Postage Cancellation

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Mochael Russum and Kat Ran Press have been habitually publishing brief but delightful pamphlets on the art of philately—the study of postage stamps. The most recent is revealing.

It includes a short essay by the woodcut artist and commentator Antonio Frasconi that appeared in Art in America in 1941, along with a story on the advocacy of better design. He discusses the quality of stamp design with sharp criticism. “The problem as I see it … resides in the ratio this distribution to the tastelessness of the stamps themselves due to the non-creative people who approve them.” In addition there were attempts at hypothetical stamps by Rockwell Kent, Leonard Baskin and others. Frasconi was invited to design a stamp commemorating the centennial of the National Academy of Science. Frasconi submitted the one below.

The stamp was not met with the philatelic experts’ seals of approval. In fact, readers of the influential Linn’s Stamp News voted Frasconi’s entry as the “co-worst stamp and least necessary stamp of 1963.”

Russum’s sliver of philatelic and design history is an interesting addition to scholarship, especially as he notes, “Of course, these readers would vote later stamps by [Herbert] Bayer, [Bradbury] Thompson and Baskin, and a host of other acclaimed designers, as the worst of their respective years.”

Where would art and design be without the public’s taste?

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About Steven Heller

Steven Heller is the co-chair of the SVA MFA Designer /Designer as Author + Entrepreneur program, writes frequently for Wired and Design Observer. He is also the author of over 170 books on design and visual culture. He received the 1999 AIGA Medal and is the 2011 recipient of the Smithsonian National Design Award.View all posts by Steven Heller →