Around the World in 40 Stamps

Invented by Sir Rowland of England in 1840, stamps were first made to verify that mail sent to someone had already been paid for by an addressor. The first stamp, known as the Penny Black, depicted a portrait bust of England’s reigning monarch at the time, Queen Victoria. As stamp usage began to spread across the world, other countries continued the trend of putting their leaders on stamps, over time causing them to evolve from a simple postage marker to a means of commemoration and a symbol of a country’s national pride. Today, stamps record people, places, objects, and events of significance to nations and cultures all over the world, allowing us to catch a glimpse into the values of past generations and observe both the positive and negative characteristics of what they chose to memorialize. 

In the United States, subjects for stamp memorialization are chosen by a group known as the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory. Hand selected by the Postmaster General, a collection of professionals in fields ranging from sports, history, business, and the arts meet four times a year to review stamp ideas that have been submitted by the public. They form their decisions based on a predetermined list of criteria including “honor extraordinary and enduring contributions to American society, history, or environment”. I used this criterion as my guideline for this project, though I chose to incorporate stamps at the global level rather than concentrate on a specific region. Using stamps found in the Eads collection, I compiled a select sample of people who, for better or for worse, made a significant impact in their home countries and around the world. Their professions include monarchs, artists, musicians, politicians, and revolutionaries, hailing from regions all over the globe such as Europe, North America, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East. To view the individual stamp and description, select the blue, inverted tear drop icon on the map.

The stamps are organized according to the order in which they appeared in the Eads collection.The project as a whole is being presented in both a digital and physical format to make it accessible to a wider audience. These stamps and other items are part of the Eads collection, donated by Eleanor and Ora Eads, and can be accessed in the Tennessee Tech University Archives and Special Collections under Record Group 132.


Curated by Leah Davis 12/10/21