Scott #1276 5-cent stamp USPSFifty years ago, the USPS issued for the first time a religious themed stamp.  On November 1, 1965,  the subject for its 4th Christmas stamp, was of the Christmas angel Gabriel.

It stirred up some controversy among those who felt it was a constitutional issue mixing church and state.   Melvin Laird, a Wisconsin representative in 1965, complained that the post office should have a religious Christmas stamp. He contended that nobody would consider that a violation of the separation of church and state since the holiday was such a part of American culture

Others argued that people weren’t really wanting or requesting a religious themed stamp because nearly a billion non-religious Christmas stamps were sold the year before – so why create one now.

Postmaster General John A. Gronouski, ended up consulting with government lawyers and what resulted was the publication of green and yellow stamp of a watercolor by Lucille Gloria Chabot of an 1840 weather vane entitled “Gabriel Weather Vane.” The original painting is part of the collection at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. It seemed to solve the issue by providing a religious themed stamp for those who wanted one while detractors could see it also as a simple depiction of classic American Folk Art.

More About the Art

Lucille Chabot, Gabriel Weather Vane

Lucille Chabot, Gabriel Weather Vane, American, born 1908, c. 1939, watercolor on paper, Index of American Design

Lucille Chabot’s original watercolor on paper was created in 1939.  In early America, weather vanes were a common sight atop churches, barns, and shops. Although many vanes were made of wood, craftsmen who worked in iron, copper, tin, and brass also produced weather vanes of outstanding design and conception, often combining several metals. This weather vane, representing the Angel Gabriel, originally graced the steeple of the Universalist Church in Newburyport, Massachusetts. The angel is a much less common weather vane subject than, for example, horses or roosters, and the image of Gabriel is rarer still. Although there are several known examples of the archangel blowing his horn, this version appears to be unique. Made in 1840 by the Gould and Hazlett Company of Boston, the angel has a flat body cut from sheet iron and gilded; the tubular horn was made of copper. The pieces were then fastened together with iron rivets. The work shows grace in the flowing contours of the angel’s wings and robe, yet it is also crude, in the obvious, heavy bracing that supports the figure. The artist, Lucille Chabot, had to experiment to arrive at a technique that would “get the thing to glow…not to get it grainy.” She achieved the desired effect by a “series of glazes, one color over another.”

About the Stamp:

Scott #1276 – 5¢ CHRISTMAS ANGEL
Issue Date: November 2, 1965
City: Silver Bells, AZ
Quantity: 1,139,930,000
Printed By: Bureau of Engraving and Printing
Printing Method: Giori press
Perforations: 11
Color: Multicolored