5¢ Flag of Denmark
Overrun Countries Series
Issue Date: December 7, 1943
City: Washington, D.C.
Printed by: American Bank Note Company
Printing Method: Flat-Plate
Color: Blue violet, red, and black
U.S. #920 is part of the Overrun Countries Series, which honors each of the nations invaded by Axis powers during World War II. It pictures the flag of Denmark, which features a white Scandinavian cross on a red background. Adopted in the 14th century, it is the oldest state flag still being used by an independent nation.
Denmark and World War II
Denmark has been a monarchy for several centuries. Because of its location, with only one entrance onto mainland Europe, Denmark has enjoyed a very stable history. During the days of the Vikings, Denmark was a country of great power, led by King Harold Bluetooth.
On April 9, 1940, Germany invaded Denmark in an event code-named Operation Weserübung. Denmark was only able to resist German forces for two hours before the Danish government was forced to surrender. Denmark cooperated with Germany until 1943, when the Danish sunk many of their own ships and sent as many officers as possible to Sweden. Within Denmark, the Danish sabotaged several German facilities before the war’s end. After the war, Denmark was among the founding members of the United Nations and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
These Stamps Brought Hope to Overrun Countries of WW II
After receiving several designs from artists who felt the current U.S. postage stamps were unattractive, President Franklin Roosevelt began to consider the types of stamps he wanted to issue. He sought to show the world that America was in this war to achieve world peace, not military dominance. With this in mind, the President suggested the U.S. issue a series of stamps picturing the flags of all the overrun nations in Europe.
In the border surrounding each flag, Roosevelt suggested picturing the Phoenix – an ancient symbol of rebirth. He believed “It might tell those suffering victims in Europe that we are struggling for their own regeneration.” The other side of each flag pictured a kneeling woman “breaking the shackles of oppression.”
When the time came to print the stamps, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing was unable to print the multiple colors needed for each flag, so the American Bank Note Company received a special contract for this series.
Additionally, a 5¢ denomination – the foreign rate for first class postage – was chosen so the stamps could be used on overseas mail. The stamps were printed in relatively small quantities and were in high demand as soon as they were issued, with stocks across the country running out almost as soon as they were released.
FDR – The Stamp-Collecting President
President Franklin Roosevelt was instrumental in the design and issuance of U.S. #920. Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s mother introduced the future President to stamp collecting at a young age. Throughout his life, he turned to his collection to relax and unwind.
Roosevelt was elected President four times, serving in the nation’s highest office longer than any other chief executive – 12 years. During those 12 years, Roosevelt promoted the importance of stamps by personally approving each of more than 200 stamp designs. This included suggesting topics, rejecting others, and even designing some of the stamps himself. He used U.S. postage stamps to educate Americans about their heritage, to buoy war-weary spirits during World War II, and to send a message of peace and hope as Europe faced the overwhelming task of rebuilding.
Harlem Renaissance novelist Nellallitea “Nella” Walker Larsen was born on April 13, 1891, in Chicago, Illinois. Though her writing career was brief, Larsen produced some of the first groundbreaking works to focus on mixed race identity and the feeling of not belonging.
Larsen’s mother was a Danish immigrant and her father a multiracial Afro-Caribbean immigrant from the Danish West Indies. Her father died when she was young, and her mother remarried another Danish immigrant and had another child with him. The family briefly moved to a largely white neighborhood, but faced discrimination because of Nella.
Throughout childhood, Larsen had little exposure to African American culture. As author Darryl Pinckney wrote, “as a member of a white immigrant family, she had no entrée into the world of the blues or of the black church. If she could never be white like her mother and sister, neither could she ever be black in quite the same way that Langston Hughes and his characters were black. Hers was a netherworld, unrecognizable historically and too painful to dredge up.”
Larsen and her family spent time in Denmark between 1895 and 1898. She enjoyed her time there, learning Danish children’s games, which she later wrote about fondly. When she was old enough, Larsen’s mother encouraged her to enroll at Fisk University, a traditionally African American school in Nashville. Larsen’s mixed race stood out among the other students. Most were from the South and descended from former slaves. Larsen was asked to leave the university in 1908 after only one year.
Larsen returned to Denmark on her own for three years, then moved to New York City to study nursing. After graduating in 1915, she went to the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, where she was made head nurse. Unhappy with the working conditions there, she left after a year and returned to New York. In 1916, she got the second-highest score on the civil service exam and worked as a nurse for the city’s Bureau of Public Health. She worked in that capacity during the 1918 flu pandemic.
Larsen married physicist Elmer Imes in 1919 and the couple moved to Harlem in the 1920s. Even here, she was a bit of an outsider. While other members of the community were of mixed race, they had grown up poor and didn’t graduate from college.
In 1921, Larsen began working the New York Public Library and became the first black woman to graduate from their school. Larsen helped to integrate some of the city’s libraries. In 1925, she began writing her first novel and quit the library in 1926 to dedicate her time to writing, as part of the Harlem Renaissance. Published in 1928, Larsen’s Quicksand was a largely autobiographical work based on her experiences as a mixed-race woman. Throughout her life, she was made to feel like an outsider for this, as well as for her low-income origins and lack of a college degree. The novel was praised by critics and encouraged Larsen to continue writing.
Larsen published her second novel, Passing, in 1929. It told the story of two mixed-race African American women who followed different paths in life. She then published the short story “Sanctuary” in 1930 and was then the first African American woman to earn the Guggenheim Fellowship. She spent several years in Europe before returning to New York in 1937. She soon stopped writing and returned to nursing. She died in New York on March 30, 1964.