Commemorating Mt. Rushmore via postage stamp, part 2

The topic of last week’s column was Mount Rushmore and the four postage stamps that have featured the national memorial since its creation. For a quick history lesson, the idea of sculpting a mountain to promote tourism in South Dakota was suggested by historian Doane Robinson in 1923. On March 3, 1925, Congress approved the Mount Rushmore National Memorial Commission, with four presidents selected for the sculpture who made important impacts in the first 150 years of American history: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt. Construction on the mountain began on Oct. 4, 1927, with sculptor Gutzon Borglum and a team of 400 workers sculpting the 60-foot carvings, which were completed on Oct. 31, 1941. Since then, the national memorial has been developed with a trail, visitor center, museum, studio, and more, bringing in millions of visitors annually.

Michael Samp details the first three postage stamps featuring Mount Rushmore in the 1991 article, “Mount Rushmore as seen on stamps” in the May/June edition of South Dakota Magazine. According to the article, the front cover of the 1952 state highway map featured a photograph of Mount Rushmore, featuring a mother and son sitting on a bench gazing up at the four faces. This photo, taken by Robert Frankenfeld, featured his wife, Phyllis, and their son, Donald, and it would inspire the illustration for the first commemorative stamp of Mount Rushmore.

The director of publicity for the State Highway Commission at the time, A.H. “Pank” Pankow, came up with the idea of a stamp to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Aug. 10, 1927, ceremony when President Calvin Coolidge handed Borglum the tools to start carving the mountain. Pankow formed a committee, along with U.S. Rep. E.Y. Berry and Sen. Francis Case, to get approval for the stamp.

Berry’s daughter, Nila Lee Berry drew the illustration based on Frankenfeld’s photograph, and the words, “Black Hills South Dakota,” were added to the drawing. A sign in the illustration has the words, “Mount Rushmore National Memorial 1927-1952,” as well. 

Samp writes that Case and Berry were able to persuade the Bureau of Engraving and postal authorities to print the design on a 3-cent, first-class letter stamp, and 110 million stamps were initially printed. Case described that the stamp’s vertical orientation showed “the great height and grandeur that rightfully goes with Gutzon Borglum’s historic figures.”

Mount Rushmore again graced a postage stamp in 1974, Samp describes, “but the stamp was a 26-cent airmail stamp and it didn’t garner the attention of a regular first-class stamp.”

Then, in 1991, for the third time in 39 years, another Mount Rushmore commemorative stamp was printed, and the first-class 29-cent postage stamp marked the 50th anniversary of the completion of Mount Rushmore. “U.S. Senator Larry Pressler proposed the stamp as a means of commemorating the anniversary but postal officials initially rejected his proposal,” Samp writes. “However, when Pressler embarked on a petition drive and collected 15,000 signatures from South Dakotans who wanted the stamp, the Postal Service succumbed.”

This stamp, called “Flag Over Mount Rushmore” and designed by Clarence Holbert of Washington, D.C., shows Mount Rushmore with a U.S. flag flying overhead. The stamp was available singly and in coils of 100, 500 and 3,000 – which will generate increased business use and, consequently, more exposure for the South Dakota mountain carving,” Samp writes.

The latest Mount Rushmore commemorative stamp was a priority-mail, $4.80-stamp issued on June 6, 2008.

I have a feeling, given its prominence as an American icon, that we will see the famous faces on another stamp in the future. Perhaps for its 100th anniversary?

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