• on Aug 17th, 2015 in Products & Services | 156 comments

    Think stamps are only worth the paper they’re printed on? Philatelists will tell you to think again. The tiny One-Cent Magenta stamp, now on display at the National Postal Museum, recently sold for $9.5 million. 

    Of course, that sole-surviving stamp of the British Guiana penny issues is the rarest stamp in the world. Other stamps deemed collectible by the philatelic community are also worth a pretty penny. 

    Take the 1918 Inverted Jenny 24-cent airmail stamp. It is one of the world’s most collectible stamps because a sheet of 100 misprinted stamps showing an upside-down biplane was accidently sold to a customer. In today’s market, an Inverted Jenny stamp could fetch close to $1 million. 

    Yes, collectors are passionate about their stamps. Indeed, stamp collecting even has a month – October – designated to recognize an activity that can range from a hobby to an obsession. Two years ago to celebrate National Stamp Collecting Month, the U.S. Postal Service reissued 2.2 million Inverted Jenny souvenir stamp sheets. The souvenir stamp sheets feature six $2 stamps and sells for $12. Collectors could buy the stamps at select postal retail counters and through USPS.com, eBay.com, and by ordering via a toll free phone number. The Postal Service’s goal was to sell all 2.2 million stamp sheets in the first 60 days for $26.4 million in revenue. As of March 31, total stamp sales were about $13 million.

    To generate interest in stamp collecting and engage new generations of stamp collectors, the Postmaster General requested that the Postal Service create 100 additional stamp sheets that showed the biplane upright. Seventy of these Un-Inverted Jenny stamp sheets were distributed to be sold in the top 50 markets along with 1.2 million Inverted Jenny stamp sheets. The remaining 30 Un-Inverted Jenny stamp sheets were to be randomly distributed in the first 60 days of release.

    While an innovative idea, this action had the unintended consequence of creating and improperly distributing a philatelic rarity, our recent management advisory noted. The Postal Service strongly and inappropriately influenced the secondary market by creating a rarity, the report said. In 2014, at least two Un-Inverted Jenny stamp sheets sold for more than $50,000 each. Our report recommended the Postal Service develop a formal process for philatelic promotions. 

    What reaction did you have to the issuance of the upright Jenny stamp? What types of activities do you think would enhance support of the philatelic program? 

  • on Nov 24th, 2014 in Products & Services | 19 comments

    It’s been more than 3 years since the U.S. Postal Service changed its rules on postage stamps, ending its long-standing tradition that people on stamps had to be deceased. At the time of the announcement, the Postal Service said it would consider stamps for acclaimed American musicians, sports stars, writers, artists, and other nationally known figures.

    The policy change led some people to worry that stamps were becoming advertisements, not carefully considered subjects of cultural relevance. Others worried that honoring a living legend could backfire. What if that person went on to do something embarrassing or, worse, illegal later in life? That’s no small concern as recent headlines from the sports pages suggest.

    Yet, 3 years on, none of the major stamp releases have featured any living “celebrities,” unless you consider the fictional character of Harry Potter to be a celebrity. (While the stamps featured the actors from the movie, the stamp honored the films, not the actors.) That release stirred up a good deal of controversy – and publicity – primarily because many philatelists felt it commercialized the stamp program. And, they noted, Harry Potter isn’t even American. Others, however, applauded the move as an attempt to make stamps relevant to a younger generation.

    The large response to our blog on the topic got us wondering: Who would you like to see on a stamp? Would you send more mail if you could buy stamps honoring Bruce Springsteen, Justin Bieber, Michael Jordan, or Julia Roberts? Do you think living celebrities should be allowed? Yes, but with certain criteria? Is it important to you that the featured individual be American?

    You can find out more about the Postal Service’s stamp program by visiting http://uspsstamps.com/ 

  • on Dec 2nd, 2013 in Products & Services | 228 comments

    Young or old Elvis? That was the question 20 years ago when the U.S. Postal Service considered artwork for the Elvis stamp. The Postal Service put the vote to the public and controversy soon followed. Members of Congress debated the worthiness of an Elvis stamp, then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton weighed in, and the whole thing became fodder for cartoonists and late-night comedians, according to the National Postal Museum.

    Elvis Mania paid off and the Elvis stamp went on to become the most popular U.S. commemorative stamp of all time.

    Now comes the Harry Potter stamp. He may not be the cultural icon Elvis is, but he’s created no less controversy. The Postal Service hopes the stamp will be a blockbuster to rival the king of rock n’ roll. The organization also hopes a Harry Potter stamp – and other youth-themed stamps – will spark interest in stamp collecting among the younger generation. But some philatelists think the idea of a Harry stamp is all wrong. For one thing, Harry Potter isn’t even American. Philatelists tend to view stamps as works of art and small pieces of American history. They balk at images that are blatantly commercial.

    The disagreement has put stamp collecting and the entire process for choosing a stamp in the news. The news reports also raise the issue of the future of stamps. Stamp collecting is seen by some as a dying hobby, as fewer young Americans participate. The stamp controversy actually underscores a larger Postal Service dilemma: How does it stay relevant among a generation that doesn’t really think too often about stamps or even hard copy communications? The postmaster general, for one, has said the Postal Service needs to start thinking differently. In an interview with the Washington Post, he said the agency “needs to change its focus toward stamps that are more commercial” as a way to increase revenue to compensate for declining mail volume as Americans switch to the Internet.

    Tell us what you think:

    • Should the Postal Service market stamp images that focus on a younger audience in hopes of reaching beyond traditional collectors and generating sales?
    • Should the Postal Service be allowed to develop themes and images that do not focus on American heritage for the sake of sales?
    • Or, should stamps be works of art and pieces of history and not based on fads or celebrities?
    • What stamp images would you like to see?