When it came to approving a stamp for the Supreme Court's bicentennial, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist said no to an angel. At least that's the way New York artist Howard Koslow said he interpreted Rehnquist's rejection of the commemorative he created for the court's 200-year anniversary. Postal Service officials confirmed that Rehnquist rejected Koslow's first design, but they say the winged figure on the vetoed stamp was not an angel; it was "a winged genius," a guardian figure who was supposed to be watching over the Constitution.
Whatever the figure was, postal and court officials acknowledged it was too abstract for the chief justice. A postal official said Rehnquist told Postmaster General Anthony M. Frank at a meeting last year that he would prefer something "more literal."
Feb. 2, Rehnquist got what he wanted _ a stamp that carries the very clear image of John Marshall, the chief justice who in 35 years on the court firmly established its power. In 1803, two years after he joined the court, Marshall wrote the crucial Marbury vs. Madison ruling, holding that the courts had the power to declare acts of Congress unconstitutional.
The red-bordered stamp carrying Marshall's image is the fourth and final commemorative in a series created by Koslow to mark the bicentennial of the three branches of the federal government. The design is in keeping with last year's stamp honoring the executive branch, a stamp that carried an image of George Washington, but unlike the Washington stamp, Marshall's name and title have been added to the court stamp.
Marshall is not well-known to the public and needs identification, said Joe Brockert of the Postal Service's philatelic design office. Washington, who has appeared on more U.S. stamps than any person, "is (an) icon," Brockert said.
Koslow said the court stamp's "angel," taken from artwork on the walls of the original Supreme Court Chamber in the Capitol, was a continuation of the theme of the first two stamps, which honor the House and Senate with sculptured allegorical figures from the Capitol, but after Rehnquist objected, Koslow's design was dropped and the East Norwick, N.Y., artist began a search for something less abstract that would clearly depict the Supreme Court. Rehnquist suggested Marshall and John Jay, the first chief justice.
"(Rehnquist) wanted something that clearly symbolized the court, and nothing does it better than Marshall," said Toni House, a spokeswoman for the court. "He is called the great justice."
Postal officials and Koslow said they soon agreed that Marshall probably was the best second choice. He had been featured on five previous U.S. stamps, the first in 1894 and the last in 1955. Jay, who served only briefly as chief justice, has been on one stamp, a 1958 15-cent stamp.
Collectors who wish first-day cancellations of the new 25-cent Supreme Court stamp should have their requests postmarked by March 4. Individuals who purchase the stamp should place them on envelopes and send them to: Customer-Affixed Envelopes, Supreme Court Stamp, Postmaster, Washington, D.C. 20066-9991. Postal workers will affix the stamp on up to 50 envelopes at a price of 25 cents each at: Supreme Court Stamp, Postmaster, Washington, DC 20066-9992.
Send changes in listings to Stamps, Newsfeatures Department, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, Fla. 33731.