US History through 36 Stamps

Clan emigrants followed many paths after leaving Ireland, often responding to unexpected opportunities or taking up unfamiliar roles.

Clan member John J OLoughlin was born on the edge of The Atlantic at Fanore, County Clare in 1923, emigrating to the USA in 1929. He became a member of the US Postal Service as well as being a member of the New Rochelle Fire Department for a number of decades.

b99376022z.1_20141031154241_000_gq68f81e.1-0More recently, June 2015, US Journalist, Michael OLoughlin reports that Irish-American Southern writer, Flannery OConnor is being honored with her own 93 Cent stamp. OLoughlin continues:  OConnor will join a distinguished list of authors such as Hemingway and Steinbeck in the ‘Forever’ US Stamp Series.

Every postage stamp tells a story. At least author Chris West thinks so in A History of America in Thirty-Six Postage Stamps. While 4th July has already passed, this 2014 publication reviews the insights provided by selected US stamps, towards developing an understanding of US history.

Chris Foran’s review of West’s book glances through famous stamps and indicates the impacts which modern technology has wrought on the postal-system. American Clan members — and philatelists — might like to read on.

One of Chris West’s 36 chapters entitled: We The People …. presents the story of the famous 1851 one-cent stamp containing Ben Franklin’s image, and this stamp is now held at The Smithsonian National Postal Museum.

Mortimer L Neinken compiled a complete book on the 1851 stamp The US One-Cent Stamp of 1851 to 1861

West, a U.K. writer who last year produced the light and engaging “A History of Britain in Thirty-Six Postage Stamps,” has jumped across the pond with a U.S. counterpart. Like the British version, it’s a fun, breezy look at a nation’s history, glued together with little adhesive pieces of paper.

1851 One Cent Stamp - Ben Franklin (1706-1790)

1851 One Cent Stamp – Ben Franklin (1706-1790)

More than the “Britain” book, however, “A History of America in Thirty-Six Postage Stamps” reverse-engineers its subject. West finds stamps that he thinks express something about an epoch in American history, and then offers an idiosyncratic synthesis of each period.

The approach doesn’t always work. But when it does, West delivers dollops of insight on American history and how stamps played a role in it.

For example, as the colonial postmaster, Benjamin Franklin boosted the economy and helped tie the colonies together by expanding the network of roadways — called post roads — for mail delivery. And he turned a profit doing so (been awhile since the U.S. Postal Service could say the same).

West’s stamp-by-stamp history tour reveals a nation whose identity was in motion.

Reflecting on an 1869 stamp showing a locomotive — part of the first series of U.S. stamps with pictorial images, vs. portraits of national figures (all white, male and dead) — West explains that the new-look stamps were so unpopular that the Postal Service dropped them. In a time when sending and receiving letters was serious business, they just didn’t have enough gravitas. (The first U.S. commemorative stamps weren’t issued till 1893, to mark the Columbian Exposition in Chicago.)

The first living person to appear on an American postage stamp? That’d be Jefferson Davis, whose image on an 1862 Confederate issue broke an unwritten rule (sort of like George Washington’s two-terms-and-done deal). The Postal Service made the rule official in 1886 — although, as West points out, it was effectively breached in 2013 when the Postal Service issued its popular “Harry Potter” stamp series featuring scenes from the movies.

West also points out something that’s hard to believe, but is true: The first U.S. postage stamp to mark Christmas wasn’t issued until 1962. How did people mail their Christmas cards before that?

Foran continues, West has missed some opportunities. In a chapter on the 1990s, West uses the 1993 Elvis Presley stamp, without mentioning the Postal Service’s high-profile decision to get the American public to choose which Elvis would appear on the stamp (“young” Elvis won, though both it and “old” Elvis were issued), or the successful licensing campaign that followed — a turning point for the Postal Service, by then in dire need of a revenue-stream Plan (B).

For old-school collectors, the book’s lack of greatest-hits collectibles — such as the 1851 pre-U.S. Hawaiian blue, or the classic inverted Curtis Jenny airmail stamp (one sheet of the 1918 stamp was printed with the plane at its center upside down) — might prove frustrating.

And West’s efforts to find a philatelic umbrella for each chunk of American history — a 1948 “Saluting Young America” stamp ushers in the teenager-centric 1950s, a 1972 commemorative of bearded poet Sidney Lanier stands in for the end of the 1960s — don’t always provide the relevant cover.

But as a hop-skip-and-a-jump through American life, “A History of America in Thirty-Six Postage Stamps” is an entertaining read, and a nostalgic look at one of the artefacts of that, in the pre-email age, bound a nation together.

About edward ologhlen

Provide periodic newsletters for the international Clan, Muintir Uí Lochlainn and have a particular interest in ensuring our various members have an opportunity to record their emigration-stories, through the printed word.
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5 Responses to US History through 36 Stamps

  1. aplliddle says:

    I wonder how John J O’Loughlin(USA), might be related to John O’Loughlin, the butcher in the main street of Ennistymon. When we visited Ennistymon, John said that many of his ancestors went to America. It would be interesting to know if John was still in the butcher shop, as he was in his mid 80s a couple of years ago.


    • edwardologhlen says:


      The Fanore coastal village is about 15 miles distance to Ennistymon.

      Will check if the people in the Ennistymon butcher-shop could be related to John J from Fanore.

      One of the Clan from that Ennistymon shop you mention was a famous golfing personality,

      Mick OLoughlin who achieved two South of Ireland Golf Championships at Lahinch during

      1937 and 1938.

      Mick was also famous for making Irish stews for Ennis boy scouts, recalled on page (26) of the 2005 reunion booklet. A photo of the Ennistymon butcher-shop appears on page (10) of the same reunion-booklet.




      • John J O'Loughlin Jr says:

        I am the oldest son of John J O’Loughlin mentioned in the article and sadly he passed in 2001 but I am curious how you came to use his name as an example


      • BrendO says:

        John, thanks for the comment and apologies for delay as I am travelling amd largely offline. Edward’s sharp eye came up with this one. Will have to check with him. Best wishes, Brendan


      • edwardologhlen says:

        Dear John J Jr
        Thank you for this note on your late father, John J who departed Fanore, North Clare in 1929 to work with the US postal service.
        I was born in the other half of that parish – Ballyvaughan.


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