Embossed postcard with train image - Limited Express
2¢ LOCOMOTIVE COIL - May 20, 1982
This stamp was an early entry in the Transportation series coils, which began on 5/18/81 with the 18¢ Surrey. Redesigned and reissued in 1987 as Scott 2226, the 2¢ locomotive was one of the longest-lived stamps of the series - reprinted as recently as 1994,it was available from the USA Philatelic catalog as recently as December of 1999. It may still be in stock at the USPS Philatelic Center in Kansas City.
The train pictured is a classic 4-4-0 "American", originally a wood-burner, as we can deduce from the tall, flared stack, which usually had a screen on the top to minimize flying sparks, a chronic problem. That looks like coal in the tender, though, so this one has probably been converted to use coal, as many were in that era, when the originally plentiful wood supplies dwindled, and a more efficient fuel was needed.
The source of the image for the design was a Currier & Ives print called American Express Train, shown below.
Below is the Fleetwood FDC for this issue, with the following text on the back:
In other words, for at least the latter half of the nineteenth century, the history of America was the history of its railroads - no other vehicle epitomizes more our development as a Nation in that era.
This cover illustrates to me one of the virtues of the large commercial FDC makers like Fleetwood and Artcraft - they can and do commission top-quality art work and text. Its slickness, and our distaste for anything mass-produced, often blind us to its merits. Note that this image shows the same locomotive as the stamp (and the lithograph), flipped horizontally, and with wood in the tender - obviously the artist did his homework!
Here are details from four Currier & Ives lithos of the same period as our source for this stamp (including the source image) - apparently this locomotive was a popular model for one of their artists. You can see the full images for all four here.
3¢ RAILWAY HAND CAR COIL, 1880 - March 25, 1983
The transportation series coils are my favorite modern definitives, partly because of the many train-themed issues, but even more for the collecting entertainment they provided. I acquired most of them from the USPS, and derived great satisfaction from the "thrill of the hunt".
The Railway Hand Car design was a favorite of mine for its depiction of a very offbeat yet practical and important vehicle. I can remember as a child in the 1940's, when one could still see them in use occasionally, thinking of Hand Cars as fun and exciting and romantic. A couple of years ago I had the oppportunity to try my hand at operating one, at a railfair in Sacramento, California, and learned firsthand just how UN-romantic a job it is. It also demonstrated that this was a vehicle for flat terrain only.
I like the First Day Covers below both for their artwork and for their explanatory text, which fills in some very interesting technical information. Don't miss the part about the sails!
Note that a first day cover must always have full first-class postage, even though most of them never go through the mails, so receive no service other than the cancel. On low values such as this one the servicer is faced with the choice of using many copies of the one stamp, which seems a "purer" approach, but leaves a lot less space for the cachet; or using just one copy of the new stamp, and something else to make up the rest of the rate.
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Revised -- 03/22/2001