Love Stamps Stir Controversy
On February 1, 1995, the USPS issued a pair of Love stamp that was both popular and controversial.
In early 1995, the USPS knew that a rate change was coming, but didn’t know exactly what it would be. They wanted to have a new Love stamp ready for Valentine’s Day, so they created a non-denominated stamp and issued it on February 1, 1995, in Valentines, Virginia.
For the stamp designs, the USPS, had been inspired by a postcard picturing two child angels. The angels were taken from Raphael’s massive masterpiece, the 9-foot x 6 ½-foot Sistine Madonna. The USPS thought they would be perfect for Love stamps.
However, C. Douglas Lewis, a curator at the National Gallery of Art and vice chairman of the Citizen’s Stamp Advisory Committee, warned that child angels, also known as putti, were associated with death, not love. The painting is believed to have been commissioned by Pope Julius II, who died before it was completed. Some art historians believe Raphael’s painting had been used at the funeral of Pope Julius II, and that the child angels are resting on top of his coffin.
Eventually, the USPS decided that removing the cherubs from the original painting would let them stand on their own, and were referred to as “cupids” in press materials. The stamps were issued as planned, but media coverage helped stir the controversy. One mother reportedly called to complain that the she had used the Love stamps on her daughter’s wedding invitations and that the “death angel stamps” had jinxed the event.
The debate continued amongst the public. Some agreed that picturing the cherubs on their own put them in a new context, while others still questioned their use on Love stamps. In spite of the controversy, millions of the stamps were sold and the designs remained in use until 1997.