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The 11 Most Controversial Stamps in U.S. History

April 16, 2018 in History

By Greg Daugherty

1934 Whistler's Mother stamp. (Credit: Public Domain)

For an inanimate object weighing just a tiny fraction of an ounce, the postage stamp can sometimes stir up a whole lot of trouble. Throughout U.S. history, stamps have often caused controversy, usually for reasons the post office never anticipated. Here are 11 of the most famous examples:

1934 Whistler’s Mother stamp. (Credit: Public Domain)

Whistler’s Mother stampreleased 1934

Many artists objected to the way James McNeill Whistler’s famous 1873 painting was cropped to fit the horizontal stamp format. Others complained about the vase of flowers that had been added to its lower-left corner—possibly a bit of early product placement for Mother’s Day, which the stamp was meant to honor. In a telegram to the postmaster general, a group called the American Artists Professional League charged that the stamp represented a “mutilation of the artist’s original picture, thereby robbing it of much of its charm.” The director of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, which had recently borrowed the painting (officially titled Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 1) from the Louvre, said that if Whistler “were alive today he would be enraged.”

1936 Susan B. Anthony stamp. (Credit:Public Domain)

Susan B. Anthony stamp, released 1936

Some imaginative critics thought they saw a cigarette sticking out from the lips of the famous women’s rights advocate. It was actually an unfortunately positioned line of white cross-hatching in the background. (The next time Anthony got a stamp, in 1955, there seem to have been few complaints.) Anthony’s U.S. dollar coin, released in 1979, was no less controversial. Critics charged that the Anthony dollar was too close in size to a quarter and therefore easily confused with one, and the coin proved a dud with the public, as well.

1937 Union Civil War generals stamp. (Credit: Public Domain)
1937 Union Civil War generals stamp. (Credit: Public Domain)

Union Civil War generals stamp, released 1937

Many Southerners were outraged by this stamp featuring three Northern generals: William Tecumseh Sherman, Ulysses S. Grant, and Philip Sheridan. Grant and Sheridan most could live with, but Sherman was still despised for his harsh tactics and his famously destructive March to the Sea in 1864. State legislatures in South Carolina and Georgia took up the matter, the latter suggesting that the stamp not be issued until …read more


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