USS Nautilus pictorial cachet handstamp


Smithsonian's National Postal Museum

Smithsonian's National Postal Museum

On August 3, 1958, crew members Frank Holland and John Krawczyk commemorated the first trip by a submarine under the North Pole with this specially-crafted handstamp. Krawczyk created this special cachet in two parts so no one could guess the ship’s still-secret mission. The other handstamp that makes-up this cachet illustrates the Arctic ice shelf. When the two stamps are overlaid, the whale is planting the flag at the North Pole.

The journey below the pole was made by the USS Nautilus, the world’s first nuclear submarine, in the midst of the Cold War. The ship first tried to pass under the pole in July, but the ice was thicker than anticipated. Crew member John C. Yuill later recalled that the ship was forced to “grope along near the bottom, trying to find a way through into deeper water. It was tedious at times and nail-biting at others as we passed under ever thickening ridges of ice forcing us closer and closer to the sea bottom.” Commander W.R. Anderson ordered the ship to turn around when the vessel had only about six feet of space between it and the ice above or the sea floor below. The crew would try again later.

Crew members helped cancel 1,528 envelopes with Krawczyk and Holland’s hand-made devices. The cachet was added on the outbound trip, and the date stamp applied while the sub was seven hundred feet below the pole.

The Nautilus emerged northeast of Greenland on August 5, 1958. Commander Anderson was airlifted off the ship and flown to Washington, D.C., for a press conference. He carried along the specially-cancelled mail in a sack entrusted to his aide, Captain E.P. Aurand. Postmaster General Summerfield assured Anderson that the mail would be put into the mail stream despite having been cancelled by a ship crew, not postal workers. True to Summerfield’s word, the envelopes were placed into the mail and made their way to their destinations.

Museum ID: 0.221563.2

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  • Title: USS Nautilus pictorial cachet handstamp
  • Date Created: 1958-08-03
  • Physical Dimensions: 9.2 x 9.2 x 2.5 cm
  • Subject Keywords: North Pole, handstamp
  • External Link: USS Nautilus Handstamp
  • Medium: wood; rubber; sponge


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