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Thanksgiving stamp is new; covers aren't

by Marjory J. Sente

This year is a great time for the USPS to release its first Thanksgiving stamp.

Given all the events of the fall, it does not hurt to have a reminder of the many things Americans have to be thankful for. And that reminder franks our mail, no less.

The autumnal adhesive made its initial appearance on Oct. 19 at Dallas, Texas.

Yes, I raised an eyebrow, too, when I heard the first-day site - but the Postal Service made a good choice.

The stamp, depicting a cornucopia overflowing with fruits and vegetables, was issued at Thanks-Giving Square in Dallas. Its Center for World Thanksgiving is devoted to gathering and sharing the thanksgivings of the United States and the world. The center serves as the sponsor or site for a variety of ongoing activities dedicated to revitalizing the spirit of thanksgiving.

Thanks-Giving Square was established in 1981. People gathered in Thanksgiving Hall for the first-day ceremony heard Einar Dyhrkopp, a member of the Postal Service Board of Governors note, 'The Thanksgiving stamp provides a meaningful way for Americans to honor the tradition of being thankful for the many blessings we have as American citizens.'

When I first heard about the stamp, I assumed it would be issued in Massachusetts, rich in its history of Thanksgiving celebrations.

The best known of these is the first harvest festival at Plymouth, Mass. In 1621, after the fall harvest, some 50 colonists and 90 natives gathered for a feast to offer thanks for a bountiful crop.

The Pilgrims, had landed in 1620, endured a harsh New England winter and, with the considerable help of the Indians, had successfully planted and harvested crops. They had much to celebrate.

In 1920, the U.S. Post Office Department issued three commemoratives for the 300th anniversary of the founding of the colony in Massachusetts. First-day covers for the issue are known, but scarce. Full sets of the three stamps are known on covers dated Dec. 21, 1920. Earlier dates are recorded for the 1¢ and 2¢ denominations.

In 1970, for the 350th anniversary, a 6¢ stamp showing the Mayflower and the Pilgrims was released at Plymouth Nov. 21, 1970, the Saturday before Thanksgiving.

The 350th Anniversary Committee commissioned Marg Cachets to produce the FDC, showing a medal made for the anniversary. One side shows the Mayflower, with the Pilgrims on the other. An enclosure, reproducing the Mayflower Compact, also is shown with the cover in Figure 1.

Other FDCs for the issue include one sponsored by the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C., shown in Figure 2. But the Puritan Life Insurance Co. prepared my favorite - a bright orange, invitation-size envelope with a bright orange enclosure. The message talks about the Pilgrims' first Thanksgiving, and wishes the reader a peaceful Thanksgiving Day.

Perhaps the new 34¢ commemorative will inspire you to develop a Thanksgiving collection. The following timeline from the Center for World Thanksgiving might give you some ideas:

* 1541 - During Coronado's expedition a Eucharistic thanksgiving, with the friendly Teya Indians present, occurs in Palo Duro Canyon in West Texas

* 1621 - Pilgrims and Native Americans enjoy a harvest feast in Plymouth, Mass. This feast may have been the model for today's American celebration.

* 1630 - The first Massachusetts Bay Colony Thanksgiving is observed July 8.

* 1777 - The first Thanksgiving of the new United States occurs when Gen. George Washington and his army, as instructed by the Continental Congress, stop in the fields on their way to Valley Forge.

* 1789 - Washington's first proclamation after his inauguration declares Nov. 26 a day of 'thanksgiving and prayer.'

* 1863 - President Lincoln resumes the tradition.

* 1941 - Also on Nov. 26, President Roosevelt signs the bill making November's fourth Thursday Thanksgiving Day. Since 1956, it has been observed by every state.

Noting Washington's involvement with the national holiday, it should come as no surprise that quite a few Thanksgiving Day covers were produced in conjunction with the 1932 Washington Bicentennial. For example, a cover with a fancy cancel from Henton, Ill., dated Nov. 24, 1932, marked Washington's 1789 proclamation - the first national Thanksgiving proclamation.

Figure 3 shows a Thanksgiving Day cover sponsored by the City of Boston George Washington Bicentennial Committee - a handsome, cacheted cover recalling the Puritans' first Thanksgiving at Boston.

Actually, the Puritans held two Thanksgiving celebrations in 1631 - on Feb. 22 and Nov. 11 - when ships laden with supplies and settlers arrived from England.

Happy Thanksgiving to you, as we pause to give thanks for the bounty that this nation - and we Americans - share.