On Monday, August 21, a total solar eclipse will sweep in an elegant arc across the entire width of the continental USA. The event, described as the “Great American Eclipse” as it will be visible in totality only from the United States, is being honored by a new postal stamp whose unique qualities may eclipse the actual eclipse!
The stamp features a solar eclipse, when the moon passes between the sun and Earth, casting a shadow on the planet’s surface and making the sun’s corona brilliantly visible. Graphic designer Antonio Alcalá designed the stamp which contains a special ink that reacts to changes in temperature. Put your finger on the stamp, and activate the ink, causing the dark mass masked by the sun to emerge as a highly detailed and illuminated moon.
Alcalá is the founder of the Alexandria, Virginia, design firm Studio A, which has worked for many museums in Washington, D.C., including the National Gallery of Art, the Folger Shakespeare Library, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and the Library of Congress. As a US Postal Service art director since 2011, he has designed stamps of the solar system and of Pluto, making him the agency’s top space stamp designer.
This is the first USPS stamp to use thermochromic ink, a powerful means to bring a two-dimensional artefact to life. The designer views the new-age stamp as more than a means to pay the government to deliver a letter, he sees it as a subtle branding tool for the nation.
“It’s one of the few things that goes out with the message about who the United States is, what we celebrate, what are important events and people in our history,” Alcalá said, “It goes to every town, every house in the United States. It’s a pretty powerful and effective communications piece.”
Launched in 1792, the USPS has been challenged by emerging trands in digital communication. How do you incite people to use paper mail and postage stamps in the internet age? Incorporating technology in stamp design might attract new interest. A different design will use a UV coating, another first for the USPS, to “enhance the content and the sensation of this particular stamp subject”, says Alcalá. (This specific stamp’s subject has not been revealed.)
“We are increasingly looking at different print techniques that we can introduce to the stamps that make them more than just a piece of paper,” said Alcalá.
The total eclipse stamp is meant to celebrate science and America’s proud history of innovation in space. Juxtapose that with the nation’s current devaluation of science (withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement, presidential denial of climate change, emergng support of the coal industry, and loosening of environmental protection laws.) A simple stamp is powerless to improve a national brand if that nation continues to deny science.