Stamp News

The progression of stamp illustration laws

If you have seen United States stamp catalogs and stamp albumsPostage Stamp from the 19th century well into the 20th century, you are familiar with the prohibition on illustrating the full design of U.S. stamps.

Figure 1 shows an example from the Bank Note pages from Scott’s Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue of 1902. Only partial frames or small parts of stamps could be shown, and even those illustrations could not be reproduced at the same sizes as on the genuine stamps.

The rules at that time were stated in Section 5430 of the Revised Statutes of the United States, which made it a crime for anyone to make anything “in likeness or similitude to any obligation or security of the United States.” Section 5413 defined postage stamps as being obligations of the United States.

This ban was in place from 1872 to 1938, but it was modified slightly in 1923 to permit the full borders of U.S. stamps to be shown at four times the actual size. The page from the 1924 edition of Scott’s Specialized Catalogue of United States Postage Stamps in Figure 2 shows how that was done in practice.

Fifteen years later, Congress passed the Hayden-Duffy Act on Jan. 17, 1938. This act provided that full illustrations could be used if they were of a size less than 75 percent or more than 150 percent of the actual stamp.

This law also required that illustrations could be in black-and-white only. Color was strictly forbidden. However, it was not always strictly followed as can be seen in the 1954 Bison Philatelic Society (Buffalo, N.Y.) St. Patrick’s Day Party souvenir sheet in Figure 3. The sheet is based on the 1931 30¢ brown American Buffalo stamp (Scott 700), also shown in Figure 3.

The club’s sheet met the size requirement. But its stamplike illustration in the same brown color as the stamp upon which it was modeled is a violation.

It took only 30 more years for the Post Office Department to support a further change to allow for color illustrations. Public Law 90-353 of June 20, 1968, provided that “illustrations of postage stamps issued by the United States or by any foreign government may be in color.” It further specified that “all illustrations (including illustrations of uncanceled postage stamps in color) shall be of a size less than three-fourths or more than one and one-half, in linear dimension, of each part of any matter so illustrated …”

Later rules, which I have been unable to find, allowed for one-to-one reproduction of color illustrations so long as a diagonal line through the value of the stamp is added. That did not always prevent improper use of stamp reproductions as stamps if postal clerks were not paying attention.

Figure 4 shows an example of a cover franked with a reproduction of the 1985 22¢ Love stamp (Scott 2143), also shown. The reproduction came from a sheetlet of nine peelable love labels that the U.S. Postal Service permitted Hallmark to produce as envelope decorations in 1994. Figure 5 shows the sheetlet.

Apparently the lesson was learned. To my knowledge, no other such products have been licensed.

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