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Dead medium: Poster Stamps
From: box2321@teleport.com (Trevor Blake)
Source(s): LICK 'EM, STICK 'EM / THE LOST ART OF POSTER STAMPS by H. Thomas Steele. New York: Abbeville Press 1989

page 8

"A new format in graphics and advertising caught the eye of the world at the turn of the century. Miniscule in size, universal in appeal, and blazing with all the varied colors of the rainbow, this was the poster stamp, an esoteric rarity among collectibles. As the name suggests, it is a poster in stamp form. Always gummed and a little larger than the regular postage variety, these stamps normally were printed up in perforated sheets so they could easily be torn apart and stuck to invoices, envelopes, and correspondence, or simply collected as sheets into albums. In the name of art, commerce, and even propaganda, the poster stamp presented diminutively all that the largest billboard displayed, accomplishing everything that is required of an efficient poster. Although not issued for revenue, this 'currency of commerce' presented immense opportunities both for the vision of the graphic artist and the keen businessman.

"Germany created poster stamps or 'REKLAME MARKEN' (literally 'advertising stamps') around 1907, just as that country had previously pioneered the fancy post card. Munich, Nuremberg, and Cologne all claimed the honor of having originated this new medium. Its sole reason for existence was to advertise and promote a product or event. Up until that time, the only stamps produced were revenue or postage, and those usually were intricate, single-color etchings or line engravings. Exhibition seals issued in the late 1800s were considered the forerunners of the colorful poster stamp, as were the earlier chromolithographic trade cards. The new poster stamp, with its vivid splash of brilliant colors, was a bold contrast to the drab black-and-white graphic landscape that was permissible at the time among most distinguished lines of business."

pages 13-14

"The year 1915 seems to have been a high-water mark for the hobby. Poster stamps were displayed at a merchandise show in Madison Square Garden, and THE POSTER STAMP BULLETIN was published in Yonkers, New York, for a growing number of enthusiasts in that area. The Society of Modern Art, catering mainly to the graphic artist, printed THE POSTER STAMP ART SUPPLEMENT, which contained many examples of art posters in stamp form. The market was flooded with millions of flakes of brightly hued paper as clubs and societies formed to collect and preserve the humble poster stamp.

"The poster stamp made possible the novel use of brilliant color in advertising to attract the stoic eye. Every known process was employed in producing them == lithography, three- and four-color process, zinc and copper-plate etching, steel engraving, and photogravure. While European varieties from the Belle Epoque and the Secessionists eras were even embossed, lithography and the printing of broad, flat areas of color were responsible for the most striking graphic examples.

"Increasing business through advertising simplicity was the main intent of poster stamps, but they also brought high art to the masses on a level that could never have been achieved otherwise. Poster stamps were the common man's art gallery. Adults as well as children were charmed by the stamps from the very beginning, collecting and pasting them into books specially made for that purpose. It was possible for the layman, with a minimum amount of effort and practically no expense, to accumulate a much finer collection of posters than he could buy in any larger format. They were widely considered handsome works of art even then and truly worthy of being sought after for permanent possession." [...]

page 16

"As national subscription magazines entered homes throughout America and elsewhere in the 1920s and '30s, business sought a larger piece of the advertising pie. Effective advertising meant reaching the largest possible market. Although poster stamps had made incredible inroads, it began to be felt that the advertising dollars were better spent on full-page, full-color ads in high- circulation publications that offered plenty of room for information copy rather than on the minimalist, small- scale poster stamps. Even though there were exposition stamps and seals for the various world fairs and events of the 1930s, as well as propaganda stamps issued in the early 1940s to boost patriotism at the beginning of World War II, the days of poster stamps were clearly numbered.

(((Trevor Blake remarks: LICK 'EM, STICK 'EM is full of reproductions of poster stamps and even includes a sheet of sixteen poster stamps for the book and the publisher. The book includes chapters on poster stamp themes such as transportation, world's fairs, fashion, advertising and political propaganda. Poster stamps were an engaging medium: imagine all the beauty and power of turn-of-the- century poster art done for those tiny ads in the back of old comic books. While poster stamps were yet another medium that in its day everyone took for granted, the only large-scale living descendants of poster stamps in the United States are Easter Seals.)))

Trevor Blake (box2321@teleport.com)