. Rather than detailing each scientific achievement, she was dedicated to capturing the essence of this highly coveted award. “Ethel really did an amazing job says Derry Noyes. “She was working with murky photographs of scientists and complex formulas. This could have been a recipe for disaster, but everything went beautifully.”

Antonio Alcalá’s favorite series spotlights industrial design from the 40s, 50s, and 60s. Greg Breeding also is partial to this Pioneers of American Industrialism series, which he says has inspired so many objects we use today, including the iPad, telephones, etc.

What does the stamp series add up to?

“We’re telling a story; we’re telling America’s story,” says Kessler — and that story is complex in more ways that we can imagine. Consider, for example, the Latin Music Legends series. “I worked with Raphael Lopez who is himself a musician and a brilliant illustrator. We decided what we were looking was ‘performance,’ so that we could hear the music.”

Likely, only a designer can discern the many possibilities that comprise a powerful picture. “What is it that grabs you? Is it the title, the color, the graphics? Is it pretty, is it edgy? Designing stamps is more work than you think,” Noyes concludes. “It’s a real collaborative effort. If the collaboration has worked well, then we have a great stamp.”

Kessel adds, “Our biggest success is when it looks easy.”

BeyondthePerf made me remember that this institution upon which direct marketers have built their livelihoods does many things well — and most of it looks much easier than it is.

So, hurray for the American stamp and hurray for one of our greatest institutions: The U.S. Postal Service.

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