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kottke.org posts about USPS

The USPS Introduces New Hip Hop Stamps

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 29, 2020

USPS Hip Hop Stamps

On July 1, the USPS is introducing a set of four stamps celebrating hip hop. The stamps were designed by Antonio Alcalá based on photographs by Cade Martin. In an interview with Steven Heller, Alcalá explained how he thought about the design process:

Hip Hop has a long and rich history, and from the start, I knew I wouldn’t be able to represent its totality in one set of stamps. But because it is such an important part of our nation’s art, and one of our most significant cultural contributions to the world, I knew we needed to at least begin representing it somehow. Hip Hop has four widely recognized key elements, or “pillars”: Rap, DJs, Graffiti, and B-boying (known more broadly as break-dancing). Using contemporary images that quickly and accurately depict the genres eased the burden of having to represent the many histories within the subject.

You can preorder the hip hop stamps on the USPS website.

New USPS Stamps Feature Prominent Voices of the Harlem Renaissance

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 04, 2020

Harlem Renaissance Stamps

The USPS recently released a set of four stamps honoring prominent literary figures of the Harlem Renaissance. They are available for purchase on the USPS site.

The Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s was one of the great artistic and literary movements in American history. As African-American writers and artists pushed the boundaries of their identities and their art, they created a diverse body of work that explored their shared history and experience, embodied the spirit of the times, and let new and distinctive voices be heard.

The stamps feature Nella Larsen, Alain Locke, Arturo Alfonso Schomburg, and Anne Spencer. Larsen was the author of two novels: Quicksand and Passing. From Larsen’s “overlooked” obituary in the NY Times:

Larsen followed “Quicksand” the next year with “Passing,” which tells the story of Irene Redfield and Clare Kendry, two mixed-race women who grew up together and reunite at a Chicago hotel after years of separation. Clare, Irene discovers, has been living as a white woman married to a racist who is none the wiser about his wife’s background. The relationship between the two women flirts with the sensual as each becomes obsessed with the other’s chosen path.

Upon reading that, I immediately thought “that would make an amazing movie” — and indeed, Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga are starring in an upcoming adaptation. You can read more about Larsen in Thadious M. Davis’ biography.

Alain Locke was the first African-American Rhodes Scholar and is acknowledged as the “dean” of the Harlem Renaissance due to the publication of The New Negro, an anthology of writing from authors like Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston that would come to define the Harlem Renaissance. The seminal text on Locke is Jeffrey Stewart’s 2018 National Book Award-winning biography, The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke.

In The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke, Jeffrey C. Stewart offers the definitive biography of the father of the Harlem Renaissance, based on the extant primary sources of his life and on interviews with those who knew him personally. He narrates the education of Locke, including his becoming the first African American Rhodes Scholar and earning a PhD in philosophy at Harvard University, and his long career as a professor at Howard University. Locke also received a cosmopolitan, aesthetic education through his travels in continental Europe, where he came to appreciate the beauty of art and experienced a freedom unknown to him in the United States. And yet he became most closely associated with the flowering of Black culture in Jazz Age America and his promotion of the literary and artistic work of African Americans as the quintessential creations of American modernism.

Also of note: Locke’s father was the first Black civil-service employee of the USPS.

Originally from Puerto Rico, Arturo Alfonso Schomburg was a historian, writer, activist, and curator of Black art and literature. He co-founded the Negro Society for Historical Research and his collection eventually became part of the NYPL system as the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Schomburg’s 1925 essay The Negro Digs Up His Past was included in Alain Locke’s The New Negro.

Anne Spencer was a poet, activist, and librarian. The Anne Spencer House and Garden Museum has an extensive biography of Spencer.

In addition to her writing, Spencer helped to found the Lynchburg Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). She was also the librarian at the all-black Dunbar High School, a position she held for 20 years. Here she supplemented the original three books by bringing others from her own collection at home, as well as those provided by her employer, the all-white Jones Memorial Library. She spent much of her time writing and serving on local committees to improve the legal, social, and economic aspects of African Americans’ lives.

I found several of her poems online (here and here) but a pair of anthologies are long out of print. One of her most influential poems, White Things, was published in 1923. It begins:

Most things are colorful things—the sky, earth, and sea.
      Black men are most men; but the white are free! White things are rare things; so rare, so rare
They stole from out a silvered world—somewhere.

Notable Black American Women called the poem “the quintessential ‘protest’ poem”. (via colossal)

Jason Polan Postage Stamps

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 28, 2020

The artist Jason Polan passed away in January from colon cancer. A group of his friends are trying to memorialize Polan and his art with a commemorative postage stamp from the USPS. Kelli Anderson created mockups for the stamps.

Jason Polan Stamps

Jason Polan Stamps

Polan loved mail and the USPS. A few years ago at his own expense, he took out a small ad in the New Yorker for the post office:

Jason Polan USPS Ad

FWIW, here’s how the USPS’s stamp selection process works.

US Postal Service Unveils 50th Anniversary Apollo 11 Stamps

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 26, 2019

Apollo 11 Usps

In commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing, the USPS is releasing a pair of stamps with lunar imagery.

One stamp features a photograph of Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin in his spacesuit on the surface of the moon. The image was taken by astronaut Neil Armstrong. The other stamp, a photograph of the moon taken in 2010 by Gregory H. Revera of Huntsville, AL, shows the landing site of the lunar module in the Sea of Tranquility. The site is indicated on the stamp by a dot.

These pair nicely with the US Mint’s Apollo 11 commemorative coins.

Apollo 11 Mint Coin

(via swissmiss)

“Star Ribbon”, a USPS Stamp by Aaron James Draplin

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 15, 2019

Draplin Stamp

It was not my intention to turn kottke.org into a stamp blog (recently: Ellsworth Kelly, Leonardo da Vinci) but you know what they say: cool postage comes in threes. My pal Aaron James Draplin recently shared on Instagram that he was asked to submit some designs for a stamp for the USPS and then, because he’s an awesome designer, one of his designs is going to become an actual stamp.

TEARS ROLLING DOWN MY CHEEKS: Last thing I want ANY post I put up to sound like some sweaty, formal press release, so I’ll just come out and say it: I GOT TO MAKE A STAMP, YOU GUYS.

I’ve had to keep my big trap shut for over a year on this one. And I when I got the call to throw some designs into the ring, I have to tell you, even that nod was enough. It was enough just to be that close to one of my FAVORITE institutions of all time: The American postage stamp.

Here’s why he’s so fond of stamps (I totally agree):

You know why I love stamps so much? Because everyone needs a stamp. Everyone gets to enjoy the art on them. Too many times, art and design is only for those who can afford it. Stamps? They are a democratization of design. And that? That’s my favorite kind of graphic design.

The design is a perfect illustration of Draplin’s throwback design style — it’s got that Spirit of ‘76 thing going on but is also solidly contemporary, just like his work for Field Notes. (via df)

Ellsworth Kelly US Stamps

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 01, 2019

The USPS will release a set of stamps in 2019 honoring the artist Ellsworth Kelly. Some art works better on stamps than others…Kelly’s stripped down abstracts look like they were specifically designed for postage:

Ellsworth Kelly stamps

You can check out more of Kelly’s art at MoMA and The Whitney.

Mister Rogers is getting a US postage stamp!

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 19, 2018

The US Postal Service is honoring Fred Rogers with a stamp to be released next month.

Mr Rogers Stamp

Joanne Rogers, Mr. Rogers’s wife, said in an interview that her husband would have approved of his appearance on a postage stamp because of the personal outreach that a handwritten letter involves in an increasingly virtual world.

“I think he might have agreed with me that it is amazing,” she said. “I think that people must need him. Just look at what goes on in the world. He always wanted to provide a haven and a comfortable lap for children, and I think that is what so many of us need right now.”

The USPS will dedicate the stamp on March 23 at a ceremony in Pittsburgh at the WQED studio where his show was filmed. The event is free and open to the public. (thx, brad)

New USPS stamps commemorate sports balls

posted by Jason Kottke   May 24, 2017

USPS Balls

The US Postal Service recently announced a new series of stamps that feature balls from eight different sports.

The U.S. Postal Service will soon release first-of-a-kind stamps with the look — and feel — of actual balls used in eight popular sports. Available nationwide June 14, the Have a Ball! Forever stamps depict balls used in baseball, basketball, football, golf, kickball, soccer, tennis and volleyball.

The stamps are round but what’s really cool is that they will have a special coating that lets you feel the unique texture of each kind of ball — the baseball’s laces, the basketball’s nubby surface, the golf ball’s dimples. The ball stamps are available for preorder and will ship in mid-June.

See also their upcoming solar eclipse stamps, which are printed using thermochromic ink — when you touch them, the heat of your finger reveals the hidden Moon passing in front of the Sun. (via print)

How stamps get designed

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 20, 2016

Art director Antonio Alcalá, one of four ADs employed by the USPS, talks a little bit about the history behind US postage stamps and how they are designed and produced.

Star Trek postage stamps

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 18, 2016

Star Trek Stamps

The USPS is releasing a set of four commemorative Star Trek stamps on the 50th anniversary of the original series. The stamps were designed by Heads of State and you can buy there here.

Neither Snow nor Rain nor Crippling Debt…

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 22, 2013

This Esquire article asks: Do We Really Want to Live Without the Post Office?

The postal service is not a federal agency. It does not cost taxpayers a dollar. It loses money only because Congress mandates that it do so. What it is is a miracle of high technology and human touch. It’s what binds us together as a country.

Go on, read the whole thing. Near the top of The List of What Makes America Great and No One Realizes Until It Disappears and Even Then Probably Not is The United States Postal Service. A poster child for Mundane Technology if there ever was one.

Sending children through the post

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 16, 2011

This is one of my favorite Flickr photos:

Child by mail

This city letter carrier posed for a humorous photograph with a young boy in his mailbag. After parcel post service was introduced in 1913, at least two children were sent by the service. With stamps attached to their clothing, the children rode with railway and city carriers to their destination. The Postmaster General quickly issued a regulation forbidding the sending of children in the mail after hearing of those examples.

USPS WTF LOL FAIL

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 24, 2009

Georg Jensen aruges that the USPS has, in effect, turned into a huge mail spamming operation (among other problematic aspects of the organization).

Just as General Motors has in effect subsidized Big Oil by continuing to build gas-guzzlers in recent years, so has the USPS continued to subsidize Big Mail by shaping its operations to encourage what it now calls, revealingly, “standard mail” — that is, advertising junk mail. Most American citizens are blissfully unaware of the degree to which USPS subsidizes U.S. businesses by means of the fees it collects from ordinary postal customers. For example, if you wish to mail someone a large envelope weighing three ounces, you’ll pay $1.17 in postage. A business can bulk-mail a three-ounce catalog of the same size for as little as $0.14.

A: 42 cents

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 24, 2009

A genuinely useful new Single Serving Site: the current price of a first-class US stamp.

Update: There’s also this one, this one, and a UK version. (thx, all)

Children in the mail

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 19, 2008

Children in the mail!

After parcel post service was introduced in 1913, at least two children were sent by the service. With stamps attached to their clothing, the children rode with railway and city carriers to their destination. The Postmaster General quickly issued a regulation forbidding the sending of children in the mail after hearing of those examples.

That photo is part of the Smithsonian Institution’s collection at Flickr.

Update: A 1913 NY Times article includes a query from a citizen to the Post Office inquiring whether they could send a baby through the mail:

Sir: I have been corresponding with a party in Pa about getting a baby to rais (our home being without One.) May I ask you what specifications to use in wrapping so it (baby) would comply with regulations and be allowed shipment by parcel post as the express co are to rough in handling

(via genealogue)

Eames stamps

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 17, 2008

The Charles and Ray Eames stamps are available for your USPS mailing pleasure. (thx, doug)

The work of Charles and Ray Eames

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 09, 2008

The work of Charles and Ray Eames will be honored with a set of 16 US stamps later this year. (via chris glass)

USPS Undoes 200 Years of Democracy?

posted by Joel Turnipseed   Nov 06, 2007

Interesting piece in Mother Jones about the new rate hikes for periodicals passed this year. According to the article, weekly publications like The Nation and The National Review will face up to $500,000 a year in additional delivery costs. This is the sort of small, seemingly-trivial change that makes this past week’s discussions here at kottke.org so urgent: when you look at how rapidly—and sometimes silently—things are changing, you really do need to step back sometimes and ask, “Have we really thought this through? Are we acting, and doing so urgently enough?” How significant is this rate hike? Try this:

Since the 1970s, all classes of mail have been required to cover the costs associated with their delivery, what’s called attributable cost. But periodicals, as a class, get favorable treatment: They don’t pay overhead, meaning that they don’t foot the bill for the Postal Service’s infrastructure, employees, and so on.

That’s a tradition that goes back to the origins of the nation. The founding fathers saw the press as the lifeblood of democracy—only informed voters could compose a true democracy, they believed—and thus created a postal system that gave favorable rates to small periodicals. (George Washington actually supported mailing newspapers for free.) For 200 years, small periodicals and journals of opinion were given special treatment.

Are the USPS’s “forever” stamps a good

posted by Jason Kottke   May 23, 2007

Are the USPS’s “forever” stamps a good deal for the consumer? “Absolutely not.” Stamp prices increase more slowly than the inflation rate so stamps are continually getting cheaper.

The new postal price restrictions on thickness

posted by Jason Kottke   May 14, 2007

The new postal price restrictions on thickness and whether the envelope is “flat-machinable” or not seem like the USPS passing along internal problems to their customers, the same crappy stuff that banks and the airlines do. Keep the process simple…we don’t care about your technology can and can’t do. Figure it out.

Shipping upgrades

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 19, 2005

This may just be the Nyquil hangover talking, but I’ve an idea. UPS, FedEx, USPS, and DHL should offer in-transit upgrades for package shipping[1]. I’m having something shipped and I realize that I would like it to arrive sooner than it is scheduled for. With computerized systems, they know exactly where that package is in their shipping system…it seems simple in theory to pluck it from its current route and get it going faster. The upgrade would probably come at premium price and not be a true upgrade in some cases[2], but it would be a useful (and potentially lucrative) feature.

[1] It’s possible that this is already possible. In the grand tradition of weblogs, no real research has been done.

[2] If you’re two days into waiting for a 5-7 day ground shipment from UPS and want it the next day, it may take a bit to get it from a semi in the middle of Montana onto a plane to Miami, i.e. not truly next-day.