1940 1¢ Gilbert Stuart
Famous Americans Series – Artists
Issue Date: September 5, 1940
First City: Narragansett, Rhode Island
Quantity Issued: 54,389,510
Printed by: Bureau of Engraving and Printing
Printing Method: Rotary Press
Perforation: 10 ½ x 11
Color: Bright blue green
Featured on U.S. #884, Gilbert Stuart was just 19 years old when he traveled to England to study art in 1775. He had already proven himself to be a promising portrait painter, and the American Revolution threatened to disrupt his progress. Stuart became a successful artist and one of the best-known painters in Europe.
Stuart returned to America and opened a studio in Philadelphia in 1793. It was there he painted a series of portraits of President George Washington. With help from his daughters, he made 130 portraits of Washington in all, but he never finished the most famous one – called “The Athenaeum.”
The painting shows Washington from the shoulders up, with no background and only one third of the canvas painted. But it was from this original that Stuart and his daughters based future portraits of Washington. More importantly, this portrait provided the image that is used on the one dollar bill.
In 1938, the Post Office Department announced plans for a series of stamps recognizing 10 famous Americans and invited the public to submit recommendations. The response was so great that it was decided to increase the number from 10 to 35. This required an unexpected level of organization by the Post Office Department for this series.
Seven categories were decided upon – authors, poets, educators, scientists, composers, artists, and inventors. Each category of five has the same set of denominations – 1¢, 2¢, 3¢, 5¢, and 10¢. Each rate had a valid use. The 1¢ stamp paid for a letter that was dropped off at a post office to someone who had a box at the same office. The 2¢ was for local delivery. The 3¢ paid the normal non-local mail rate, and the 5¢ and 10¢ were used in combination for heavier letters and special rates. The denominations also shared a consistent coloring scheme: 1¢ is bright blue green; 2¢ is rose carmine; 3¢ is bright red violet; 5¢ is ultramarine; and 10¢ is dark brown.
Each category has its subjects arranged with the oldest birth date going on the 1¢ stamp, down to the most recent birth date on the 10¢ stamp. Each category has its own dedicated symbol in the engraving – a scroll, quill pen and inkwell for authors; a winged horse (Pegasus) for poets; the “Lamp of Knowledge” for educators; laurel leaves and the pipes of the Roman god Pan for composers; and inventors had a cogwheel with uplifted wings and a lightning flash to symbolize power, flight, and electricity.
The artists and the scientists have multiple symbols. Artists have either a paint palette and brush (for painters), and the sculptors have a stonecutting hammer and chisel. Scientists had the classical symbol of their particular profession.