Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Christmas Stamps: The Art on Your Christmas Card Envelope

First USPS Christmas stamp issued. 

While most of us may not have the opportunity to own paintings created
by the great masters, there are little bits of art around us every day. Postage
stamps come to mind as amazing everyday samples of miniature works of art,
especially Christmas stamps.

There’s some debate as to who issued the first Christmas stamps. In 1898,
Canada issued a stamp picturing a world map with the inscription “Xmas 1898” on it. In 1937, Austria printed up red and green postage stamps, which bore the image of a rose and Zodiac signs. Hungary had the first commemorative stamps with the Nativity available in 1943.

Australia was the first country to begin printing an annual Christmas stamp. This began in 1957 with a stamp depicting a little girl kneeling in prayer and the Christmas star up in the sky above. 

Postal customers in the United States had been requesting a special stamp for Christmas for some time. In 1962, the United States Post Office created its first annual Christmas stamp. Imprinted with a a wreath and two candles in red and green, the colors most associated with the holiday, the stamp was available for four cents.
Classical art/cultural theme.
Painting by Hans Memling. 

Over a billion were sold that year, with the first print run of 350 million selling out quickly. After that, there was no doubt of the popularity of stamps created specifically for the Christmas season.

The next year, the Christmas stamp was designed by renowned Washington,
D.C. painter, Lily Spandorf. It symbolized the idea of the nation’s first family being at home, with a Christmas tree in the foreground, at night, with the White House lit up in the background. Sadly, three weeks after it had been first issued on November 1, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. 

Contemporary-themed stamp from 1970 with 'toy' theme.

Some contention rose over whether a stamp issued for the Christmas holiday violates the First Amendment clause prohibiting the government’s establishment of a religion. The postmaster general maintained it did not. Despite attempted legal action, the production of such seasonal stamps hasn’t been thwarted.

While some have been concerned that America shouldn’t have a religious-looking Christmas stamp, other organizations complained that the stamps weren’t religious
enough. They were concerned that the attempt to commemorate Christmas with the postage stamps in the scope of tradition, minimized the true meaning of the holiday. 

Over the years, the U.S. Postal Service has attempted to address these concerns in a couple of ways. They began in 1966 by using the a painting of the Madonna nd Child by Flemish artist, Hans Memling from the 1400s. By using classic art, they appealed to those viewed this as a “celebration of culture.” This worked so well, they reprinted the stamp for 1967 and have often used such classical works of art to depict the Holy Family. 

Currier and Ives from 1970s.

Beginning in 1970, the USPS began issuing both a “contemporary” or secular and “traditional” or Christian stamp. The contemporary stamps have often shown an image of Santa Claus or other symbols of the season, while the traditional stamps are often of the Holy Family, which the USPS says reminds us of “family, togetherness, the joys of the season, and the birth of Jesus.” And isn’t that what Christmas is truly about? 

2016 contemorary 'Christmas Windows' theme.

For a mere 47 cents you can possess a miniature work of art that will make you stop and smile during this hectic time of year and looks quite nice on a Christmas card envelope. These days there are more than two stamps to choose from. Whichever Christmas stamp you prefer—Merry Christmas to you and yours! 

2016 traditional stamp. 


  1. An informative post about the art on stamps and the development of Christmas stamps. I try to purchase the traditional Christian stamps that are issued each year. It's amazing the different ones the Postal Service has each year. Merry Christmas.

    1. Thanks, Marilyn. The same to you as well. I do like to purchase them too. :) I got both of the above
      stamps this year. It was interesting to learn more about them.

  2. I never really thought about how long Christmas stamps have been around, but I do buy some each year. This year, I have the lovely nativity scene. I'm so happy the USPS still has a Christ-centered stamp to celebrate Jesus' birth. Merry Christmas!

    1. I agree! And I wondered at the fact they allowed it, so it was interesting to see how it all developed.
      Merry Christmas, Vickie!

  3. I often wonder about the artwork on stamps. Unless someone is truly a collector it is not something seemingly talked about often. I wonder if someone was the artist, how they shared with people they knew that it was their work?

    1. I'm sure the information can be found somewhere. While they use some classics pieces of art, it
      must be an interesting job to design what goes on a stamp for any time of year and a privilege
      to be chosen as an artist.

  4. This is very interesting. I enjoy using Christmas stamps and am amazed at how quickly the grocery store sells out of them. I have to get them from the post office. Merry Christmas!

    1. Thank you, Melissa. Merry Christmas to you as well! I try to buy mine early when I think
      of it. Sometimes the post office can run out as well.

  5. What first caught my eye was the prices on the stamps. They are lovely little pieces of art. Thanks for sharing. Merry Christmas!

    1. I noticed the lower prices on the stamps too. I couldn't help but pick our some from of
      the earlier ones because of that. Merry Christmas!

  6. I love stamps! I'm old-fashioned and still write checks for my bills, so I always try and buy the "fun" stamps to make the chore more fun. There are so many neat designs nowadays. Thanks for sharing the history of Christmas stamps. And I agree with Chappy Debbie, those prices!!!

    1. I couldn't agree more, Connie. It's fun to put the stamps with different designs on them, especially
      since they are all "forever" stamps now. The American flag is always a classic, but it's fun to
      express yourself with different stamps whether they haves pets, birds, or flowers on them.
      And the Christmas stamps always have such beautiful choices these days! Thanks for
      stopping by.

  7. I still purchase a lot of stamps throughout the year and I enjoy the different choices available. I always try to get traditional stamps for Christmas because of belief in the 'reason for the season' but it is also a chance to increase my knowledge of the art masterpieces they choose.
    Thank you and Merry Christmas!