Lily Spandorf and the 1963 Christmas Stamp

The 1963 Christmas stamp.
The 1963 Christmas stamp.

The temperature was in the low 40s and there was a light breeze and drizzle, but Lily Spandorf would not be deterred. A familiar visitor all around Washington, D.C., the Austrian-born free-lance artist was determined to make one of her on-the-spot watercolors. So she bundled up on the afternoon of December 17, 1962 and made her way to the White House where, during the Christmas Pageant of Peace, President John F. Kennedy would light the National Christmas Tree, a 72-foot-tall blue spruce imported from Colorado.

Lily Spandorf displays the original painting that inspired the 1963 Christmas stamp.
Lily Spandorf displays the original painting that inspired the 1963 Christmas stamp.

At 5:15 p.m., the president pushed the button and the tree, decorated with 5,000 multicolored lights and 4,000 ornaments, flickered to colorful holiday life. It would be the only time JFK would light the national tree.

As soon as the lights came on, Spandorf — who made her living with on-the-spot paintings around the city — went to work, creating a painting with people admiring the decorated tree and a partial view of the White House in the background.

A photo of the Lily Spandorf’s first adaptation of her original painting as requested by the Post Office Department.
A photo of the Lily Spandorf’s first adaptation of her original painting as requested by the Post Office Department.

A lot happened with that painting. It became the principal design for the United States’ second Christmas stamp, that for 1963. Postal officials at first asked for an adaptation. Spandorf eliminated the holiday onlookers and placed the tree even greater in the foreground. In the end, illustrator Norman Todhunter of Connecticut modified the design even more to include a view of the full White House and a more distant view of the tree. But Spandorf is still given credit as the main illustrator.

A proof copy of the front of the Christmas card from Colortone Press.
A proof copy of the front of the Christmas card from Colortone Press.

At about the same time the Post Office Department was creating the stamp, Colortone Press President A.J. Hackl, a longtime admirer of the artist’s, also became interested in the tree painting. He worked out a deal to use the painting as a Christmas card, the first time a stamp and card came from the same source.

The stamp was formally issued November 1 in Santa Claus, Indiana. Spandorf attended the ceremony. The holiday season carried a cloak of great sadness from Kennedy’s assassination. But apparently, the stamp helped folks cope somewhat as it sold a then-record 2 billion examples.

Lily Spandorf’s painting was adapted as a Christmas card, which the artist herself turned into first-day cover when she attended the first-day ceremony in Santa Claus, Indiana. She signed a card and sent one to philatelic journalist Belmont Faries.

Spandorf was born in 1915 in Vienna, Austria. Like many Jews, she fled eastern Europe before the start of World War II, immigrating to London. She made her way to New York City in 1950 and finally to the nation’s capital a few years later. Spandorf contributed artwork to many publications, including the Washington Post, National Geographic, and the Washington Evening Star. She died in 2000 at the age of 85. In recent years at least two retrospective exhibits of her artwork have been held.


Seashells Postcard Stamps in San Diego

The four new Seashells postcard rate stamps will debut nationwide January 28. The first-day postmark will read San Diego, California. The issue date was first announced in the December 22 Postal Bulletin and it is unknown if a ceremony will take place for the stamps.

Seashells postcard rate stamps.

The stamps will be issued in a pane of 20 and in a coil of 100.

Here is some additional information on the stamp issue from the U.S. Postal Service:

Four new postcard stamps celebrate the wonder of seashells. Each stamp depicts one iconic shell found in North American waters: the alphabet cone, the Pacific calico scallop, the zebra nerite, and the Queen conch, commonly known as the pink conch. The highly stylized stamp art expresses a lighthearted, artistic view of shells. The horizontal swaths of white and blue in the background suggest waves washing the shells onto a beach. Art director Greg Breeding designed the stamps. Sergio Baradat created the stamp art.

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.

Continue reading “The Christmas Stamp That Combats Disease”

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.