Backdating of Covers with the Project Mercury Stamp

The US Post Office issued a special, commemorative stamp recognizing the three orbit flight of the Marine Corp pilot, Astronaut John H. Glenn, Jr., in the space capsule, "Friendship 7" on 20 February 1962.

The stamp was designed, printed, and distributed to 305 post offices across the United States in secret. The postmasters did not know what the stamps were until official word was sent to unseal the packages and begin the distributions and sale of the stamps.

The Project Mercury stamp was released for sale at 3:30 pm upon the successful splashdown of the astronaut, John Glenn Jr. Only the Cape Canaveral Florida postmark has the words "First Day of Issue" in its cancel. This is considered the official cancel.

On the 20th the USS Noa was the closest ship to the MA-6 capsule and recovered both the astronaut and the capsule. No Project Mercury stamps were aboard the ship at that time. The USS Noa returned to Mayport Naval Station late in the evening of the 22nd. Next day, the 23rd, was the first opportunity to obtain and postmark the Project Mercury stamps with a USS Noa cancel.

However, cacheted covers with a Project Mercury stamp and a Feb 20 1962 USS Noa postmark soon appeared. These covers were backdated! The US Navy Department officially admitted that the covers were backdated and that the US Noa was in error in backing these covers. See my article on the USS Noa covers for more detail.

Some sources state that any recovery ship cover with a February 20, 1962 postmark and a "Project Mercury" stamp is a backdated cover, such as this USS Edmonds cover1. This is not be correct. While there were no Project Mercury stamps aboard any ship at sea on the 20th, the situation is different for ships in port. It is quite possible that, for a ship in port, a member of the crew could have purchased one or more stamps, brought them back to the ship and had them postmarked late on the 20th. This is especially possible with ships with smaller crews where the postal officer may have been willing to postmark covers at any time of the day for special events. An example is a USS General William Mitchell cover2 where there is evidence that the ship was in port at the time and that Lcdr Robert Mickley bought the Project Mercury stamps and posted the cover on board on the 20th3.

1) From the collection of Tom Steiner
2) From the collection of Roland Mantovani
3) Correspondence with Roland Mantovani - see letter page 1 and page 2

This page © Dr Ross J Smith
This page is maintained by the
Last modified on 5 August 2013