1948 3¢ American Turners
Issue Date: November 20, 1948
City: Cincinnati, Ohio
Printed By: Bureau of Engraving and Printing
Printing Method: Rotary Press
Perforations: 10 ½ x 11
U.S. #979 commemorated the 100th anniversary of the American Turners Society, and sparked a controversy. The American Turners were an organization of German-American gymnasts who promoted physical fitness. The stamp was proposed by a resolution of the U.S. House of Representatives, who authorized a “special series” of stamps honoring the Turners.
Acting Postmaster General Joseph Lawler responded that the Post Office Department was not in the practice of issuing stamps “commemorating fraternal, religious, educational, charitable, or sectional organizations or groups.” He added that the Post Office had recently chosen not to issue stamps for groups like the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and YMCA.
Lawler also reminded Congress that special legislation was not needed to issue commemorative stamps. He feared that to do so would hint at favoritism or discrimination. Congress responded to Lawler’s protest with an even stronger resolution – this time supported by the Senate. Lawler gave in, and passed to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing a suggested design approved by the American Turners Society. By the end of November 1948, the stamp has issued in Cincinnati, Ohio, where the headquarters of the society was located.
The stamp drew criticism. By 1961, Life magazine mocked the cluttered design of the stamp: “Upon this stamp appear a torch, a pair of hanging rings, the dates 1848 and 1948, the words ‘One hundredth anniversary of the’…American Turners’ emblem with its motto, ‘Sound mind sound body,’ an athlete about to throw a discus, a wreath, two oak branches and a profusion of ribbon-work, shields and other ornaments. Now, to get all that on one stamp…was a great accomplishment; it must have destroyed the retinas of a dozen steel engravers. But were the people who mailed letters impressed? They were not. They complained that the stamp looked crowded.”