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#186 The Alden Partridge Stamp Was Issued on the Wrong Date

Jeff Dobbin 200 Things about Norwich, This Week in History

Thirty-four years ago, Norwich University celebrated another bicentennial milestone on a national scale. 1985 marked the 200th anniversary of our founder’s birth in the town of Norwich, Vt. For those following along at home, this means he was just 34 years old when he founded the American Literary, Scientific, and Military Academy. In honor of his 200th birthday, the U.S. Postal Service honored Partridge with an 11-cent stamp. The commemorative issue marked Partridge’s role as the spiritual father of ROTC and his profound influence on American higher education.

The stamp’s image was based on a lithographic likeness of Partridge. The image first appeared in print in 1842, and its history was recently detailed in another post from this series. Robert Anderson translated the lithograph into a design for a stamp. The design was unveiled by Postmaster General William Bolger in October 1984.

In 1985, first class postage was 22 cents. The 11-cent Partridge stamp was part of the Great Americans series, which featured stamps of various values to be used for supplemental postage. Other individuals featured in the series include Rachel Carson, Pearl S. Buck, and—coincidentally—Sylvanus Thayer, the rival who succeeded Partridge as superintendent of West Point.

The first day of issue for the stamp was February 12, 1985. A ceremony was held in Northfield with Governor Madeleine Kunin and other dignitaries in attendance. Norwich President Russell Todd was presented with a framed commemorative sheet of the stamps, marked with a postmark from the date of issue. There was just one problem with the first date of issue for the stamp: it was not Alden Partridge’s birthday. Vital records show that he was born on January 12, 1785, but the date was erroneously stated as February in William Arba Ellis’ history of the university, and the misconception stuck.

The stamp was also feted in second day of issue ceremonies in Washington, D.C. and Boston, where the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company hosted a ceremony at Faneuil Hall. Along with other festivities during Partridge’s bicentennial year, this commemoration marked the impact that our founder had on the landscape of America today.