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Embossed postcard with train image - 20th Century Limited


Sc. 0947 - issued 5/17/47

Depicting the more romantic modes of mail transportation used in US in the hundred years prior to its issue, this stamp marked the centenary of postage stamps in this country. It shows two locomotives, an old wood-burning (the high, flared smokestack tells us that) 4-4-0 steam engine, and a modern diesel streamliner, plus a pony-express rider, a modern ocean liner and a modern airplane, all flanked by vignettes of George Washington and Benjamin Franklin taken from the first two US postage stamps.

This stamp, plus a special souvenir sheet (Scott 948 - see immediately below) and an airmail envelope (Scott UC17 - see second item following) were all issued in conjunction with the Centenary International Philatelic Exhibition (CIPEX) held in New York City, May 17-25, 1947, and in light of the tremendous role trains had played in the history of mail delivery up to that point, it was only natural that trains should be depicted on it. The indicium on the envelope, had the same design in a simplified embossed form.

The 3-cent stamp paid the basic first-class letter rate, while the stamped envelope was for a one-ounce domestic air-mail letter.

This issue is the next to last treated by Max Johl in his indispensable, The United States Commemorative Stamps of the 20th Century, Volume 2, and having been issued so close to the publication of that book, might be expected to have gotten cursory treatment there, but I am pleased to say that is not the case. One reason, presumably, is that Johl himself was Treasurer of the Association for Stamps Exhibitors, the primary organizer of CIPEX, so thanks to him we have the reproductions (shown below) of not only the original sketch for this stamp, but also the two progress sketches following.

Johl writes of Scott 947 -

The special stamp was designed by Leon Helguera , a well known artist, who was also the designer of the United Nations stamp of 1943. This design shows the development of mail transportation from the early express rider to modern train, ship, and airplane. It also bears a picture of George Washington and Benjamin Franklin similar to the 5c and 10c 1947 stamps which this stamp honors at the one-hundredth anniversary. Through the cooperation of Mr. Helguera, the Post Office Department, and the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, we are able to illustrate the progressive steps in the development of the design from the rough pencil sketch to the finished model submitted to the Post-master General.

Here is that finished model:

Oddly, the design used for the actual stamp is not the finished model, but one of the intermediate ones, and whereas the diesel locomotive shown on the final proposed design looks realistic enough to be identified as a specific model, the one on the stamp looks rather generic and stylized, suggesting that someone objected to the use of a "real" train. Can any reader prove me wrong, and assign a name to the diesel shown on the stamp?

Mellone's Specialized Cachet Catalog of First Day Covers of the 1940's lists 110 First Day cachets for Scott 947, most of which are still fairly common. Here are a couple.

The first day covers above are Dorothy Knapp's commercial and private efforts for this stamp, and are not among my favorites - no additional trains, for one thing!


The Fleetwood cover below more than makes up for the shortcomings of the prior two, with its beautiful reworking of the CIPEX stamp's image in perfect Knapp style. The souvenir sheet it bears, issued May 19, 1947, is the second postal item issued in connection with CIPEX.

Scott 948, CIPEX Souvenir Sheet, May 19, 1947

Here's a great FDC, with not only the stamp and a fine cachet, but also a philatelic exhibition seal created for CIPEX, nicely tied to the cover by the datestamp and cancellation!

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Revised -- 11/28/2004