Even with seemingly never-ending options for digital communication, the United States Postal Service (USPS) maintains that “letters are better.” Director of Stamp Services at the United States Postal Service William Gicker told Hyperallergic that holiday greetings, condolence cards, and birthday messages are more memorable when printed, enclosed in an envelope, and finished with postage affixed to the top-right corner. It’s one of the reasons he and the Stamp Services team work so hard to delight collectors and letter writers alike with each year’s selections. 

With the release of its new Women’s Soccer stamp last Thursday, February 16, the agency has begun rolling out its 2023 series, which includes tributes to civil rights leader and US Representative John Lewis and Pop artist Roy Lichtenstein. While each program aims to have something for everyone, certain years have been standouts in Gicker’s over 20 years at USPS. Below, he shares some of his favorites as well as lesser-known gems.

Ellsworth Kelly, 2019

Ellsworth Kelly Forever Stamps

On Ellsworth Kelly’s birthday, May 31, USPS honored the American abstract artist with 10 Forever stamps reproducing works such as “Colors for a Large Wall” (1951) and “Red Blue” (1964). Through his hard-edged shapes and bold designs, Kelly brought the fine arts into closer conversation with modern architecture. “His work is so bold and dynamic that it held up well at stamp size,” said Gicker.

Martín Ramírez, 2015

Stamp featuring “Untitled (Trains on Inclined Tracks)” (1960–1963) by Martín Ramírez

Reducing five of Martín Ramírez’s drawings to tiny rectangles was a feat. In his works, the artist often referenced his memories of Mexico, layering natural and built structures with Pop culture references. According to Gicker, the design team selected works such as “Untitled (Horse and Rider with Trees)” (1954) and “Untitled (Deer)” (1960–1963) because they had enough contrast to resonate at a shrunken size.

Andrew Wyeth, 2017

Andrew Wyeth commemorative stamps

Issued July 2017, on his birth centennial, the Andrew Wyeth Forever stamps were especially meaningful to Gicker, who also grew up in Southeastern Pennsylvania. The 20th-century Realist painter often reflected on his hometown of Chadds Ford and his Maine summer home in his landscapes. In the iconic painting “Christina’s World” (1948), Wyeth depicts a young woman splayed on a greenish-brown field looking toward a small, distant house in Cushing, Maine.

Title IX, 2022

Title IX Forever stamp

Stamps that reflect an idea or movement can be more challenging to design than those honoring individuals, such as author and Nobel laureate Toni Morrison or the 107th Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Gicker notes that subject-matter postage, like the Title IX stamp, should inspire viewers to research the topic. These four stamps, released last year, celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Title IX clause in the Education Amendment of 1972 by displaying a female runner, swimmer, gymnast, and soccer player.

Star Wars, 2021

Star Wars honorary stamps

In each year’s program, the committee curates a selection that will appeal to people of diverse ethnicities, backgrounds, and interests. But not much resonates across the US quite like the Star Wars franchise. Gicker grew up with the science fiction series, so it was a big deal for him to be the art director for the project, issued in May 2021. The droids represented include characters like the beloved R2-D2 and IG-11, who debuted in the 2019 Disney+ series The Mandalorian.

Hot Rods, 2014

Hot Rods commemorative stamps

For his personal correspondences, Gicker prefers postage with simple design-forward graphics over those that tell a story. The Hot Rods collection from June 2014, which features two 1932 Ford “Deuce” roadsters, is one of his favorites. “In my family, we had a 1932 Model B Ford, ” said Gicker. “My grandmother’s, which she bought in 1934, was never changed into a hot rod.”

North American Frogs, 2019

North American Frogs Forever stamps

Gicker also designed the North American frogs Forever stamps released in June 2019. The stamps display four digital illustrations of North American frogs and honor their essential role in our ecosystem in controlling bug populations. He cherished working on this booklet as it reminded him of his dad, who taught Gicker about nature as a child.

Overall, Gicker wants more people to use stamps and appreciate the agency’s work of curating a dedicated series each year from the approximately 30,000 mailed suggestions that USPS receives annually. (Fittingly, submissions must be sent in via snail mail; they cannot be e-mailed or faxed.) It can take up to three years for a concept to be designed and ready for sale. “We take the process very seriously,” said Gicker. “We’re trying to represent the best of our nation.”

Taylor Michael is a former Hyperallergic staff reporter. Previously, she worked as a public programs coordinator at the National Book Foundation. She received an MFA from Columbia University School of...