The first stamp in the Love series wasn’t conceived as a “love” stamp or as the first in a series. Rather, the 1973 stamp adapting Robert Indiana’s “Love” sculpture was commissioned by art director Bradbury Thompson because it was an iconic representation of pop art.
“Even though that first one was popular, it was nine years before we issued another love-centric stamp,” says Terry McCaffrey, former manager of Stamp Development. In 1982, Mary Faulconer created a stamp with flowers spelling the word love. Two years later, a third Love stamp was issued, featuring another colorful design by Thompson.
“It was then, in 1984,” McCaffrey says, “that Love took off as an annual series.” Often released at the beginning of the year, the stamps were most commonly used for Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day, as well as for birthdays and anniversaries.
“Over the years, it became so ingrained,” McCaffrey continues, “that if we didn’t have a new Love stamp for Valentine’s Day, we would get criticized.”
Soon, Love stamps became must-haves for wedding invitations, which led the Postal Service to start issuing complementary designs in dual-denominations: one with the two-ounce rate for a larger, heavier invitation, and one with a First-Class rate for a smaller reply card. This lasted until 2004, when the market for wedding-specific designs was significant enough to have its own annual series.
The newest addition to the Love series is a block of ten stamps by artist José Ortega. Each of the intertwined, lushly colored garden images — leaves, flower petals, a strawberry, a butterfly, and a pair of doves — subtly incorporates heart shapes. In addition to being the first Love stamp with ten designs, the new release is the first in the series to bear the Forever® denomination.
Garden of Love is not the first multi-stamp issue in the series, however. King and Queen of Hearts (2009) comprises two designs, an innovation by illustrator Jeanne Greco.
Still, McCaffrey acknowledges that the 2011 release is a bold move, as the ten-block design unit challenges a long-held tradition of single Love designs. “Ortega came up with the idea of making a garden using the heart shape in different ways,” he says. “When we saw it, we were all bowled over by it — we fell in love.
“We had held onto the idea of one image, but people don’t buy just one stamp. They buy a booklet or a pane of 20. We had to rethink what our philosophy was, and we decided it would work.”
While the design is new, the stamps are sure to appeal to even the most traditional consumers. “Taken as a whole, the pane depicts a flower garden, a popular subject in itself,” McCaffrey notes. “And when a stamp is removed and affixed to an envelope, you’ll still see a flower or love birds.”
The garden image represents growth in several ways — adding an unprecedented design to the series’ repertoire, and no doubt multiplying fans of Love.