1984 20¢ Smokey Bear, Fire Prevention
· Issued for the 40th anniversary of Smokey Bear
· Pictures the famed mascot as well as a bear cub that was rescued from a forest fire and named Smokey as a living symbol of forest fire prevention
· Printing issued led to a smaller number of stamps being produced compared to other commemoratives of the day
Stamp Category: Commemorative
Value: 20¢, rate for first-class mail
First Day of Issue: August 13, 1984
First Day City: Capitan, New Mexico
Quantity Issued: 95,525,000
Printed by: Bureau of Engraving and Printing
Printing Method: Lithographed and Engraved
Format: Panes of 50 in sheets of 200
Why the stamp was issued: To mark the 40th anniversary of the creation of the Smokey Bear character.
About the stamp design: The Citizens Stamp Advisory Committee had first proposed a stamp honoring Smokey Bear in 1957. Rudolph Wendelin, the artist who took over artistic control of Smokey in 1945, designed a stamp picturing Smokey leaning against a tree. However, forest industry representatives wanted the stamp focus more on the trees than Smokey, so he was removed from the design. That stamp (US #1122) was the 1958 Forest Conservation issue. In addition to the stamp, Wendelin designed a pictorial cancel that included Smokey’s head and the slogan, “Keep America Green.” Wendelin designed a few more nature-themed stamps in the coming years – 1961 Range Conservation (US #1176), 1964 John Muir (US #1245), and 1969 John Wesley Powell (US #1374).
Smokey artist Wendelin was enlisted to illustrate the 40th anniversary stamp. In the foreground it pictures a bear cub clinging to a tree to escape a forest fire – such a bear was discovered in 1950 and named Smokey after the well-known mascot. A modern image of Smokey the mascot fills the rest of the stamp, donning his “Smokey” hat and carrying his shovel.
About the printing process: The Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP) used its new computerized D Press for this stamp. The D Press combined offset and intaglio into one continuous web-fed print run. Prior to this, offset and intaglio stamps were printed on two separate presses, one after the other. The BEP used six-millimeter-wide quality control strips that were read electronically to asses color density and ink thickness.
However, there were issues during the printing of this stamp. Part of the problem may have been the assembly of the press in Germany, disassembly, then re-assembly at the BEP. The BEP tested different inks, papers, and plates to solve the problem, resulting in spoilage up to 40%. Eventually, the BEP called in German technicians that built the press to help resolve the issues. Because there had been so many separate printings, there was a large variety of plate numbers, including some in the double digits for a single color (they’re usually just between one and nine). One collector claimed to have found 33 different plate numbers within a month of the stamp’s issue, and said there were probably many more.
Because of all the print issues, the Smokey Bear stamp was issued in a smaller number than most modern commemoratives. While most commemoratives of the time had issue quantities of 120 million or more, there were only about 95 million Smokey stamps.
Evidence of the production issues can also be noted by the number of errors discovered. The Smokey stamp has been found both vertically and horizontally imperforate and with the black intaglio shifted.
First Day City: This stamp was issued in Capitan, New Mexico near the Lincoln National Forest, about nine miles from where the Smokey bear cub was discovered in 1950. Capitan is also home to the Smokey Bear Museum, which opened in 1960. The stamp was issued at the Capitan Municipal School. As the postmaster general stated, Smokey was popular with children, as evidenced by the fact that they “still delivered thousands of letters they were to him at his own special ZIP Code.”
Unusual fact about this stamp: This stamp was first announced on April 14, 1983 when Postmaster General Bolger was a guest on the radio show Harden and Weaver. One of the show’s hosts, Jackson Weaver, was the original voice of Smoky the Bear – he voiced the famous bear for 45 years.
History the stamp represents: On August 9, 1944, the US Forest Service created Smokey Bear to encourage people to prevent forest fires. The Wildfire Prevention Campaign is the longest-running public service announcement campaign in US history, and Smokey has become an icon recognized around the globe.
Though forest fires had long been an issue, America’s involvement in World War II made fighting these fires more difficult. Most able-bodied men were fighting overseas, so there weren’t enough young men to fight fires. In 1942 the Forest Service used Disney characters from the film Bambi on colorful posters to raise awareness on how to prevent forest fires. However, those characters could only be used for a year, so the forest service needed their own mascot.
In 1944 they created Smokey Bear, named after New York City firefighter “Smokey” Joe Martin. The first poster was designed by Albert Staehle and pictured Smokey pouring a bucket of water on a campfire with the message “Smokey says – Care will prevent 9 out of 10 forest fires!” Smokey quickly became a household name, with toy companies producing teddy bears and a variety of posters hanging across the country.
Months later, the Japanese began using forest fires to attack the US. Between November 1944 and April 1945, they launched more than 9,000 incendiary balloons into the jet stream. About 10% of those reached the US, with one of them claiming six lives. Smokey’s warnings likely helped save many other forest fires from occurring. Smokey’s saying changed to “Remember… Only YOU Can Prevent Forest Fires” in 1947. Then in 2001, it became “Only You Can Prevent Wildfires,” in response to the large number of wildfires that began to break out outside of forests.
In May 1950, a man-made fire ravaged 17,000 acres of forest in the Capitan Mountains of south-central New Mexico. A small bear cub managed to survive the blaze by climbing a tree. Firefighters rescued the cub from the tree and tended to his badly burned feet. Soon after, they nicknamed him Smokey Bear, in reference to the symbol for fire prevention.
Sent to live in the National Zoo, the little bear cub became a living symbol for forest fire prevention, and quickly became a national and worldwide celebrity. He received millions of visitors and over 13,000 letters per week. In fact, in 1964, the USPS gave him his own zip code (20252). Smokey Bear died in 1976, and was buried at Smokey Bear Historical Park, in downtown Capitan, New Mexico.