The Woman Who Runs Stamp Services

WASHINGTON—Every time Mary-Anne Penner pulls the rope at a first day of issue ceremony to reveal a new stamp, the audience erupts in applause. She smiles as the crowd admires the artwork.

As U.S. Postal Service Director of Stamp Services, Penner has many jobs within the Postal Service. She oversees everything from stamp development and printing to cancellation design and the execution of first day of issue ceremonies, where the Postal Service showcases its newest stamps.

Penner stands about 5 feet 7 inches tall with blonde hair and bangs. She often wears a pantsuit, and at stamp shows, she dons a lapel pin featuring that day’s newly-issued stamp.

Through her nearly 35-year stretch with the Postal Service, 55-year-old Penner has held countless positions.

“I’ve done it all: clerk, mail carrier, postmaster, delivery supervisor,” she said. “But this (Director of Stamp Services) is the best job in the Post Office.”

Penner enjoys interacting and meeting people on the job. “People are creative with our stamps,” she said. “And collectors are passionate. It’s great to see the same faces at the stamp shows.”

Not only does Penner get to interact with customers, but she also works with the families of celebrities who are being honored on stamps.

Mister Rogers Photo“When working with people related to celebrities, I am amazed at how down-to-earth they are,” she said. “When we released the Mr. Rogers stamp, Mrs. Rogers was so honored and happy. It feels good to know we made them feel good.”

Before getting involved with the Postal Service, Penner had her sights set on practicing medicine. When she graduated high school in 1980, she started on a pre-medical school track at the University of Maryland Baltimore County.

While she was studying there, her brother decided to take the postal exam, and their mother pushed Penner to take it, too. Penner passed the exam and began working full-time as a clerk and mail carrier for the Postal Service. Her brother never joined the Postal Service.

Penner returned to the University of Maryland University College in 1999, taking classes at night and earning her bachelor’s in business management in 2002.

In April 2015, Postmaster General Megan Brennan appointed Penner as acting director of stamp services. A year later, Penner’s role became permanent.

As director, Penner has taken steps to bring the Postal Service into the 21st century.

“In our USA Philatelic catalog, we’ve introduced augmented reality for stamps,” Penner said. “Customers can download the USPS AR app and interact with the catalog.”

The USPS AR app allows readers to scan images in the magazine with their smartphones. The app overlays videos highlighting the stamps’ first day of issue ceremonies, allowing readers to learn more about the stamps.

Penner has also focused on using the USA Philatelic magazine to explore the history behind the Postal Service’s new issues. The magazine offers a section called “Look What’s New,” which features blog-like articles telling about the stamps’ designs and related stories.

“We’re trying to make people more interested in what we have,” she said. “When we released the ‘love skywriting’ stamp, we had a skywriter fly over the ceremony and write ‘love’ in the air. We’re changing things up.”

Penner said she is also working closer with the American Philatelic Society, American Stamp Dealers Association, and the National Postal Museum to bring more traffic to stamp shows.

At the 2017 American Philatelic Society Stamp Show in Richmond, Virginia, the Postal Service showcased a virtual reality stamp gallery, where visitors could put on a headset and watch stamps come to life.

When visitors viewed the 2017 “sharks” stamp through the headset, they were transported to the sea and surrounded by swimming sharks. For the “protect the pollinator” stamps, visitors were given a close-up view of bees collecting pollen from a trove of flowers.

Penner said the Postal Service is planning to use this technology to continue to reach more audiences, including at this weekend’s USA Science and Engineering Festival at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington.

Penner also introduced the use of Facebook Live to broadcast first day of issue ceremonies. Now, if collectors are unable to travel to see the ceremonies, they can watch from their computers.

Co-worker and manager of stamp development Bill Gicker enjoys working with Penner.

“It’s an adventure every day,” he said. “We work well together, whether it be about the Citizen’s Stamp Advisory Council, rights and permissions process, design development, or manufacturing.”

When she’s not at work, Penner spends time with family. She lives in Maryland with her husband.

“My husband is from upstate New York,” she said. “We are currently building a summer home on Seneca Lake.”

Her 29-year-old son also lives in Maryland. He earned his master’s degree in business entertainment management from Full Sail University in Winter Park, Fla.

As a hobby, Penner collects elephant-themed items.

“My dad bought me my first small, marble elephant at a coin and stamp show when I was five,” she said.

She also has a love for cars.

“One day I dream of owning a Rolls-Royce.”

Penner inherited her father’s stamp collection in 2013, which consists mostly of stamps from Vatican City.

“The ones he did not have in his collection were the expensive ones!”

Frozen Treats Stamps With That Sweet Smell of Summer

The first scratch-and-sniff U.S. postage stamps will be released later this summer, according to a news release today from the U.S. Postal Service. 

The first-class forever stamps will add “the sweet scent of summer to letters of love, friendship, party invitations and other mailings” the USPS said in its release.

A first-day-of-issue dedication ceremony, free and open to the public, will take place on June 20 at 6 p.m. local time the Thinkery Children’s Museum in Austin, Texas.

Frozen Treats StampsThe stamps feature illustrations of frosty, colorful, icy pops on a stick. Today, Americans love cool, refreshing ice pops on a hot summer day. The tasty, sweet confections come in a variety of shapes and flavors.

Ice pops are made by large manufacturers, home cooks and artisanal shops. In recent years, frozen treats containing fresh fruit such as kiwi, watermelon, blueberries, oranges and strawberries have become more common. In addition, flavors such as chocolate, root beer and cola are also popular. Some frozen treats even have two sticks, making them perfect for sharing.

There are 10 designs – each showing two different treats – that will be sold in booklets of 20. The artwork showcases is from Margaret Berg, of Santa Monica, California, who depicted the whimsical illustrations in watercolors. The words “Forever” and “USA” appear along the bottom of each stamp.

Art director Antonio Alcalá of Alexandria, Virginia, designed the stamps with Leslie Badani of Alexandria, Virginia.

A Postal Service spokesman declined to say if the 10 stamps would have the same or a variety of aromas, noting that information will be released when the stamps are issued. He also noted that the technology used for the stamps will also be explained at that time.

The Frozen Treats stamps represent the third time in a year that new U.S. stamps have featured innovative technology. One June 14, 2017, the USPS issued eight Have a Ball stamps. It was the first time the U.S. issued touch-and-feel stamps in which the stamps had the feel of the sports ball shown. Six days later, on June 20, the USPS issued the Solar Eclipse stamp in which an image of the Moon was hidden behind dark, thermochromic ink until it was warmed, such as by the heat of a thumb’s touch.

The U.S. is a bit behind the world in scratch-and-sniff technology on postage stamps. Bhutan issued the world’s first such stamps in 1973 with stamps that smell like roses, according to an article published May 1, 2015 in Linn’s Stamp News.

The American Topical Association lists 114 stamps on its check list of scented stamps. Roses remain a popular scent on the list along with such fragrances as chocolate, vanilla and coffee, according to the article in Linn’s. Other scents you can find on stamps include honey, cinnamon, pine, apple, lemon, sweet-and-sour pork and fire (burnt wood).

 

Statue of Freedom Stamps to be issued at APS headquarters

First responders – firefighters, law enforcement officers and emergency medical service professionals – will be honored sometime this year on a single commemorative stamp, according to a new schedule and announcement of new stamps from the U.S. Postal Service. The date and location of the stamp’s release was not announced.

A group of three high value stamps – $1, $2, $5 – featuring an image of the Statue of Freedom which stands atop the Capitol Dome also were announced. The stamps will have a formal first-day ceremony June 27 at the American Philatelic Center in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania. The date – a Wednesday – coincides with the midway point of the American Philatelic Society’s annual Summer Seminar on Philately.

The new stamps were announced, along with a full calendar of release dates for other stamps from June through September.

Also newly released was a full design of the previously announced John Lennon stamp pane, which will be part of the Music Icons stamp series, whose previous releases have included stamps for Johnny Cash and Janis Joplin. The John Lennon pane of 16 features the same basic image design, but each of four rows features different colorations. Ablack-and-white photograph of Lennon seated at his white piano appears on the reverse side of the stamp pane, along with Lennon’s signature and the Music Icons series logo.

The complete summer release schedule is as follows (all stamps are first-class forever stamps unless noted):

$1, $2, $5 Statue of Freedom  June 27            Bellefonte, Pennsylvania

O Beautiful (pane of 20)         July 4  Colorado Springs, Colorado

WWI: Turning the Tide          July 27            Kansas City, Missouri

The Art of Magic (strip of 5)  August 7         Las Vegas, Nevada

Dragons (block of 4)   August 9         Columbus Ohio (StampShow)

U.S. Air Mail (red)     August 11       College Park, Maryland

John Lennon (Music Icons series; 4 colors)   September 7    New York City

Birds in Winter (block of four)           September 22 Quechee, Vermont

The Statue of Freedom Stamps to be formally issued at the headquarters of the American Philatelic Society feature the head of the statue that tops the United States Capitol dome, in a modern interpretation of an engraved vignette originally created for a 1923 stamp ($5 Head of Freedom Statue). The engraved artwork was originally created for the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing by John Eissler (1873–1962). Rendered in emerald green ($1), indigo ($2) and brick red ($5), the tightly cropped enlargements highlight the solid and dashed lines and the crosshatching characteristic of engraved illustrations. The $1 and $2 stamps will be sold in panes of 10; the $5 stamp in panes of four.

American sculptor Thomas Crawford (1814–1857) created the allegorical Statue of Freedom during the mid-1850s. She wears a variation on a Roman helmet — circled by stars, topped with an eagle head, and embellished by feathered plumes meant to evoke Native American headdress. Installation of the statue onto the new Capitol dome was completed in 1863.

All three stamps are printed in intaglio and were designed by Art Director Greg Breeding.

Likewise, the First Responders stamp was previously unannounced. The digital illustration is a symbolic scene that shows three first responders in profile, facing right, as they race into action. From left to right, the first figure is a firefighter carrying an axe. The second figure is an EMS worker, with the EMS Star of Life visible on her cap, upper arm and emergency bag. The third figure is a law-enforcement officer shining a flashlight toward unknown danger ahead.

The firefighter is in red, the EMS worker in white and the police officer in blue, colors that are both patriotic and symbolic of the profession. The dark background and signs of smoke in around the figures suggest the wide range of situations that demand the immediate attention of a first responder.

Artist Brian Stauffer worked with art director and designer Antonio Alcalá and designer Ricky Altizer to create this stamp.

Postal Service and Postal Museum Unveil New Stamp, Exhibit

There was no Blue Angels flyover, but there were still plenty of planes overhead in the atrium of the Smithsonian National Postal Museum, where dozens gathered Tuesday for the unveiling of the U.S. Postal Service’s “Air Mail Blue” stamp and the opening of the museum’s “Postmen of the Skies” exhibit.

The stamp, printed in blue and donning a classical look, celebrates the 100th anniversary of the U.S. airmail service and features a drawing of a Curtiss JN-4H biplane.

Another stamp with the same design but printed in red will be issued Aug. 11 in College Park, Maryland to commemorate the transfer of airmail service from the U.S. Army to the Post Office Department.

“Airmail service has been one of our organization’s most significant contributions to America’s growth,” said Postal Service Vice President of Supply Management Susan Brownell. “Single-person flights, carrying bags of mail from one city to another, eventually led to a world-shaping passenger aviation industry and transportation network.”

The Postmen of the Skies exhibit explores the beginning of the U.S. airmail service and the pilots who first flew the mail. The exhibit features items worn by the airmail pilots and tells their stories.

“Our new exhibition invites visitors to witness and experience the birth of commercial aviation,” Director of the National Postal Museum Elliot Gruber said. “Actually, one of the pilots featured in the exhibition flew the De Havilland DH-4 airplane that hangs above our heads right here.”

The exhibit also displays a 1929 airmail board game in which “players rolled dice to move forward and the first pilot to deliver their six letters won the game,” according to the exhibit.

The U.S. airmail service began May 15, 1918 when “a small group of Army pilots delivered mail along a route that linked Washington, Philadelphia, and New York City,” according to the Postal Service.

Head Curator Nancy Pope detailed the story of the first airmail flight.

“Unfortunately for the Post Office, [pilot George] Boyle didn’t head north. He headed southeast and crashed in Waldorf, Maryland,” she said. “His mail was put on a truck to DC and unceremoniously put on a train to New York City. Fortunately, for the Post Office Department, the other three pilots did a magnificent job that day.”

Those three delivered the mail successfully.

Bill Harris, deputy director of Air Force history and museums policies and programs at the Pentagon, noted, ““[The airmail operation] helped redefine the use of aircraft and its role in military doctrine that would be sorely tested in the skies above Europe and the Pacific during the second world war and beyond.”

Today, the Postal Service still uses planes to fly the mail but does not have an official airmail service. The organization uses contractors to carry airmail.

 by Tasos Kalfas, @TasosKalfasWRGW

USPS to Celebrate 100th Anniversary of U.S. Airmail Service

The U.S. Postal Service celebrates the centennial of official airmail service in the U.S. this year with a pair of new stamps, one of which will be issued today (May 1) in a ceremony at the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum in Washington, D.C.

Airmail service officially started May 15, 1918 with flights between Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, as well as flights between Philadelphia and New York City.

The new blue-and-white United States Air Mail stamp – which is a forever first-class domestic commemorative – features a drawing of the type of plane typically used in the early days of airmail, a Curtiss JN-4H biplane. The stamp is printed in intaglio — a design engraved into the stamp paper – and has been produced in panes of 20. A stamp in dark red with the same design will be released this summer, also likely in Washington, D.C.

The first-day ceremony at 11 a.m. will be part of a day filled with events at the National Postal Museum.

The museum will open an exciting new exhibit – “Postmen of the Skies” – which also celebrates the centennial of airmail.

Pilot goggles, leggings, helmets and logbooks, along with route maps, telegrams and airmail-related pop culture artifacts, will invite visitors to witness and experience the birth of commercial aviation. Visitors will also experience rare historic photos and see an archival “you-are-there” video that tells the story of the origins of airmail.

The American Philatelic Society and the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum will host the launch of Stamp of the Century, a book about the famous philatelic error, the Inverted Jenny. The authors, Kellen Diamanti and Deborah Fisher, will be on hand from noon to 2 p.m. to talk with museum visitors and sign copies of their book, which will be for sale in the museum gift store. From 6 to 8 p.m. the next evening, the authors will be part of the museum’s History After Hours program for an evening book talk and signing. The book is also available from the APS at www.stamps.org/publications.

Two interactive events take off that day, as well. There will be an airmail-themed scavenger hunt and visitors can try their luck at an airmail board game.

After a series of experimental flights in previous years, the Post Office Department and U.S. Army worked cooperatively to launch official airmail service in 1918. Army planes and pilots were used to fly the first mail runs. The Post Office Department took charge of service later that summer, operating it from Aug. 12, 1918, through Sept. 1, 1927. The first east-west route (New York to Chicago) started December 18, 1918.

The stamp celebrates the courage of the pioneering airmail carriers and the foresight of those who fostered the new service and made it a success. Airmail delivery, daily except Sundays, became part of the fabric of the American economy and spurred the growth of the nation’s aviation industry.

Dan Gretta designed the stamp while Greg Breeding was art director.

Scheduled to speak at the first-day ceremony are Bill Harris, deputy director, Department of the Air Force; Susan Brownell, vice president of supply management for the United States Postal Service; Elliot Gruber, director, and Nancy Pope, head curator, both of the Smithsonian National Postal Museum.