Stamps of approval

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Between July 1, 1847, and July 14, 2021, 5,614 U.S. stamps were issued. Among them, eight Italians and 21 Italian Americans were depicted.

Thirty showed Christopher Columbus. He initially appeared on two stamps in 1869. In 1893, a set of 16 stamps commemorating the discovery of America was released, 12 of which portrayed Columbus. In 1992, the Postal Service issued a modified version of one of the 1869 stamps; reissued the set of 16 with the date changed from 1892 to 1992; and released a new set of four stamps for the quincentennial of Columbus’ first voyage.

The first Italian American was honored in 1940. Booker Taliaferro Washington was the son of an African slave woman and an unnamed member of the Taliaferro family who owned a neighboring plantation. Washington became a nationally recognized educator.

The Italian general Giuseppe Garibaldi was recognized with two different stamps in 1960. He was followed by the Italian poet Dante Alighieri in 1965. Fiorello LaGuardia, mayor of New York, was celebrated with a stamp in 1972. Amadeo Pietro Giannini, founder in 1904 of the Bank of Italy, now the Bank of America, was depicted in 1973. The Italian artist Michelangelo Buonarroti is shown on a 1974 stamp in a vignette from “School of Athens,” painted by Raffaello Sanzio.

A 1980 air mail stamp was issued in honor of the Tuscan physician Filippo Mazzei. A neighbor of Thomas Jefferson from 1773-85, Mazzei inspired the phrase “all men are created equal.” (The stamp gave his name as “Philip,” which he never went by.) The next honoree was the Italian saint Francis of Assisi in 1982, followed in 1986 by a postal card for Francis (born Francesco) Vigo, an Italian who came to New Orleans in 1772 and helped finance the Revolutionary War. He later became a citizen. The Italian operatic tenor Enrico Caruso appeared on an American stamp in 1987. In 1989, the Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini was commemorated. He immigrated to the United States in 1939 and became a citizen.

Slapstick comedian Lou Costello was applauded with a stamp in 1991, and Italian actor Rudolph Valentino was depicted in 1994. Two stamps showcasing pro football head coach Vince Lombardi were released in 1997. The first Italian-American woman to be honored was the dramatic operatic soprano, Rosa Ponselle, also in 1997. In 1999, the undefeated world heavyweight boxing champion Rocky Marciano was depicted.

In this century, a stamp was issued in 2001 to pay tribute to Enrico Fermi, the Italian who won the Nobel Prize for physics in 1938, thereafter immigrating to the United States, where he became a citizen. Four-time Academy Award winner Henry Mancini was celebrated with a stamp in 2004, followed in 2005 by Henry Fonda, who won the Academy Award for best actor in 1981. Later in 2005, Medal of Honor recipient John Basilone was commemorated. Pro baseball Hall of Famer Roy Campanella was depicted in 2006. He had an Italian-American father and an African-American mother. The entertainer Frank Sinatra was showcased in 2008.

Frank Capra was recognized with a stamp in 2012. He was born in Italy, became a citizen and won three Academy Awards for best director. Later in 2012, Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Joe DiMaggio was portrayed. In 2014, celebrity chef Felipe Rojas-Lombardi was depicted. His father was Peruvian; his mother was Italian. Deaf educator Robert Panara was shown on a 2017 stamp. In 2021, there were two Italian-American honorees: pro baseball Hall of Famer Yogi Berra and tap dancer Michela Marino Lerman. Her father was German American; her mother was Italian American. She is one of the first living persons to be shown on a U.S. stamp.

Who will be next?

Subjects are selected annually by the Citizens Advisory Stamp Committee. If you want to lobby for an Italian American or Italian to have a stamp issued in the person’s honor, write to the CASC, 475 L’Enfant Plaza, S.W., Room 3300, Washington, D.C., 20260-3501.

The above appears in the November 2022 issue of the print version of Fra Noi. Our gorgeous, monthly magazine contains a veritable feast of news and views, profiles and features, entertainment and culture. To subscribe, click here.


About Joseph Scafetta Jr.

Joseph (Sonny) Scafetta Jr. started collecting stamps when he was 7. He earned a B.S. in aerospace engineering from Penn State (1969), a law degree from Pitt (1972), a masters in law from Georgetown (1973), and an MBA from George Washington U. (1983). He is admitted to practice law in PA, DC and VA. He joined the American Philatelic Society in 1994. He wrote a history column for Fra Noi from 1997 to 2006. He is currently a member of the board of directors of the National Christopher Columbus Association and Senior Counsel for Ditthavong, Steiner, & Mlotkowski in Alexandria, VA.

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