59¢ James Michener
Distinguished Americans Series
Issue Date: May 12, 2008
City: Washington, DC
Printed by: Banknote Corporation of America for Sennett Security Products
Printing Method: Lithographed and engraved
Perforation: 11 ¼ x 11
James Michener (1907-1997) was a bestselling author of more than 40 books, publishing until the year of his death. Born in New York City, he was reportedly abandoned at birth, and raised by a widow, Mabel Michener, in Doylestown, Pennsylvania.
Michener described his young life as poor but happy, stating “I grew up in a bundle of love.” His happy home wasn’t enough to keep the adventurous Michener from wandering. Hitchhiking across the country, he had visited all but three states in the Union by the age of 20, yet still received straight A’s in school.
After earning a B.A. from Swarthmore College, Michener traveled to Scotland and attended St. Andrews University. When he returned to the United States, Michener taught at the George School in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, at Colorado State Teachers College, and Harvard University.
When the U.S. entered World War II, Michener joined the Navy. While serving in the Pacific, he wrote his first book, “Tales of the South Pacific,” which won a Pulitzer Prize in 1948.
James Michener served on the U.S. Postal Service Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee. In 2008, the U.S. Postal Service honored Michener with a 59¢ stamp, the 10th in the Distinguished Americans Series.
Start Of The Distinguished Americans Series
On August 24, 2000, the USPS issued the first stamp in the Distinguished Americans series.
As early as 1940, the U.S. Post Office took to issuing sets of stamps honoring Americans from all walks of life that had an enduring impact on our nation. That first series was the Famous Americans. This was followed by the Prominent Americans, which were issued between 1965 and 1978.
Then in the 1980s and 90, the USPS issued the large Great Americans series. The stamps in this series were all one color and had simple drawings and designs. In 2000 the USPS planned to continue the series with the issue of its General Joseph Stilwell stamp on August 24.
While the stamp had a simple, one-color design similar to the Great Americans, the USPS and collectors alike felt it was too different and saw it as another series. So the USPS created the Distinguished Americans Series with that as its first stamp.
Illustrator Mark Summers designed the first 12 stamps in the series. He used the scratchboard technique to create the portraits, giving them the look of engraved stamps. With this technique, Summers started with a completely black surface and then scratched away areas to reveal the white portions of the image.
The first nine stamps all featured black and white portraits. Then the 2008 James A. Michener stamp added color toning. The series changed further in 2011 with the Oveta Culp Hobby stamp that had a larger format and full color image and background.
Over the course of 17 years, the series has honored senators, writers, athletes, scientists, doctors, philanthropists, and aviators. The most recent stamp, issued in 2017, honors educator Robert Panara.
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Click here to see all the stamps in the Distinguished Americans Series.