1997 32¢ Clipper Ship
Issue Date: March 13, 1997
City: New York, NY
Printed By: Banknote Corporation of America
Printing Method: Engraved
Issued in conjunction with U.S. #3131, the Pacific ’97 commemoratives feature America's first triangle stamps. Intended to commemorate San Francisco's Pacific 97 Stamp Exhibition, the stamps feature a mid-19th century clipper ship and a U.S. mail stagecoach - both of which are historically associated with mail delivery in California. The ship design is based on an advertising card for the clipper ship Richard S. Ely, by American Harrison Eastman (1823-1886), who was the probable source for the U.S. mail stagecoach design.
Clipper ships, the most beautiful and romantic of the sailing ships, appeared on the high seas in the 1850s, just as the preindustrial era was giving way to steam power. Maximizing the power of wind with narrow hulls and multiple tiers of sails, traders raced to be the first to market with China tea and Indian spices.
Clipper ships earned their place in postal history with the discovery of gold in California in 1848. At the time, miners, mail, and supplies had three routes to California. They could go by stagecoach through hostile land, by boat and coach across the unhealthy Isthmus of Panama, or by sailboat around Cape Horn. Speed was vital to survival and often meant the difference between striking it rich or losing everything. Ships like Sea Hawk, Flying Cloud, and Lightening “clipped off” the miles between New York and San Francisco in under three months, half the time needed for the overland journey.
Both the stagecoach and clipper ship were products of preindustrial times. With the dawning of the Industrial Revolution and steam power, their days were numbered. For a while, mail went by both stagecoach and railroad, by clipper ship and steamer. But before completely giving way to newer methods of transport, they proved the value of scheduled service, efficiency, and speed.