• on Aug 17th, 2015 in Products & Services | 206 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 Jul 20th, 2015 in Products & Services | 2 comments

    Elvis is back in the building! Earlier this month, the U.S. Postal Service previewed the new Elvis Presley stamp that will be released in August as part of the popular music icons series of commemorative stamps that include the likes of Ray Charles, Janis Joplin, and Jimi Hendrix. 

    As the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Elvis is regarded as one of the most significant cultural icons of the 20th century. And his enormous star power certainly carried over to his stamp. Elvis mania helped make the original Elvis stamp, issued in 1993, the most popular commemorative stamp of all time, according to the National Postal Museum. 

    Given that history, will the new stamp featuring a 1955 photograph of the King be another top seller?

    Elvis isn’t the only celestial body making postage stamp news this month. Also getting attention is the 1991 Pluto stamp, which scientists affixed to NASA’s New Horizons probe that just made contact with the dwarf planet. According to a recent Washington Post blog, when the stamp was designed as part of a planetary set, Pluto was the only planet that lacked a robotic companion – no spacecraft had ever been sent to explore it. So there was no American robot to show off in the stamp illustration like for the other planets. Instead, the words “Pluto, not yet explored” were put on the stamp. Some scientists said they saw this as a sort of “call to arms” to explore Pluto. 

    Now that Pluto is getting its day in the sun, so to speak, the Pluto stamp is too – even if its words are no longer true. A few years ago, the New Horizons team petitioned the Postal Service for a new stamp but there’s no word on whether that will happen.

    Stamps hold a unique place in American culture, which may be why so many people feel strongly about what should or shouldn’t be on them. Our previous blog on the Harry Potter stamp drew a record number of comments. The stamp was controversial because, for one reason, the subject matter – a British wizard created by a British novelist – wasn’t strictly American.

    Well, Elvis and the U.S. space program are as American as apple pie. So their stamps are not likely to be nearly as controversial. Still, here’s your chance to weigh in with your favorite stamp and what others you might like to see.   

  • on May 25th, 2015 in Ideas Worth Exploring | 60 comments

    The U.S. Postal Service is best known for delivering the mail. But did you know it’s also the number one seller of the most widely used type of alternative financial service in the United States? We’re talking about money orders, which function like prepaid checks. The Postal Service sold a whopping 97 million of them with a face value of $21 billion in fiscal year 2014.

    The Postal Service also offers international money transfers, prepaid gift cards, and limited check cashing. From 1911 to 1967, it even offered savings accounts through the Postal Savings System, which prompted millions of Americans to move a portion of their nest eggs from under the mattress into savings accounts.  

    In our recent white paper, The Road Ahead for Postal Financial Services, we explore how the Postal Service could expand its financial offerings to benefit Americans and generate much needed new revenue. (This is a follow-up to our January 2014 paper, Providing Non-Bank Financial Services for the Underserved.) We hired financial consultancy Mercator Advisory Group to help us look at the pros and cons of several different approaches the Postal Service could take. But we dove deepest into what it probably is allowed to do under current law; namely, beef up and improve existing products and expand into adjacent, related services like payroll check cashing, domestic electronic money transfers between post offices, and walk-up bill paying. Our analysis shows that – assuming Postal Regulatory Commission approval – a suite of these potentially allowable products could, after a 5-year ramp-up, bring in $1.1 billion in annual revenue while covering costs and contributing profits.

    We welcome your input. 

    • Should the Postal Service look at new business lines that are not directly related to mail and delivery?
    •  Which financial products do you think the Postal Service should provide? 
    • What do you think are the biggest barriers to success in postal financial services?  

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