January 29th, 2009
This object is a ten-cent stamp commissioned in 1893 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s voyage to America. The stamp shows Columbus presenting a group of half-dressed Native Americans to the king and queen of Spain. The stamp’s caption reads “Columbus Presenting the Natives.” By 1893, America’s expansionist wars against Native Americans had mostly come to an end. In showing Columbus presenting a group of “natives” to a European audience as though they were souvenirs, the stamp reaffirms a feeling of superiority over the defeated Native Americans.
The dress of the natives in question also shows the Western stereotype of natives. The natives are dressed like the recently defeated western American tribes, such as the Sioux, though Columbus would not have met those tribes on his journeys. The stamp’s release coincided with the release of an essay by Frederick Turner Jackson titled “The Significance of the Frontier on American Life.” This essay was considered in its time extremely significant and helped to justify the westward expansion. That essay, along with the popular idea of the “noble savage” made the western Lakota native a popular image in the American mind. The artist of the stamp went for the popular stereotype that would be recognized by Americans and turned the vast tribes into just one. What should have been a moment of uniting the New World with the Old, was instead turned into a scene of Europeans capturing Native Americans.
It should also be noted that in the bottom right corner sit a group of what can be presumed to be slaves watching the proceedings. Along with the natives on the left corner, the two groups flank the properly-dressed, regal Europeans. The stamp’s composition put this white Europeans in a place of prominence, highlighting their “civilized” way over the “barbarous” natives who are forced off to the side.
The stamp was commissioned by the United States Post Office as part of a series of commemorative Columbus stamps. According to a note on the below a row of three stamps, the stamps were produced by the American Bank Note Company, an engraving company that had a contract with the United States Post Office. These stamps would have been used by the majority of the American public in order to send mail.
The stamp was created in 1893 in the United States. The image is an engraving that has been transferred to India paper using gray/black ink. This stamp can now be found The Benjamin K. Miller Stamp Collection in the New York Public Library.
This stamp is similar in style to other stamps of the late nineteenth century. It is engraved and heavily detailed. The composition of many stamps were dissimilar to the Columbus stamp, favoring profile portraits or busts of American presidents. All of the stamps available on the arago.si.edu website from the latter half of the nineteenth century feature the words “United States” and “Postage” on the stamp and also feature intricately detailed borders. The Columbus Exposition stamps are unique in their crowded pictures; few stamps in the nineteenth century or today feature such detailed scenes.