Geology & Geophysics News

Stamps Celebrate National Parks on Agency's Centennial

Striking images showcase iconic and lesser known U.S. national parks, seashores, and historic sites.


Recently issued U.S. postage stamps provide a snapshot of the beauty and diversity of the vast system of national parks managed and maintained by the U.S. National Park Service, which celebrates its 100th birthday today.

A 16-stamp sheet, issued on 2 June by the U.S. Postal Service (USPS), includes stunning photographs and paintings of National Park Service lands, wildlife, and more across the country. The sheet features imagery from some of the park system’s most iconic treasures, including Yellowstone and Grand Canyon national parks.

In consultation with the U.S. National Park Service (NPS), the postal service also included lesser known gems such as Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota and the small, urban Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens in Washington, D. C., to highlight the variety of park system locales, according to William Gicker, creative director and manager of the USPS stamp program. “We think of stamps as miniature works of art that showcase the best of our country,” Gicker said.

Gulf Islands National Seashore postage stamp.
A heron at the Gulf Islands National Seashore, which includes barrier islands in Florida and Mississippi. Photo by John Funderburk. Credit: © 2016 USPS

Hundredth Anniversary

The nation’s first national park, Yellowstone, was established in 1872, prior to the creation of NPS in 1916. Today, the century-old agency oversees more than 400 scenic lands, ocean sanctuaries, historic structures, and other sites, many of which have also served as settings for scientific discovery. “The parks are an important national laboratory for science,” said Gary Machlis, the first scientific adviser to an NPS director.

The arrangement of images on the commemorative stamp sheet roughly approximates their locations in the United States (see sheet image at end). The top right corner, for instance, features a David Muench photograph of the rocky shore of Acadia National Park in Maine; the bottom left corner showcases a rainbow-streaked image by Kevin Ebi of Haleakalā National Park in Hawaii.

Nature Stamps Always Popular

Nature stamps are always popular among the public, Gicker told Eos. The Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee, appointed by the postmaster general, annually receives about 40,000 requests for new stamp designs, and USPS issues about 25 each year, he said. Stamp selection criteria include honoring “extraordinary and enduring contributions to American society, history, culture or environment,” according to USPS.

“Our goal is to always create stamps that are beautiful, interesting, and educational,” Gicker said.

Visual and Textural Diversity

Everglades National Park postage stamp.
Sunset through the pinelands and grasses of Everglades National Park in Florida. Photo by Paul Marcellini. Credit: © 2016 USPS

Ethel Kessler, one of USPS’s four art directors for stamps, received the assignment to find and winnow down dramatic images of the national parks, then design a compelling set of stamps from them. The set, which could fill just one sheet, needed to delight stamp buyers while also fitting into stamp collector books.

Kessler, who works on about 10 stamp projects at any given time, told Eos that for this project she sought visual and textural diversity in the images by including photographs and artwork from parks across the country. “I wanted a feeling of amazement, that each [image] gives you a completely different experience,” she said.

For every image used, Kessler said, she passed over about 10 or 20 outstanding options because they may not have worked so well when reduced to the size of a stamp. “Not only am I interested in gorgeous images, but [I wonder], ‘Do they reduce and hold up?’” she said.

National Park Service centennial stamp sheet.
The placement of stamps on the sheet commemorating the National Park Service centennial roughly approximates the locations of the pictured parks across the United States. Credit: © 2016 USPS

The final product, she said, tries to “show something [that] people would be familiar with and, by the same token, something that was so dramatically gorgeous [that] you want to find out where the park is” and hope to go there.

—Randy Showstack, Staff Writer

Citation: Showstack, R. (2016), Stamps celebrate national parks on agency’s centennial, Eos, 97, doi:10.1029/2016EO058181. Published on 25 August 2016.
© 2016. The authors. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0