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The Betsy Ross 3¢ stamp with U.S. Flag

3 cent stamp with Betsy RossThis stamp was issued in 1952 to commemorate the 200th birthday of Betsy Ross. Unless more documentation is found, the debate about who constructed the “first” flag will continue.

Was it Betsy Ross? Francis Hopkinson? Mr. Hopkinson has official federal records on his side, and Ms. Ross has more than 200 years of anecdotal history on hers.

Birth of Our Nation’s FlagThe engraving for this stamp came from the 1892 painting by Charles Weisgerber titled “Birth of Our Nation’s Flag.” Restored in 2000, today the painting is on display at the Pennsylvania state capitol in Harrisburg.

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New stamps feature vintage flag design and Liberty Bell

Vintage Stars and Stripes in the 41-cent denomination

Vintage Stars and Stripes in the 41-cent denomination.

New postage rates go into effect today, and as customary, the Stars and Stripes is featured prominently. The stamp shown at left depicts an American flag waving on a flagpole against a tan background. The design of the flag was adapted from an undated postcard in the ephemera collection of art director Richard Sheaff of Scottsdale, Arizona, a popular and prolific stamp designer for the Postal Service.

This year, U.S. Postal Service issued the Forever stamp, which will always be valid as First-Class postage on standard envelopes weighing one ounce or less, regardless of any subsequent increases in the First-Class rate.

The stamp art depicts the Liberty Bell, which is perhaps the most prominent and recognizable symbol associated with American independence. Over the years, the historic significance of the bell’s message has transcended our national borders, and today the Liberty Bell is an international icon of freedom. Replicas of the Liberty Bell exist in all fifty states and the District of Columbia. In Texas, the replica resides at Texas A & M University.

Liberty Bell Forever Stamp 2007

Liberty Bell Forever Stamp 2007

The stamp art features a computer-generated image of the Liberty Bell by nationally acclaimed artist Tom Engeman of Brunswick, Maryland. His previous projects for the Postal Service include stamped cards for Carlsbad Caverns National Park (2002), Ohio University (2003), and Columbia University (2003), as well as the 2003 American Eagle definitive stamp, and the National World War II Memorial stamp issued in 2004.

The Liberty Bell has long been a popular motif for U.S. stamps, and putting the Liberty Bell on a forever stamp means this design will be around, well—forever.

Stamp images © 2007 USPS. All Rights Reserved.

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The Hudson–Fulton Celebration of 1909

Do you have good eyesight? How about a magnifying glass? I have a 3X magnifying glass, a heavy ornate beauty in brass, a gift from my son and daughter-in-law for Mother’s Day in 2002. I use it constantly, but if I am going to keep staring at flags on stamps, I’m going to need something stronger.

Hudson-Fulton Celebration of 1909 Two-Cent StampThe stamp in question is the one that honors the Hudson–Fulton Celebration of 1909. That was the 300th anniversary of Cap. Hendrick Hudson’s trip up an amazing river in what would eventually be the state of New York, and 100 years (plus a little) after Robert Fulton’s steamship, The Clermont, first steamed up the same river, now named the Hudson in honor of the explorer.

What sent me off on this adventure was my attempts figure out what flag was flying on the Clermont in the image on the stamp, all because a few months ago I decided it would be interesting to write about the history of our American flag as it appeared on U.S. stamps.

15 stars and 15 stripesIn 1807, the year Fulton launched his North River Steamboat—others called it the Clermont; he did not—the U.S. flag had fifteen stars and fifteen stripes. It was in fact, the flag that Francis Scott Key was so relieved to see by the dawn’s early light on September 14, 1814.

Clermont engravingOf course there were no photographs in 1809, but I did find this etching, which seems to have the stars in the right pattern, but doesn’t have enough stripes. But it is an artistic representation, and I’m sure the artist was more concerned about getting the lines of the ship right, rather than the stripes on the flag, which is waving anyway.

1909 Clermont replica

The 1909 Clermont in New York, September 25, 1909

All of which brings me to this hand-tinted photograph taken in 1909 of the replica Clermont, with a completely different flag flying on it. Other photos show the same flag—with the stars in a circle.

The Hudson–Fulton Celebration of 1909 was a huge event, years in planning. The Netherlands built the replica of the Half Moon and brought it to the United States for the celebration. Research into the original Clermont was extensive, and building the replica cost a small fortune.

stern of replica Clermont

A photo taken shortly before the Clermont replica was launched.

Was the flag wrong? Was the flag flown on the replica a contemporary nautical ensign in 1909? So far, I haven’t been able to find that information. It’s out there somewhere, I know it is … I just have to keep looking.