Embossed postcard with train image - Limited Express
29¢ TOY TRAIN
Contemporary Christmas Issue - October 22, 1992
The Contemporary (or secular) Christmas Issue for 1992 echoed that of 1970, with four antique toys. The train and horse were repeat themes, while the fire engine and boat here replaced a doll carriage with doll and a mechanical tricycle. Reflecting the change in times, this issue was released in three different formats - a pane of 50, a booklet with five panes of four, and an ATM sheetlet of 18.
The pane was one of the first US issues produced using offset lithography, and included special security design elements to deter counterfeiting. None is clearly visible on my scans, as my scanner cannot produce enough detail to show them, but each stamp includes the year, 1992, in microprinting, and each has a small triangular area of the design filled with a super-fine pattern of magenta dots. Click on the single at left above to see the enlarged version and you might just make out a dark area in the red trim above the white showing through above the top spoke of the large spoked wheel on the far side of the train - that's the date. The magenta area is the triangular opening at the bottom of that same back wheel, and on my screen does look pinker than the other openings.
The article on this issue in the 1992 Linn's U.S. Stamp Yearbook says that the artist copied the toy train shown from a picture in a book, but then forgot which book he used. Can you identify the toy?
The booklet version was produced using gravure, which supposedly is harder to reproduce convincingly, so required none of the special microprinting and other security measures used for the pane version. The easiest way to tell them apart is by the perforations - 2712 has perfs on all four sides, while 2716 always has the same two straight edges.
This was not the first ATM pane of stamps, but it was the first Christmas issue on an ATM pane. The train design was judged the best for this application - the design had to be distorted, and this one held up better than any of the others. Its total lack of perfs makes this one easy to spot. I scanned all three of the singles shown here (2712, 2716, and 2719) at the same time (i.e., at the same resolution), so if you open the high-res versions of all three and size their windows so you can see all three at once you can see the other differences, in size, paper, and ink colors, at least in relative terms.
ATM stamp panes were an impressive technical accomplishment, since each pane had to be close enough to the size, thickness, and "feel" of a twenty-dollar bill to be dispensed reliably by ATM machines. Like many modern accomplishments, they remind me of Max Born's description of the first moon landing - "A triumph of the intellect, but a tragic failure of reason".
The two covers above have an appealing philatelic element, the use of older stamps and covers with a tie-in to the new issue, though the aging on the one is a detriment. However, either the person who created them (I suspect both are by the same anonymous maker) requested the wrong first day cancel (my guess), or the clerk processing them used the wrong one. The ATM sheetlet was NOT issued at the same time as its brothers. Instead the USPS chose to release it at the ASDA Fall Postage Stamp Mega-Event in NYC. The wrong date might enhance their value to someone (the dealer I bought them from had written "Date Error!" on the label), but to me they are simply oddities.
Here, on the other hand, is a great FDC, with a magnificent cachet, and all the philatelic value one could ask - not only a full pane of the stamps (no, it wasn't placed stamp-by-stamp, the backing is there, and the super-thinness of the ATM format makes that quite workable), but a nice copy of Scott 295 tied to the cover with a first-day date stamp. The creator was Bernard Goldberg, whom I had never heard of before seeing this item. He used thermography for the black design elements, tempera (I think) for the dark solid colors, and water color for the shaded areas.
This issue seemed to inspire FDC makers, as it was a challenge selecting only the ones above to include here - I had eight or ten others I wanted to show, but felt that was too many, and that it was only their graphic appeal that recommended them, whereas I have already established standards above, and should follow them; so I chose items with at least the pretense of philatelic value as well.
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Revised -- 11/17/2004