Embossed postcard with train image - Limited Express
Essays for postal stationery surcharge - 1958
When postal rates were raised in 1958, no postal stationery with the new rates was ready. Existing stocks had to be surcharged (a fairly common practice at that time). One of the designs considered for that surcharge was the one shown above, on three stationery items of the period. These just came to light recently, and were lots 2419-21 in the Siegel Auction Galleries 2002 Rarities sale of May 18, 2002 . The auction descriptions follow.
Here are the surcharges they ended up using - how mundane.
4¢ FIRST AUTOMATED POST OFFICE - October 20, 1960
This stamp advertised the completion of the first fully automated postal facility of the U.S. Post Office Department (it became the USPS in 1971), set up in Providence, R.I. on an experimental basis in 1960. Built at a cost of nearly $16 million, the plant was the first step in a major program to automate and modernize the postal service in this country. A single-story structure with only two internal supporting columns, so that the work area was obstructed as little as possible, it was capable of processing up to 2 million pieces of mail per day.
Trains were still a significant tool for moving the mail in 1960 (they play little part today), so it is logical to include one in the stamp's image, but you may need a microscope to make it out. The ATA Handbook simply says "freight train at first automated post office, Providence, RI." I was somewhat dubious that there really was a train for many years, until recently, when I acquired the First Day Ceremony Program for this stamp. Its cover has an enlarged version of the original artwork for the stamp, and while the details are still a bit vague, I'm willing to agree there really is a train. It's behind the building, on the left, and looks like a series of dashes on the stamp. Below are scans of that FDCP cover and a detail of the image:
The train is still not all that clear, and one can't even distinguish the locomotive(s) from the cars - so to me this is a pretty lame entry in our listing. Perhaps one could learn more from the source artwork - the description of this stamp in the (now defunct) USPS publication United States Postage Stamps, says the design "features an architect's sketch", so that may still be available somewhere.
The stamp was designed by Arnold Copeland and Victor S. McCloskey, Jr., with engraving by C. A. Brooks, and lettering by R. J. Jones. Nearly 128 million copies were printed, making it still relatively plentiful today, and worth essentially its face value. There are no known errors or significant varieties.
Most of the first day covers for this stamp simply reproduce the stamp's design in even less detail, so they add nothing to the train theme. I do have this one, however, made by Kolor Kraft, that features a modern streamlined diesel.
If you want to see more FDC's for this stamp, or learn more about Rhode Island postal
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Revised -- 11/28/2004