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Exhibits : Art of the Stamp: Owney the Postal Dog

Owney, the Postal Dog. The Globetrotter: Owney was an orphaned mutt who crept into the Albany, New York, post office in 1888 and made his home—and found a family—among the United States Post Office Department. Taking it upon himself to guard the mail, Owney began traveling across the country atop the mailbags and keeping tabs on any that were lost along the way. The postal clerks loved Owney, and he quickly shot to fame as the mascot of the Railway Mail Service. He ventured as far as Canada, Mexico, and even the Far East throughout his many travels. In 1895, he set sail for Japan and China and was sent by registered mail part of the way. The Mail Service created a special mail classification just for Owney: 'Registered Dog Package.' In all, he traveled more than 143,010 miles—more than half the distance to the moon. The Tag Collector: As Owney’s fame grew, Railway Mail Service clerks across the country began attaching metal tags to his collar. Soon enough, the shaggy dog was also collecting tags from hotels, fire departments—even restaurants and bars! The
tags made note of the travels of 'His Dogship' (as one tag referred to Owney), and also served as tokens for free quarts of milk, drinks, and cigars. When the postmaster general at the time, John Wanamaker, heard that Owney could hardly hold up his head from the weight of so many tags, he presented him with a special harness to
display them all. Stamp artist Bill Bond understood that any story about Owney must include mention of
his tag collection. For the stamp image, he set Owney’s profile against a background of tokens from trips across the country.
Owney stamp art exhibit panel. On loan from the U.S. Postal Service.
Bond then decided to construct a background of overlapping
tags, varying in size and shape, to surround Owney’s profile. Wanting to give the dog prominence, he created a border of white to separate Owney’s head from the background, with only bits of fur crossing over. Bond originally painted the stamp denomination on one of the tags, as part of the background art. But when the Postal Service decided to issue Owney the Postal Dog as a Forever® stamp, the word 'FOREVER' would no longer fit on the tag,
and so the tag was dropped from the image. Yet the loss was worth the gain, for now Owney not only lives on in postal lore, but he’ll be valid as First-Class postage forever.
Owney stamp art exhibit panel. On loan from the U.S. Postal Service.
Owney the Postal Dog. Five tags from Owney's collection.
Owney stamp art exhibit panel. On loan from the U.S. Postal Service.
When seasoned illustrator Bill Bond set out to create artwork for the Owney the Postal Dog stamp, he realized that he had two subjects to work with: the beloved
traveling dog himself, as well as Owney’s tag collection. After visiting dog parks and Owney here at the museum for inspiration, Bond developed a series of sketches to determine how best to capture both the dog and his many tags. Bond and art director Phil Jordan agreed that, given the small scale of a stamp, a portrait of Owney would work best—but the close-up prevented inclusion of his special display harness.
Owney stamp art exhibit panel. On loan from the U.S. Postal Service.

Art of the Stamp: Owney the Postal Dog
Smithsonian National Postal Museum's Franklin Foyer
July 20, 2011 – August 5, 2012

Art of the Stamp: Owney the Postal Dog features Bill Bonds’s original painting of Owney that was produced for the stamp. It is accompanied by 6 sketches illustrating various poses of Owney that Mr. Bonds created as he developed his final portrait. In addition, 5 tags that were given to Owney on his many travels and selected by Bonds as background for his stamp art, are also included.

Read about Owney the Dog »


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