Friday, December 20, 2013

Psychoactive Stamps

People, Plants, and Postage
by Jon Hanna
June 2012

Psychoactive drug historian Michael Horowitz recently brought to Erowid's attention some 2011 postage from the Republic of Togo depicting R. Gordon Wasson. He raised the question: Was this the first time that an entheogenic explorer had been honored on a stamp?

The answer depends on who qualifies as an "entheogenic explorer". More than one country has issued postage featuring psychedelic-using musicians such as Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix, the Beatles, and Bob Marley. Entheocognoscenti from the literary world have, to date, only been showcased on "art stamps". Such fake postage has depicted William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg1 and Timothy Leary,2 among others, and a faux stamp of Ken Kesey is the focus of a blotter acid design.3 However, considering only official postage and individuals primarily famous for their psychoactive work, R. Gordon Wasson is the pioneer of postal personalities.

Intrigued by the possibility of "psychoactive stamps", I expanded the inquiry: What, if any, known psychoactive plants are pictured on postage? Quite a few, actually. Considering its historic importance within the United States, tobacco quickly sprang to mind as a likely candidate. Surprisingly, the opposite appears to be the case. In his blog for the Chicago Sun-Times, movie critic Roger Ebert quips:
"We are all familiar, I am sure, with the countless children and teenagers who have been lured into the clutches of tobacco by stamp collecting, which seems so innocent, yet can have such tragic outcomes."4
Ebert's sarcasm refers to the 2008 Michael Deas portrait of Betty Davis commissioned by the US Postal Service for use on a 42¢ stamp. Though the image is based on a well-known still from her film All About Eve, Davis's ever-present iconic cigarette has vanished from Deas's painting. Her gloved hand remains teasingly poised "in the position", sans smoke. Fourteen years earlier, Robert Johnson, King of the Delta Blues Singers, had the cigarette plucked from his lips by USPS censors in his portrait for a 29¢ stamp. The meager photographic record of this legendary American guitarist makes Johnson's missing smoke feel even more like the hand of Big Brother at work.

In contrast, the French government issued a 30-centime stamp honoring Jean Nicot, the man who introduced tobacco to France in 1560, and whose name was lent to both the plant genus (Nicotiana) and its primary psychoactive component (nicotine).

Ebert's warning raises an amusing alternate concern: Could psychoactive plants lure a person into the clutches of stamp collecting? It seemed so innocent, yet it could have a tragic effect on one's pocketbook. Alas, I was hooked before I bought my first stamp.

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billy pilgrim said...

when i saw your headline i thought it meant there was a hit of acid on the back of the stamp when you lick it.

Mr. Shife said...

I thought the same thing as BP. That is the only stamp collecting I did in college. Have a Merry Christmas, texlahoma.

Galt-in-Da-Box said...

Never caught a buzz from collecting stamps, what's it like?

billy pilgrim said...

merry christmas tex!

Galt-in-Da-Box said...

Merry Christmas tex!
Hope yours has been great.

texlahoma said...

Merry Christmas Billy, Galt, Mr. Shife and Everybody!

texlahoma said...

Billy and Mr. Shife, they should make a stamp like that, sell them for $10 each.
US Postal Service Makes a Profit For First Time In Recent History!

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