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1981 Hoban Stamps Saw Several Firsts

by Marjory Sente

A 33¢ White House commemorative was issued Oct. 18, to mark the bicentennial of the official residence of the president. The first day of issue raised some questions for me. Foremost in my mind were the circumstances under which the commemorative was issued.

Like the James Hoban commemoratives of Oct. 13, 1981, the 33¢ White House adhesive was released on the eve of a postal rate increase. So why didn't it receive the same treatment as the Hoban stamp, issued in two values: at the current rate and the anticipated new rate?

In 1981, Americans saw two hefty increases in the first-class letter rate. On March 22, the cost to mail a letter jumped from 15¢ to 18¢, and on Nov. 1 the 18¢ fee stepped up to 20¢. Prior to the release of the 18¢ Hoban, the Nov. 1 postage increase had been announced, so the USPS issued a 20¢ version at the same time.

Why? This commemorative had three days longer shelf life than the Yorktown and Virginia Capes commemoratives released on Oct. 16. They were not reissued.

Unlike the 2000 White House and the 1981 Yorktown stamps, the Hoban commemorative was jointly issued with Ireland. The Postal Service wanted to provide a stamp that would have a service life of more than a month or two.

Also, isn't it ironic that two stamps related to our president's home would be caught in a change of postage rates?

James Hoban was the architect for the White House. One of the most influential of our early architects, he was born in Ireland and emigrated to America.

In 1792, Hoban submitted plans in a competition for the design of the Presidential Residence. His design was selected, and from 1793 to 1800 he oversaw construction. After the White House was ravaged in the War of 1812, he also supervised the rebuilding, completed in 1817.

Both the U.S. and Irish postal services honored Hoban with commemoratives of the same design. On Sept. 29 in Ireland, and Oct. 13 in the United States, the stamps were issued.

This joint release was unique in a couple of aspects. It was the first time the USPS simultaneously issued stamps in two denominations with the same design. A joint issue with an administration outside Europe was unique in the history of the Irish Post Office as well.

While it is possible to obtain first-day cancels for the Irish and U.S. issues, you are more likely to find combination FDCs franked with the two U.S. versions, as in Figure 1, or FDCs incorporating earlier White House stamps, as in Figure 2.

When I initially saw the 2000 White House commemorative, I had to wonder if the Postal Service regarded it as a good issue to be used on holiday mail (as USPS spokesmen have since conceded).

First, the stamp has a holiday feel to it. The design features a nighttime winter photo, and the White House lawn is attractively blanketed with fresh snow. Second, 125 million stamps have been printed - a relatively large number for an issue likely to be used for under three months.

An earlier U.S. Christmas issue, featuring the National Christmas Tree, also showed the White House at night. That 5¢ stamp was released at Santa Claus, Ind., Nov 1, 1963. A first-day-canceled copy is shown below in Figure 3.

One might ask why the USPS did not issue a commemorative to mark the laying of the cornerstone for the White House. But it did - kind of. On April 23, 1992, it issued the Flag Over White House coil that included the dates '1792-1992.'

President Bush participated in the unveiling of that 29¢ stamp, and made the following comments in regard to it:

'George Washington selected this site for the President's house more than 200 years ago amid apple orchards owned by a colonial farmer named Peerce.

'Being a surveyor by trade, Washington knew what he was doing. Abigail Adams, the first lady to live here, wrote, 'This is a beautiful spot. And the more I view it, the more I am delighted with it.' It was Thomas Jefferson who suggested a national competition to design the President's house. Washington himself chose the design of the winner, James Hoban, an Irish immigrant then living in Charleston.

'Hoban's plan won out over grander designs, some of which included vast central courts, rotundas, and - here's an intriguing idea - a draped throne for the President. His design was plainer than the others, more befitting the house of a democratic leader, but it was still stately and dignified, as Washington wanted.

'After many revisions to the original design and after some unfortunate redecorating by British troops in 1814, the President's house assumed the graceful form that we celebrate today.

'And 1992 marks the 200th anniversary of this magnificent building. The cornerstone was laid in October of 1792. The celebration also includes a . . . postage stamp, which is what brings us here.'

Since 1938, when the first stamp featuring the White House appeared as part of the Presidential series, 18 different U.S. stamps have featured its stately image.

One shows an interior view. Issued in 1995, it is the 32¢ World War II commemorative that marks Truman's announcement of the surrender of Japan. In addition, a 2¢ stamp issued Aug. 24, 1945, at Warm Springs, Ga., shows President Franklin Roosevelt and the Little White House, where he died - part of a series of four stamps issued to mark FDR's death.

White House stamps and FDCs make an interesting topic and can be the core for a much broader collection that also might include White House corner cards and presidential autographs, for example.

Whether you are a Democrat, Republican or Independent, you should find much enjoyment and fascination.