When purchasing postage stamps, I usually go for the commemoratives. I figure it adds a little pizzazz to my bill-paying (I still like doing it the old fashioned way) and to my letter-writing (I’m old school on this one, too). And I like commemoratives because there is always something to learn from them, as these stamps often highlight an historic event, a famous person or place, or a certain nugget of pop culture, music or the arts.

The clerk offered up a few options, and I passed on the Elvis Presley stamp and went right for the one marking the 225th anniversary of the U.S. Coast Guard.

The stamp has a bit of an “oh, wow” factor, as it is based on a handsome oil painting showing an orange MH-65 Dolphin helicopter (a rescue aircraft) flying in front of the barque Eagle, which is the three-masted sailing ship used to train cadets at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn.The USCG commemorative stamp. USPS image.

The stamp was unveiled on Aug. 4 at a ceremony at Coast Guard headquarters in Washington, D.C. The last time the Coast Guard had a commemorative was in 1965. The first was issued in 1945 to acknowledge the Coast Guard’s service during World War II.

The narrative on the back of the 20-stamp sleeve gives a brief history of the service, which got its start in 1790 “when rampant maritime smuggling was starving the fledgling nation of desperately needed tariff revenue.”

George Washington approved construction of a fleet of 10 boats, called revenue cutters, to perform customs enforcement. “These cutters were the earliest forerunners of today’s Coast Guard,” the text reads, and today, “on America’s waterways and oceans, the Coast Guard is the nation’s first responder” – enforcing maritime laws, maintaining shipping lands, breaking ice, protecting the environment, responding to oil spills and water pollution, providing port security and combating terrorism.

What the text doesn’t say is that the Coast Guard is constantly squeezed for money - juggling 11 missions with a $10 billion budget - and functions with aging equipment that is being gradually replaced by state-of-the art technology and design.

Unlike the other branches of the military, the Coast Guard is the lesser-known and appreciated service. Perhaps this new stamp will help lick the problem by raising the Coast Guard’s visibility.

Pamela Glass is the Washington, D.C., correspondent for WorkBoat. She reports on the decisions and deliberations of congressional committees and federal agencies that affect the maritime industry, including the Coast Guard, U.S. Maritime Administration and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Prior to coming to WorkBoat, she covered coastal, oceans and maritime industry news for 15 years for newspapers in coastal areas of Massachusetts and Michigan for Ottaway News Service, a division of the Dow Jones Company. She began her newspaper career at the New Bedford (Mass.) Standard-Times. A native of Massachusetts, she is a 1978 graduate of Wesleyan University (Conn.). She currently resides in Potomac, Md.