In the early 1990s, the U.S. Postal Service began developing stamps that commemorated the Civil War’s seminal battles and figures. At one point, consultants reading up on the showdown between the USS Monitor and the CSS Virginia—two ironclads set to be depicted on one of the stamps—asked: What did the smoke rising from the two warships actually look like? It was an obscure question, and few could have answered it.
That’s where PhotoAssist came in.
At the National Archives in Washington, D.C., our researchers found logs that specified both the weather conditions and the type of coal—anthracite—the ships used on the day the Monitor and the Virginia squared off. Our discoveries allowed stamp artist Mark Hess to portray the smoke plumes accurately, down to their exact color.
We also answered another nagging question: Did General William T. Sherman wear a wedding ring? The answer, we determined, was no.
The Civil War stamps, which featured, among others, portraits of General Robert E. Lee, General Ulysses S. Grant, President Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, and Sherman—sans wedding ring, of course—hit post offices to great fanfare in 1995.
For 20 years, we’ve worked closely with the Postal Service to create one of the most thoroughly researched stamp programs in the world. We’ve helped write and research the annual Stamp Yearbook and other books, including The Grandest Things: Our National Parks in Words, Images, and Stamps and Play Ball! A Celebration of Baseball’s Greatest Moments. We also assist the Postal Service with social media—because in the digital age, accuracy is more important than ever.