Hearing the enthusiasm in his voice, and seeing the animation in his face, you would believe that Terry McCaffrey had just been hired to design his first stamp.
But on December 31, 2010, McCaffrey is retiring after 40 years with the U.S. Postal Service, with 20 of those years spent shaping the U.S. stamp program. He has designed, directed, or influenced some 2,500 stamps — more than half the total issued by the Postal Service in its history.
McCaffrey joined the Postal Service in 1970 as a designer in the communications department, but a routine request in 1976 changed the course of his future.
When asked to reduce a 3-foot piece of art down to stamp size for review by the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee (CSAC), McCaffrey spoke up. “The artwork was beautiful,” he recounts, “a montage of old stamps forming the Philadelphia skyline. It would have made a fabulous poster, but I told them that it wouldn’t work at stamp scale.
“I said, ‘I can do better — give me a chance to design the stamp.’”
Apparently CSAC agreed with McCaffrey’s assessment, and the following week he had his opportunity. “Of course I panicked,” he says, “I did a couple of comps, but I thought, They’ll never go for this.”
Well, he was wrong. They did go for it, and his 13¢ Interphil 76 stamp was the beginning of a career that would set the direction of U.S. stamps for years to come.
McCaffrey designed the two Energy stamps the following year and jumped at every chance to work on stamp-related projects, including more than 300 lobby posters, stamp yearbooks, and First Day Ceremony programs. “My love was always for stamps,” he says.
He transferred to the stamp design team in 1990, was named creative director in 1992, and by 2000 had become the manager of Stamp Development. Under McCaffrey’s leadership, the U.S. program has moved toward bolder designs, more unique formats, and a much broader range of subject matter.
“We dragged the program kicking and screaming into the 20th century,” he says with a laugh. "We brought in new artists with fresh approaches and pushed for subjects that reflected contemporary American culture, not just traditional topics.”
Indeed, a review of the U.S. stamp program before and after the early 1990s shows McCaffrey’s influence.
“The Priority Mail® eagle stamp paved the way for more use of photography,” McCaffrey says of his 1991 design. “I couldn’t believe that we had used photographs in only two instances prior to that.”
He cites the 1993 Elvis Presley stamp as a watershed issue. “Many felt that Elvis was an inappropriately commercial subject, but record-breaking sales proved that popular cultural icons had a place on stamps.”
When pressed to pick a favorite project, McCaffrey admits to a special fondness for The Art of Disney series. “It was one of the best working relationships I’ve ever had,” he says of his collaboration with the Disney team. “We’d lock ourselves in a room and [Disney art director] David Pacheco would sketch Bambi and Snow White, without any references, while we worked out the designs. It was amazing.”
In addition to a wealth of memories, McCaffrey also has definite opinions about future directions: “In order to remain relevant, stamps must reflect the culture of the time.”
He is also an advocate for the use of Forever® denominations throughout the program. “I think it’s the only way to go,” he affirms.
According to David Failor, executive director of Stamp Services, “There’s no doubt that the past 20 years of the stamp program will be remembered as the McCaffrey era — a time when the U.S. stamp program evolved into an exciting visual experience for customers and collectors.”
And how does McCaffrey sum it up?
“My job was to create stamps for the American public, and I’ve tried to make the program relevant and alive. The fact that a kid from a town of 3,000 could be part of an iconic program that has been around since 1847 is just incredible to me."
The excitement still shows in his voice, in his face, and in an ongoing, dynamic U.S. stamp program.
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