WDEL Blog: Eclectic Hobbies with Allan Loudell

In bid for new revenue, U.S. Post Office will honor living Americans on stamps. But previous policy was not that clear-cut!

You probably heard or read the stories in the general media that the United States Postal Service would end its long-standing rule that U.S. postage stamps cannot portray people who are still alive.

Indeed, generally speaking, a person had to be deceased five years before that person's image could appear on a U.S. postage stamp. Before January 1st, 2007, a decade was required.

The major exception was U.S. Presidents, who could be remembered on a postage stamp the year following their deaths.

The financially-strapped postal service hopes this move encourages some people to set stamps aside as souvenirs, rather than use them; obviously, that would produce additional revenue.

It's not so much aimed at serious or traditional stamp collectors... who have often already shown disdain for stamps portraying contemporary culture. (Many would much prefer a traditionally engraved stamp portraying a significant figure or event in U.S. history.)

In that sense, the traditional collectors are out of sync with the U.S. public. The Elvis Presley stamps were the most popular U.S. commemorative stamps of all time!

However, recent accounts in the popular press of the U.S. Postal Service's change of heart were slightly misleading or incomplete with regard to the portrayal of living persons on stamps.

Most recently, in 2007, the "Star Wars" characters were portrayed on U.S. stamps. That meant you saw Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and others on U.S. stamps. The Post Office could argue a small technicality: The stamps portrayed and drew attention to the "Star Wars" characters, and not the real people. So, the stamps were portraying Han Solo, not Harrison Ford; Princess Leia, not Carrie Fisher, etc. A rather slim distinction. Some traditional collectors complained.

The U.S. Postal Service's "First Man on the Moon" stamp showed an image of an astronaut stepping out of the Apollo 11 "Eagle" lunar module on July 21st, 1969. Everyone knew that was supposed to be Neil Armstrong, but you couldn't see his face through the space gear -- and it was a sideways portrayal anyway. Again, the Post Office could argue a technicality.

Decades earlier, the post office issued a stamp depicting the American military personnel raising the Stars and Stripes atop Iwo Jima; another stamp with that same famous photograph came out decades later. But again, you didn't see the faces of the persons involved.

Of course, many other countries' postal services have not had such a ban on the portrayals of living persons.

That's especially so in countries with reigning monarchs, where royals often appear on stamps. Canada Post looked to increase revenue recently - from both collectors and the general public - with several Royal Wedding stamps.

Canada Post has also issued stamps portraying living Canadian musical figures, such as Joni Mitchell.

The Swedish Post Office issued an ABBA stamp some years ago.

And both Barack Obama and Joe Biden have already appeared on stamps blatantly aimed at the collectors' market. For example, the Republic of Liberia - which has suffered great problems with internal postal deliveries in recent years, given civil war and a general breakdown of law & order - nonetheless dutifully issued Obama and Biden stamps.

(In many cases with Third World countries, international syndicates will take over design, production, and marketing after winning authorization from the host country; the host country gets financial compensation; but these stamps intended primarily for foreign collectors hardly ever appear for sale in the post offices of that particular country. Traditional collectors usually spurn such issues; but some "topical" collectors may take the bait!)


You can hear my interview about the change in the Postal Service's policy with the only journalist who covers the U.S. Postal Service fulltime as a "beat" -- Bill McAllister, Washington correspondent for LINN's STAMP NEWS...


Audio Here


If you're interested in stamps in U.S. history, here's a link to an article about the Iwo Jima stamps...


http://www.iwojima.com/stamps/index.htm


Assuming the new policy is set, which living persons would you want to see on U.S. postage stamps? Do you fear another "culture wars" battle, if certain controversial figures in movies, television, music, or literature are proposed?

Lady Gaga? Charlie Sheen?

Should living politicians NOT be considered? (Rather doubtful they'd generate blockbuster sales anyway!)

Posted at 7:31pm on September 27, 2011 by Allan Loudell

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Comments on this post:

JimH
Wed, Oct 12, 2011 11:49am
The prohibition of living persons on U.S. stamps was, I believe, a good policy. We did not want to be confused with the British Empire (Commonwealth) by portraying our Head of State on our postage or currency.

Of course, Canada followed the British custom. As QEII is the Queen of Canada, she and others in her family would be featured on their stamps. I have the Newfoundland set from back in the early 1900's, which had stamps for each member of George V's family. His mother, uncles and all the kids had their own stamp. It was strictly a fund raising measure!

Unlike the US, the CSA did feature living persons, including President Jefferson Davis. I still consider that a strange departure from American "tradition" although postage stamps had only been around a few years back then.


If we are changing policy, who should we feature? Certainly no living political office holder! Actors? They are popular today, out of date tomorrow. Musicians? Same as actors. The next time the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge visit, do we honor them? We are not part of the Commonwealth, so the answer is no! If the Queen is healthy enough to visit us one more time, however, I might make an exception. Or perhaps for her 60th anniversary next year.

But why not issue a stamp for the Detroit Tigers after they win the World Series. Or the Super Bowl champs. Each player getting his own stamp on a sheet! Or an American who recieves a Nobel prize (as long as its not Al Gore!).
Or a U.S. Olympic champ.


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