Tuesday, October 24, 2017

1939 U.S. stamp celebrating baseball's "centennial"

With the World Series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Houston Astros set to begin tonight, here's a nifty United States stamp from 1939 marking what was then thought to be the 100-year anniversary of our national pastime.

The purple, three-cent stamp is "U.S. #855" and was issued on June 12, 1939, in Cooperstown, New York. Bureau of Engraving artist William Roach was the designer. According to the Mystic Stamp Company, these unused stamps now sell for $2 to $3, depending on their condition. Mystic Stamp also adds this bit about the history of this stamp:
"U.S. #855 commemorates the 100-year anniversary of the beginning of baseball. While other forms of the game had been played for years before the 1839 date, Abner Doubleday is credited with formalizing the rules of baseball – most of which remain today. Historians have long disputed Doubleday’s actual influence, but his efforts in the small Upstate New York town of Cooperstown are now part of baseball – and American – lore. The baseball stamp was issued in conjunction with the opening of the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, also in Cooperstown."
The history of baseball and games similar to baseball across the world is fairly fascinating, but, indeed, the notion that Doubleday "invented" the game in 1839 in New York has been thoroughly debunked. It's as much of a tall tale as the way the exploits of Johnny Appleseed or Casey Jones have been exaggerated in our lore.

Shown at right is a game from the Cantigas de Santa Maria, circa 1280, involving tossing a ball, hitting it with a stick and competing with others to catch it. For more about the tangled history of baseball, you can check out the Wikipedia articles Origins of baseball and History of baseball in the United States. The 1845 Knickerbocker Rules, it is somewhat agreed, are the first instance of a codification of the modern rules of baseball as we might recognize them today, but even that is disputed.

Getting back to the 1939 "centennial" stamp, some more interesting background can be found at a great website called 1939baseball.com. It features this anecdote:
"In the spring of 1937, the Cooperstown Chamber of Commerce formally requested the issue of a commemorative stamp celebrating the Centennial of Baseball in Cooperstown. ... The United States Congress approved the request, and for the first time a sport was depicted on a stamp. William Roach, an artist for the Bureau of Engraving depicted a village scene with boys playing baseball. [United States Postmaster General James] Farley claimed the village was his hometown of Grassy Point, New York. However, as Roach explained much later, the village depicted a site in Milford, Delaware. With a third term for President [Franklin D.] Roosevelt in question, Farley had his eye on the White House. As such, the Postmaster General never missed an opportunity to promote his candidacy or his love of baseball. Farley dispatched cancellation equipment and nearly 50 additional personnel to insure the success of the postal effort. More than 398,000 stamps were cancelled in Cooperstown that day."

1 comment:

  1. Have you been to Cooperstown? Go. Go. Go. if you haven't. The whole area is gorgeous and you would love The Baseball Hall of Fame https://baseballhall.org/