One day, when I was a young boy, growing up in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, I was scavenging through one of the family cedar chests and found at the bottom, my dad’s U.S. Postage Stamp collection. As I flipped through the pages, I saw all kinds of stamps. The many colors, the vast subjects, and the varied shapes and designs, all drew me into the story each stamp was telling.
After leafing through my dad’s collection, I asked him about his interest in stamps and it’s as if he were waiting for me to be old enough (I think I was about eight years old at the time) to pick up the same hobby he entered into when he was about my age. He smiled. I did too.
(P-0279) So, later that day, off we went to the post office (above left – 1938 postcard featuring the Mt. Pleasant Post Office) and after standing in one of those long lines you always find at post offices, we came home with my first set of U.S. postage stamps. As I recall, the first one I collected for myself and added to my dad’s collection was the 1960 Winter Olympics commemorative stamp. (below) (S-0001) (C-0002)
A couple of years later (1962), I remember the excitement when John Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth. Of course, the next day or so, my dad and I went to the post office and bought the “secret” Project Mercury stamp (below). And with that, my love for collecting U.S. postage stamps combined with U.S. historic events really began to blossom.
Finally, the third very memorable stamp I remember collecting in those early years was this very first Christmas stamp that was issued in 1962 (below). A great addition to the Boller family Christmas cards!
For those who don’t pay attention to these things, allow me to give you just a bit of the history behind stamp collecting.
(C-0258) America’s first postage stamps went on sale on July 1, 1847. As a nation, America was taking shape at that time, and these stamps played an important part in its growth. The 5¢ issue of 1847 (U.S. #1) features a portrait of Benjamin Franklin. Franklin is credited with organizing America’s postal service back in the late 1700’s. On July 26, 1775, he was appointed by the Continental Congress as the first Postmaster General of the Confederation – which was of great importance to communications during the Revolutionary War. The 10¢ issue of 1847 (U.S. #2) pictures George Washington, Revolutionary War hero and the first U.S. President. Over the years, Washington and Franklin have appeared on more US stamps than any other, with of course, Honest Abe Lincoln coming in at #3.
(C-00022) Stamp-less Mail. Prior to 1847, when postage stamps first appeared, letters went through the mail “stamp-less,” marked for the rate, date and city of origin using 1) a handwritten notation by the postal clerk, 2) a stamped postmark using a hand stamp like the one below, or 3) a combination of both. As you can see from the “stamp-less” cover (above) from 1845 (one year before Iowa became the 29th state in the Union), the postmaster in Iowa City penned “Double 20” on this letter to the Sheriff of Muscatine County, Bloomington, Iowa Territory. The postal clerk then stamped it with an Iowa City postmark dated Feb 10. As you might imagine, this personalized process worked fairly well when the postmaster had only a mailbag or two of letters go through his post office in one day. But as the mail volume increased, as it did in the mid-19th century, so did the need for automating the whole process. Read more about “stamp-less” mail and what “Double 20” meant here.
Actually, once postage stamps were developed, it took Americans a while to get used to this new less-personal process of mailing letters. And like most things in life, it took a while for folks to get the system down. For example…where do you put the stamp?
But, over time, Americans came to enjoy the use of postage stamps and even began collecting them as they were released. As the postal service grew, so did the dependency on the US Mail in being a key factor to the expansive growth of America. Over the first 100 years (1847-1947) of postage stamp history, nearly 1,000 different stamps were issued, with the great majority of them being what are called “regular issue” stamps, featuring U.S. Presidents, statesmen, etc.
The exception to that ‘regular issue’ rule began in 1893 with the release of the first commemorative stamps, meaning the theme of the stamp celebrated a special person, place, or thing.
The first U.S. commemorative stamps honored Christopher Columbus and his discovery of America and were released in conjunction with the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. These stamps were so popular with the public, the post office began to issue other commemoratives on a regular basis after that. And it’s these commemorative stamps that tell wonderful stories about the countless people and events that have shaped America.
Over the years, I’ve collected and sold, re-collected and sold hundreds and hundreds of U.S. postage stamps. When Sandy and I were first married (1975), I opened up a small mail-order stamp business called MJB Stamps, making my hobby into a little money-maker at the time. Back then, there was no internet so mail-order stamp collecting was the only way to go. Advertising in Linn’s Stamp News, my little ad attracted its share of customers, but as our lives got busier and busier, I simply didn’t have time to keep it going.
Now, here I am at the latter part of my life, wondering how I might use my interest in stamps, coins, and collectibles to tell a bit of Our Iowa Heritage. Believe it or not, collecting postage stamps, coins, and other historic pieces of trivia is probably one of the best ways to learn a lot about the people who came before us, helping to shape the world we have today. So, allow me to tell a few stories, show you a few pictures, and with a little help from above, Our Iowa Heritage might be as big of blessing for you as it is for me in putting it all together. I hope you enjoy the ride.
And hey . . . if you like this website, you might enjoy our Facebook page as well. There, we offer an occasional tidbit of information, a story or personal account, and lots of old pics that give us a taste for the people, places, and events that have shaped Our Iowa Heritage.