These illustrated pieces of adhesive art don’t just spruce up the boundless blankness of a standard white envelope. They are also something of a profit centre for the USPS: collectors purchase the stamps for their hoards but may never use them to mail a letter.
But while stamp collecting’s popularity has been on the decline, the post office has recently stepped up its sticky game in one specific area: featuring classic vehicles on its stamps. The past decade has seen the unveiling of postage celebrating fins and chrome, sporty coupes and muscle cars. This month, the USPS revealed its latest automotive addition: a pair of stamps bearing the likeness of two classic 1932 Ford “Deuce” hot rods.
Veteran automotive writer, concours judge and museum curator Ken Gross helped the USPS choose this particular car as an exemplar of the machines that came to be known as hot rods – a term though to be derived from a contraction of “hot roadster”.
“The ’32 Ford Roadster is the quintessential hot rod,” Gross explained. “Light, quick, already set up for a V8 from the factory. These cars were rodded and raced almost from the moment they were introduced.”
A hot rodder since his adolescent years, Gross entered the hobby because he craved speed but couldn’t afford a proper sports car. “Fixing up my old Ford in high school – a 1940 coupe – was thus the way to go.” A member of two hot rod clubs by the time he was 18, Gross still has an award-winning “Deuce” in his garage today, which he drives and displays at shows.
Gross claims that numerous factors contributed to the rise of hot rods in the post-World War II era: the revival of new American automotive manufacturing (and automotive consumption) following the war and thus the wider availability of inexpensive used cars; the return of mechanically trained former soldiers from overseas postings; the availability of aftermarket speed parts for engines like the Ford flathead V8; the establishment of clubs that sanctioned legal drag racing events (diminishing risk of arrest and providing some cover of safety); and the low cost of fuel.
But Gross attributes the development of this unique culture to the confluence of two distinctly American features: “Yankee ingenuity, and the need for speed.”