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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The USPS has to change with the times, but it has gone too far with Harry Potter. HP is not an American product, and US stamps should be 99% about the best of the USA - consequential events, people, social causes and with some pop culture as part of the mix. The latter has however taken more and more of the program in in recent years, in what is a naked attempt to sell more stamps that will not be used. In fact there are not enough issues per year to honor everything and everyone that deserves to be honored. The "spend" those slots on a foreign product just because it is popular here is improper. In doing so, the USPS is a day late and a dollar short anyway as the wave of highest level of popularity passed on Harry Potter about two years ago. And the kids who are attracted to that product don't write letters; they write emails, and are barely acquainted with stamps. This is not going to turn them into collectors.
OK let's posit that Harry Potter is a good subject that should he issued to make the USPS relevant in the current age, will help recruit new collectors, and will rake in a reasonable profit for the USPS (US stamps are one of the few profit centers, but in the wildest predictions, sales from stamps not used will barely make a dent in the USPS deficits). Given this reasoning, I could live with one stamp, or perhaps even a small souvenir sheet of two stamps - or several of the same stamp. In issuing a product of 20 different designs, they have broken an unstated contract with the stamp-buying community because there is no earthly reason why this subject can justify 20 different stamps based on the significance of the subject. It is clearly an effort to separate the collecting public and Harry Potter fans from their hard earned money. In angering stamp collectors, the USPS runs a risk of losing as many serious collectors who have and continue to drop out of modern issues collecting because of irresponsible issuance of excess numbers of marginal subjects (12 modern art pieces), high face values when not needed (the $2 face value inverted Jennies; 6 to a sheetlet), art that pleases artists but does not please the public (The recent Waves dollar values). In fact Harry Potter is just one more step in what seems like an ill-conceived program that is going to kill the goose that laid the golden egg.
Increasingly, the message I am getting from the USPS stamp program is that we know best what will sell, and that is what we will issue. But the very reason the CSAC was created was to pick consequential subjects, some of which will sell well, and some of which simply deserve to be on US stamps as a means of education and sensitizing the public about things they should know about. If the orientation now is to issue stamps that are relevant to young people and stamps that will sell the USPS knows what those subjects are or can determine that from focus groups. And CSAC is no longer needed. It is a sin to have them there simply to rubber stamp what the USPS wants to issue, and to preside over a program that looks increasingly like that of a third world nation that issues stamps for the sole purpose of adding to the national treasury.

John M. Hotchner, member of CSAC, 1998-2010

◦Should the Postal Service market stamp images that focus on a younger audience in hopes of reaching beyond traditional collectors and generating sales?
Yes. The Postal Service is dying, we have to find a way to revitalize our product and name so that we will be around for many years to come. Creating stamps that the younger generation will like and buy is a start.
◦Should the Postal Service be allowed to develop themes and images that do not focus on American heritage for the sake of sales?
The United States is a melting pot of all cultures. We should be able to have stamps that focus on our heritage and stamps that focus on what is happening at the time. Harry Potter was a worldwide sensation and even though it was a "British" book, the movie was made by our home grown Warner Bros. If something, whether it is here or elsewhere, is affecting everyone, it should be considered.
◦Or, should stamps be works of art and pieces of history and not based on fads or celebrities?
As said before - why can't they be both?
◦What stamp images would you like to see?
Don't laugh, but in the interest of appealing to a younger set (30s) - a stamp showcasing Michael Jackson would go over well. He was immensely popular and influenced music in the US at an unprecedented scale. This is one of those that would be controversial, but it would sell.

As a member of the younger generation, I think the Harry Potter Stamps are great. The USPS absolutely should be trying to appeal to the younger generation and be moving to a more commercial Stamp base. I don't know anyone my age who would want a stamp with a flag on it, but we want to buy the Harry Potter stamp even if we don't have anything in particular to send. If you're going to try to get a younger generation to start collecting stamp, you need to have more like the Harry Potter Stamp, because I'm not about to start adding to my collection with flags and flowers.

The Postal Service won't create new stamp collectors by creating stamps for the wrong reasons. The Harry Potter stamps are simply photographs of actors playing the roles - where is the attraction in that? If the USPS hadn't been so lazy about trying to make money off minimal investment, it would have contracted with an artist to produce artistic renderings of the characters - perhaps on fewer stamps - and then the stamps would have been unique celebrations of the characters that our young people have grown up with.

Now that the rule has been relaxed and the five-year wait no longer applies either, I wonder if we will soon see a well-designed Nelson Mandela stamp to take advantage of the recent focus on him. Now that would something that might attract new collectors.

To continue to be a viable business, the Postal Service must sell products that are enjoyed by a variety of customers. I have already purchased several of these stamps for myself & my friends & family who truly enjoyed the Harry Potter books & movies. Don't limit yourself to "just history", life is full of diversity & America is a melting pot. If someone does not care for the Harry Potter stamps, then that person has the option to "not buy them". Releasing the stamps just before Christmas was an excellent idea!

I think there is room for a big tent here, and ironclad restrictions belong to a bygone age: iconic US history, major world figures, and yes, even a commercial hero or two are appropriate. The USPS is going broke, and the cultural relevance of post is weak for the youngest of Americans. The USPS needs to stay current and by offering stamps which are exactly that, they will attract not only younger collectors, but also older users of the “stamp” generation who perhaps find current offerings boring and lacking in originality. We live in a global society … no harm whatsoever in adding some international flavor to US- bound envelopes. I wish the USPS luck with the venture and may the members of the Advisory Board be willing to be a little more open to change....

fads might get people to buy certain stamps, but won't bring many people to the hobby. Rather than in a stamp collection, the fad stamps would be part of the fad collection. Harry Potter, Star Wars, whatever.

Since letter writing is way down, USPS needs to come up with a new use for stamps. The obvious problem is we're moving to paperless and cashless, so there's nowhere to stick em.

I'm back with a solution!

USPS should create regional stamps of series like Harry Potter. Certain stamps are only available in certain parts of the country, and not sold through the mail. Then the USPS creates a website that allows everyone to TRADE stamps with other users around the country with easy ways to print bulk address labels or envelopes. Some of the stamps could be sold already in envelopes and ready for the mail.

This would work a lot better if we had community mailboxes as they do in Canada.

My own interest in stamp collecting began when my parents bought me the original version
of "Stamps & Stories" in 1973 when I was eight years old. The book was brilliantly written, not too simple, not too complicated. It explained the history behind the stamps, which is what sparked my own interest in the first place.
The Postal Service may see improved sales by printing more "youth friendly" stamps, but new stamp collectors will not be created simply by altering stamp content. These new collectors have to be created through education and outreach with materials other than the stamps.
If the Postal Service ever recreated "Stamps & Stories" in App form, this might work.

Whilst no one can argue the popularity of the Harry Potter films for sure - I'm a little inclined to support the idea of stamps celebrating innovative Americans. As a child of the 60's and 70's it was great seeing the stamps that celebrated our NASA heroes. This generation has a whole new bunch of heroes to celebrate the advances in communications / computers / and the internet. I would love to see a whole series of stamps celebrating individuals (most still alive, some passed away) such as Martin Cooper (Motorola engineer who developed and tested the first mobile phone), Steve Jobs & Steve Wozniak (founders of Apple computers), Bill Gates (founder of Microsoft), Robert Kahn & Vincent Cerf (creaters of TCP/IP protocol), Frederico Faggin (born in Italy but Naturalized U.S. citizen - developed the basic architecture for the Intel 8080 microprocessor ), James Fergason (for his work on improved Liquid Crystal Displays {LCD}) and perhaps even some of the younger folks - Mark Zuckerberg (creator of FaceBook). And if the USPS is looking abroad at non-American inventors - then we need to include Tim Berners-Lee (creator of the World Wide Web).

I have been collecting stamps since the 1960s, and I stopped collecting US stamps with the advent of the self-adhesive stamp. The USPS is generating too many stamps, and they do look like movie posters instead of the miniature artworks that they used to be. Yes, find subjects of interest to younger potential buyers. Bring the Philatelic windows back to post offices instead of cutting personnel and hours. Issue art stamps - historical, personages, US flora and fauna, or TV and movie characters - I'd like to see an Indiana Jones stamp - but bring out fewer per year and make them look less like they were drawn by a cartoonist. I miss the engraved stamps, which is why I am now collecting so many stamps issued by Iceland. So, try to reach a younger audience, try to stay mostly with American topics, try to make the stamps look less tacky (bring back engraving), release fewer issues per year, and explain to me how I am to buy one - or four - stamps from a nonstick sheet and keep them "mint".

Think the Harry Potter stamps are great, I collect mostly cat stamps but I loved the Harry Potter movies and these stamps are done so nicely!! I will buy them when I get the money. It doesn't matter to me if they are British, like most people are saying, it became an American thing. All the kids love it and I think they have learned a lot of values from these kids. Better than Barbie!!!

As a youngster, I collected United States commemoratives in singles and plate blocks. The stamps depicted historical events in our history, famous Americans, centennials, and other related subjects that were teaching moments. Consequently, I learned a lot about U.S. history and now am an author, writing about Illinois and the Old West. Stamps should serve a useful purpose of educating the user and not simply a means to make money in the short term in order to attract young people who often have little interest in history. I'm a big booster of the postal service, but have refrained from purchasing these novelty stamps. They are unimaginative and show very little creativity on the part of the designer. Continue to promote these stamps and you may lose the older base that still relies on the postal service without attracting the young crowd. You will then be out of business, replaced by a business that operates efficiently and and with more marketing skills.

We do not think the Harry Potter issue of stamps is inappropriate for use by the general public. We find little difference between issuing Mail a Smile or Send a Hello stamps, which have no historical significance, as are the Art of Disney stamps. So if the public disagrees then don't buy them. On the other hand, what's wrong with young people liking these stamps and wanting to start collecting. I f nothing else, they can be used for postage if they decide to discontinue collecting stamps, therefore not losing or wasting any cost to the individual. It's a tempest in teapot, in other words, a big TO DO ABOUT NOTHING.

Harry Potter, why not? J.K. Rowling has opened up the reading world for EVERYONE, not just kids!
It used to be that kids would pick out books based on the thickness of the book, not the content. That changed with
Ms. Rowling's brilliant mind, characters and stories.
This world-wide phenomenon swept over the globe with non-stop reading, interest and anticipation toward her
next "production", be it written or on film.
These characters deserve to be put on postage stamps to further the consuming interest created
If a new "category" is created ..... why not?

If you want young folks to buy and use the Potter stamps, you have to make them available in regular post offices. It is 14 December - it has been four weeks since these stamps were issued in Orlando, and they are STILL NOT AVAILABLE in my post office - which is not a one-room rural station serving 1500 people. It's in Indianapolis, serving tens of thousands. These stamps have been the worst marketed issue I have seen recently.
I long ago vowed to buy no stamps from the cave in Kansas City, where I have to pay to have the stamps delivered that you want me to set aside and not use. If you do not make stamps available to me in MY post office, I don't buy them. I have not bought the Potter stamps, and will not do so until they get to where I live. What a travesty.
As for the subject matter, another issue I DID NOT BUY, even though they were available at my post office, was the Simpsons issue. The USPS fell to a new low in taste when it issued that set. No, selecting subject matter with a view to how much money you can make on it is NOT appropriate. I certainly was not going to give you any of MY money for that revolting show.
Potter - I'm of two minds about celebrating a non-US story starring non-US actors who are clearly not yet deceased for the required number of years. I have enjoyed the films (I have no time for reading fiction), and I agree that they have had a positive impact on popular culture - but in general, I don't think it is the USPS's job to celebrate current popular culture. Stick to series like the Legends of Hollywood and Distinguished Americans.
The harder you make it to buy stamps, the fewer stamps you will sell.
Sincerely displeased -
Joseph E Boling, Indianapolis

I'm for anything the Post Office does to increase their bottom line (except of course closing our small P.O.). My wife and I and our granddaughter all read and enjoyed the Potter books. We just bought the last book of HP's stamps at our small P.O. and they are going into one of the Potter books that are for our granddaughter.

So, Mr. Postmaster General, you just made $9.60 profit (less manufacturing cost of course) since they'll never be used, just treasured by our granddaughter.

Any kind of stamp is okay with us. Some we'll use and some we'll just hang on to.

I like (and bought) the Harry Potter stamps. I would urge the USPS to use caution, though, in portraying live people on stamps. There is always the risk that they will become involved in some scandal which may lead to future USPS embarrassment.

I would also like to see fewer issues each year but that's another subject.

I must be voting for tradition. USPS has gone way too far with series of stamps based on fads and celebrities, on flora and fauna, etc. Stop flooding the world of stamps. Please emphasize the States and our history and heritage.

I love the new Harry Potter stamps. Anything the USPS can do to attract attention and sell stamps is a good idea, and Harry Potter is beloved world-wide. Good decision and keep them coming.

Unless there is research proving otherwise, I maintain that the USPS is wasting their time and money in issuing the Harry Potter series of stamps. While the USPS can push sales I doubt that the public will become “stamp collectors” as the USPS anticipates and that sales will peter out. Based on the quantity printed, it may even be a loss. The use of living persons on stamps is Ok if they are truly outstanding. However, such a judgment is subjective and differs from person to person.

I doubt that the USPS wish for increased revenue from the Harry Potter stamp series will happen. The USPS put forth the supposition that the Harry Potter series of stamps will be as popular as the 1993 Elvis Presley stamp. Elvis Presley had a much larger following then Harry Potter. The Presley followers almost amounted to a cult. I have no evidence that the same is true with followers of Harry Potter.

What does the USPS expect that the purchasers of the Harry Potter stamp do with them? Does the USPS expect the young purchasers of the stamps use them on letters or put them away somewhere? Use on letters is highly questionable since young people tend to text rather than white letters. Putting them away is also questionable. Where and how are they going to keep them? What does see USPS expect the purchasers to do with the stance? The USPS expects to develop stamp collectors by issuing the Harry Potter series. I doubt that the purchasers of the Harry Potter series will become stamp collectors any more than the purchasers of the Elvis Presley stamp became collectors.

Mr. Patrick Donahue explained that he is taking stamps into a more commercial aspect. I understand that the Harry Potter series is part of this philosophy. I gather that this is an attempt to increase revenue by publishing popular stamps that although purchased are retained, thus not used. I have great doubts that this course of action will work. Did the USPS do any research of the stamp buying public that proved this policy to have potential? If so, the USPS should share the results with the public. If they did not do such research, they have failed to follow good administrative practices.

US stamps had living persons shown in the past as part of the major topic. I understand that “all the actors are British or Irish with the exception of a few people without speaking roles who are American (and children of the director).” Since there are many qualified contributors to this country, it is hard to see why the USPS chose foreign subjects in their latest stamps. The reason for not showing living persons on stamps is that a hero today may turn out to be a despised person tomorrow. The selection of a particular prominent person offends many others—and their following—who feel more qualified than the chosen one.

No matter what the subject of the stamp is, if it isn't available at local post offices, it will not sell. Non-stamp collectors are NOT going to know anything about the USPS Stamp Fulfillment Center and will not go to the trouble of ordering online. Releasing stamps in waves is ridiculous. Post Offices not having current stamps in stock or not encouraging people to purchase current stamps (other than flag stamps) is not good business practice. Harry Potter stamps will sell but only if people know they are available and then can get them when they go to the post office.

I say yes to more of these type of issues. I now know six folks, three of them youngsters (none who were stamp collectors) who sought the Harry Potter stamps out and are now interested in stamp collecting.

The headlong rush into commercial and juvenile topics is the latest sign that the USPS is in its death spiral. This once was a great country that did great things. And we used to commemorate great men and women, great accomplishments and the like on stamps. Now we commemorate cartoons and movies with the occasional bone thrown to history. And now, we commemorate a group of mostly British actors/actresses from the Harry Potter movies. They were great movies, but they belong in the theater, not on stamps. PM Donahoe and his marketing crew need to go. They belong at Target, not at the USPS.

My students read the article in NEWS FOR YOU and they say that the stamps should be about history and culture and representative of the U.S.A. It should not be about money! It should be about proud.

Stamps themes may be varied. American heritage is one of themes for stamps. Postal Service should be allowed to develop other themes and images. Like freedom of belief and diversity.

Not knowing a better forum to pose this question: Can a stamp image (theme) be forthcoming
celebrating our national industry of agriculture? The fields of corn, wheat, fruits and vegetables in its grandeur of production meeting the high yield expectations of our demanding food market - farmers, marketers, machine makers, seed producers, storage operators, fertilizer producers, et al. Our blessings from their efforts and production are not celebrated enough by its (USA) citizenry. Please send this suggestion to a responsive agency.
Thank you very much.
Eric Soesbe
Tullahoma, TN 37388-5229

Hello Eric,

Thank you for taking the time to contact our offices. Please send all of your stamp ideas and concerns to the Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee at the address below.

Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee
475 L’Enfant Plaza SW, Room 3300
Washington, DC 20260-3501

Their office will be able to assist you further in this matter.