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The Stamp Designers
The Stamp Designers
Steve Buchanan | Lonnie Busch | Christopher Calle | Paul Calle | Ken Dallison | Phil Jordan | Ethel Kessler | Clarence Lee | Kenneth Libbrecht | Terry McCaffrey | Piotr Naszarkowski |
Tim O'Brien
| Howard Paine | Paul Salmon | Richard Sheaff
Stamp Designer Biographies
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Terrence W. McCaffrey The Worm!

People draw something on a napkin and say, "Please print this as a stamp."

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Terry McCaffrey
           Terry McCaffrey at Washington 2006

Terrence W. Mc Caffrey, the Postal Service's first full time designer, has had a hand in the Postal Services graphical productions since 1970. He personally designed the $3.00 Mars Pathfinder souvenir sheet, several Love stamps, the $2.90 Priority Mail Eagle, and the very popular "Star Wars" set of 15. (See his Stamp Page on this site for illustrations of his designs). He has also designed posters and publications for the USPS.

McCaffrey trained at the Corcoran School of Art and began his career as a computer artist in the 1960's, when the software and tools available were quite different then today. He currently uses many graphics applications and programs that he has taught himself to use. He became a member of the stamp services in 1990 and subsequently became responsible for all philatelic products in 1992 when he was named the creative director of the stamp and stationery design. In 2000 he became the manager of all stamp development.

After being laid off from his assistant art designer job at a computer firm in Betheda, MD., Terry found himself "on the street" with a new child and new home mortgage to contend with. He was hired by the Postal Service just as it was changing over from the Post Office Department under President Nixon. "My job was to redesign everything. I was the first designer the Postal Service ever hired. Before that, they had flip-chart presentation people and illustrators. So I had to recreate everything with the new corporate logo: brochures, magazines, posters, the whole works. "

How are Stamps Made?
In 1991 there was only a little bit of computer design. It wasn't until 1996 that April Greiman designed the Women's Suffrage Stamp for the USPS, totally on an Apple Macintosh. Since then, every stamp done is touched by computers, even if it's only scanning in an Artist's illustration. The art director has to put on the perforations and crop it by computer.

The file is turned over to Dodge Color Inc. of Bethesda, MD., which rescans the artwork at higher resoulution and prepares the final files for the printer. The proofs are checked by Terry's group to make sure it's exactly what was wanted.

McCaffrey has seen many changes in the way stamp design has evolved during his time with the Postal Service. When he first started, they did everything with wax and paste-ups and acetate overlays. It wasn't until 1984 or 85 that the art department got computers which they used for page layout of the postal magazine and some books. Modern stamp design would be lost without the computer. For the past nine years they have been using them in order to have there fast turnaround of designs. They work on an average of 200 designs at any given time, three years in advance: Christmas stamps, commemoratives, and regular issues.

When McCaffrey came over to stamps in 1990, he was the only designer on staff, he now has six art directors working for him, scattered around the country. The art directors work directly with illustrators and photographers, and in many cases the art directors design the stamps themselves.

What is the difference between the Stamp Artist, Stamp Designer & Art Director?

"I relabeled these categories back in the mid 1990's, if I'm not mistaken. As a professional graphic designer, it always bothered me how the credits were listed in the past. Stamp design is a collaborative process. The old method just acknowledged one person, usually, the artist or illustrator. In many cases the actual design of the stamp was created by either another person, such as a graphic designer, or the art director overseeing the project. Let me explain the differences of each persons responsibility."

O The Stamp Artist
"This is the person who illustrates, or paints, the actual image used on the stamp. In most cases, this person does not get involved in the typography choices and placements. Additionally, in some cases, they are given an actual concept layout from which they create the illustration."
O The Stamp Designer
"This person is responsible for the general concept and the final look of the stamp, which includes the typography choice and placement. In cases where the art is a graphic design rather then an illustration, the stamp designer is given credit for that also. A good example is when you utilize existing photography for a stamp. We would credit the photographer as "photographer". But the stamp designer would receive credit for choosing that particular photo, cropping, and adding type."

O The Art Director
"This person is one of the six art directors under contract to the USPS, or myself. We receive the subject from the Stamp Advisory Committee and it is up to us to set the tone and direction for the project. We also oversee the design and illustration development of the stamp. In a number of instances, the art director is also the stamp designer. This occurs when the assigned art director, being a graphic designer in their own right, chooses to design the stamp themselves, as opposed to hiring another designer to create the design for them."

How Many Stamps are Produced?
Fifteen years ago there was a standing order for 150 million of every commemorative stamp. Now the numbers vary because they are targeted to different audiences, such as serious stamp collectors. For a philatelic stamp, 25 to 30 million stamps are produced. The standard run is 80 to 100 million, and some of the more popular stamps will go up as high as 200 million.

Christmas stamps and love stamps can be printed in quantities up to 1.2 billion per year. A total of about 8 billion stamps on the average are produced each year. Because of metered mail the quantities are being reduced but it is still a massive quantity.

How are Stamps Approved?
Stamps are approved by the Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee. This is a group of 15 people who come to Washington every three months to review the USPS designs and the subject matter.

On the average more then 50,000 suggestions a year are received from the public. This is not counting the 1,500 on average portfolios I get from artists who want to design stamps, and the 1,000 to 1,500 unsolicited designs received each year.

People draw something on a napkin and say, "Please print this as a stamp."

There is a certain criteria that designs must meet. Whatever meets this criteria is given to the Advisory Committee on a quarterly basis. They analyze whether it meets the national interest and is worthy of being a stamp. They can vote to put the design on hold for a specfic anniversary. The committee is a good mix of people , and they put together the annual program. Postmaster general's have rarely ever overruled the Advisory Committees stamp recomendations.

Are Production Errors Made?
The Postal Service is the only business where, if we make a mistake, people really want to buy it. The USPS goes to great lengths to get things correct and not make mistakes.

In 1994 McCaffrey experienced his biggest error while he has been at the USPS. The Bill Pickett stamp, (part of Scott 2869 Legends of the West), had illustrated what turned out to be his brother. "It really wasn't the USPS's fault, the photo we worked from had been in the National Archives and reproduced many times. Pickett's relatives had been trying to change the identification for 70 years but met with a lack of interest. Once we put it on the stamp, it was a major faux pas!"

"The USPS now verify every minute detail of every stamp. We check uniform colors, count buttons on shirts and check lengths of beards on 100 year old faces."

Sometimes we still make mistakes says McCaffrey, "The most recent one was the Grand Canyon stamp, made from a stock photo. The committee asked that we add small type indicating the location because the stamp was designed for mailing abroad. Unfortunately, someone looked at the photo sleeve and saw "Grand Canyon, Colorado River" but typed "Grand Canyon, Colorado". McCaffrey recalls getting a phone call from a USPS official who said, "You don't know where the hell the Grand Canyon is! It's not in Colorado." The entire printing was shredded then destroyed. The collector community still believes there are some out there. The stamp was reprinted and not until the day of the first day ceremony at the Grand Canyon did a park ranger look over his shoulder and point out that the photo had been flipped.

The End of A 20 Year Era!

Terry McCaffrey has been the master of all that goes into the process of stamp design since 1990. His value to the Postal Service and the Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee could not be overstated. His retirement, December 2010, leaves a very large pair of shoes to be filled by whoever supercedes him.
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