The Christmas Stamp That Combats Disease

The 2016 U.S. Christmas Seal.

Christmas seals are not postage stamps. They are what is known in the hobby as cinderellas items that look like postage stamps, but aren’t valid for postage. Christmas seals have a familiar look and interesting history, so they are used and collected much like Christmas stamps. In fact, the Christmas Seal & Charity Stamp Society ( is an affiliate of the American Philatelic Society.

Actor-singer Frank Sinatra promoted the 1963 U.S. Christmas seal. (Image courtesy of National Postal Museum).

Christmas seals are often placed on mail during the Christmas season. The sale of the stamps is raises money and awareness for various charitable programs. Initially they were associated with lung diseases such as tuberculosis, but now have grown internationally to include various aspects of child welfare.

The world’s first Christmas seals were created in 1904 in Denmark. The Danish queen, Louise of Hesse-Kassel, is pictured.

In 1904, Danish postal clerk Einar Holbøll developed the idea of adding an extra charitable stamp or label on holiday Christmas mail. Holbøll’s idea eventually was approved by the Danish postmaster and the king of Denmark, and in 1904 the world’s first Christmas seal was issued, bearing the likeness of the Danish queen and the word “Julen,” the Danish word for Christmas. More than 4 million seals were sold in Denmark in the first year alone.

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New Flag Stamp to Unfurl January 27

U.S. Flag
U.S. Flag forever stamp.

The new United States U.S. Flag forever stamp will debut January 27 nationwide. The first-day ceremony is scheduled for 11 a.m. during the Southeastern Stamp Expo show at the Hilton Atlanta Northeast in Norcross, Georgia.

Here is the USPS media advisory on the stamp:

U.S. Flag Forever Stamp
To be Dedicated at Atlanta Area Stamp Show

WHAT: First Day of Issue ceremony for the U.S. Flag Forever Stamp
WHO: USPS Chief Human Resources Officer and Executive Vice President Jeff Williamson
American Philatelic Society President Mick Zais, Brigadier General, U.S. Army (ret.).
USPS Director of Stamp Services Mary-Anne Penner
WHEN: Fri., Jan. 27 at 11 a.m.
WHERE: Southeastern Stamp Expo, American Philatelic Society Stamp Show, Hilton Atlanta Northeast, 5993 Peachtree Industrial Blvd., Norcross, GA  30092
BACKGROUND: With the new U.S. Flag stamp, the Postal Service continues its tradition of celebrating patriotism with one of the most recognizable symbols of our nation. The stamp, sold in booklets of 10 and 20 and coils, features a detail from a photograph of the billowing Stars and Stripes. Terrence W. McCaffrey was the art director of the project and Greg Breeding of Charlottesville, VA, designed the stamp with an existing photograph of the flag taken by Tom Grill of New York. The credit line “© Tom Grill/Corbis” should appear in profile text associated with the stamp in accordance with standard practice.

Animals on Christmas Stamps

It certainly is not unusual to find animals on Christmas stamp, especially considering that Jesus was said to have been born (or at least placed) in a manger. So, it’s common to find a donkey (Mary’s transportation), camels (the Magi’s transportation), and sheep (brought by the shepherds) on religious Christmas stamps.

And, once Santa Claus entered the picture, animals such as reindeer were naturals. But modern designs have given us plenty of other creatures, often as whimsical characters, including dancing woodland creatures – such as rabbits and porcupines — not to mention cap-wearing moose, scarf-robed polar bears, and sea creatures of the South Pacific.

One of our favorite Christmas animals sets is depiction of Santa as a lion and his sled-pullers of other “flying” African animals, including a zebra and a hippo.

The First Christmas Stamps

Christmas is celebrated in many ways throughout the world so it’s no surprise that the philately for the holiday includes thousands of stamps and covers, most created since the mid-20th century. The Christmas theme is among the world’s most popular topical areas to collect. So, in the spirit of Christmas giving, the APS blog team is presenting 10 holiday-themed blog posts. Happy holidays.

First Christmas Stamps
Whenever we talk about “firsts,” a lot of contenders line up to make claims so it’s no surprise that there are a lot of firsts when it comes to Christmas stamps. That said, there’s little doubt that Canada can claim the first Christmas postage stamp connection, even if the stamp was not intended to specifically celebrate the holiday.

The 1898 2-cent stamp features a collage of Queen Victoria’s crown at the top, a Mercator map of the world with the nations and colonies of the British Empire displayed in red, “Xmas 1898” and the phrase, “We hold a vaster empire than has been.”

Two varieties of what many philatelists consider the world’s first Christmas stamp, Canada’s Imperial Penny Postage stamp of 1898.
Two varieties of what many philatelists consider the world’s first Christmas stamp, Canada’s Imperial Penny Postage stamp of 1898.

It was Canada’s first bicolor stamp and has major color varieties involving the colors of the ocean and land (Scott 85–86).

But why does it say “Xmas 1898?” The stamp was issued December 7 and its use went into effect December 25, 1898, the inauguration of the Imperial Penny Postage rate (which was 2 cents in Canadian funds).

There is an oft-repeated story that Canadian Postmaster General William Mulock developed the stamp and proposed that it be issued on November 9  to “honor the prince,” meaning the Prince of Wales. But when Queen Victoria asked “what Prince?” in a displeased manner, Mulock realized the danger, and answered “Why, madam, the Prince of Peace.”

Here are some other Christmas stamp firsts:

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Dorothy Height Stamp in February

The United States Dorothy Height commemorative forever stamp will be issued nationwide February 1.

Dorothy Height (Black Heritage series)
Dorothy Height (Black Heritage series)

The first-day-of-issue ceremony will take place at 11 a.m. in the Cramton Auditorium at Howard University, 2455 Sixth St., N.W., Washington, D.C. The ceremony is free and open to the public, but space is limited. To obtain free tickets, visit the Cramton Auditorium Box Office of reserve by phone at 202-806-7194 (Box Office Hours: Monday–Friday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.).

Here is information about the Dorothy Height commemorative stamp courtesy of the U.S. Postal Service:

Dorothy Height (Black Heritage series)
The 40th stamp in the Black Heritage series honors Dorothy Height (1912-2010), the tireless activist who dedicated her life to fighting for racial and gender equality. Although she rarely gained the recognition granted her male contemporaries, she became one of the most influential civil rights leaders of the 20th century. The stamp features artist Thomas Blackshear II’s gouache and acrylics on board portrait of Height. The painting is based on a 2009 photograph shot by Lateef Mangum. Art director Derry Noyes designed the stamp.