Iconic Postage Stamp Designs from History

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The Star Trek franchise recently celebrated its 50th anniversary with a new series of postage stamps. Designed by the Philadelphia design studio The Heads of State in collaboration with Studio A designer Antonio Alcalá, the deep space stamp series showcased a vintage, retro aesthetic. It calls to mind the wonderful world of retro postage stamp designs and the influence they’ve had on graphic design throughout the years.


From portraits to paintings, there have been thousands of beautifully designed stamps over the past century. Here is a selection of some of the most iconic stamps in history:

Western Cattle in Storm

This iconic American stamp hails from 1898. Created for the Trans-Mississippi Issue, where nine stamps showed scenes from the American West, it’s based on a painting by John MacWhirter called “The Vanguard.” The cattle walking through stormy weather on the stamp is taken from a scene in Scotland, not America, but they used it anyway. The stamp is highly prized by stamp collectors and is revered as one of the most aesthetically attractive stamp of all time.



Said to be the most beautiful stamp of all time, this Canadian stamp is from 1929 shows the Bluenose, a fishing schooner boat, racing from the east coast Halifax Harbour. It’s based on a 1922 photo by Canadian photographer W.R. MacAskill. It’s crowned by the Canadian maple leaf at its top corners, a million copies were printed. Today one of these stamps sells for roughly $3,500.


Outer Space

One cannot resist the decorative border around this set of 12 stamps from 1963, reading the “Peaceful Use of Outer Space.” This stamp design hails from Nigeria and shows the Mercury Capsule, citing the first human spaceflight of the U.S. from 1958, and the Kano Tracking Station, as there was a manned space flight network in the Nigerian city of Kano alongside 10 other cities when seven astronauts flew into outer space in 1963.



The first Japanese stamps were issued in 1871, much later than many other countries. Among the country’s most famous stamps, which include Mount Fiji and their famed national parks, here are two stamps which were issued in the 1980s, one which was used to promote the International Letter Writing Week in 1981. These stamps are far different than the visual trademarks of Japan’s national postage stamps; they’re popular today for their color and clever compositions.



John F. Kennedy had many stamps made in his honor before and after his death in 1963, which became memorial stamps, like this brief but crisp one from Ecuador.



Back when the hippie music festival launched in 1969, there was a stamp issued to commemorate the party. The image has a guitarist holding the neck of an acoustic guitar with a white dove, symbolizing peace. However, according to the graphic designer Arnold Skolnick, the dove on the guitar was meant to resemble a catbird.



Since the first Korean stamps were issued in 1884, there were several stamps of the Emperor Gojong in the early 1900s. After being liberated from Japan in 1945, Korean design continued to grow and define itself, one example is this lime green kangaroo stamp from 1975.


Typography is one of the most vital keys to successful design—and Print’s Typography & Lettering Awards is here to celebrate it. But this isn’t just a competition for classic type designers: We’re looking for projects that feature great uses of type by any designer. We’re looking for handlettered work. And, of course, we’re also looking for original typefaces built from the ground up. Enter today.

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About Nadja SayejNadja Sayej is a Canadian reporter, broadcaster, photographer and cultural critic based in Berlin, Germany. In covering architecture, travel, design, technology and art, she writes for The New York Times, T: The New York Times Style Magazine, The Guardian, The Economist, Forbes, PAPER magazine, Maclean’s, The Globe and Mail, GOOD magazine, among others.View all posts by Nadja Sayej →