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John Muir - 1964 Postage Stamp

A Letter to the Editor by Edward N. Munns


The story of the John Muir stamp in the September issue of the S.P.A. Journal was most interesting and suggested my writing you of some of the events that may not otherwise be known to you.

The idea of the Muir commemorative came to me at a meeting of perhaps a dozen members of the John Muir Memorial Association at Muir's old home place in Martinez in December 1959. We had been discussing an annual meeting for the following February and methods of obtaining public ownership of the home place. Various schemes had been presented to obtain State-wide interest in the project. My contribution was that if the HOme were to be made a national shrine, then an effort should be made to enlist conservation agencies in its support nationally. He who makes the suggestion is chosen. So I was delegated. Then it suddenly came to me that a stamp would be a good way to celebrate our victory. Having been an off-and-on collector for some 50 years, this seemed logical. Besides, in 1964, we would also celebrate the 50th anniversary of Muir's death (December). Again I was stuck with the task.

The effort began with a request to the National Parks Association that they take leadership, as Muir was the "Father of the National Parks." The Executive Secretary was an old friend who after some correspondence turned me down cold. Other conservation groups did the same. There was mild interest, but who was interested in a stamp?

John F. Baldwin, the local Congressman (GOP) introduced a bill authorizing the Federal purchase of the Muir Home and making it a National Monument. I also asked him if he would make overtures to the Postmaster General concerning the possibilities of a commemorative for Muir. His reply indicated that he did not think too highly of the proposal and that the Post Office Department was not enthusiastic. I learned later what I should have known, that a Republican Congressman carries little weight in a Democratic administration. He pointed out the number of requests and the few stamps that ever made the grade. When we tried Senator Engle, an old friend, we got a different reaction.

Neither the House bill nor the stamp made much headway either in Congress or nationally. There was some mild and innocuous interest, but no wild enthusiasm. In 1963 it came to me that politics could really help so we appealed to the Democratic National Committee. This got nowhere, but out of it came the thought of contacting Roger Kent, the State Democratic Committeeman. At this time it was recalled that Mr. Kent's father had given a patch of ground containing a grove of redwoods to the United States. This became the Muir [Woods] National Monument, named for man the elder Kent revered. It is my sneaking hunch that Mr. Kent, a long-time philatelist on the Postmaster General's Advisory Board, took recognition of the effort and when he saw Muir's name on the list of proposed stamps, put it over. We perhaps will never know, but it is a good presumption. As I see it now, my other efforts came to nothing.

When the stamp was proposed for the fall of '63, I was dismayed. There was nothing in Muir's life to celebrate at that time, although 1963 was the 125th anniversary of his birth -- April, already past. We recognized in a way that there was advertising value in a stamp, but it was believed that this was minor, hence the effort for a postponement. Our efforts came at a time when this was possible to provide for the REd Cross stamp, and the Christmas stamp and the color gave opportunity for a delay until February. Again, we asked for a delay until April to coincide with Muir's birth date and his wedding anniversary. Besides there were other accomplishments which justified the April date.

The publicity over the first proposed release, the postponed date, the February release, its postponement and still further delay in the release date, because of the World's Fair stamp, until the end of April -- all these things seemed to galvanize public awareness of Muir and interest in the man. The County librarian reported a tremendous demand for material on and by Muir. Locally, schools all over the State stressed Muir. Had we ever planned this general excitement, we might take hats several sizes larger.

I do feel that the national interest generated by the stamp did much to put the Muir bill through the Congress. Not only did the lackadaisical conservation agencies suddenly come alive and conscious of the public interest,, but members of the Congress did so too. The bill received much favorable attention in both houses of the Congress, quick passage, and signature by the President on August 31 [1964].

The Muir stamps is therefore to be credited with a big assist. And to it we can also credit the naming of the big Wilderness Area of the central Sierras as the John Muir Wilderness Area. (I had tried to get the name of the Sierra National Forest changed to Muir, but settled for this). Also it has been used, not yet successfully but promised, to obtain recognition of Muir by California. The only State recognition now is a camp table in a State Park. And this goes also for the Contra Costa County Supervisors. The county now has a Muir Road, a Muir Hospital and a Muir School. I expect that before we are through,, we shall have a large (1,500) acres) county park in Muir's honor.

So, to one individual at least a commemorative stamp can do many things besides honoring an individual or event. When some may say that the public is uninterested in postal markings, it will be possible to refer them to the ma y things that have stemmed from the Muir commemorative. And though the interest may lessen in time, who can know what the final outcome will be? Truly the issuance of a stamp not only serves to advertise (in a broad sense) but also to educate an important segment of the public.

Edward N. Munns
Concord, California

Source: S.P.A. Journal, 1965.



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