First Man on the Moon Stamp

US #C76 was issued on this day in 1969.

On September 9, 1969, the US Post Office issued its first ever jumbo-sized commemorative stamp.

Plans for a commemorative stamp honoring the 1969 moon landing were extremely secretive.  Few people were involved in the process and there was virtually no paperwork.  The stamp wasn’t even announced to the public until July 9, 1969, a week before the launch of Apollo 11.  As the postmaster general announced that day, “Apollo 11 will mark America’s first mail run to the Moon.”

This dramatic statement aroused great public interest in the stamp.  The engraved die for the stamp would be taken to the moon, as well as a special “Moon letter” with a die proof of the stamp.  While on the moon, the astronauts would personally postmark the letter.

US #C76 – Full Mint Sheet

Among the few people who knew about the stamp was artist Paul Calle.  A member of NASA’s Fine Art Program, Calle had documented several NASA missions and provided the artwork for the 1967 Accomplishments in Space stamps.  Calle’s greatest obstacle was that he had to illustrate the moon-landing scene a month before it would happen.  To help him create an accurate image, NASA gave him photos of the equipment and invited him to come and view some of it in person.  He also got to watch Neil Armstrong practice his exit of the lunar module so he could accurately portray how he placed his foot on the ground.

Many collectors at the time quickly stated that the stamp would violate the federal law that forbids picturing a living person on a stamp.  However, the Post Office insisted it was simply a “spaceman.”

US #C76 – Classic First Day Cover with Both Cancels

The launch and landing were a success.  Unfortunately, Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were too busy with science experiments to postmark the letter while they were on the moon’s surface.  Instead, they did it on the return journey.  The “Moon letter” and the printing die were later sent on a traveling exhibit across the country and to foreign nations.

The stamp was finally issued on September 9, 1969 at the National Postal Forum’s third annual meeting in Washington, DC.  Armstrong, Aldrin, and Michael Collins were all present for the ceremony.  The stamp was America’s largest postage stamp up to that time measuring 1.953 inches by 1.234 inches, about 50 percent larger than most US commemoratives.  The First Day Cover for this stamp was one of the most popular in US history. It included both the First Day of Issue cancel as well as a replica of the Moon Landing cancel.

US #C76 – Stamped Portrait with First Day Cancel

The Post Office produced over 8.7 million First Day Covers for this issue.  By comparison, they only produced 4.4 million covers for the 1993 Elvis Presley stamp, one of the most popular in US history.  The first-day processing crew had to be increased from 40 to 100 people, and it took five months to cancel all of those covers.

Click here to read more about the Moon landing.

Click here to see what else happened on This Day in History.

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  1. To this day I remember where i was when he landed on the moon. I was in an orchestra pit playing a musical and watching a 7 inch portable B&W TV. Great article.

  2. Of course, probably all who were alive in the US and watching will recall where and what they were doing on that Moon landing day!! I was in a Titan II missile launch complex under the ground in Arizona that night when the landing occurred. Normally half the crew would have been asleep, but not that night. All 4 of us were at our launch stations but watching the events as they occurred on TV. The crew was delighted with the accomplishment of our brothers on that crew and their entire support comrades!

  3. The moon landing was just 2 days after my 17th birthday! I remember sneaking out a few minutes early from my job at Dairy Queen and running all the way home (about 1.5 miles) just to see the Neil step on the moon. About 35 years later my wife (Diane) and I met Buzz Aldrin at ASHP mid-year (hospital pharmacy conference) – we got a picture with him that he signed and mailed to us. He also gave use a sheet of these stamps which he also autographed while we waited! His booth was strangely quiet,
    and we talked with him for a good 10 minutes – certainly an experience we will never forget!

  4. The criticism of the stamp portraying a living person was a moot point . That had already occurred with the Iwo Jima flag raising stamp of the 1940’s. Those soldiers were real people and identified and mostly still living at the time of issue. Likewise the stamp honoring the flag raising at ground zero for the 9/11 tribute portrayed living and identified people. There should be allowances acceptable for tribute stamps of historical events. Armstrong was The First Man on The Moon no way to honor that without his portrayal it was a unique event he was a unique individual that was portrayed

  5. Speaking of the living, let’s not forget Pete Conrad and Joe Kerwin on the Skylab stamp. (Yes they’re tiny, but they’re there)

  6. I was at University in Sydney and all the TV monitors in the class rooms were tuned into the landing. It was a BIG event!

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