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FDCs: 1971 Ceremony Left A Lasting Impression

by Marjory J. Sente

While ruminating through my memory bank recently, I turned over this frightening fact: I attended my first first-day ceremony 30 years ago, in 1971.

It seems like yesterday.

Though I've attended many more during the intervening years, none of them stand out the way that initial experience does.

The occasion was the release of the 8¢ John Sloan commemorative (Minkus CM663 / Scott 1433) on Aug. 2, 1971, at Lock Haven, PA. The first-day site was less than an hour's drive from State College, where I was attending Penn State.

In fact, my future mother-in-law had invited me to the ceremony. She belonged to a local organization that was involved with planning the first-day activities.

As a new experience, attending the ceremony was quite exciting. And, after attending many in the intervening years, I now know how special it truly was.

For example, the Sloan commemorative features his painting, The Wake of the Ferry. The morning of the first day of issue, the original painting was flown to Lock Haven to be displayed during the ceremony.

Owned by the Phillips Gallery, it was on display at the National Gallery later in 1971 as part of the centennial exhibition to celebrate Sloan's birth in 1871.

Figure 1 shows the first-day program, featuring a self-portrait of Sloan. It was outstanding in quality and was produced exclusively using local connections. Printed by the Graphic Arts Department of the Williamsport Area Community College on Hammermill/Lock Ha-ven plant paper, the multicolor, multipage booklet details Sloan's life and discusses the painting, as well as serving as the printed program for the event.

The Lock Haven Chamber of Commerce and the Annie Hallenbake Ross Library were the local co-sponsors of the event, and they produced a special cacheted FDC, shown above in Figure 2.

In black and blue, it shows Sloan's birthplace in Lock Haven, and a detail from the Sloan Memorial Collection, which is displayed at the Ross Library.

Mrs. Sloan, the great painter's wife, was in attendance. No stranger to Lock Haven, she assisted in the creation of the John Sloan Memorial Room of the Annie Hallenbake Ross Library, as well as donating two of his paintings to the collection.

And how often do you receive an invitation to a first day ceremony in a first-day cover - and an historic one at that?

A month and a day prior to the Sloan first day of issue, the new 8¢ USPS Emblem stamp (Minkus 665 / Scott 1396) was released nationwide. So the invitations to the Sloan ceremony were franked with the new adhesive - marking the end of the old U.S. Post Office Department and the beginning of the new U.S. Postal Service - mailed July 1, 1971, from Lock Haven.

Born on Aug. 2, 1871, Sloan was a magazine illustrator and artist all his life. His paintings brought little monetary reward until he had long passed middle age.

Something of an avant-garde artist, he attempted to change the idealistic American tradition to something more realistic, drawing upon scenes of everyday life in the city. He was a prominent member of 'The Eight' - the so-called Ash Can Painters - many of whose members studied under Thomas Eakins and promoted his realistic approach. In addition to the 1971 commemorative, John Sloan was honored as one of the Ash Can Painters on a 32¢ commemorative (Minkus CM1967h / Scott 3182h) in the 1900s pane from the Celebrate the Century series in 1998.

In reflecting on my attendance at first day ceremonies, I liked those of the good old days. The printed programs, for example, were produced locally and usually have much more character than the Postal Services current cookie-cutter productions (see page 8).

As a postscript to the Sloan first-day ceremony, years later, going through a dealer's junk box, I found a special event cover franked with the Sloan commemorative and dated July 8, 1971. It is shown in Figure 3.

At first blush, it looks like a great pre-first-day-dated item. The postmark on the back of the cover is Aug. 16, 1971. So I am guessing that the cover was serviced during a grace period, and the Sloan stamp was used by mistake.