99% Invisible Podcast – Episode 47 – US Postal Service Stamps

Somebody might be able to do a great painting that’s 20 x 30 inches, but you take that down to 1 x 1.5 inches, and it’s a challenge to make it work.

-Ethel Kessler, Art Director for USPS Stamp Services

Stamps design takes, on average, a year to a year and a half, from conception to execution. Unfortunately, most of the stamps we encounter on a day-to-day basis are the rather predictable flag, bell, and love stamps, but there are some really fantastic commemorative stamps, which are supremely functional and affordable tiny works of art.

To determine what should go on a US stamp, the Citizens Stamp Advisory Committee combs through nearly 50,000 suggestions per year offered by the general public. Once the subjects are chosen and approved by the Postmaster General, they are assigned to a handful of art directors to be designed.

There are loads guidelines to help stamp subject selection, but one of the big rules recently changed. In 2012, the first living person will be commemorated on an official USPS stamp.

Julie Shapiro, Artistic Director of the Third Coast International Audio Festival, produced this episode. Julie spoke with Terry McCaffrey, the retired manager of stamp development for the USPS Stamp Services Office, and Ethel Kessler, an Art Director who’s been working with Stamp Services for over 15 years.