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?


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Don't we have something more than witchcraft and sorcery to aspire to?? I would like to see something inspiring with actual purpose, something that is a role model for the youth, including myself... What about a stamp of St. Joan of Arc... What a courageous leader she was! She fought for what she believed in with all of her heart and persevered to the very end... That is something we could all look up to... Have we ever had Abraham Lincoln stamps? If not, that is a must! What a man of true character and integrity...Mother Teresa a most humble giver devoted to the care of the poor, even those who contributed some of the most beautiful music like Beethoven, Bach, Mozart...Even Captain Philips! Someone or something with real meaning, real heart, that makes us want to be a better person.

The Harry Potter stamps are terrific. We could get only two booklets, because they had sold out at our post office. If the Postal Service wants to make money, this is the way to do it. I've purchased stamps from miniscule countries which have a huge portion of their GDP coming from selling stamps of things like Disney films. I would love to see the US issue Lord of the Rings/Hobbit stamps. It's important to remember that the U.S. produced those films and the Harry Potter films. I am a big fan of the Marvel & DC stamps which have been issued and would like to see more. Tying into the science fiction, fantasy, horror, and comics communities would be a great way to go--these people are avid collectors.

As a librarian and lover of literature, I support the use of literary characters on U.S. stamps. In general, our stamps should reflect home-grown cultural figures and concepts from artists, authors and cultural creators from our country. As a young philatelist, I appreciated the unique cultural voice that each country used for its stamps. Therefore, I support the creations of our own country's unique artistic minds being used on our stamps, for the most part.

However, given that the Harry Potter books have sprung from Scotland specifically and the U.K. more generally -- countries with whom we share a good amount of cultural DNA -- this instance of "borrowing" is acceptable. Also, given the fact that so many young people lack basic epistolary writing skills and do not know about the joys of stamp collecting, I see this as a *magical* opportunity to create an access point to these important concepts. Furthermore, consider the dominant themes of the series: loyalty to friends, love of family, selfless acts of kindness, appreciation for variety of the skills of others and respect of individual differences. These themes echo important concepts to American representative democracy and a psychologically healthy society as a whole.

Considering these aspects of the question, I support the Harry Potter stamp series and applaud the public debate on the issue. Thank you, USPS, for many years of beauty and efficacy, in all that you do, come rain, sleet or falling show.

I feel strongly that the United States Postal Service should commemorate the United States with stamps dedicated to historical persons and events, scenic wonders and the like. The USPS should not pander to passing fads like Harry Potter. In my most recent visit to the Post Office, I asked to see the most recent stamps so that I could purchase some interesting ones. After seeing the most recent array of a dozen or so different stamps, I found them so uninspiring that I left the Post Office without purchasing any.

I believe that the USPS should issue stamps to honor and commemorate real people and events. Issuing stamps for pop culture and characters popular among the masses, denigrates those who are truly worth honoring.

1. Postal Services should not market stamp images that focus on young audience.
2. Postal Services should not be allowed to develop themes and images that do not focus on American heritage.
3. Postal Services should develop stamp images based on works of art and history, not based on fads and celebrities.

Sell advertising space on stamps. Users get free or discounted stamps, while advertisers get exposure in return for subsidizing USPS.

I think its a great idea! I believe that it will drive younger individuals to start collecting stamps! Yay!

As a taxpayer and consumer of USPS services, I applaud (nearly) any effort to improve the Postal Service's cash flow, but this was one wave of the wand effort at magical thinking that was, well, not well thought out. A British writer's imagination on a stamp featuring a still living British actor failed to inspire me to go out and buy these stamp set. The inverted Jenny, on the other, hand, got me in early for a few sets worthy of framing and gifting. Suggest you continue to find themes that appeal to local patriots (meaning, regional and sub-regional images that local Americans can relate to), or finding ways to weave US and foreign stamps into social studies in elementary and high school curricula. In conclusion, nice try by two thumbs down.

Yes, please. The Harry Potter books are a phenomenon that should be celebrated. Think of how many young people began to read books or went back to reading books because of them. Plus perhaps this will draw more young people becoming interested in philately.

Stick with the Citizens Stamp Advisory Committee.

A small proportion of new stamps can be aimed at appealing to young people. But these should be chosen with discretion. Many people worldwide collect stamps. What they see on our stamps affects their judgment of the U.S. Blatantly commercial stamps do not give a good image of the U.S. Stick with the Citizens Stamp Advisory Committee for new issues.

What is the business model for the USPS? I hope selling stamps for profit is not the answer.

I am a life long (old) stamp collector and I have become frustrated and disgusted by countries that sell stamps only for profit by publishing stamps about subjects that have no relevance in the country, only to republish the same stamps with overprints, etc. Is the USPS going the same direction as Burkina Faso and others. This approach actually turns off stamp collecting. Stamps should be limited to Americana. We are the most culturally diverse, geographically gorgeous, scientifically creative countries in the world - lets shown that off.

Postage stamps, no matter how scarcely used, reflect the ideals, heritage, and art of the nation that issues them. They are seen not only by our own citizens, but by people worldwide. When our postage stamps celebrate cartoon and fantasy characters, they trivialize our nation in the eyes of others. In so doing, we join the likes of Granada Grenadines, Tonga, Marshall Islands, and others that issue postage stamps with no connection whatsoever to the issuing nation. They are desparate and transparent attempts to make money rather than to commemorate worthwhile national accomplishments. If any other quasi-Government or actual Government agency attempted to raise money by similar means, there would rightfully be national outrage and condemnation. A national postal service is one of the many costs of doing business (running a government in this case). It shouldn't have to make money or break even. Subsidize it!

Selling more stamps comments:
1. USPS made it harder for postally used stamp collectors via self adhesive stamps (off paper).
2. Too many commemorative stamps issued in a year. Stick to themes that sell stamps and drop the rest.
3. USPS does not aid or promote stamp collecting. They spend money on advertising but practically nothing on the hobby.
4. Younger adults, in general, are seemingly not interested in joining anything that costs money in which there is no return on investment. Hobbies are not very popular.
5. Young ( under 40-ish) adults do not use stamps, write letters, etc., as much. They use electronic communications to do just about everything.
6. Increasing stamp sales suggestion: print a small group/lot of multi-colored beautiful stamps that only collectors would be interested in and the rest of the stamps in one color. (create an interest in collecting which could be financially beneficial)
7. No commercial issues, but select some themes of stamps that are beautiful and meaningful, i.e., (se tennant) stamp(s) for holidays to include past heroes like General Lee, stamp(s) for the 4 seasons of the year with each season as a stand alone...etc...All new issue stamps to have initial lots issued in color then changing to one color, however, if the initial color lot size is issued in too large a quantity, the desire to own stamps will be diminished.

I love the Harry Potter idea!!! Stamp collecting is fading and you need to reach the younger generation. I feel that you all do an awesome job and hope you all continue with your innovative, creative ideas!! Keep up the great job!

This ship has long sailed. The Post Office has been killing stamp collecting for many years. I am 72 and have collected since I was 12. When one goes to stamp shows today, most there are of my age or older. When my generation dies, so will stamp collecting. The first blow by the post office was when they greedily began making plate blocks so big they wouldn't fit on an album page. Collectors quit collecting plate blocks and dumped their existing collections onto the scrap postage market. Then the post office started issuing more stamps per year than a sand dune country. Instead of a dozen commemoratives per year, they put out several hundred with a total face value of hundreds of dollars. I haven't bothered saving new US issues since the 1970's. The final blow was when they put out self-stick stamps that weld themselves to the envelope. Today, even if you occasionally get a letter with a commemorative stamp on it, you can't soak it off. Whether you put Bugs Bunny or Harry Potter on a stamp that few will collect anyway makes no significant difference. Put a dodo bird on it.

I stopped collecting stamps when USPS went to self-adhesive stamps. They can't be removed from an album to trade with other collectors or removed to rearrange a collection.2 I think the Harry Potter stamps look cheap. What happened to the engraved look of commemoratives?
I'd like to see more art and crafts featured on stamps. I buy every sheet of art related stamps that my local post office has.

I agree with you Chuck. I was surprised when I saw the Harry Potter stamps. They do look cheap and nothing special about them - almost like children's stickers instead of stamps. I thought at least the images would be drawn instead of photographs.

I believe that the USPS is making a big mistake in producing a Harry Potter series of stamps. I doubt seriously that they will appeal to a generation so use to electronic communication, sometimes it seems that there thumbs are actually part of their smart-phone, and have no idea that there is another way to communicate with one another. Now that schools no longer teach cursive writing I fear that the demise of the personal letter is close at hand.

There are way too many original images to publicize the beauty, history and people of the United States than to waste taxpayers money on something entirely British, even though the movies were made by Hollywood. The USPS was wrong to ignore the Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee and produce these stamps which even though some might sell I fear the vast majority will remain to be destroyed at some later date.

Instead of trying to find some way to make more money, perhaps the USPS should find a better way to save money, the prime example of this would be to produce fewer new issues and improve their delivery to local Post Offices. The USPS should recognize the fact that increasing first class mail volume is never going to happen and that a large part of stamp revenue is going to come from collectors. Increasing the number of new issues is making it harder for the average collector, with limited resources, to acquire them.

Just my two cents.

What does it matter if the only stamps available where young adults shop are flag stamps?

Harry potter would make a great stamp. My niece is crazy about harry potter and she would collect all the stamps.please make harry potter stamps

Why not? It might help matters. It certainly won't hurt matters.

The USPS is on a slippery slope, changing and then violating their own rules about stamp subjects. There are good reasons for not allowing living persons portrayed on our stamps, but they cut the time limit from 10 years deceased to 5, then ignored that entirely. If they had relaxed such rules in the recent past, we would've probably had Lance Armstrong stamps issued - think about it. We've got enough reminders already illustrating how our politicians cave in to moneyed interests, and we've already had plenty of stamp subjects chosen just to suck up to Time-Warner (big shippers and users of the mail).

Time Magazine honored Adolf Hitler with a cover in the late 1930's. Do we want our USPS to make a similar blunder?

I'm just saying...

I appreciate the desperation which is driving USPS to Harry Potter, but this is not a solution to the system's economic woes. Issuing Harry Potter stamps may prompt some youngsters to buy and keep a few Harry Potter stamps, but this unfortunate decision is unlikely to turn them into serious collectors -- and, even if a few do stick around, serious stamp collecting is more likely to prompt them to buy Penny Blacks than pop icons, which will do nothing for the USPS bottom line.

I would much prefer to see USPS honor the dedication and knowledge of the Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee and not make any further end runs around their advice and counsel. Let's keep our stamps on a higher plane than Harry Potter offers...

Stamps are tradtionally depictions of literary or cultural figures. So tell me how stamps depicting characters fron a series of books that sold millions of copies and inspired thousands of costume parties and other events would not be following in this tradition? Oh I see the problem is that these are books and culture for young people. I can understand the narrow point that the books didn't begin in the United States, but I have to wonder if every other stamp face was also born in the US.

What a great idea! I was an avid stamp collector as a youth and am in great despair that this wonderful hobby has lost traction with today's youth. Hopefully this will engage some kids and make for some new members in the American Philatelic Society.

Should the Postal Service market stamp images that focus on a younger audience in hopes of reaching beyond traditional collectors and generating sales?

Yes -- absolutely!! If the Postal Service wants to encourage young philatelists, they have to appeal to this market. That doesn't mean you ignore the more traditional collectors. Market stamps to both groups.

Should the Postal Service be allowed to develop themes and images that do not focus on American heritage for the sake of sales?

Of course. American heritage is a wonderful thing, but I do not see the sense in limiting stamp images to a few moldy historical figures or overdone iconic imagery. Every now and then, a break from tradition is refreshing. Get rid of the Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee -- don't they realize that if the Postal Service fails, stamp collecting will go away?

On a side note -- the Harry Potter stamps must be doing well. I tried to buy some at my local Post Office this morning, and they were sold out.

Or, should stamps be works of art and pieces of history and not based on fads or celebrities?

Develop both kinds of stamps. People like different things -- why not generate interest with a broader offering?

What stamp images would you like to see?

How about a celebration of classic rock groups? I would love a Pink Floyd stamp series. Just sayin' . . .

Give the people what they want and I mean all the people, not just the traditionalist or modernists, young or old. Just make sure the stamps are appropriate for everyone and all ages. This not some sort of private club. The United States Postal Service serves all the people.

USPS should not be supporting commercial interests of any kind. Nor should it be running a lottery as it is doing with the "uninverted" inverts. Management needs to be reminded that USPS has a public purpose and that total revenues from stamps sold but not used is budget dust. The Harry Potter stamps, in particular, suffer from a bizarre distribution system which is compounded by a woefully inadequate normal distribution system.

I alwasy thought someone had to be 1) a rea person 2) deceased before they went on a stamp. I do not agree with puting fictional characters on our postage stamps 0- for collecting or using!

The Harry Potter stamps appeal to a younger audience and have the potential to generate revenue from new sources. I think this is a great idea and the Postal Service should use stamps to promote itself.

I don't think the postal service should be in the business of promoting commercial endeavors. It should stick to its roots. Otherwise, what's next: Corporate America paying to place ads on stamps?

Unfortunately, the Harry Potter stamps crossed a line for me. The release reminded me of stamps I used to see as a kid from other countries - with the sole purpose of those stamps being to make money. Many issues from Manama, Hungary (Soviet-era), etc. were even pre-canceled for collectors without any pretense of actually being used for postage.

I love the Postal Service and use it constantly. I'm working hard to get my children to appreciate the value of a handwritten note or card and sending it to someone via the mail. Not too many years ago, the Postal Service began crossing many lines with stamps that were entirely commercial in nature with little other real American significance. But where the Harry Potter stamps fail is that there is absolutely nothing American about them whatsoever. It's one thing to have a joint issue with, say, France honoring Edith Piaf or Miles Davis. Both were artists with deep ties in both countries. Such a stamp celebrates the arts in both countries. It is a ridiculous fantasy to believe that Harry Potter stamps will either encourage stamp collecting or use of first class mail by young people. The only thing that will encourage such use is to teach the value of this communications channel directly.

A handwritten letter is to e-mail as a newspaper is to its website. Both forms of communication have their place and value. Years ago, I watched as one venerable newspaper in California remade its front page to 'sound' like television. It was a farcical effort later reversed. So, too, must the Postal Service realize that for this next generation the value of first-class mail and stamp collecting will need to be taught directly and not imbibed from one generation to the next.

If the Postal Service wants to appeal to younger people, it had better get into schools and educate. All a Harry Potter stamp will be is a pop collector's curio that cheapens other Postal Service releases and dumbs down that standard. And if too much of that happens, I'll just kiss my collecting days goodbye as well - and I've been collecting since I was 5.

USPS should market stamp images focusing on a younger audience to generate sales. However, displaying living British actors, is NOT the way to do it. There are enough U.S.-centric themes, but if you must honor something generated overseas (i.e., Harry Potter), then use illustrations from the books, not screenshots from some commercial film conglomerate. Why should Tom Felton be on a stamp representing my country?! Who is Tom Felton? EXACTLY!

The Postal Service should be allowed to develop themes and images that do not focus on American heritage, but since stamps are a national enterprise, such themes should be ones that further U.S. values or aspirations, such as international peacemakers, authors, or scientists. Purely entertainment themes cheapen the entire USPS brand.

I am absolutely in favor of the Harry Potter stamp! Harry Potter is on par with the cultural icon that Elvis is - just for a different generation.

Also, Literature and Film Making are both art forms. Who is to say that Harry Potter isn't art? Why shouldn't the Postal Service celebrate great books or movies - even if they also happen to be commercially successful ones? A picture of Harry Potter is at least as much art as a picture of Elvis (one of the most commercially successfuly musicians of all time, by the way)

I'll be buying these.

I think USPS should do whatever is necessary to encourage use of the mails, including designing stamps that appeal to different users. I am a senior citizen, but I just bought the Harry Potter collection because I love the stories. What DOES bother me is that the new four-stamp holiday collection includes kwanza, the Muslim religion, Hanakuh and one other but NOT Christmas. The last is the reason this holiday season began. This country is losing sight of - denying. If you will - it's Christian roots in favor of the so-called political correctness. Correctness does not mean excluding an idea just because you don' agree with it.

This may be a neat idea to work with social media to create an interest in stamps and written correspondence.

Working with Zazzle, the USPS could offer competitions that allow the public to offer their preferences for new stamp lines in their stamp purchases. Both amateur designers and stamp design professionals could enter their designs for competition. The best selling designs that meet established criteria could win cash prizes and winning stamps could have the honor of a national production run.

This could also very much help the USPS know what kinds of stamp designs are of interest to the public.

As a life-long fan of the Postal Service, an avid purchaser of stamps, and as a person who still writes letters by hand to a variety of friends across the country on a very regular basis, I find the notion of the Harry Potter stamps depressing. Our stamps are best when they educate us about our history and affirm the depth of our nation's cultural contribution. Must everything go the way of kissing the ass of the least common denominators in pop culture? Keep those Potter stamps away from me. Most sincerrely, Robert Kokott

A stamp for a fictional character that is nothing more than a commercial, money making success? I'm still waiting for a stamp dedicated to the 241 brothers I lost in Beirut, Lebanon October 23, 1983. The reason 911 happened was because this country chose to forget what happened that horrible day. This was the true begining of the "war on terror" yet they don't teach that in school, do they? There is no commemoration at our nations capitol of the best young men America had to offer in that era, just an occassional small blurb on the news once a year. Yeah, a Harry Potter stamp, great idea afterall he's a fictonal, British "hero"; excellent choice for a U.S. postal stamp!

22 MAU, MSSG-22, BLT 2/6
Beirut ,Lebanon
14Feb.83 - 31 May.83

I think stamps should represent the best of art and history and not be thrown open to the ever encroaching commercialism that has just submerged Thanksgiving!

I don't believe U.S. postage stamps should be replaced by advertising labels and I don't think any decisions about appropriate designs should be made by going around the design committee. The committee should make all decisions concerning new stamp designs.

Both the numbers of new issues and the cost of the new issues has destroyed U.S. postage stamp collecting. Harry will not solve the problem. The U.S. isn't the only country to do this. The hobby is now for wealthier folks or older collectors who still enjoy collecting. It appears that you will have many comments from a turned off stamp collecting community.

Harry Potter is as much an icon of a recent young generation as Dr. Seuss was of mine. We should encourage that generation to be buying stamps. As for commercialization of the USPS, Congress said it's supposed to act like a business, so let it.

the commemorative stamps should be based on American Heros & Sheroes. How is Harry Potter pertainate to our many many unsung Americans past and present? Really Harry Potter???

I do not like these "fad stamps". I believe stamps should reflect the heritage, vistas and portraits of great Americans, and not cartoon characters or commercials for movies.

1) I vote NO for Harry Potter
2) Stamps should reflect USA themes (history, pop culture, geography, people, etc)
3) Pop culture and celebrities are acceptable (Elvis, Ray Charles, Bugs Bunny, Mickey Mouse, Movies, comics, etc.) Pop culture themes have been fun & great. Keep them coming!
4) Stamp Suggestions: VISTA - Volunteers In Service To America; AmeriCorps; RSVP - Retired Senior Volunteer Program; Jerry Lewis; The Three Stooges; comic book covers featuring mailmen or characters receiving mail; The Andrew Sister;, U.S. Coast Guard; more Motown; Million Dollar Quartet (Presley, Cash, Perkins, Lewis);

I prefer American subjects and love stamps of lighthouses, the 50 states, ecosystems, recycling, wildlife, & historic figures. I have trouble believing that many younger people will ever be drawn to the hobby, but if a Harry Potter stamp is successful, fine. I think it's okay to have more commercial stamps AND the traditional ones. I'm not a collector; I just like to put interesting stamps on the mail that I send.

Please go ahead with this series. It is a win-win for the U.S. public and the USPS. As a consumer and advocate of the USPS, we need to find ways to make this service both sustainable and profitable.

I agree, US postage stamps are mini-cultural educational lessons, they reflect aspects of our history, values, popular culture, and future (eg, Space stamps). Stamp collecting also provides our young people an opportunity to collect part of our American hertitage. However, there will be a challenge with the USPS and pursuing this line of stamps - defining what is "popular" and what is not. I hope this concern does not prevent the USPS from pursuing a wider design for commemorative series (perhaps - limit the number of copies to increase the value?). Finally, I endorse the policy that we should not place a living person on a stamp, please continue this practice. I look forward to collecting more USPS stamps, varied and unique, in the future.

Most philatelic hobbyists, as well as other postal and non postal persons, familiar with the operation of the Citizens Stamp Advisory Committe, will likely agree the proposal to put Harry Potter and other subjects of contemporary popularity with young people on stamps is unrealistic , even disingenuous, as a means of resurrecting the moribund hobby of stamp collecting in a digital age of widely popular video gaming and ubiquitous text messaging. Considering that increasing the rate of stamp retention significantly is unlikely, associated revenue gains will, therefore, be marginal in helping to mitigate the USPS's muti- billion dollar budget deficits. Taking such realistic, albeit harsh, considerations into account, USPS should not allocate requisite costly production, distribution, and marketing resources while also sacrificing the venerated historic , customary selection of stamp subjects of a uniquely American character.

I've reconsidered my initial (negative) response to "pop culture" stamps. I love my local post office and I'm grateful to the good people who work there. Quick snapshot: I handed over ten one hundred dollar bills to the man at the counter today to pay for several bill-paying money orders and was credited with only $900.00 paid. The counter worker and the manager assured me that they would "count the drawer" at close of day. Happy ending: I received my uncredited $100 promptly at closing time. Just an example of the integrity (and honesty! how easily a single missing bill might have "disappeared"!) still to be found at our Post Offices. So, to return to the question of what sort of stamps our U.S. Postal Service should sell: I yield to those who acknowledge the wisdom of potential earnings--as opposed to purity of representation.
ANYTHING--within reasonable taste--that adds to the USPO coffers and allows these good neighbors and friends to continue their service to our urban and rural communities has my support.