MARCH 2019 121
Rachel Carson and the
Great Americans Series
By Joel I. Cohen
USSS #16796, Rockville, MD 20852
Between 1980 and 1985, the United States Postal Service issued the
first stamps in the “Great Americans Series.” The individuals selected for
this group, plus others from later time periods, would gradually add up to
the largest set of “face different” definitive stamps issued by the United
States. This series is now noted for its heterogeneous selection of prominent
Americans, including educators, statesmen, military generals, authors,
naturalists and Native American chiefs, with each individual stamp application
reviewed by a Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee (CSAC).
However, it is still not always clear who was selected or why individuals
were selected. In some cases, individuals were even chosen to serve various
political agendas.1 This leaves one to wonder, “How was Rachel Carson’s
name proposed, reviewed, and eventually approved by the CSAC, leading
to her Great Americans stamp (Scott #1857)? Unknown to anyone at the
time was that the philatelic answer to these questions really began in 1962,
immediately after the publication of Silent Spring,2 some 19 years before the
Carson stamp would be issued.
1962 – Mr. Erick Hartman
Shortly after Silent Spring was published, Erick Hartman travelled to
Southport, Maine to photograph the book’s author. He had already met Carson
in 1961, and from that time together the two established a solid working
relationship. The final portfolio of Hartman’s nine black and white photos
caught Carson in the natural beauty of the Maine woods surrounding her
seaside cabin. It was here she felt most at home, exploring the inlets and
shores featured so prominently in her writing.
Mr. Hartman’s familiarity with Carson’s latest work came from excerpts
of Silent Spring published during 1962 in three issues of The New Yorker
magazine (June 16, June 23 and June 30). These articles also caught the
attention of President Kennedy, who was so profoundly moved by what
he read and learned that in August he mentioned Carson’s work at a news
conference. He informed the press that he had established a special panel of
the President’s Science Advisory Committee (PSAC), headed by Dr. Jerome
B. Wiesner, professor of electrical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute
of Technology, with a mandate to study various health and environmental
questions about pesticide use as related to implications of Carson’s book.3
The panel conducted a full scientific evaluation of Silent Spring’s
contents, presented in its report, titled, “The Uses of Pesticides,” which upheld
many of Carson’s findings. This news provided a vindication for Carson’s
work; one which began to offset the campaigns conducted by the chemical
companies against her findings. As the PSAC’s report, along with others,
122 THE UNITED STATES SPECIALIST
gained credibility, more balanced perspectives on Carson and her book than
those offered by the chemical companies became important. This resulted in
first-ever reports such as seen when Life magazine published a feature article,
“Close-up – Rachel Carson and ‘Silent Spring’” in October 12, 1962. This
article was authored by Jane Howard with photographs by Alfred Eisenstaedt.
However, it was always Mr. Hartman’s photographs to which Rachel
Carson felt most akin. She wrote to her friend Dorothy Freeman, “I suspect
you’ll still like the Hartmann picture best — as I do.”4 As it turned out, those
in charge of Carson’s stamp liked these photos as well, and it is upon these
that the Carson stamp would be based. It was Hartman’s pictures that captured
Carson at peace, relaxed, and surrounded by the nature she sought to protect.
It was not long after these pictures were taken that her seventeen-year
fight with malignant breast cancer, complicated by other ailments, came to
an end. They had caused Carson severe and ceaseless pain over much of her
life, to which she succumbed at age 57, leaving most of the people who knew
her in shock. She had insisted on keeping her illness a most private secret.
Only a few of her very closest friends and colleagues knew and even they
may not have known of its true severity.5
1981 – Springdale, Pennsylvania
By 1981, the CSAC had approved the next stamp in the Great Americans
Series to be one honoring Rachel Carson. Ward Brackett (1914–2006) of
Westport, Connecticut designed the Carson stamp (Figure 1), producing
his own drawing from the Hartman photographs.6 This work for the USPS
followed on Brackett’s earlier illustrations appearing in Redbook, McCall’s,
and Reader’s Digest. Brackett was also a landscape, still life, portrait and
philatelic designer whose commissions include the Girl Scout issue of 1962
and Woman’s Suffrage of 1970.
United States Supplementary Mail
by Leonard Piszkiewicz
Hardbound, 140 pages, 8½” x 11”
$32 USSS members, $40 nonmembers
Guide to United States Vending
and Axing Machine Perforations
by Steven R. Belasco
Hardbound, 220 pages, 8½” x 11”
$44 USSS members, $55 nonmembers
Postpaid in U.S. – Make checks payable to USSS; order from
USSS Executive Secretary
P.O. Box 3508, Joliet, IL 60434
MARCH 2019 123
Figure 1. Plate block of the Rachel Carson stamp and the USPS Souvenir Page.
The Carson stamp would be the third one issued in “The Great
Americans” definitive series, which was gradually replacing the earlier
“Americana Series.” The three groups (organized by continuous years of
issue) as listed by Scott of the Great Americans are:
Group 1: 26 stamps, issued from 1980 to 1985, Scott #1844–1869
Group 2: 29 stamps, issued from 1986 to 1994, Scott #2168–2173, and
Group 3: 9 stamps, issued from 1995 to 1999, Scott #2933–2943
The sum of each group above means the current total of individuals in
the series is 64.
After selecting one of Hartman’s photographs to use as a starting point
and model for the stamp, Brackett settled on a left-facing profile, with
Brackett’s rendering from the photograph producing a masterful, original art
124 THE UNITED STATES SPECIALIST
work reproduced in Figure 2 (with permission). Here, Carson is looking back
at us, almost daring to smile, but instead appearing resolute and unyielding —
a pose and gaze most fitting Carson, as this is the way she lived her life. A
Carson-stamped FDC showing the coast of Maine, reminiscent of Hartman’s
photograph, with Brackett’s signature is shown in Figure 3.
According to Postal Bulletin 21296, April 30, 1981, Carson was
acknowledged as a “scientist and author for her works and writings in alerting
the public about the extent of dangers from pesticides.” Additional insight
into this series and Carson’s place in it comes from Gordon Morison, who at
the time was Assistant Postmaster General, and describes the series as one that
brings out accomplishments of Americans who otherwise would not have been
recognized. In an interview with Stamp News USA, Morison stated that, “…many
Americans who made vital contributions to our way of life are virtually
Figure 2. Ward Brackett’s original artwork for Rachel Carson stamp. Image from
the United States Postal Service, Postmaster General’s Collection, courtesy of the
Smithsonian Institution, National Postal Museum.
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Figure 3. FDC featuring the cancelled Carson stamp with the signature of the
stamp’s artistic designer, Ward Brackett.
Figure 4. First Day Ceremony Program signed by attending Assistant Postmaster
General Harry C. Penttala.
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unknown to us today. We like to use the Great American Series to bring their
accomplishments to light.” Regarding Rachel Carson, Morison noted that,
“Had it not been for Carson, serious threats to the environment would have
gone undiscovered until much later, perhaps too late.”7 The stamp is also
featured in a Smithsonian National Postal Museum online Arago philatelic
exhibit, “Women on Stamps, Part 2.”8
The first day ceremony (Figure 4) was held in Carson’s hometown of
Springdale, Pennsylvania in May of 1981.9 Her childhood home, which still
remains, was as important to her development as would be her homes in
Silver Spring, Maryland and later in Southport, Maine. For it was here in
Pennsylvania that Rachel was first exposed by her mother, in a very curiosity
and instructionally based manner, to the natural world around her. This home
has since become an American historic landmark, maintained by the Rachel
Carson Homestead.10 It is illustrated on the first day cover in Figure 5.
Besides the design artistry provided by Brackett, Jack Puther was
the modeler and the design engravers were Kenneth Kipperman and Albert
Saavedra. The stamp was printed in intaglio in green ink. Varieties of the
stamp are few. The Scott Specialized Catalogue lists a tagging omitted error
as #1857a. A perforation error (Figure 6) shows incorrect alignments of
perforations and its effect on stamp size.
Figure 6. A misperforation
(misperf), or perforation shift,
on two Carson stamps, caused by
misaligned perforating equipment.
Figure 5. First day cover produced by the Rachel Carson Homestead Association
with cachet showing Carson’s home in Springdale, Pennsylvania.
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Selected FDCs Illustrating Carson’s Life
Though local protection exists for Carson’s homestead in Pennsylvania
and home in Maryland, her stamp becomes the only truly national
remembrance. However, even before the Carson stamp was issued, a cover
noting her accomplishments regarding the widespread use of pesticides was
produced by the National Organization for Women using the 15¢ Honeybee
stamped envelope (Figure 7).
Figure 7. Rachel Carson’s influence on the environmental movement was noted in
the cachet produced by the National Organization for Women for the 15¢ Honeybee
stamped envelope in 1980.
Figure 8. Tudor Rose cachet noting Rachel Carson’s career as a marine biologist
and science writer.
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Figure 9. Gamm cachet noting Rachel Carson’s book The Sea Around Us.
Figure 10. Artcraft cachet noting Rachel Carson as an environmental conservation
The cachet artists who produced Carson first day covers helped to extend
this remembrance of her life and accomplishments to many more people than
will ever be able to visit either home site. Cachets from various makers noted
her accomplishments as a marine biologist and science writer (Figure 8), author
of The Sea Around Us published in 1951 (Figure 9), a leader in environmental
conservation (Figure 10), and advocate for elimination of chemical pollution
(Figure 11). Other cachet makers produced imaginative original artwork with
environmental preservation messages (Figure 12).
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The relation between Rachel Carson and subsequent environmental
regulation is also linked together on the vintage John Rando FDC. This item
has the Carson stamp placed on the Post Office Commemorative Sheet for the
anti-pollution stamps of 1970 (Figure 13) along with a Wildlife Conservation
stamp of 1956. The year of issue of the Anti-Pollution stamps — 1970 —
coincided with the inception of Earth Day, and also reflected the fact that
President Nixon signed into law the Clean Air and Water Act that same year.11
Rachel Carson’s accomplishments have continued to be noted in cachets
for environmentally-related stamps. On April 22, 1970, the United States
Figure 11. Diamant cachet noting Rachel Carson’s role alerting the nation to
Figure 12. Faust cachet with the message “Keep Voices of Spring.”
130 THE UNITED STATES SPECIALIST
observed its first Earth Day. This event, and the legislation leading up to it,
is attributed to the environmental work pioneered by Carson’s research and
book. Scientists participating in activities relating to pollution and other
hazards prior to or leading up to Earth Day have been categorized as “early
environmentalists,” having had their stamps appear before 1970.12 The signed
Bevil FDC picturing Rachel Carson (Figure 14), prepared for the first day
Figure 13. Vintage John Rando FDC for the Carson stamp on the Post Office
Commemorative Sheet for the anti-pollution stamps of 1970 along with a Wildlife
Conservation stamp of 1956.
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Figure 14. Bevil first day cover of the Earth Day stamp from the 1999 Celebrate
the Century – 1970s commemoratives featuring Rachel Carson.
issue of the Earth Day postage stamp (Scott #3189a) in the 1999 Celebrate
the Century – 1970s commemoratives, also notes Carson’s association with
Figure 15. USPS Great American Women Rachel Carson postcard, copyright 1999,
illustrating Carson’s stamp issued in 1981.
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One final tribute to Ms. Carson comes from the USPS, a commemorative
postcard from the USPS Great American Women – Volume One, issued in
1999. Carson was selected as one of twenty women, each already having been
honored by their own postage stamp. The group includes Susan B. Anthony,
Clara Barton, Jane Addams, and Ayn Rand, to name a few. The card (Figure 15)
contains a remarkable image of the Carson stamp and a short biography,
ending with her election to the National Academy of Arts and Letters. While
normally a joyous occasion, in this instance, one dampened by the terrible
pain of her final months, as she left this world one year later.
1. Rodney A. Juell, Lynn R. Batdorf and Steven J. Rod (Eds.), Encyclopedia
of United States Stamps and Stamp Collecting, Second Edition, United States
Stamp Society, 2016, pp. 141-151.
2. Rachel Carson, Silent Spring, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1962.
3. Douglas Brinkley, “Rachel Carson and JFK, an Environmental Tag
Team,” Audubon, May-June, 2012. https://www.audubon.org/magazine/may-
4. Linda Lear, Rachel Carson – Witness for Nature, New York: Henry Holt
and Company, 1977.
5. Jill Lepore, “The Right Way to Remember Rachel Carson,” The New
Yorker, March 26, 2018.
7. Stamp News USA, Philatelic Release No. 12, March 10, 1988, p. 3.
8. https://arago.si.edu/exhibit_298.html; page 16.
9. “Hometown to be site for Carson dedication,” Linn’s Stamp News, May
11. Allison W. Cusick, “Before Earth Day: Early Environmentalists on U.S.
First Day Covers,” American Philatelist, March, 2002, pp. 246-248.
12. Ref. 11.
13. Eliza Griswold, “How ‘Silent Spring’ Ignited the Environmental
Movement,” The New York Times Magazine, September 23, 2012; page MM36
of the Sunday Magazine. https://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/23/magazine/
Want To Know More?
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take a look at the second page of this issue. There is probably
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