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1937 Two-Cent Navy Stamp: Stephen Decatur and Thomas Macdonough

Brian started collecting stamps as a child. He recommends the hobby as a beautiful way to learn about history and the world.

The U.S. Post Office issued a series of commemorative postage stamps between December 1936 and May 1937 to pay tribute to the Navy and the Army.

The Navy stamps honor naval heroes and leaders from the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Civil War, and the Spanish-American War, as well as the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland. The Army commemoratives honor a comparable group of army heroes.

This series commemorates some of the true heroes of America's military history.

The two-cent Navy stamp.

The two-cent Navy stamp.

Two-Cent Navy Stamp

The carmine 2¢ Navy stamp features portraits of two naval heroes from the War of 1812, Stephen Decatur and Thomas Macdonough. Under each man's portrait is the name of a ship under his command: Decatur's ship United States and Macdonough's Saratoga, respectively. The stamp also depicts a large Navy warship of the era, most likely the Saratoga.

This is the second stamp in the five-stamp Navy series, which also includes

The corresponding two-cent carmine Army stamp, featuring Generals Andrew Jackson and Winfield Scott, was issued on the same date as the two-cent Navy stamp.

Facts About This Stamp

  • Date and Place Issued: January 15, 1937, in Washington, D.C.
  • Quantity Issued: 92,054,550
  • Designer: Alvin R. Meissner
  • Engravers: John Eissler & Carl T. Arlt (vignette), E. M. Weeks (lettering)
  • Scott Catalog No. 791
Stephen Decatur

Stephen Decatur

Commodore Stephen Decatur (1779–1820)

The son of an American naval officer in the Revolutionary War, Stephen Decatur joined the Navy in 1798 at age 19. He first served as a Midshipman on the USS United States under the command of Commodore John Barry in the undeclared Quasi-War with France from 1798 to 1800. In 1799, Decatur was promoted to Lieutenant.

Decatur became a national hero in the First Barbary War. In February 1804, he executed a daring raid in the harbor at Tripoli that succeeded in burning the USS Philadelphia, which had been captured by the Tripolitans. His reputation was enhanced during a second attack on Tripoli in August 1804, when he led hand-to-hand fighting and captured an enemy gunboat. At age 25, Decatur was promoted to Captain, the youngest man in U.S. naval history to hold that rank.

In 1810 Decatur was appointed to command the USS United States, the ship on which he had served at the beginning of his naval career. He again distinguished himself in the War of 1812. Most notably, in October 1812 Commodore Decatur's squadron captured HMS Macedonia and refitted it for use by the U.S. Navy. In January 1815, Decatur's ship the USS President was captured by the British. Decatur was wounded and taken prisoner. He was held in a Bermuda prison until the end of the war, but was treated with great respect by the British due to his stature. He received a Congressional Gold Medal for his service in the war.

Decatur boarding the Tripolitan gunboat during the bombardment of Tripoli, 3 August 1804.

Decatur boarding the Tripolitan gunboat during the bombardment of Tripoli, 3 August 1804.

The War of 1812 was followed almost immediately by the Second Barbary War, declared by Congress in March 1815. Decatur led a ten-ship squadron to the Mediterranean to secure the release of imprisoned American merchant seamen, end the payment of tribute to the Barbary states, and obtain favorable prize agreements. En route to Algiers, Decatur captured the Algerian flagship Mashouda, killing its commander and taking more than 400 prisoners. Decatur's "gunboat diplomacy" enabled him to obtain favorable treaties not only with Algiers, but also with Tunis and Tripoli. As a result of his success, he became known as "the Conqueror of the Barbary Pirates."

Decatur was appointed to the Board of Navy Commissioners in 1816. He died in 1820 at the age of 41 from a gunshot wound sustained in a duel with fellow Naval officer James Barron.

Thomas Macdonough

Thomas Macdonough

Captain Thomas Macdonough (1783–1825)

Born in Delaware, Thomas Macdonough joined the Navy as a Midshipman in 1800 when he was just 16 years old. In the last year of the Quasi-War against France, he served aboard the USS Ganges, which captured three French merchant ships in the West Indies.

In the First Barbary War, Macdonough served on the USS Philadelphia before it ran aground and was captured by the Tripolitans. He was reassigned to serve under Stephen Decatur and played a critical and heroic role in Decatur's raid on Tripoli's harbor in February 1804, which resulted in the destruction of the captured Philadelphia.

Naval Battle of Plattsburgh

Naval Battle of Plattsburgh

Macdonough was commissioned as a Lieutenant in 1806. Following a leave of absence from the Navy from 1810 to 1812, he returned to active service just before the start of the War of 1812. In October 1812 he took command of U.S. naval forces in Lake Champlain, a strategically important waterway given the British military presence in Canada. To strengthen America's naval defenses, Macdonough supervised the building of the USS Saratoga and the building and repairing of a number of other ships at the shipyard in Otter Creek, Vermont.

In September 1814, Macdonough engaged a British squadron led by Commodore George Downie in the Battle of Plattsburgh. Commanding the Saratoga, Macdonough outmaneuvered the British, killing Downie, forcing the surrender of the British flagship HMS Confiance, and destroying or capturing most of the remaining British ships. Macdonough's victory forced the British army that had marched on Plattsburgh to return to Canada, and eliminated any British claim to American territory in the Treaty of Ghent that ended the war.

For his success in the Battle of Plattsburgh, Macdonough was promoted to the rank of Captain and was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal. He continued to serve in the Navy until his death at sea in 1825.

Collect Stamps and Learn History

So now you know a little of the history represented by the two-cent Navy commemorative of 1937.

Collecting postage stamps, especially commemorative issues, is a great way to learn about important people and historical events. The U.S. alone has issued hundreds of commemorative postage stamps, and many other countries have also issued fascinating stamps.

Most of these commemorative stamps are affordable for collectors. Give stamp collecting a try. It's fun and educational!

Questions & Answers

Question: What is the 1937 two-cent Navy stamp worth?

Answer: The standard source for collectible stamp values is the Scott postage stamp catalog, which is available in many libraries. A good online resource is the Hobbizine website. As of today, Hobbizine says the value of the Decatur / Macdonough stamp is $0.45 in mint condition, and $0.20 used. Keep in mind that these are values, not prices. They don't necessarily correspond to the price you would pay to buy one from a stamp dealer, or the price you would receive if you were to sell one.


Brian Lokker (author) from Bethesda, Maryland on January 26, 2012:

@freelanceauthor - Thanks for stopping by! I'm glad you enjoyed the hub. Best, Brian

freelanceauthor on January 26, 2012:

Wow, quite a lot of information from a single stamp. Awesome