A Philatelic History of Design

We can thank the United States Postal Service’s art director Derry Noyes for once again putting some design history on our mail. After the Masterworks of Modern Architecture stamps in 2005 and celebrating Charles + Ray Eames in 2008, its time for the golden age of American industrial design to get some philatelic love.

The new issue is a set of 12 stamps featuring iconic products designed by some of the “nation’s most important and influential industrial designers.” The focus is on the years after the Great Depression in 1929, when the economy pulled itself up by the bootstraps, and Americans looked to industrial designers for a new vision of their future. The designers of the era that gave us not just streamlining and chrome plating, but also design management and human factors. The stamps, which will go on sale in July 2011, mix the usual suspects – Norman Bel Geddes, Walter Dorwin Teague, Raymond Loewy, and Henry Dreyfuss – with some lesser known choices.usps-industrial-design-pioneers-postage-stamps

Peter Müller-Munk, who pioneered design as a management strategy, and founded the first American degree program in industrial design at Carnegie Tech in 1935, is represented by his elegant Normandie pitcher. The ceramist Frederick Hurten Rhead finds place in the list, for his brightly colored dinnerware Fiesta, designed in 1936 and mass produced ever since. Surprisingly, the only female designer who makes the cut is not the prolific Eva Zeisel, but the lamp designer Greta Von Nessen. Her 1951 Anywhere Lamp joins Eliot Noyes’s 1961 IBM Selectric Typewriter as the only post-war products in the set.

The Pioneers of American Industrial Design set will be issued as Forever Stamps, which means they can always be used to mail a 1-ounce letter, regardless of changes in postage rates. These 12 objects, in their neatly framed boxes, have been declared the definitive timeless classics of a period in history not unlike our own – when economic challenges forced design to seek new directions and idioms. We’ve emerged from the recession with sustainability, social responsibility, and social networking as our design principles. What will we put on the commemorative stamps of 2081?

Read more about Derry Noyes and the Charles + Ray Eames stamps in our May 2008 issue.

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