Skip to main content

Stamping Our History

March 2023
1min read

The Story of the United States Portrayed on its Postage Stamps

by Charles Davidson and Lincoln Diamant; A Lyle Stuart Book, Carol Publishing Group, New York; 254 pages.

From 1847, when the United States issued its first official postage stamps, until 1965, when the Postal Service changed to offset printing, American stamps were miniature steel engravings. The authors of this handsome volume have selected a number of these images, enlarged them, sometimes by as much as 2,000 percent, and used them to tell the story of our nation- Columbus and the Vikings, Yosemite and Yellowstone, Annapolis and West Point, Louisa May Alcott and Edgar Allan Poe, the transcontinental railroad and Project Mercury. The writing is excessively chatty at times—“Thank you, George, for so much” concludes their tribute to our first President—but the authors clearly love their subject, and the stamps themselves are wonderful to look at. The introduction contains the fascinating information that “those minuscule punched-out waste-paper dots” from the perimeters of stamps are called chads, and that each year the Bureau of Printing and Engraving disposes of seventy-five tons of them.

We hope you enjoy our work.

Please support this 72-year tradition of trusted historical writing and the volunteers that sustain it with a donation to American Heritage.


Stories published from "December 1990"

Authored by: Tom Carter


Authored by: Richard Brophy

Like any other popular art, jigsaw puzzles can tell us a lot about pieces of the past

Authored by: The Editors

The Life and Work of Evelyn Cameron

Authored by: The Editors

The Story of the United States Portrayed on its Postage Stamps

Authored by: The Editors

We asked dozens of historians to play detective and tell us what case in all of American history they would most like to see cracked

For a good part of his life, the governor of New York has used history as a guide—and a solace

Authored by: Judith Dunford

Fewer than half of O. Henry’s short stories actually take place in New York, but we still see the city through his eyes

Authored by: Jeffrey W. Miller

In the early sixties it was going to revolutionize American education. By the early seventies it had confounded a generation of schoolchildren. Today it is virtually forgotten. But as we head toward another round of educational reforms, we should recall why it went wrong.

Authored by: Carmine Prioli

Giving the men who died aboard America’s first battleship a decent funeral took fourteen years, three-quarters of a million dollars, and some hair-raising engineering. But in the end, they did it right.

Featured Articles

The world’s most prominent actress risked her career by standing up to one of Hollywood’s mega-studios, proving that behind the beauty was also a very savvy businesswoman. 

Rarely has the full story been told about how a famed botanist, a pioneering female journalist, and First Lady Helen Taft battled reluctant bureaucrats to bring Japanese cherry trees to Washington. 

Often thought to have been a weak president, Carter was strong-willed in doing what he thought was right, regardless of expediency or the political fallout.

Why have thousands of U.S. banks failed over the years? The answers are in our history and politics.

In his Second Inaugural Address, Abraham Lincoln embodied leading in a time of polarization, political disagreement, and differing understandings of reality.