The 12th Maynard Sundman Lecture

November 7, 2014

Chris West: A History of America in Thirty-six Postage Stamps

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Hi everybody.

Good afternoon.

A minute after 12:00. How do you like that? Welcome to the Sundman Lecture.

It's amazing how fast time goes by. It has been a year? It's been a year. It's unbelievable how quickly it's been.

I want to thank obviously Don and his brother for supporting this lecture.

They do a great job for the museum and welcome Chris back.

It was was phenomenal last year and I guess equally phenomenal this year.

So, we got a lot going on at this museum. In fact I don't have the energy to keep up anymore with all this stuff.

Yesterday we had the dedication of the Rudolph the reindeer stamp.

I don't know if any of you who are here? It was really neat.

It's a beautiful stamp.

There was a nice ceremony.

And I'll tell you a funny story now.

What I wanted to do was since we had kids from school, school kids, I figured I would ask two questions about Rudolph and whoever answers the question we give a gift to.

You know, just have a little fun.

So I came up with two questions and then I was thinking about it and I said they're not gonna be able to answer the questions.

It's too hard.

So I got the teacher and I said I'm gonna ask two questions.

I'm gonna give you the answer now.

Pick two kids and tell them the answer.

So when I asked the questions we'll get somebody to win the prize.

She says great, great.

So the kids sang Christmas songs in the beginning and then walked off the stage.

And I was supposed to go up and welcome everybody.

And I'm watching the kids head out to the green room out of the Atrium and they're going. They're gone.

So who's gonna answer my questions? So I ran to find the teacher. What are you doing? She says, well, we're going inside.

Whoa, who's been was gonna answer the damn questions, you know? So I said go get two kids and bring them back. Which, she did.

And she put him in the front.

So the first question, and I know all do you know the answer to this absolutely.

The first question was, how old is Rudolph the reindeer? You were there yesterday. That's not fair.

How many... You're not getting a prize.

How many of you knew that? Okay but you were there yesterday, also.

Okay, but don't answer the second one.

So the first kid yells out 75.

You won! Smart kid. Give him a gift.

So now here's the second question.

And I started to ask it. Before I could even get out of my mouth a little, little boy yells out the answer.

I said my god you not only know the answer, you don't even know the question.

So I said to the teacher you are unbelievable.

You got a hell of a smart class.

Yeah you know.

So the second, the second question was really tough.

Before Rudolph was the name of the reindeer, they had another name.

They had another name that they were gonna use. Anybody know? Not you two.

Anybody know the other name? Anybody know the other name? Well good. I don't have to give out, we don't have to give out any gifts, Sara.

Rallo the Reindeer.

Rallo. What a lousy, what a lousy name that is. Rallo the Reindeer.

So it was fun yesterday and interesting.

When you have kids it's great.

Speaking of kids, I don't know if you see some of the numbers, what the Gross Gallery is doing to the museum.

Our visitation walk-in visitation last year was up 27% over the year before.

In more visitors.

The Smithsonian, other 18 museums, was down 17 percent.

So it's a 40 percent difference between our visitors and the rest of the museums.

And that in part was because the government was closed for a period of time.

Our online visitors were up about 15, 16 percent and all the social networks were way up.

But the interesting statistic, the sampling we do is people going through the gallery when they come out we ask them questions.

And the question we asked was, would you become a stamp collector now that you've seen this? And 27% of visitors, 27% of visitors said they would either become a stamp collector, or if they are a collector now they would start collecting more.

That's 120,000 people a year, 120,000 people a year.

So that gallery, and it's not only the gallery, it's not a 100% the gallery.

A good part of it is Hannah. Where's Hannah? Raise your hand.

Hannah and all the events she's doing, is a good piece of it.

But actually the events are tied into the gallery. Aren't they? They all want tours of the the gallery.

So the the Gross Gallery is hitting on all cylinders which is what we had hoped it would do.

And it was on time and under budget.

Which I think was the first one in history.

So that was that big.

So everything was working out pretty good on that.

Now the next question is, how do we make it better? You can't sit on your laurels.

We need to start figuring out new technology, new technology to introduce in that gallery to deliver content for the next generation.

And the next generation just doesn't want to read things on the wall.

They want to touch and play with things.

And you know, and things like that.

And there's an amazing amount of technology out there that we have to start figuring out how to use.

So that's kind of a long-winded opening.

And I'm gonna pass it over now to the chairman of our Council of Philatelist, obviously the guy who set up the Sundman Lecture, Don Sundman.

[Applause] Oh, thank you for coming today.

This is great. It's fun to see people.

And I love this museum.

I've been involved with it for a long time and they've got terrific staff.

And it's so exciting the Gross Gallery.

My brother and I set up this lecture series some years ago and honor my father Maynard Sundman.

And he spent his life really bringing the fun of collecting to a wide audience of stamps and coins.

And so my brother runs my father's company Littleton Coin Company and then my father had bought Mystic Stamp Company in the 70s and I run that company.

And so together we reached millions of collectors and we have about 500 employees and we're big customers of the Postal Service.

It's fantastic.

My dad also loved books and so he would think this is fantastic.

It's, you know, the combination of stamps and books.

Thank you for coming today.

I was thinking about Chris that the year ago he was here for the History of Britain in 36 Stamps and then today it's the History of America and 36 Stamps.

And so I haven't asked him what he's working on for next year that ah, but I can imagine.

And Daniel Piazza is the curator here at the Postal Museum.

And I want to introduce Dan. Thank you.

[Applause] Thank you, Don.

Okay so 24 hours makes a big difference right? A few of you folks were here yesterday morning for the first day ceremony that Alan was talking about.

And since that time it's been announced that the National Postal Museum will have on long-term display, starting in the spring what is the most valuable artifact in the world at least by weight.

That's the Penny Magenta British Guiana.

And so look for more announcements about that over the coming months and being able to come and see it in person starting in the spring.

And what a difference a year makes.

I had dinner with Chris last night and I told him that I do not envy him as this year's speaker.

And the reason I don't envy him as this year's speaker is that last year's guy was so great that there's no way he can possibly measure up.

But we'll give him a shot at it anyway.

So please join me in welcoming Chris West.

[Applause] Oh yes.

I bit of technology here.

Hold on a minute.

A little green light has come on. Can you all hear me? How's that? Good. Excellent.


A little drink of water.

Trying to avoid making this one fall on the floor.

Okay well, huge thanks in order to you guys for turning up, to Dan for all the help he's given me with the book.

And a very kind gesture, you've bought books for people attending today, that's right? That's a very, very kind gesture so thank you very much indeed.

To Dan for the introduction and for having me back here and also for a lot of help that I had writing this second book the History of America in 36 Stamps.

So thank you very much. Thank you.


Well I don't know, how many of you were here when I spoke last year? Okay so that's great. Thank you for coming back.

I'm delighted. For the new newcomers a little bit of my philatelic history.

I'm not the world's greatest stamp collector but I did have one great lucky break.

When I was a young lad we used to go and have lunch with my uncle who lived in Saffron Walden. It's a little town in Essex. A nice little town.

And he was a lovely man who fought in the First World War.

He'd fought in the trenches.

I had a great admiration for him because of that.

And yeah we used to go there and you know my dad used to help him with his garden and lots of stuff.

One day I just sort of, I was 10, and I piped up, oh I collect stamps. I've got a stamp collection.

And my uncle said, oh how interesting, I used to do that when I was a boy.

And he went off and he came back with his beautiful blue Lincoln stamp album.

That's Lincoln as in the city rather than Honest Abe, I think.

And then he opened it up and had a look at it.

And it has a beautiful selection of British stamps.

And it also had some Columbus stamps because this was all collected in, you know, the first decade of the 20th century.

So it had these mint, unused, Columbian issue stamps which he had licked and stuck into the album as a boy.

Anyway, it was a wonderful album.

And then at the end of the day he said, I think you should have this. I'd like you to have it.

So he gave me the album. And that's wonderful.

And I've still got it.

Yeah, it's wonderful. Marvelous.

So that's how I got started.

So, um, obviously the main basis of the collection was UK.

But there's a lot of US stuff in there as well. And the Columbians are still there still stuck into the into the album.

But there wasn't a $5 one. It wasn't, it wasn't there.

But anyway, I got interested in stamp collecting.

Then 16, 17, and you know, so many other things seemed more interesting.

Don't know why. It's nature I suppose.

So the stamps went up to an attic and they sat there for a very long time, until my dad passed away in fact.

And then I had to clear the attic out. And I came across this canvas bag.

I open it up, oh, bloody hell, the stamp collection. There it is.

It's wonderful.

Got to the British section. Someone had pinched half the stamps.

I remember this at school. Some... I shan't say this in a mixed audience.

Some person stole these stamps.

So I thought, I'd like to throttle this guy.

I think I know it was but I don't I can't be sure.

And then I thought, no, no, no, no, the best revenge is a happy life.

I'm going to get this stamp collection going again.

So I got the album out and said, I need one of those, one of those.

I want one of those Stanley Gibbons stamp catalogues with prices in.

And I thought, no, I won't bother with that, I'll just buy a Ferrari and crash it into a tree.

It's a bit, that's a bit cheaper.

Or, or, or I'll go to a hotel and make a telephone call. You know, something like that.

So, but then I discovered eBay and I got collecting again.

And I know, some of the stamps you get on eBay or perhaps not as good as they might be.

But, why not? It got me going again.

And so I started collecting.

And as I collected, I became entranced by the stamps physical beauty, their works of art, but also of their capacity to tell stories.

And it soon became apparent that every stamp in the collection was a tiny little rectangular time machine to whisk you back to... I don't know, let's go back there now.

If you can go back to 1847 or something, there - George Washington, he's not there actually but you know you can go back in time.

In Britain, I don't really have this in the States, we have a thing called, a television program called, Doctor Who.

Anybody know that? They go, it's a wonderful series. It's been going for years.

It's this old boy, and he always has an attractive female assistant.

And they go into a tiny little police box.

You probably don't have these in America but we used to have these blue boxes where, if you saw a crime, you'd rush over to it, go inside, pick up a phone say, somebody's being mugged.

And several hours later police would turn up and...

But in Doctor Who, they go into this box and inside it's huge.

It's like this room, or even more, full of gadgetry.

And it's this tiny little box, and they travel through time, that's the point of the series.

And in a sense, I didn't need my little police box, I had my stamp album.

That was my way of traveling through time.

And this really inspired me to write the British book.

And following on from that, what better to follow up with than the US of A, which is what I've done.

And I'm just really gonna just sort of go through some of the stamps that have inspired me and talk a little bit about the history that comes out of them, really.

And I hope it's fun.

Now when you're doing American history you have to start with the War of Independence and the revolution.

You can't just jump in in 1847 which is when the first stamp came out because it sort of doesn't feel right.

You've got to start with 1770-ish.

So, what I did was that, and nothing happened.

So I did that, and a stamp came up. Well, okay, it's not a postage stamp is it? It's a revenue stamp.

This, but this was really what got the whole thing going.

1765 the British government, they wanted some, they wanted money from you guys basically because we thought we protected you from those horrible French.

And it's kind of good things to do I suppose, but um.

Anyway, we wanted money for it.

Taxation no representation but taxation and this was a tax on printed paper.

Had to have one of these stamps on, an embossed stamp.

That one obviously cost a penny but some one were very expensive.

If you had gone to probate on a will they would charge you ten shillings for the stamp.

That was a lot of money in those days.

This um, this one penny one was for a one-page pamphlet.

Now this was new. This was a new kind of taxation.

Beforehand there were tariffs on things are imports of molasses and stuff like that.

But this was a tax on communication.

It's like having a tax on emails, or tax on phone calls, or something like that.

And needless to say, you guys weren't very happy about it.

And I don't blame you.

So lots of protests. Politics in 1765 was a pretty rough business.

The Stamp Commissioners who were in charge of collecting this tax would wake up the morning to find an effigy of themselves hanging outside their front door.

Sometimes the effigy was set on fire and there was a slogan which is rather good slogan forum that I use in the book.

Liberty, property, and no stamps.

Not good for philatelists, I agree, but, um.

So that was the Stamp Act.

It was in fact repealed because the government's Lord North, even Lord North, who wasn't the most perceptive of men, did realize this wasn't going down very well and repealed the act.

But the seed had been sown.

And then we had this bright idea of getting all this tea coming into America which got thrown into the harbor, etc, etc, etc.

Postage stamps themselves of course begin with this man, George Washington, in 1847.

I'm not going to talk much about the period in between.

In the book, I go into it a bit more because you can't write a book on American history without talking about the Declaration of Independence, for example, which is your wonderful, wonderful mission statement for this new nation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, and life liberty and the pursuit of happiness, government to the consent of the governed.

These are these are great words.

These are fantastic words and, you know, you can't write about the U.S.

without talking about that because you refer back to it all the time.

And this is a theme I found coming through American history was, America kind of rediscovers itself through looking at those words and thinking what they mean.

And I'm, you know, genuinely in awe of that.

I think that's a marvelous way to have a national history, of these things you come back to, and you find it inspiring.

1847. Here's George Washington.

Interesting stamp. It says a lot about George Washington.

It shows that he hated having his portrait painted.

He's not happy there. Um, it shows that he had terrible tooth problems.

His face is all puffed out. He had wooden teeth apparently.

It also shows he was a man of classical learning.

There's an X in there rather than 10.

There's a Roman numeral ten and nobody knows why this was done at the time.

I've been asking around about this.

Nobody actually knows why an X was put on there rather than a 10 but it's very appropriate.

Whoever decided that got it absolutely right because Washington as a man, he read his Roman authors, his Greek authors, as classical culture was very much part of his way of being in the world.

Quite a patrician figure.

1847. Let's go to 1847.

Now when this stamp came out, what was America like in 1847? Well I had a population of about 20 million and this was rising fast.

Immigration coming from Ireland, Germany, and the UK.

And also you guys were having lots of children as well.

So, I mean, it was a booming, booming nation.

It was a rural nation 85% of Americans lived in the countryside at that time.

Cities were growing. New York City was the biggest with just about half a million, Baltimore and Boston followed.

Fort Wayne where I'm going to next after this had a population of 3,000.

16% of the population were African-American, and of course they were living in the South mainly, conditions of slavery.

The abolitionist movement was beginning to gather strength in 1847.

Frederick Douglass had published his autobiography two years earlier and that was beginning to make waves. People were getting upset about this.

How did you get around America? You take a steamboat if you went down the Mississippi.

How romantic and wonderful is that? Steamboat down the Mississippi.

You could take a train. There were 7,500 miles of railway line.

Most of them, in fact all of them, I think, east of the Mississippi.

None of them east, west of the Mississippi they were.

If you wanted to go east, want to go west, you've got a wagon train and headed out into the unknown.

Brave people heading out to Oregon Trail, Santa Fe Trail, Mormon trail.

Brigham Young was just about to reach the Salt Lake Valley when this stamp came out.

Who knows who was president in 1847? Polk, yes.

Do you know what his net full name is? James? Knox. Well done. Thank you. Yes.

It rather shows, says a lot about Polk, actually.

He was kind of like a Calvinistic chap and a serious-minded guy.

Interesting, though.

I think it was a rather good president.

Other people think he was very bad.

So it's all in the book.

If anyone wants to debate James Knox Polk, I'm very happy to do so after the talk.

And he was, he did start a war which is not always a fashionable thing to do.

But I think a war would have started anyhow.

And what he did, he did something which very few politicians do, is he did what he set out to do.

He said I could do this, this, and going to expand America, and this is what I'm gonna do. And he did it.

And that, I think, is impressive.

And of course he got the post going.

His, hum, Postmaster General Cave Johnson got the first post, copied of course from Britain. But I mean, you know.

So, there we are 1847.

Stephen Foster's first song was, first performance, Oh Susanna was in 1847.

Thomas Edison was a few months old when this stamp came out.

Now this next stamp came out in 1863.

It's Andrew Jackson.

And so did that one.

Because we're now in the Civil War both sides wanted to co-opt Jackson as a kind of, you know, he's someone who would who would have been for us if he were alive now.

And who knows with the right.

I think he would have been in favor of the Union because he was very strongly in favor of the Union and indeed threatened to invade South Carolina when it tried to nullify a federal law.

But the South didn't see it that way.

They produce their own stamps. And there's Jackson.

They also co-opted Washington and Jefferson.

And they put Jefferson Davis on a stamp which made him the only living person to be on an American stamp for many, many, many, years not a US stamp of course.

There are some seats at the front here if anybody wants to kind of move in.

Let's get comfortable.

Don't want to stand around. It's too long to stand around.

No problem.

All right. We are all comfy? You know your Civil War better than I do.

I don't need to lecture you about the Civil War.

An appalling, appalling death toll.

About three quarters of a million people died either in combat directly or as a result of disease hanging around in camps and all that sort of thing.

That is probably more than the death toll of all American military engagements before or since, apart from the Civil War.

If you add up the the First World War, the Second World War, the War of Independence, it's probably more.

I haven't actually done the math.

It's a terrible terrible slaughter.

A lot of it was caused by technology.

There was new military technology.

James Polk Had had this war with Mexico.

And there, to win you just charged the enemy. Brave. Just a very brave thing to do.

But that was how you won.

In Civil War that didn't work because they've got new technology.

They got rifles that could pick people off at 500 yards.

And you had to think of the mini a-ball which when it hit you, it didn't just go through you, it burst out.

So you had horrible wounds. And many people died of their wounds.

But of course they didn't have the backup for that because they weren't expecting it.

The whole thing was an appalling slaughter and I'm sure I don't know how... its so much like that with wars.

You don't know what you're letting yourself in for.

One of the consequences of that was that, in those days, post, you still have to collect posts from the post office, so, women would turn up at the post office, and they get a letter, they'd open it, and they read that their husband had died, or their son had died, or their brother had died, and they'd burst into tears.

And so Montgomery Blair who was one of the great post masters, said, now we're gonna have delivery in towns for the first time.

We're gonna have post mailmen walking around the towns making deliveries to people's homes so they get this news in person, in private, rather than in public.

And the first mailmen started doing their rounds in 49 US cities at the same day as the Battle of Gettysburg, the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg.

It was a postal war.

There are wonderful, heartbreaking, letters from the front the first war really where people had written been able to write home.

I'm sure you're familiar with the Sullivan Ballou letter.

If you're not, do check it out. It's a work of art.

And all the more beautiful for, in a sense not being a work of art.

He wasn't a famous writer or anything, he was just a man speaking from the heart.

It's a beautiful letter.

But many, many, many, letters from the Civil War, from the front, would have been born by these stamps.

One incredible thing about Civil War is this stamp here, I'm leaping ahead.

I don't normally leap ahead.

But this event, the final national encampment of the veterans of the Union Army took place in 1949 and there was a special stamp organized for it.

And that the Confederate one actually was even longer, they lasted even longer until 1951.

And there's a photograph, and do go and find it on Google, of a young girl sitting next to a guy called Joseph Clovese who is over a hundred years old.

He's in a wheelchair and he's a veteran of the Union Army.

And this girl is she was about four so she's probably still alive today.

She was four in 1949. So somewhere in America there's a woman who stood next to a bloke who fought in the Civil War.

Isn't that extraordinary? Isn't that amazing? And then that was the last get-together in the way.

I think there was the sixteen men who could have attended that.

Six of them actually made it including Mr. Clovese.

So, what an extraordinary thought.

Well, the Civil War ended, five days later the president was assassinated.

Terrible, terrible, tragedy.

I think he was the only man, he had the vision of this, you know, malice towards none.

Nobody else seemed to think much about malice towards none at that time.

So the uncountable damage done by Mr. Booth and his Derringer pistol.

Deeply horrible.

And this rather somber stamp, he looks sad.

I always think it looks like he knows what's gonna happen.

He did have a dream, before he was shot, of him being shown a body on a bier and being told that's the president.

Sad face of a great man.

This came out a year in a day after his death.

In a way is the first commemorative stamp.

It was part of a definitive series but it's a commemorative stamp.

It commemorates a great man.

Let's move on now.

These, I love this. This is one of my favorite sets, the 1869 pictorials.

I think they're absolutely wonderful.

And I particularly love this one.

It's a 24-ton Baldwin locomotive made in Pennsylvania.

But I mean, I just, the romance of the Transcontinental Railroad.

What a fantastic story.

And I talked about it in the book.

I won't go on about it now with the incredible engineering achievement and the physical hard work of the people who built it.

And it opened up America.

And before that was railway the quickest way to get to San Francisco was you've got a boat to Panama, you crossed Panama hoping not to get yellow fever on the way, and then you can't took another boat up to San Francisco.

And indeed the guy Theodore Judah, the guy who designed, the engineer behind the Transcontinental railway, died of yellow fever before the railway was finished trying to get to Washington to to some political, because there were always problems with money on these things.

There's another financial side to the story as well, tremendous amount of them, backhanders and financial skullduggery.

But anyway, it went through finally.

The railway was built, 1869, the same year this stamp came out, the railway was finished and Leland Stanford, the chairman of the Canadian Pacific company, the CP.

Yeah, thank you.

He opened, he declared the railway open.

He began to do this with a hammer to bring it down on a spike.

He raised it up and somebody said, I declare this open, and missed.

So he did it again, and this time he hit it. And there we are, the Transcontinental Railroad.

This, this wonderful series, nobody liked it.

It was incredibly unpopular.

People said, we don't want pictures of railway engines on our stamps, we want George Washington on our three cent stamps. Thank you very much.

One of these, on there's another picture with our Pony Express on it and all this stuff.

We don't want this. We want dead presidents please.

Get back to normal stamps immediately.

So they were phased out very quickly.

What a shame. They're absolutely gorgeous, they're wonderful stamps.

And you understand it talks of history, talks of its era.

I mean, wow. That is just beautiful, absolutely wonderful.

And it is of its time.

It's absolutely bang-up to the minute.

It's like having a stamp now about the Internet or something.

You know, this is absolutely, this was this was state-of-the-art technology on that stamp.

And technology it was really mattering.

It was opening up the nation.

Great piece of history, absolutely wonderful.

The railway, they took a little while to kind of, complete the railway so you could travel from New York to San Francisco.

1876 is when it finely opened.

There was a bridge across the Mississippi and there were various things they had to sort out.

And then in June 1876 the Transcontinental Railway made his first nonstop trip from Grand Central San Francisco and it took 83 hours and 39 minutes.

Now it's taken Lewis and Clark back in 1803 to take them about a year to get across from one side of America to the other.

The Pioneers took six months, something like that.

From June, 1876 you could get on the train at Grand Central, 83 hours and 39 minutes later you'd be in San Francisco.

How's that for change? Wonderful. What a great, a great stamp, absolutely beautiful stamp.

We're going to leap onto this famous stamp.

A very beautiful stamp, showing some cattle from Scotland.

[Laughter] Western Scotland indeed. Yes, it exactly is Western Scotland, Callander.

Callander is very nice town actually.

This is Callander, this is John MacWhirter's famous picture.

And beautiful artwork. I mean I'd love the artwork on these stamps.

This is rain that Ostrander Smith the head of design at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing who designed the wonderful frames in this beautiful series the 1898 Trans-Mississippi Expo series.

They're absolutely gorgeous. I've rather gone to town on this and this talk because I just think that's so wonderful.

You got another one here.

This is the two-cent.

Now see there's an interesting point about this thing about live people featured on stamps, because there's people on there.

There's a man plowing and his name is Evan Nybakken.

That's his name, that chap sitting on the plow there.

People knew who he was because that was a photograph, taken from the photograph.

So, you know, there's a live person on a US stamp.

And the theory is, well it's not celebrating Evan Nybakken, he just happens to be there.

But I don't know. It's a kind of, it's like many things.

It's so, just to descend into a kind of legalistic argument about what you mean by a live person on a stamp, but, there's a live person on a stamp, and a very beautiful stamp, I think.

This is another wonderful one.

It shows very clearly how the West, which this series celebrates, didn't really exist by the time the series came out.

This was a painting by Seth Eastman from 1854, showing a Native American hunting a buffalo.

Slight catch is, by the time this series came out there weren't actually any buffalo left.

Well there were a few. There were 50 or something like that. They were nearly driven to extinction by people from the east who, they came over to the Wild West and they'd go on a train, and they'd sit on a train, and they'd shoot these animals, slow-moving animals, from a train.

And that was the adventure of the Wild West for them. My god, how exciting, slaughtering, creatures. Anyway but I think it shows that the West had entered the American psyche by that time.

It's 1890. It's 8 years before the these stamps came out.

Frederick Jackson Turner produced his famous frontier thesis that said that, I'll quote it a little bit, he said, the frontier gave Americans that practical inventive turn of mind, quick to find expedience, that masterful grasp of material things, that restless nervous energy, that dominant individualism, that buoyancy and exuberance that comes with freedom.

That's Frederick Jackson Turner.

I'm talking about how the frontier made America.

The frontier officially closed in 1890.

A slightly artificial distinction, the US Census Bureau said there is now no line in America beyond which the population density is below a certain level.

I think it was two people per square mile or something.

So it was somewhat artificial construct really.

The frontier had gone, but it lived on in the American imagination.

This whole stamp series, here's another one. I'd love this series.

There's a wonderful tribute to the frontier, to the West.

This is unusual because they're a women in this stamp.

The series is rather sort of male based.

It's largely men, and a couple of Frederick Remington paintings, he liked his sort of tough individualist fighting the odds.

But there's a lady inside the coach there.

The myth of the West.

And it's still still there. I mean I remember, I'm sixty, so I'm sure some of you a similar sort of age remember all those western movies and things and those television series, Champion the Wonder Horse, The Lone Ranger came to time with his with his little glasses, poor old Tonto tapping along behind him.

And we grew up with all that stuff.

So it's part of my psyche as well.

And Little House on the Prairie, it wasn't just a male thing, there was a various that those series tended to be so, dunno guys with guns.

But you know, there was another side to it as well.

The credible bravery by the female settlers.

And that Little House on the Prairie series it's actually marvelous showing the life of the, life on the frontier.

I thought the TV series slightly over sentimentalize it.

She actually wrote a book which was discovered after her death, this is Laura Ingalls Wilder, which is her actual by her biography and shows that she was a one tough cookie.

But a kind hearted person as well.

Okay. I'm gonna whiz on now to the wonderful world of the 20th century.

Now these stamps tell us several stories.

This ship, this is the SS Saint Paul.

It actually fought in the Spanish-American war of 1898.

It was a luxury liner. It was co-opted into service.

It has actually sank an enemy ship.

So it's quite the impressive war record. Then he went back to being a liner again.

As a liner it sums up the Gilded Age which was around at that time when the rich were ridiculously rich and everybody else, life was quite tough.

Totally unlike today of course.

It was issued for the Pan-American exposition in Buffalo.

And on the 5th of September, President McKinley came to the exhibition and he stayed for two days.

On the second day he went to an exhibition in the Music Hall and it was very hot day and you weren't allowed...

People came to shake hands with the president.

But you had to make sure that your hands were uncovered so no one could bring a gun in or anything.

It was a very hot day and people were rubbing their brows with a handkerchief.

So people had handkerchiefs.

And a guy called Leon Czolgosz came in with a handkerchief and a gun underneath it.

Bang. Point-blank range, shot McKinley at the exhibition commemorated by this stamp.

And the poor man lingered for about a week.

It wasn't the shooting that killed him, it was the infection.

Could he have been saved? Thomas Edison offered to provide an x-ray machine.

So they could take the bullet out to see where the wound was.

And the doctor said, no we don't need this newfangled technology, we're not going to bother.

Who knows? Anyhow, poor McKinley couldn't survive.

So there's a sad story with this stamp.

The death of McKinley did of course sort of bring about the new the arrival of a new face at the White House and the bully pulpit the wonderful Theodore Roosevelt.

I'm a huge Theodore Roosevelt fan.

Again some of you may not be and I'm very happy to discuss the rights and wrongs of Theodore Roosevelt.

I think he was a great president.

And you know I wish he'd be reincarnated and come back and stand in the 2016 election.

And I think he's a great man truly great man.

He's up there with Washington and Lincoln in my view and FDR.

But you know that's that's this my view.

Did lots of things. Progressive Era he took on big money and that wasn't an easy thing to do.

He took me took on the railroad monopolies.

He took on the food companies.

So who's read The Jungle by Upton Sinclair? There we go. He took on that sort of appalling practice and then the food processing industry which was anything that was jammed into food.

And what the hell. He took on the sort of quack medicine people he founded conservation he was a great conservationist.

He wasn't the first.

President Grant had done a lot of conservation but he was a great leader in the national parks.

And he got this thing built the Panama Canal.

Again, I mean, Roosevelt wasn't a little saint.

He was pretty ruthless in pursuing this Panama Canal.

And Panama itself actually belonged to Columbia at the time.

So Roosevelt suddenly felt a great moral compunction to support rebels in Panama.

And some US gunboats turned up and suddenly Columbia said alright you can have your wretched canal and the canal got built.

But it was this energy that Roosevelt had that drove it through.

And there's that famous quote which I have in the book about, no, it's not the person who, not the critic that gets admired but the person out there in the arena getting their hands dirty.

I shan't read it now, it's in the book.

A great man. And this is a kind of tribute to him.

And this is another one of these fantastic engineering achievements.

It changed the world.

It's like the Transcontinental Railroad beautifully celebrated on this stamp.

Soon after, America went to war.

It's another one of these stamps that wasn't popular.

It's a bit fussy, I suppose.

And it's difficult to collect because the ink fades very quickly.

It's difficult to get hold of a good specimen.

I think it also, at the time, people were war-weary.

Some people wondered what would they be doing in the war in the first place.

And poor Wilson was had rings run round him at Versailles.

After the war finished there was this big peace conference at Versailles and the Allies turned up.

The Germans weren't invited.

It wasn't very bright it's not exactly in the spirit of with malice towards none.

And yeah Allies turned up and Wilson appeared he said, oh I've got this great idea.

We're gonna have these fourteen points to create a better world.

And the French said, no you're not. We're going to get our revenge on those dots, dots, dots.

We're not really interested in your fourteen points Mr. Wilson. Allez vous-en.

And so, Versailles was all about revenge.

Wilson was sidelined.

And of course we all know what happened as a result of the Treaty of Versailles.

Germany collapsed into economic mayhem.

And the result of that was fascism, Nazi and Adolf Hitler.

So I think there's a kind of slightly sort of sad message from this stamp because also coincides with the terrible influenza epidemic which killed many many more Americans than the First World War.

Nearly as many people died in the influenza epidemic as the Civil War.

You never hear about it. It's never talked about very much.

It was incredibly virulent.

There are stories about ladies going to a bridge evening, four of them went to play bridge.

They had a round of bridge. They went home.

The next morning one of them woke up.

And you know it was quite an extraordinary epidemic that struck America and Europe.

And then it vanished as quickly as possible, as quickly as it had come.

And nobody knew why.

Nobody really does know still.

It just ran its course, killed half a million people, and then finished.

Well America doesn't hang around.

Great adventure, the spirit of adventure came back so welcome now to the Roaring 20s, a time of flippers and flappers and skyscrapers and talkies and of course Lindbergh.

Now, you will notice, I haven't stuck our great friend the Inverted Jenny on here because I don't think it really captures the mood of the era so well.

I mean, obviously philatelicly, it's more interesting than this.

But in terms of telling a story, I didn't think it's story is as interesting as this because this sums up the energy of that era of the 1920s.

Anything is possible.

An amazing piece of courage by this man who was a postal service pilot.

He worked on the line from Saint Luis to Chicago flying mails where he learned his trade.

And then he entered for this prize to fly across the Atlantic.

This was not an easy thing to do, that six people had died already trying to fly aircraft across the Atlantic.

This was not a sort of not a picnic. But he did it.

What a great man. A great achievement, very much of its time.

So we have the 1920s. It's a buzzy, exciting, creative time.

It's not really reflected in the stamps of the era.

The era of the 6-cent reds. I like this stamp, it's a nice stamp.

And I'm going to Fort Wayne after this. I have to put this one really.

It's the general Anthony Wayne there.

But the stamps are very reticent at this time.

And sometimes stamps don't talk about that era.

I think most times they do, but sometimes they don't.

And I think this is an example of a stamp that doesn't.

The reason is partly due to Calvin Coolidge, Silent Cal, because he didn't think, Calvin Coolidge didn't like unnecessary expenditure.

He liked, he was a little bit tight the old money, and he thought it was a waste of money printing all these expensive commemorative stamps.

He didn't get the point that people would buy them.

Now the USPS churns stamps out by the dozen because it realizes, as collectors we're all gonna go buy them.

But Coolidge didn't work that out.

He was a strange man. It's a lovely story about Coolidge.

You've probably heard this before. Never mind, I'll tell it anyway.

He was at this dinner and there is a sort of flapper sitting next to him who said, Oh Mr. Coolidge, I've had this little bet with my friend.

She says, I can't get more than two words out of you. I bet her that I could.

He turned to her and said, You lose.

[Laughter] Anyway.

Calvin Coolidge. He oversaw this great, he was there quietly while the bubble, the 20s turned into a bubble.

October the 23rd Irving Fisher The Economist addressed a group of bankers and said, stock prices in the most instances are not inflated.

Next day was October the 24th, 1929.

You all know what happened then, Black Thursday followed by Black Friday, and then, down and down he went.

Stock market crashed, Banks started failing the Great Depression was upon us.

Here's a stamp, I think, that tells the story of the Great Depression.

There were various solutions suggested for what to do about the Great Depression.

Andrew Mellon who was Secretary of the Treasury said don't do anything.

It's a depression, get used to it.

Andrew Mellon was quite well off so didn't really worry him too much.

And he thought he was just, that's markets that's how they work.

Yeah, it's gonna sort of weed out the weak and will be stronger at the end of it.

President Hoover, very unfortunate man, that he was elected on a wave of excitement and then by the time he'd actually taken office the crash had started.

He didn't really know what to do.

He sort of talked a lot and didn't know what to do really.

Poor man. It was very difficult. I think he was an able man who just was very unlucky.

Much better thought came from from Britain, of course, I mean naturally, in the form of John Maynard Keynes, the economist, who did sit down and say, oh, hang on there is there is a solution to this. The government's gonna actually have to spend some money and get things going again.

Keynes never, ever, ever said that in all times and in all places governments should throw money its problems.

That is not what Keynes said.

Keynes said, when there is a depression, the government needs to get things moving by putting money into the economy.

And though the fourth solution which this stamp talks about, which was a tiny more personal one, which was adopted by people like Bonnie Parker, and Clyde Barrow, and John Dillinger, and they thought, well I don't really care I'm just gonna rob post offices, and banks, and stores and that'll do me.

This stamp was an attempt to stop that.

The theory was that if John Dillinger walked into a post office in Kansas and held it up and took the money in the stouts he'd then look at the stamps and say, oh no, it's got Kansas written on it.

I can't sell it anywhere else.

Well it didn't work not did it? A) what he really wanted was the money in the till and, B) well he could have sold the stamps somewhere else in Kansas.

So this was an unsuccessful attempt to stem the crime wave.

And it kind of sums up, I think, the whole feeling of that Depression era, that people didn't know what to do.

It was this sense of five years ago we were all roaring around in, you know, the 20s, and jazz, and speakeasies, and what have you.

It's all gone now. What the hell are we gonna do? One of the things that was done was a kind of restatement of the American dream.

They're gonna talk about this in the book by John T. Adams who wrote his book Epic of America, which is the best-selling book at that time, where he talked about the value of the American Dream.

And he said, the dream of that land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for every man with opportunity for each according to his ability or achievement.

It's not a dream of motorcars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable.

And we recognized by others for what they are regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.

I kind of like these long words of Adams. But it's a kind of nice restatement.

And I think again, you see America looking to its history, looking to its values, trying to rediscover itself.

And it was of course rediscovered by, rhetorical flourish it didn't work, Try again. There we go.

FDR. This is the NRA stamp the National Rifle Association.

[Laughter] Apparently, this this guy, I don't know. I've got to use my technology here.

This guy here looks a bit like Roosevelt and they put a mustache on him because of this rule about living people on stamps.

This was the New Deal.

Interestingly Roosevelt didn't campaign about the New Deal at all.

It was a very low-key campaign.

He didn't say what he was going to do.

And then of course March the 4th, 1933, the great inaugural address and hit the ground running. The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

He also said things like, there must be an end to a conduct in banking and business which too often has given to a sacred trust the likeness of callous and selfish wrongdoing.

Hmm, a lot of stuff like that.

It's very interesting. Do read the whole speech, It's very interesting.

And the famous hundred days.

Is everybody alright? Madam would you like to find a seat or something? Are you comfortable there? You're fine? Good. I hate to think of people being uncomfortable.

So these amazing bills, one of them was the Establishment of the Civilian Conservation Corps which produced this beautiful series of stamps for the National Parks issue.

And there were other things. There was the Glass-Steagall Act which sorted out the banks.

And actually the banks were all closed and they had been only allowed to reopen once the treasury had been through their books and said, okay, you can open again.

Money was pumped into the economy due to, of course, the post office.

James Farley was Postmaster General, a very good Postmaster General.

I think apart from his little folly with the stamps that he gave away to important people. But we'll forgive him for that.

This is an interesting stamp in particular because it was the first American stamp designed by a woman, Esther A. Richards.

Now back in 1932 a competition had been held to design a new quarter.

This was for George Washington's 200th birthday.

Not his 200th birthday because he was dead, but you know what I mean.

And it was run by Laura garden Fraser, the sculptress, very good sculptress.

Andrew Mellon said, no, I don't want a coin designed by a woman thank you very much.

And gave the gig to somebody else.

It's true. I see some horrified faces. It's true.

So, things had moved on a bit by the time these stamps came out.

Esther Richard's stamp, and of course this one as well, another great triumph of contemporary design from the 30s by a female designer Elaine Rawlinson.

These are the proxies which were the definitive series all through the war.

We're coming to the war now. Race ahead.

Because here's a terrible, here's a stamp that really does tell a story of great, well mix.

I mean it's a story of tremendous glory and the immense achievement of the bravery of these men.

It's also one of great tragedy.

The bloke at the front, ramming the pole into the ground, is Corporal Harlon Block.

Now Corporal Harlon Block was killed in action on the 1st of March.

This was picture was taken on the 23rd of February by Joe Rosenthal.

So Corporal Block lasted a week after this picture was taken.

The man next to him, sort of balancing the pole for him, is John H. Bradley.

And John H. Bradley was one of the few, was really the only member of this group of six men to survive psychically.

And he never talked about the war to his family and it turned out when he died, his son found a diary where he'd been racked by survivor guilt because he'd seen a mate of his who been tortured by the Japanese.

and he said, God, that could have been me.

Four other men, but he at least lived to a ripe old age.

He ran a funeral parlor business.

And he lived to his 80s or something.

Two other guys, there's a cluster of four men at the back.

Two of them didn't get off the island.

Michael Strank was killed in action on the same day as Corporal Block, possibly by friendly fire. Nobody knows.

And Franklin Sousley was killed on the 21st of March.

And the two other men in the picture, the bloke at the back is Ira Hayes and there's Rene Gagnon.

Now both of those guys had a lot of problems in their later life.

When they came back they were fated the heroes of Iwo Jima.

And they met the President and they met Greta Garbo and they were, everybody made a big fuss about them.

And then the circus moved on and nobody gave a damn about them.

And they both, Hayes and Gagnon, hit the bottle and both died very young.

And I'm very bitter about what's happened to them.

Hayes is a song, Johnny Cash covered it. Ballad of Ira Hayes, I think.

So that's war. Now there's a stamp that tells a story.

Oh my God, look at that.

Terrible conflict.

Japanese soldiers fought to the last man. No surrender.

Of course, in the end, the whole thing had to be solved in the most appalling manner, with an atomic bomb.

And here's a stamp, so stamps tell stories. Sometimes they get the story totally wrong.

It's quite interesting here, Towards United Nations, by Franklin D Roosevelt.

Well first of all, poor Roosevelt is dead by the time this stamp comes out.

He died on the 12th of April.

And this was, 46, the leaders of 46 nations met in San Francisco on the 25th of April to make sure that after the war the world is a nice, safe place.

No more wars. Try to get rid of as many weapons as possible.

Let's all live together.

Well it didn't last very long did it?

Over the 8th 9th 8th 1946 Stalin made a speech the Supreme Soviet saying communism and capitalism can all coexist

And President Truman they've taken over said his sort of top diplomats to find out when Stalin really meant this and George Kennan sent a telegram back.

8,000 words, very long telegram.

Expensive it was, still really worth it, define US policy for the next 40 years it's probably a reasonable investment.

Saying no, they are, Stalin meant it.

Russia is very paranoid and it will try and expand wherever possible.

It won't listen to reason only force.

Cold War Russia developed, had its own nuclear test in 1949.

And we got the thermonuclear bomb in 1952.

They got the thermonuclear bomb in 1953.


So here's a liberty issue.

I didn't put this in the book actually I kind of kind of thought I'd rather sort of telescope the fifties a bit.

But we're getting into era that we will know about, anyhow.

But there's kind of very conservative stamp issues sort of quite some simple pictures of presidents reassuring figures at this difficult time.

People were still haunted by the war, people like John Age Bradley was still haunted by the war and what they'd seen and what they'd experienced.

We did this at Britain as well as, trip across the Atlantic.

There same sort of story again this this desire for security and simplicity and a kind of gentle life.

Everybody wants gentle life.

And and you know there was stuff was happening in the States, rebel without a cause came out 1955, Heartbreak Hotel in 1956 - yes it totally is.

I'm beginning to remember these things.

Some of you are as well.

American stamps didn't really reflect this at all that, this rebelliousness.

I rather like these series of issues from 1948 when of course the greatest of all is the famous stamp with a giant chicken waddling into the sunrise, wonderful stamp.

And but also there's a marvelous one about protecting the young and as he sort of totally sort of wooden young people walking into a bright new future.

Stamps didn't get it at that point.

While we're talking about some irony, oh my god what an ironic stamp this is.

Christmas 1963 came out on the first of November 1963.

And if you look in the background there's the White House as the lights are on, the first family are at home wrapping Christmas presents or something, 22 days later, bang.

And people had to put this on their letters.

And I imagine you know some of you guys would remember this.

I mean, to stick these stamps on on on letters after Kennedy had been assassinated, I mean that must have been gut wrenching.

So there's a stamp that tells the story.

I'm gonna kind of rather wiz through because we've got, time marches on, so just have a little whistlestop tour through the last few decades.

Where obviously the number of stamps has multiplied massively.

But as a historian I don't know, I mean, I'm so fascinated by the earlier years.

But let's talk a little bit about some stamps to tell some stories.

Here's the famous Emancipation Proclamation Centennial stamp.

This is designed by Georg Olden who was the first African American to design a stamp.

And again it's a bit like the Kennedy stamp.

The the stamp itself proclaims this great sort of moment of freedom but you know hundred years old and still there was an awful lot of civil rights still to be established.

Selma Alabama happened two years later after this stamp came out.

And it was rise of Black Power and in 68 course the assassination of Martin Luther King.

So a little bit more needed there.

Talking of violence, anyone serve in Vietnam? Do you do remember these stamps? Do you remember seeing these? They, these stamps were use to send parcels out to to service people in Vietnam.

It's the stamp I used to talk about Vietnam being a bit negative here so let's get positive.

I remember watching this on the telly at home.

I don't know what we had in America.

In Britain we had that wonderful music from Richard Strauss, Also sprach Zarathustra theme music.


American Idol I failed, I know, but I mean what a fantastic, this is such..We've had the Transcontinental Railroad, the Panama Canal, here's an amazing technological and personal achievement.

Shear courage these guys who went out and I think, um.

I think it was Jim Lovell said, yeah there's a kind of 1 in 3 chance that we won't come back.


Bill Anders took these pictures.

To me this was more exciting than Apollo 11 because it was the first time people had actually left the Earth.

And they left Earth's gravitational pull up to two hundred and fourteen thousand miles.

were actually pulled by the Moon who no longer moving away from the Earth.

They were actually moving towards the Moon, the gravitational fields have taken over.

First men ever to do that was an amazing achievement.

It was over the Christmas period, actually transfixed.

I'm sure all of us sort of a certain age, let's say, we'll remember this with it just it's just magical absolutely magical.

Now of course there are not many people left who walked on the Moon.

I think 16 people who was in the book it's not very many and they're all getting old.

Energy crisis.

Here's 1970s, funny time, confused time, energy crisis in America.

You've got all the oil whoa, what's happening? This very crazy time.

I put that up there.

This is a sort of staff for Ronald Reagan with his some hawkish policy.

He wasn't always hawkish actually.

He made some very good contact with Gorbachev and one of the things that ended the Cold War I think was the chemistry between Reagan and Gorbachev.

Nuanced man.

[unintelligible] so that's kind of fun.

Again I've used a different stamp in the book [unintelligible] As always, we're now entering the world of the baby boomers.

Clinton comes to power in 1993 about almost exactly the same time as this stamp appears.

So it does show real change in U.S. stamps.

Suddenly popular culture is there that never really been popular culture on stamps before.

There was a funny series of performing arts it was called, um, wasn't really sort of um rock and roll the first the first artist on the performing arts series which came out before this was Jimmy Rogers a yodeling blues singer.

It's not rock'n'roll already.

But here's, here's Elvis who voted in the competition.

Those of you will know this, there was this democracy in action, there we are, so spirit of 1776 consent of the governed.

You had a choice between this picture and a rather older Elvis and absolutely rightly went for this.

There is the great man.

There's the King.

Great stamp.

It's still the most popular collected stamp in America I think.

And and a new era.

Lovely stamps came out featuring all sorts of people like Robert Johnson who is the only man that I know to claim to, A, appeared on the US stamp and, B, who sold his soul to the devil and there may be somebody else I didn't know.

Although talking about history and we've looked at great man, great deeds, great women, rather less so, to be honest.

But um hopefully that's changing now.

But maybe none of this matters.

Maybe it's all due to technology.

And I think certainly it's worth thinking about how technology has driven the American Dream from the days of Carnegie and and the and the railroads and now it's computer the Internet going right back to the 1970s the development of the semiconductor and the first microprocessor.

America has a remained of the edge sharp edge of computing, IT, the Internet, the rise of the Internet.

And that's still where America leads the world.

Maybe that's the most important stamp of them all in a funny sort of way.

There's 2000, terrible events of 9/11.

[unintelligible] the flag was stolen.

Well I think they're brave men.

They're entitled to steal the flag.

This is an interesting stamp.

This came out in 2008 and it's obviously for the Beijing Olympics.

And these were, the Olympics were amazing public display by the Chinese.

Fantastic closing and opening ceremonies.

China won more medals.

Basically China was saying, hello, we're the number one nation now, noticed? I don't think everyone in America agreed to that.

But about a month later Lehman Brothers went into meltdown and the whole financial system nearly collapsed.

And in China they were thinking mmm interesting.

You issued a special stamp for Wall Street in the 2008.

I didn't know this and I found it the other day it was done to honor the people whose job it was to make sure that the Wall Street operated in a sensible and ethical manner.

Here it is.

[laughter] Anyway.

Everyone we move on.

[unintelligible] our global stamp, USA part of the world.

Is USA number one? I think it is still.

Will it be in 50 years time? Maybe not.

Perhaps it doesn't matter.

You're still just be a superpower.

Maybe not the superpower but a superpower.

And that's a good thing to be.

And I think I mean again as a Brit standing outside what I what I see in America is the stuff I started off with is a Declaration of Independence, the frontier, this this individualism, this energy, this openness and generosity of spirit.

That's good, that's why you are a great nation.

And if you hang onto that you'll stay there.

Okay there aren't as many of you as there are in China.

China is a great country and it's going place as well, so is India.

So it's going to be a different world.

But some people talk about sort of peak America being over.

Well maybe that's true but it the game isn't over.

It's been over in Britain because we're not number one any longer.

I find it hard to get used to but life goes on, life goes on.

Let's put Ben Franklin up there again, just a few words about the USPS.

We seem to be having his problems at the moment largely political as far as I can see.

It's um not really of the fault of the USPS at all.

It's their hands are tied by the government for various things they have to put money into various accounts - for retiree health benefits years into the future which nobody else has to do.

But they need money.

It seems to be very unfair.

The USPS has a bad deal at the moment but it does need to respond to this partially by getting the politicians to sort their act out.

But also it needs to be entrepreneurial, it needs to look back to its own history.

And I can say America should, to the great postmasters, Ben Franklin, John Wanamaker, and we've not talked about him but he's in the book people who Montgomery Blair, people who made changes, there was a great opportunity for the Postal Service passed all the Internet, it may stop the number of letters being delivered but the number of parcels is going up.

And again back to Ben Franklin's day, in his day the Postal Service wasn't just about mail, it was about newspapers, it was other forms of communication.

So the idea that the post office is just a mechanism for delivering mail, is not historically true and it probably won't be again.

So I'm going to conclude there because I think I've run over time.

But um I had fun, I hope you had too.

And obviously I'll answer questions.

We're going to be, I didn't.

Duncan you did, you have so kindly bought some books.

[unintelligible] [unintelligible] So the books are there and I will sign them.

I'd like to say two things.

First of all, thank you to Dan, Don, and to all of you for turning up.

And, when you do read your books, if you like them and enjoy them, could you put your review on Amazon? Because it's terribly important and it does make a difference.

I really appreciate that.

But thank you so much for turning out.

I had a wonderful time.

[applause] Any questions? We've got 5 minutes for questions.

So? [unintelligible] The biggest difference is that the the U.S. got into commemoratives much more quickly.

I mean the Columbus issue came out in 1893 we didn't do commemoratives in Britain.

King George V didn't like commemoratives.

He thought they were flashly and un-English.

Quite right too.

We didn't have any till 1934, the British Empire Exhibition.

And then of course is the obvious thing about the stamps all have to have the Queen on, or the monarch.

So all British definitive stamps and the monarch oh that's all you get, we don't have presidents.

[unintelligible] a wide range of people have been featured on American definitive stamps.

So yah there are there are big differences.

But again going back to my sort of thesis of this whole talk, I think both sets of stamps tell their nation's stories very well.

So if you have a British collection you can look into it and you can see British history they're just as you can read American history from your American collection.

Sir? [unintelligible] I think, I mean, I think you have to sort of it accept that technology moves ahead and appreciate the old stuff for its beauty and appreciate the new stuff which has value [unintelligible].

I love the colorfulness of some of the modern stamps and they speak of the modern age of your diverse age all these different sort of types of issues and all that sort of stuff.

So I think um you know to each again a historical perspective is each age produces an environment, an aesthetic, a cultural environment, and one cherish what that age has produced and enjoy.

So I think it's kind of a starting point to saying a better or worse or whatever that they're just different and should be appreciated and enjoyed as representatives of that era.

[unintelligible] I mean, I think, every era reflects itself through stamps.

That's why they're so, one of the reasons why they're so interesting is because they are ambassadors of their time and we live in a celebrity age and whether we like to know that's how things are.

[unintelligible] Um, that is the world we live in.

And it expresses itself through the stamps.

So, that's how it is.

I don't feel there's a problem with that really.

I mean, there is this issue about these living people and there is rather ludicrous attempts to sort of justify, blatantly obviously having living people on a stamp.

There is Daniel Radcliffe, I mean unless there it's not in celebration of Daniel Radcliffe, it's a celebration of films etc.

But I don't know.

But it basically, I think, it's fine, it's how, that it's the modern era.

So, let's have modern stamps.

Any questions? [unintelligible] Once again, thank you so much for attending.

Now, arrangements for book signings and things.

There are some very nice refreshments being provided thanks to the Smithsonian.

And thank you very much.


Chris West, the author of A History of America in Thirty-six Postage Stamps, explored America's rich philatelic history. From George Washington's dour gaze to the charging buffalo of the western frontier and Lindbergh's soaring biplane, American stamps are a vivid window into the country's extraordinary and distinctive past. The lecture was followed by a reception and book signing, with the first 100 attendees receiving a free copy of the book.