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Yale on Stamps
Think you’ve made it because you got that acceptance letter from Yale all those years ago? For the truly ambitious Yale alum, the piece of paper that really counts is small and cheap and has glue on the back.

Click here to see a selection of Yalies—and works by Yalies—on postage stamps.

The United States Postal Service issued its first postage stamps in 1847, honoring George Washington and Benjamin Franklin. Not long afterward, the first Yale alumni made it into the postal hall of fame. In 1869, a new 24-cent stamp featured a reproduction of John Trumbull’s painting of framers and signers of the Declaration of Independence. Trumbull was, alas, a Harvard grad. But several of the patriots depicted in his painting were Yalies: Philip Livingston, Class of 1737; Lewis Morris '46; Oliver Wolcott '47; and Roger Sherman (Yale treasurer) signed the Declaration.

We haven’t tried to be comprehensive.

Here we present a selection of Yale on stamps. We haven’t tried to be comprehensive. We’ve included many of the alumni whose faces have helped speed letters and packages to their destinations, but some notables are missing: writer Stephen Vincent Benet '19, '20MA; painter Frederic Remington '00BFA; inventor Lee de Forest, who earned his doctorate in 1899; scientist Josiah Willard Gibbs, awarded a PhD in 1863; and football player Walter Camp, Class of 1880, among them. Not surprisingly, such stamps reflect an earlier Yale, made up almost entirely of white males.

We’ve included a few examples of the stamps featuring artwork done by alums. Largely because we’ve covered them before, we left out Yale landmarks that have appeared on postage, such as Connecticut Hall and the Art and Architecture Building.

A truly comprehensive list might also include stamps that commemorate buildings designed by alums, such as the Gateway Arch and Dulles Airport by Eero Saarinen '34BFA. Four different paintings and one sculpture by Remington have appeared on stamps. In addition, Yalies have a long history of designing stamps. The designers include both alums—such as Clarence Lee '58BFA, Leonard Everett Fisher '49BFA, '50MFA, and Derry Noyes '76MFA—and faculty, most prominently graphic arts professor Bradbury Thompson (who featured a painting by fellow art professor Josef Albers on one of his designs).

It’s an impressive list, but if you feel that the USPS has inexplicably passed over highlighting your accomplishments, you can write (make sure you include proper postage) to the Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee. This group meets four times a year to winnow the approximately 50,000 suggestions it receives annually to recommendations for about 25 new stamps. (There are currently three alumni on the 16-member committee: Henry Louis Gates Jr. '73, Sylvia Harris '80MFA, and Jessica Helfand '82, '89MFA.)

Many foreign postal services have issued Yale-oriented stamps.

There are, however, certain restrictions—most notably that individuals need to have been dead for five years before a commemorative stamp can be issued. USPS regulations state that the sole exception to the five-year rule is that deceased U.S. presidents “may be honored with a memorial stamp on the first birth anniversary following death.” The postal service issued its Gerald Ford '41LLB stamp in August to honor the 38th president, who died last December at the age of 93.

If you’re impatient, but not planning to become deceased any time soon, you could lobby foreign postal services, many of which have issued Yale-oriented stamps over the years and are not averse to honoring the living. Or, you could simply bypass the entire lengthy and long-odds selection process and turn to a technology available since 2004: you can now create a perfectly valid stamp that bears your own image. For a nice historic touch, you might want to have your picture taken next to the statue of Nathan Hale on the Old Campus.  the end


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