First U.S. Stamp with Scrambled Indicia

U.S. #3167 was issued 20 years ago today. Click the image to learn more about the U.S. Air Force.

On September 18, 1997, the USPS issued the U.S. Air Force stamp, the first U.S. stamp to have a hidden image using Scrambled Indicia.

Over the years, the USPS had always sought ways to combat counterfeiting, with grills being one of the earliest examples. As technologies changed, they found new, more advanced ways to do this, including microprinting and tagging. Then in 1997, they introduced Scrambled Indicia.

U.S. #3036 was issued in 1998 and has microprinting and Scrambled Indicia.

Scrambled Indicia is a pre-press process invented by Graphic Security Systems Corporation. According to the company, it “scrambles, distorts, intertwines, overlaps, or otherwise manipulates images making encoded information on them unreadable by the naked eye, and non-copyable by current color copiers and digital scanners.” These images could then be viewed using a special decoder. In addition to thwarting counterfeiting, the USPS also hoped this interesting new technology could help arouse interest among collectors and inspire new ones.

Between 1997 and 2004 the USPS produced more than 40 stamps with Scrambled Indicia:

U.S. #3168-72 – Classic Movie Monsters.

U.S. #3178 – Mars Pathfinder

U.S. #3206 – Wisconsin

U.S. #3230-34 – Bright Eyes

U.S. #3321-24 – Xtreme Sports

U.S. #3238-42 – Space Discovery

U.S. #3261 – Space Shuttle Landing

U.S. #3262 – Space Shuttle Piggyback

U.S. #3472 – U.S. Capitol

U.S. #3473 – Washington Monument

U.S. #3647 – Jefferson Memorial

U.S. #3648 – U.S. Capitol Dome

U.S. #3651 – Harry Houdini

U.S. #3771 – Special Olympics

U.S. #3787-91 Southeastern Lighthouses

U.S. #3808-11 – Early Football Heroes

U.S. #3838 – U.S. Air Force Academy

U.S. #3862 – National WWII Memorial


Click here to get your own decoder to see these neat hidden images in person.

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  1. I expect that quite a few of us underestimate how widespread counterfeiting of items other than paper money has been over the years; I know that I did until I began reading these Mystic Stamp articles. It’s like my mother always said “Learn, forget; learn, forget; learn, remember! Thank you, Mystic for persistently teaching us good things to remember.

    1. I had no idea either and to what lengths the postal service had to go through to safeguard stamps from being counterfeited. Fascinating article. Will the personal decoder ever be available for sale again?

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