A Postage Stamp on the Constitution Accidentally Honoring Living People

U.S. postage stamps often portray people, but they’re supposed to be dead first. That’s in the official “criteria” (criteria 4 and 5). But mistakes have slipped through. One in was for women’s right to vote, commemorating an anniversary of the Constitutional amendment putting it into nationwide law. It had a picture illustrating females holding a demonstration while wearing white frilly dresses, like women wore long ago. It made a lot of historical sense.

It's also nice that a rally, a march or walk for a cause, a demonstration, a speak-out, or something even more creative is acknowledged as part of the political process that gets a law promulgated. Freedom of assembly, protected in the First Amendment, is one way for nobodies to have an effect on the people in charge. And someone took a photograph.

The problem was that it was a combination of photographs and one was from , not so old. The women in the latter photo were likely young, not older. When modern demonstrations for women’s rights were organized, organizers often asked that women participating wear white, to remind observers how old was the demand for women’s rights. Doubtless, many demonstrators reinforced the theme by including frills in what they wore, to help emphasize how long women have wanted the vote. A modern demo would not have been seeking a right to vote, but the 1976 demo was for the closely-related purpose of supporting the Equal Rights Amendment. White and frills may have been chosen to appeal to the public and the media.

I don’t know how many cameras there were in but by there were plenty of recent photographs. The stamp designer, April Greiman, evidently got one. I don’t know who thought the photo was old but likely someone thought so, maybe someone at the Postal Service who was in charge of approving the design.

Someone in the photo is carrying a sign that seems to refer to Springfield NOW. It’s not certain. But if it is NOW, that could be the National Organization for Women, which was founded in .

A young person in a photo that was new in is almost certainly still alive in (and, by the way, today). They’re not dead yet. So, someone goofed and it wasn’t anyone in the picture. (The odds that anyone in the picture also designed the stamp or approved it are close enough to zero to ignore. We can deduce statistically that the boo-boo was someone else’s.)

Recognition of who’s on the stamp is still possible. I don’t know the names of the pictured demonstrators. I don’t know where the photo came from. I asked NOW somewhere in Illinois and they liked the stamp, but they didn’t have more information.

If it’s not a big legal issue anymore except as herstory, it could be a philatelic one. Philatelists, stamp collectors, study these things to a depth of detail that I have found amazing, but I don’t know if they studied this issue. If they did, it was probably published in print and not on the Internet. A lot of stamp collectors are older people who have interests other than studying computers. They have journals, newsletters, meetings, exhibits, and gold medals that reflect their knowledge. They have lots of knowledge. They remember how many holes are on the edge of a stamp, and, on a single stamp, those are half-holes. When one stamp was issued on two kinds of paper, they collect both. They use magnifying glasses, ultraviolet lamps, tweezers, and a chemical or two. They treat mistakes like a mousetrap treats mice. They know who various designers are. Some collector doubtless has researched this mistake. Maybe some collector figured out who got accidentally honored on the stamp while still living.

I hope someone tells the women.