With the popularization of automobiles increasing after the Great Depression, driving safety became a major focal point in the 1930s. After driving accidents and deaths had been on a steady decline since the invention of the automobile, those rose sharply in the early 1930s. Many factors were in play but part of it was likely due to the end of the Great Depression.
Around the start of that event, the U.S. saw fewer miles being driven for the first time since the inception of the automobile. Afterwards, more and more miles were driven until World War II hit and another decline occurred. That increase in nationwide mileage, of course, led to an increase in accidents.
The beginning of the 1930s was an interesting time for car accidents. While dramatically fewer deaths were occurring up to that time, the start of that decade saw a sharp increase in accidents, as seen in this graphic.
Because of that, an emphasis was being placed on safety. That’s where this rare issue comes in.
A Stamp Campaign Begins
In the late 1930s, a stamp campaign was born. Details are sketchy but the campaign was more than just a regional one.
When I first learned of this set, I believed it to be a 1940 issue, which would put it just outside of the pre-war definition of this site. That’s because I initially saw it mentioned in the October 24, 1940 issue of The East Liverpool (OH) Review newspaper. That issue talked about the VFW making them available.
However, I later learned that was not the first distribution of them. That’s because the September 3, 1938 issue of The Daily Bryan in Bryan, Texas mentioned them first. There, an organization named the Texas League of Safety was the distributor. We now know it was printed no later than 1938.
Piecing the two articles together, here’s what we know.
Stamp Set Details
A total of 30 stamps were printed in the set but much around it is still unknown. For one thing, the exact date of production isn’t clear. Right now, all we know is that the first stamps were produced no later than 1938. We also don’t know how many groups distributed them or who had them first. There’s not even a clear title/name for the set.
The stamps were actually not sold (at least by these two groups) but given out with a request for a donation. The VFW had boys delivering them and leaving them. Anyone feeling guilty about keeping them for free was asked to either return them to the VFW or make a donation. A similar scenario was mentioned by the Texas League of Safety. That group left them at various places and asked for a non-mandatory $1.00 donation.
Now, the stamps were not postage stamps. Otherwise, I doubt few would have ever been returned. Instead, they were decorative stamps (or seals) used to help seal envelopes or add a nice touch to a package. They had no monetary value – keep that in mind when I get to the rarity section of this article later.
Based on the articles, we now know that, at the very least, the stamps were peddled in Ohio and Texas – states with a considerable distance between them. The chances that these stamps were offered in only two small cities in two states far apart are low. It is likely that these stamps were issued in other states as well and part of a national campaign of sorts.
We also can definitively link the sets mentioned in East Liverpool, Ohio and Bryan, Texas together and know they are the same one, even without pictures or names of them. How? Because they both mention the same names of three exact titles printed on the stamps, including:
- “Don’t be a Weaver”
- “Horse sense has not kept up with horse power”
A third stamp phrase was also mentioned in both articles – one that relates to the baseball issue in the set.
Among the 30 designs created was one for the sport of baseball. I have never seen a complete checklist of this issue, so perhaps another sports-related issue exists. But piecing together the stamps mentioned in the two aforementioned newspaper articles, I have come up with nearly half of the checklist and haven’t seen another sports issue yet.
The stamp of interest here features a sliding baseball player trying to beat a throw to home. It’s a pretty great vintage issue and, despite the fact that it basically includes only brown ink, is still attractive nonetheless. As you can tell from my example, it has a flat border and a postage stamp-style cut around the other three edges. The baseball one looks to have been one of the last ones on the sheet as it would have been in the bottom row as that cut demonstrates. It is possible, of course, that the stamps could have been printed in different orientations on the sheet. But that would have increased the cost and made little sense.
The top reads, “The Baseball Player tries to get Home Safe” with the bottom completing the statement by adding “Do You?” That obviously fits in with the safety theme being pitched here.
To date, I have seen only three of these stamps from the entire set. Not three baseball stamps – three stamps total. The baseball one I have that is pictured here is the only baseball example I have ever come across.
Further, I tried Googling the phrases on the stamps to see what would come up. Surely, other examples would pop up, right? Nada. Hardly anything was mentioned about these stamps at all. The only real link is that I found some of the phrases used in other documents like safety manuals from before the assumed production of these in the late 1930s. Some of the phrases used on the stamps were no doubt lifted from other sources.
In terms of the rarity, remember what I said earlier about the stamps having no monetary value? Well, that’s extremely important here when trying to account for why so few of these exist.
The stamps are ‘only’ from 1938, which make them some of the later pre-war issues. Despite being a more recent set, they are still supremely rare. Why is that? My belief is that a lot has to do with the fact that the stamps were not sold and had no real value at the time of production.
Part of my reasoning for that logic is because you frequently see many other postage stamps from that era and much earlier. Those survived because they had value and the postage never expired. People simply didn’t throw stamps away because they could always be used to mail a letter. These were trinkets and nothing more. One of three things was likely typical of the stamps’ fate:
- They were discarded
- They were used on packages and then discarded
- They were returned to the originator of the campaign (since they asked for them to be returned if a donation couldn’t be made), who, well, eventually probably did one of the first two things
Keep in mind, too, that this wasn’t a sports issue or something that was collectible. It was primarily a non-sports set with safety slogans. How appealing is that to collectors? Think about it – if you got a sheet of labels with safety goggles or something like that on them, would you keep them? Even in today’s hypersensitive market of hoarding all kinds of collectors, most people would probably still pitch them.
Even rationalizing things by saying the baseball stamp would have been desirable doesn’t really fly too well. The baseball stamp was likely lost in the mix since it was only one on a sheet of 29 other (likely non-sports) stamps and probably even easily missed. It also didn’t feature an actual player so it had even less value to people back in the day.
I don’t doubt that more of these are out there somewhere. It’s even possible that a large hoard could be discovered since groups distributing these likely got their fair share of them back and it’s possible that they weren’t all destroyed. But to date, I’ve not found them and this has the look of a very tough set.