Space News
space history and artifacts articles

space history discussion forums

worldwide astronaut appearances

selected space history documents

related space history websites

  collectSPACE: Messages
  Stamps & Covers
  Space Cover 66: Secret Space Stamp

Post New Topic  Post A Reply
profile | register | preferences | faq | search

next newest topic | next oldest topic
Author Topic:   Space Cover 66: Secret Space Stamp

Posts: 164
From: millersville, maryland, usa
Registered: Jul 2004

posted 07-18-2010 03:12 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for stevedd841   Click Here to Email stevedd841     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Space Cover of the Week, Week 66 (July 18, 2010)

Project Mercury secret space stamp First Day Cover, canceled at Cape Canaveral, Florida, and autographed by the stamp's modeler (Designer) Charles Chickering, engraver Richard Bower, and lettering and numeral engraver Howard Sharpless of the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing.
Postcard picturing astronaut John Glenn in Training, photo courtesy of the U.S. Air Force

Space Cover #66: Secret Space Stamp First Day Cover for Project Mercury

James F. Kelleher, Special Assistant to the Postmaster General, J. Edward Day, sized it up this way, "Washington, D.C., is a city of big secrets. It is also a place where it is difficult to keep something quiet." This secret under discussion directly involved several important Federal agencies: the U.S. Postmaster General and Deputy Postmaster General Bill Brawley of the U.S. Post Office Department, a stamp modeler and two engravers from the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing, the Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and senior officials of the Executive Department and the office of the President of the United States. Simply put, the secret as conceived by Postmaster General Day and his deputy was an amazing plan to issue a commemorative stamp for Project Mercury simultaneously with the successful completion of the first orbital space flight by an American astronaut, USMC Lt. Col. John Glenn, scheduled for early December 1961, at Cape Canaveral, Florida. But could the planning group orchestrating this keep the secret a secret?

To avoid the possibility of a leak for the work to be performed, all instructions for the proposed stamp were transmitted verbally. All designs, models, and die proofs for the proposed stamp were arranged and passed back and forth in face to face meetings. However, all engraving work had to be done at the BEP. The stamp designer, the modeler, was thought to be on vacation and away from his work place, but he was actually working at home in his studio designing the stamp. The lettering engraver did his part of the work on weekends when personnel at his work place were away. The picture engraver did not come to work during regular working hours but came to work late in the evening to finish the steel engraving for the stamp at night. With all of the work completed, the plates for stamp production were also finished late at night when the Bureau was closed.

Presuming you could keep the designing and engraving of the new stamp a secret, how do you print 120 million stamps in advance of John Glenn's flight a secret? Answer, you start a rumor. Behind the closed and guarded doors of the Giori press room where the stamps were being printed, participants circulated the rumor that experiments were being conducted in the guarded room on a new currency design similar to those of European currencies in new innovative colors that had recently been in the public news media. One engraver who was not involved in the project gave further credibility to this comment in affirming, "Whatever they're doing in the Giori room, it wasn't engraved here!"

On Saturday, November 4, 1961, 250,000 stamps were delivered to the Post Office's Philatelic Division to be placed on regular size envelopes by four postal employees working nights and on weekends. The stamped but uncanceled envelopes were then sent to Cape Canaveral, Florida, to await astronaut Glenn's orbital space flight and his successful recovery. Steel canceling dies were ordered from manufacturer Pitney Bowes, bypassing normal USPO distribution channels. Canceling machines were sent from Detroit to the postmaster at Jacksonville, Florida, to be held for postal equipment technicians. As a backup plan, two additional machines were shipped to the postmaster at Atlanta, Georgia, with similar instructions. Postal personnel for 305 officially designated cities were told they would receive wrapped, sealed packages bearing an official POD label and to keep these packages unopened until they had further instructions from officials at the Post Office Department. Besides the secret stamps in each package, each one also contained a Project Mercury stamp flyer for posting in the post office and a press release the city's postmaster could use for publicity purposes.

Due to several technical delays postponing his launch in Mercury Atlas-6 and spacecraft Friendship 7, John Glenn blasts-off as America's first astronaut to achieve orbital flight, at 9:47 am, the morning of February 20, 1962. Glenn's successful recovery by U.S. Navy destroyer, USS Noa, DD-841, near Grand Turk Island in the Atlantic Ocean after his flight at 3:30 pm in the afternoon, signals release of the special POD packages from the safes of the 305 postmasters identified to release the stamps to the public. Demand for the Project Mercury stamps and Post Office Department prepared first day covers goes wild and is overwhelming. Within minutes, many post offices are sold out of the stamps, and in some besieged post offices, as few as only four stamps are sold to each person trying to buy them. By the end of the day on February 20, 1962, the date of Glenn's recovery by USS Noa, 10,290,850 Project Mercury stamps had been sold. Washington, D.C., the city where it is difficult to keep something quiet, had kept the biggest secret of all quiet indeed.

And a footnote. A small handful of collectors have undertaken the challenge to collect all the Project Mercury first day covers from the 305 official city list. Recently, friend and fellow space stamp collector Henry Scheuer scored a major find in finding and acquiring a first day cover for Project Mercury from Little Rock, Arkansas. A Little Rock FDC was represented the list of official cities receiving the Project Mercury stamp. Scheuer excitedly noted that there was a Little Rock, Arkansas, Project Mercury FDC in the lot he was viewing. Later, as high bidder for the lot, he was relieved to add this long lost first day cover to his collection. He notes there are still first day cover finds for the Project Mercury stamp to be made. Many collectors made unofficial first day covers from cities not on the official list but twenty-one cities on the official list much like Little Rock, Arkansas, still have not been found. If you can find one of these Project Mercury first day covers from a missing city, it would be a major achievement. The twenty-one missing cities for a Project Mercury first day cover in alphabetical order are as follows: (the two may not exist cities below are not in the total count, noted by an asterix):

  • McClellan AF Base, CA
  • Fort Lauderdale, FL
  • Tallahassee, FL
  • Bloomington, IL
  • Melrose Park, IL
  • Skokie, IL
  • Jackson, MI
  • Atlantic City, NJ
  • Elizabeth, NJ
  • Fairview, NJ
  • West New York, NJ
  • Freeport, NY
  • New Rochelle, NY
  • Pleasantville, NY
  • Durham, NC
  • Mansfield, OH
  • Marion, OH*
  • Lawton, OK
  • Hanover, PA
  • Sharon, PA
  • Warren, PA*
  • Kingsport, TN
  • Abilene, TX
So, if you have any of these Project Mercury officially designated cities, let us know!
Steve Durst


Posts: 164
From: millersville, maryland, usa
Registered: Jul 2004

posted 07-19-2010 04:24 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for stevedd841   Click Here to Email stevedd841     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I’ve received a scan of the long missing Little Rock, Arkansas, Project Mercury first day cover postmarked February 20, 1962, from Henry Scheuer and thought cS members would enjoy seeing it. Please see the cover above. Twenty-one additional "missing cities" from the U.S. Post Office Department's official list remain to be found. Possibly you may have one or can find one!

All times are CT (US)

next newest topic | next oldest topic

Administrative Options: Close Topic | Archive/Move | Delete Topic
Post New Topic  Post A Reply
Hop to:

Contact Us | The Source for Space History & Artifacts

Copyright 1999-2012 All rights reserved.

Ultimate Bulletin Board 5.47a