2018-05-21

... a colorful annual tradition!

Once a year, the Prince of Peace appears on millions of pieces of postage. In the U.S., Christmas stamps usually feature beautiful old masterpieces by the great classical artists such as Rembrandt, Michaelangelo and Caravaggio.

... a colorful annual tradition!

Believe it or not, the tradition of Christmas stamps is barely a century old.

In December 1898, Canada issued the world’s first Christmas postage -- a 2-cent stamp inscribed “XMAS 1898.” This stamp is usually regarded as the world’s first Christmas stamp, but actually it seems that Postmaster William Mulock suggested to Queen Victoria that a stamp scheduled to be released in November should “honor the Prince,” meaning her son, Edward, the Prince of Wales. When the queen showed unexpected displeasure with the idea, Mulock was taken aback. Her Majesty frostily asked which prince he was referring to and Mulock quickly answered, “Why, the Prince of Peace, ma’am.” So when the stamp was issued in December, it bore the planned world map showing Britain’s empire, but also the words “XMAS 1898 printed across the bottom.

t was almost four decades later before another country issued a Christmas stamp. This time it was Austria – just months before the country was absorbed into Nazi Germany. In 1937, still-independent Austria issued two stamps billed as “Christmas Greeting Stamps.”

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... a colorful annual tradition!

Two years later, Brazil was next in line, issuing four Christmas semi-postal stamps in 1939. Semi-postal stamps sold above the stamp’s value to raise money for a specific cause or charity.

... a colorful annual tradition!

The first U.S. Christmas stamp was a 4-cent stamp issued in 1962. The green and red stamp featured a wreath, two candles, and the words “Christmas 1962. The postal office anticipated a huge demand and ordered 350 million, the largest number ever printed up until that time. But it wasn’t enough. The Bureau of Engraving and Printing began working around the clock to print more. By the end of the season, one billion of the first U.S. Christmas stamps were sold.

... a colorful annual tradition!

By the 1990s, approximately 160 countries were issuing Christmas stamps – many featuring beautiful classical artwork.

... a colorful annual tradition!

In the United States today, the post office issues several related secular designs, plus a Madonna and Child stamp -- usually based on Old Master paintings hanging in prominent U.S. museums such as the National Gallery of Art.

... a colorful annual tradition!

Here are some recent examples of U.S. stamps.

... a colorful annual tradition!

Some of the most beautiful stamps issued worldwide each year are Christmas postage.

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