Last summer the USPS unveiled a lovely series of four stamps designed by Phil Jordan of Falls Church, Virginia (based on illustrations by John Mattos) that celebrates cycling as a lifetime practice, with the ultimate stamp in that series hammering home the sheer joy of human-powered movement. This ‘forever’ stamp puts cycling squarely on the national consciousness by emphasizing it as a lifetime activity rather than a footnote in some other historical event or context.
Though the stamp was chosen last summer, it’s just hitting the Post Office now. According to philatelic authority Beyond the Perf, ‘Bicycling: Pedaling Forward’ was issued on June 7th 2012. It only the latest in a series of bike-themed stamps from USPS, but none have stressed the larger meaning or spiritual joy of cycling as does this particular stamp issue. According to Beyond the Perf, the stamps
capture the timelessness and broad reach of the activity, at once bringing to mind memories of one’s first wobbly pedal forward, while paying tribute to the extreme heights reached by more experienced riders.
We couldn’t have said it better (so we didn’t try). We would add that the design of this strip-of-4 set is beautifully designed to suggest not only the various uses to which a bike can be put, but also the enduring role of cycling throughout life as time passes.
Just look at the details (below). There is the superimposition of a timeline-like arrow in relief that was added only late in the design process. It echoes the theme of passing time. There is the focus on the solo rider throughout, which suggests an existential dimension to the theme (as opposed to merely picturing cycling as an activity). And then there is the take-off at the end that reflects the far end of the spectrum of skill levels (from tyro to expert handler).
Beyond the Perf has a nice look at the evolution of this stamp series (right) that really highlights the subtle changes that produced this series. Themes like time, age and the enduring magic of cycling slowly emerge, and then the final decision to make this a non-denominated ‘forever’ stamp put a fine point on it.
This is not the first action-oriented bike themed stamp, though it does function uniquely as a set. In fact, the last in the series recalls the earlier USPS ‘Extreme Sports: BMX Biking’ stamp (1999).
The ‘Extreme Sports: BMX Biking’ stamp (not part of a series) really underscores the joys of hot-dogging it. It pushes the design envelope too by breaking through the white border. Indeed the image injects much visual tension to suggest the kind of boundary-busting that extreme sports is all about. We can’t even recall a stamp design that bled the central image so animatedly toward the perforations. This stamp beautifully communicates the joie de vivre of cycling.
But the newer ‘Bicycling: Pedaling Forward’ issue of course does more thematic work. And another very subtle touch is the color scheme. It shows the light of dawn yielding into the Ochre of terra firma, which then transitions into the blue sky just as the BMX rider takes flight. It’s both a temporal and spatial metaphor and a really lovely touch. Find this series in your Beverly Hills or other local P.O. today!
Beyond the Perf reminds us that we’ve come a long way with bicycle stamps. It notes that the first bicycle stamp was the 1902 ‘Messenger on Bicycle Special Delivery’ issue. Later stamps focused on cycling for transportation and of course commemorated Olympic cycling fever.
But then there is this oddball April 2011 ‘Go Green’ utility cycling stamp. (Is it currently circulating?) Isn’t that the most unlikely bike stamp ever? So prosaic! So…utilitarian! But likely collectible. Fast forward to the day when we’re all running errands on a loaded utility bike. We’ll look back on these days of five-minute car trips as sheer folly, and see this ‘Go Green’ stamp as well ahead of its time.
Thanks to Beyond the Perf for an informative site from which many of these images were taken.