Whereas: Stories from the People’s House

Stamp of Genius

Shirley Chisholm forever. (“Forever” stamp, that is.) The House Collection contains examples of stamps, both singles and sheets, related to the people and places of the House—including the New York Congresswoman.

Postage Stamps Featuring the Capitol/tiles/non-collection/3/3-5-postage_stamps_1950capitol_2014_111_002.xml
Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives The Post Office Department issued a 3-cent stamp showing the Capitol in 1950, celebrating 150 years of Washington, DC, as the national capital.
Postage Stamps Featuring the Statue of Freedom/tiles/non-collection/3/3-5-postage_stamps_1950_freedom_2014_111_001.xml
Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives The Post Office Department issued a 3-cent stamp with the Capitol’s Statue of Freedom in 1950, celebrating 150 years of Washington, DC, as the national capital.
Postage Stamps Featuring the Capitol Dome/tiles/non-collection/3/3-5-postage_stamps_1976capitol_2017_057_000.xml
Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives A 1976 stamp depicted the Capitol dome.
Postage Stamps Featuring Clio/tiles/non-collection/3/3-5-postage_stamps_1989clio_2014_035_000.xml
Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives This sheet of bicentennial stamps showed Clio, whose statue perched above Statuary Hall, and served as a symbol of the House.
Postage Stamps Featuring Davy Crockett/tiles/non-collection/3/3-5-postage_stamps_crockett_2017_058_001.xml
Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives A little cartoon mail carrier reminds correspondents to include a zip code in the upper left corner of the selvage on this 1967 sheet of 5-cent Davy Crockett stamps. The Post Office Department instituted zip codes only four years before issuing these stamps, so letter-writers may have needed a reminder.
Postage Stamps Featuring Henry Clay/tiles/non-collection/3/3-5-postage_stamps_clay_2014_040_002.xml
Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives House Speaker Henry Clay was featured on a 3-cent stamp from 1983.
Postage Stamp Featuring Teodoro R. Yangco/tiles/non-collection/3/3-5-postage_stamps_yangco_2014_156_000-1.xml
Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
In addition to U.S. stamps, the House Collection also preserves a 1974 stamp from the Philippines. The stamp honors Teodoro R. Yangco, who served as Resident Commissioner from the Philippines to the U.S. House.

What Have You Done for Me Philately?

An 1847 law created the first official postage stamp of the United States, dictating “that, to facilitate the transportation of letters in the mail, the Postmaster-General be authorized to prepare postage stamps, which, when attached to any letter or packet, shall be evidence of the payment of the postage chargeable on such letter.” Until that point, senders would bring letters to the post office, where the postmaster would note whether the sender had paid for postage or the recipient should pay upon delivery. With a printed design and consistent cost—plus the assurance that a recipient wouldn’t have to pony up for a letter she wasn’t expecting—postage stamps standardized payment for communications across the country.

For their first nine years, stamps bore only two designs: a 5-cent Benjamin Franklin and a 10-cent George Washington. Over time, new designs multiplied. Congress, which authorized the creation of the postage stamp, also became a subject.

Postage Stamp Featuring the Capitol/tiles/non-collection/3/3-5-postage_stamps_1923capitol_2014_110_000.xml Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives A 1923 stamp highlighted the House side of the Capitol.

Mail Call

A 1923 stamp featured the Capitol. A designer from the Bureau of Printing and Engraving fashioned the image from a photograph, and three different engravers created the vignette, text, and decorative border. Printed in dark blue ink, the stamp cost $2 (equivalent to around $30 today). At the time, it cost two cents to mail a one-ounce letter—so the $2 Capitol was 100 times more expensive than an everyday stamp when the Post Office Department, as the United States Postal Service was known at the time, first issued it.

In 1950, the Post Office Department celebrated the 150th anniversary of Washington, DC, as the U.S. capital by issuing four commemorative stamps, each listed at three cents. Two of the four spotlight the Capitol: a view of the building, printed in pink-purple ink, and a closeup of the Statue of Freedom, printed in blue ink. The dotted lines of the engraving make it seem as if the statue is shining brightly. The Capitol appears on other stamps in the House Collection, including a 9-cent view of the dome from 1976 with the text “Right of the People Peaceably to Assemble” curling around the left side of the stamp, as if echoing the dome’s curve.

Postage Stamp Featuring Sam Rayburn/tiles/non-collection/3/3-5-postage_stamps_rayburn_2007_223_000.xml Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
The Post Office Department issued a Sam Rayburn stamp in 1962.

Priority Mail

In addition to the iconic spaces of Congress, postage stamps have depicted some important people from the history of the House. The House Collection contains a sheet of Sam Rayburn stamps with 50 perforated panes. The Post Office Department released a commemorative stamp honoring the House Speaker in 1962, less than a year after his death. The stamp shows his head and shoulders, printed in brown, in front of a blue Capitol dome, reflecting a spot of sunshine on the left.

Five years after the 4-cent Rayburn, the Post Office Department issued a Davy Crockett stamp as part of a series of American folklore stamps. The artist depicted Crockett, who represented Tennessee in the House, as a hunter and backwoodsman. Before printing the portrait and text in black ink, printers added two different shades of green to make the pine trees in the background pop out.

Postage Stamps Featuring Barbara Jordan/tiles/non-collection/3/3-5-postage_stamps_jordan_2014_059_000-1.xml Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
In 2011, the Postal Service added Representative Barbara Jordan to its Black Heritage stamp series.

Signed, Sealed, and Delivered

Congresswomen Barbara Jordan and Shirley Chisholm have appeared on commemorative postage as part of a Black Heritage series. Jordan, a Texas Representative, became the first African-American Congresswoman to grace a stamp in 2011. The stamp cost 44 cents when released, but as a “Forever” stamp, the value changes as the price of postage increases. Against a reddish background, the stamp shows a frontal view with the Congresswoman smiling at the viewer.

Issued three years later, the Chisholm stamp uses a similar composition, with a tightly cropped portrait of the Representative’s face, posed against a bright purple background. With light reflecting off her glasses as she gazes directly at the viewer, Chisholm’s face looks composed and serious.

Postage Stamps Featuring Shirley Chisholm/tiles/non-collection/3/3-5-postage_stamps_chisholm_2014_032_000-1.xml Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
In 2014, Shirley Chisholm joined Barbara Jordan as the second African-American woman in Congress to be featured in a postage stamp.
From its earliest days, Congress has addressed important issues of how residents communicate with each other. Legislation authorized the postage stamp, and in turn, stamps have delivered commemorative images of the Capitol and its Representatives.

Sources: An Act to Establish Certain Post Routes and for Other Purposes, 9 Stat. 188 (1847); Politico, 11 September 2011; Dorothy Ganfield Fowler, Unmailable: Congress and the Post Office (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1977); “African American Subjects on United States Postage Stamps,” United States Postal Service, February 2019, https://about.usps.com/who-we-are/postal-history/african-american-stamp-subjects.htm; “Arago: People, Postage & the Post,” Smithsonian National Postal Museum, accessed 16 January 2020, https://arago.si.edu/index.html; Smithsonian National Postal Museum, accessed 16 January 2020, https://postalmuseum.si.edu/; “The United States Postal Service: An American History, 1775–2006,” United States Postal Service, 2012, https://about.usps.com/publications/pub100/welcome.htm; “U.S. Postal Service Honors Shirley Chisholm,” United States Postal Service, 31 January 2014, https://about.usps.com/news/national-releases/2014/pr14_005.htm.

Categories: Artifacts