Postmark designer commemorates big historical events in the smallest spaces

Postmark designer commemorates big historical events in the smallest spaces

LONG BEACH - Thomas Rogers didn't hear his name being called out during the recent unveiling ceremony for the new Lewis and Clark postage stamps at Cape Disappointment State Park - he was in an adjoining room buying his own stamps.

The master of ceremonies at the event wanted the audience to see who designed the special commemorative postmarks that postal employees were stamping by the thousands on letters, postcards and collector books.

"It was an honor to be asked to do these," said Rogers, a former engraver for the United States Mint whose work can be seen on the Sacagawea dollar, several commemorative coins and a variety of medals and medallions.

A full-time "RV-er" who until recently made Long Beach his home address, Rogers has spent his career honoring heroes and landmarks on a space often no bigger than a quarter.

The New York native and U.S. Navy veteran was hired by a medal company out of college in 1974 as a sketch artist and "eased into" the sculpture end of the craft, designing plaques, medals and memorial portraits. Among his creations were 94 portraits displayed at the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Ohio.

Working in depths sometimes measured by the 100,000th of an inch, Rogers developed his own technique of sculpting designs directly onto the plaster form used to create the coins. By skipping the traditional first step of casting into clay, this method creates a sharper image, but it also requires extra patience and skill, since plaster is more difficult to work with, and the image must be done as a negative - backwards.

In 1991 Rogers joined the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia, and in nine years there, came up with designs for 13 commemorative coins, 12 medals, including four Congressional medals, three quarters and the Sacagawea dollar coin, which was chosen from out of 123 entries. In 2000 he was honored with a lifetime achievement award in medallic sculpture from the American Numismatic Association.

Commissions, especially for coins, come with a lot of directives about wording, images and other features, he said.

"You try to come up with something that pleases everybody," he said. "There are a lot of organizations involved. There's a lot of red tape."

A unique feature of the Sacagawea dollar Rogers incorporated into the design is the 17 stars around the border, representing the number of states at the time of the Lewis and Clark expedition. That feature was picked up when the national bicentennial organization came up with its official logo, which has 17 stars in the sky. "I'm pleased they took one of my themes," he said.

Along with the Sacagawea dollar and postmarks, Rogers has created other Lewis and Clark items such as the silver ingot sold by the Pacific County Friends of Lewis and Clark group, and a medal to be given to Corps of Discovery descendants who will gather in Astoria this summer for a nationwide reunion.

The postmarks, which Rogers designed for free, presented their own challenge - coming up with a design fine enough to work as a stamp without smudging the ink when it was applied.

"When you do a reduction, you need the lines to be a certain thickness," he said. "If there are too many lines together, it will just be a black blob when it's stamped."

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