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?

Comments (231)

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  • anon

    The post office should stick to stamps that feature USA, historically, arts, environment, sports, presidents, military, technology and national holidays. Forget featuring other countries history and stick with stamps that people who use stamps want to have on their envelope . Young people use the social media to communicate more frequently than snail mail. Stick with our American Heritage, no fads or fly by night celebrities.

    Dec 03, 2013
  • anon

    I rarely buy stamps - they are something I use only when I pay a few bills. However, I do like using the Christmas themed stamps for my Christmas cards. I went online to purchase and have them delivered, and was amazed by the number of different stamps there were beyond what my grocery store carries. I bought several types that I ordinarily would not have - including the Harry Potter stamps. So, yes, I would say appealing to pop culture will truly help sales and that is a great thing. I would say to focus more on "lasting" pop culture than fads though. We already know that Harry has been around for awhile and will remain so for years to come. The Postal Service's mission is to deliver mail. It's nice that people collect the stamps, too, but if the USPS can't get the money to fund itself, then what is the point of having "works of art"?? It would be nice to find a balance between the two, but first and foremost, the goal should be to generate sales, if pop culture can help that, then I'm all for it. Additionally, the US is such a diverse group of people, I think it is hard to say that one thing is American heritage and exclude all of the different cultures that make up our country. I don't have any problems with stamps that are not grounded in American heritage. Personally, I'd like to see Doctor Who stamps like the Brits just had for the 50th Anniversary. There are all sorts of fandoms out there - why not explore some of them?

    Dec 03, 2013
  • anon

    I would be interested in buying these stamps. I think the stamps should reflect pop culture, and Harry Potter would certainly qualify.

    Dec 03, 2013
  • anon

    I'd like to see more stamps supporting pet rescue, and with dogs and cats in general. The SPCA stamps with dog and cat images sold out a few years ago, and so did "Owney the Postal Dog" As those were huge sellers, i don't understand why the Postal Service didn't issue more / repeat them. Please bring those back, as you did the popular and beautiful "Purple Heart" stamps.

    Dec 03, 2013
  • anon

    Yes, yes, yes. 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 find current offerings boring and lacking in originality. There is no history to be learned with stamps as most of the USPS offerings are totally without context. This is a global society ... no harm whatsoever in adding some international flavor to US- bound envelopes. Good luck with the venture and may the staid members of the Advisory Board become less staid.

    Dec 03, 2013
  • anon

    I think the USPS should stick with Art and History subjects and not go commercial. The Harry Potter stamps might bring in some needed cash, but not necessarily bring in new stamp collectors. I have been collecting stamps for fifty years and marvel at their beauty and interesting subjects. Thank you.

    Dec 03, 2013
  • anon

    I believe the USPS should offer stamp images from as wide a spectrum of topics as they feel are marketable. I'll buy some and not others. Other people will have different tastes from mine, and will therefore buy other topics. Let the market decide.

    Dec 03, 2013
  • anon

    I find it difficult to believe that more engaging stamps, however that is defined, will make a significant on USPS revenue. The budget issues are much more structural. Stamp collectors are not going to save the USPS. I believe that stamps should reflect US heritage, culture, history, places, etc. Many anniversary events for significant history can be commemorated. US national parks can be. Native American tribes can be. Stamps should avoid depicting living persons.

    Dec 03, 2013
  • anon

    I bought the Harry Potter stamp sets for my godchildren, and some to use for sending them cards. Normally they aren't interested in sending mail (although they like receiving it), but they love Harry. If it gets them started collecting stamps, that would be great! I'm also happy if it gets them started writing more real letters. I see nothing wrong with stamps with popular images and I appreciate themes that I can use when I send mail. In fact, I miss the Happy Birthday stamps that used to be issued, and I always buy a ton of Christmas stamps -- this year I especially love the global stamp Christmas design with the wreaths. Way, way back the postal service issued stamps with poisonous plants on them and I used to use them to send my bills. Bill paying is now all electronic, but it is a fond memory. I think a balance can be achieved between popular images and more classic themes.

    Dec 03, 2013
  • anon

    Please do not have a Harry Potter Stamp. Harry Potter isn't even an American fictional character. He is English, so let Great Britain give him a stamp. Thanks!

    Dec 03, 2013
  • anon

    Why not continue choosing real young persons under interesting categories: young female poets during the Civil War, young instrument makers & composers, or perhaps even better have a contest with young people proposing their most interesting & worthy, young accomplished persons? That way they are engaged and involved in the process, researching their favorite & strongest subject area and rewarded for their efforts.

    Dec 03, 2013
  • anon

    I think the stamps will interest young people and they will start collecting stamps. The stamps are not expensive. If you use the characters from their favorite movies or games they will buy them. The post office should put out more products to advertise the USPS.

    Dec 03, 2013
  • anon

    Movie characters like Harry Potter have become part of Americana and our history. Harry Potter books stimulated a whole generation to begin reading again. We have all kinds of heroes - some from iconic stories that are shared from one generation to another. I think the Harry Potter stamps would be a hit.

    Dec 03, 2013
  • anon

    NO to Harry Potter stamp. There are far too many issues to help share awareness such as Scleroderma or other invisible in curable diseases.

    Dec 03, 2013
  • anon

    As a 32-year Fed, the role of the IG is to apply the law, not run a popularity contest to determine which way the wind blows. You should be directing your attention to the problems created by the unique accounting burden imposed on USPS by the Congress, but they are your masters, aren't they? The USPS has to do whatever it has to do try to keep its head above water. These stamps are likely to appeal to people who do not buy stamps. Maybe they will be inspired to buy stamps and not use them. Maybe they will buy more and send them to friends just to use them, creating new customers for First Class instead of sending text. Maybe this will create new stamp collectors. I do not see the downside to anything that will allow USPS to seen a square inch of paper for 44 cents.

    Dec 02, 2013
  • anon

    I vote NOOO!!!! We have a lot more of History, factors we could contribute our US stamps too. They have character stamps, historian, nature, love, Disney etc... You want to sell stamps, put Michelle Obama, President Obama, the planets, Jesus, Angels something educational, etc .. but if Harry Potter tugs your chain...so be it

    Dec 02, 2013
  • anon

    I think this would be a great revenue source for the USPS. HP fans are a zealous lot, and I think they'd buy a lot of stamps. I know I would.

    Dec 02, 2013
  • anon

    Yes yes yes!!!! Harry Potter has been a massive movement for pushing children of all ages from 8-80 to read and believe in the magic of writing! I grew up with Harry Potter the books and movies and by far it will be one of the happiest memories I have that brought joy to my youngimagination for years to come!!! I'm sure hundreds of thousands of others would agree with me!! Bring on the Harry Potter Stamps!! I would buy them!

    Dec 02, 2013
  • anon

    The USPS has to do anything it can at this point to stay relevant and get more people to buy stamps. The Harry Potter stamps are a great idea and I don't see anything wrong with issuing stamps that may have a British actor on them. Who cares? People in the USA will find anything to complain about. If you don't like the Harry Potter stamps, don't buy them. There are many others to chose from.

    Dec 02, 2013
  • anon

    I would totally buy Harry Potter stamps. Every medium has had to change with the likes and dislikes of the general population. Yes... make the Harry Potter stamps. And Super Heros, Pop Stars, Actors, anything... staying relevant is a great way to stay solvent.

    Dec 02, 2013
  • anon

    I think these stamps will be very popular-what you are aiming for is perfect. Many of the stamps seem dull, and Harry Potter stamps will bring the Postal Service a step up! I don't collect stamps, but HP stamps look pretty cool to have

    Dec 02, 2013
  • anon

    I think the USPO should issue the Harry Potter stamps. Those books and movies had universal appeal and are true works of literature. I also think the USPO should recognize any significant person or topic that will interest the stamp-buying public.

    Dec 02, 2013
  • anon

    Stamps that appeal to a younger audience -- great idea! Non-American themes? It's initially surprising to see something outside of the tradition of "American" stamps, but personally I don't see that as a fatal flaw. What's non-American? You can buy a Toyota made in Tennessee or a Ford made in Mexico. The Harry Potter books may have a British author and characters, but the movies came from Warner Brothers, with an American co-writer for the scripts. Art & history vs fads & celebrities? There's room for both. Let the market say what it wants to buy. What would I like to see? Personally, I buy whatever my post office has in rolls. :-) What would I most like to see? A solution to the USPS's financial problems that doesn't involve raising rates. In that context, without meaning any disrespect toward the people objecting to these stamps, the more energy we can focus on the big issues, the better.

    Dec 02, 2013
  • anon

    Definitely more interesting to young people, and these stamps were nicely done all around. I find very few young people today who care anything about stamps (or writing letters), so this is badly needed.

    Dec 02, 2013
  • anon

    I am an adult woman and love Harry Potter. Although I see the point of not being American, Harry Potter became an American phenomenon and is well-known throughout the world. The stamp would receive great exposure and spark continued interest. I do collect stamps.

    Dec 09, 2013
  • anon

    I would like to think that your comment to make stamps more interesting would make a difference, but I don't believe it will as most young (er) adults, under about the age of 40'ish, have migrated to electronic mail for just about everything....I believe the market to sell more stamps continues to remain with older citizens, especially collectors. As a collector myself, I have found even I have succumbed to electronic communication when I started ordering my collector stamps via the USPS web site. I am going to make a suggestion - comment myself later and maybe you will comment on my thought.

    Dec 03, 2013
  • anon

    Should the Postal Service market stamp images that focus on a younger audience in hopes of reaching beyond traditional collectors and generating sales? Yes, print what sells and stop auto-shipping what doesn't! These will fly out the door while the inverted Jennies seem to be grounded. Should the Postal Service be allowed to develop themes and images that do not focus on American heritage for the sake of sales? Yes, absolutely. Customers keep asking for fall stamps. Their only option has been Zazzle.com which charges over $20 for a sheet of 20 stamps! Make some fall booklets, they will sell. Or, should stamps be works of art and pieces of history and not based on fads or celebrities? Can't we do both. What stamp images would you like to see? Fall stamps, what customers call "pretty stamps," and please stop the auto-shipments.

    Dec 02, 2013
  • anon

    I think if Bart had worn funny glasses and Homer wore a cape and pointed wizard's hat, we could have sold more Simpson's stamps... I'm just kidding. :) I hope this interests young people to buy stamps to pay for postage on thank you cards and letters, and inspires collectors to buy and keep the stamps. Good luck to the Postal Service in their efforts!

    Dec 02, 2013
  • anon

    I bought the Harry Potter stamps for my four children for Hanukkah. It has been a long time since I have really seen them excited about a gift and they were thrilled! I read the criticism of the stamps in the press and just did not get it. I have collected stamps for years and this was a wonderful way to share this hobby.

    Dec 05, 2013
  • anon

    Trying to get Young new stamp collectors is a great way to help the USPS, and I am all for that. There is also another way we try to get stamps sold, and that is to Honor the past and to educate through them. The Beirut Veterans of America (BVA) have attempted to have a stamp to Honor those Servicemen who lost their lives in the US Marine Bombing Oct 23, 1983 for over 10 years only to be told it is not of National Interest. I would love to convey how this is indeed just that because it was the FIRST major attack on US in the War against Terrorism. If you would need more knowledge on this subject, please let me know and I will provide any background needed. That goes for the History and the Records of the 10+ years of NO ACTION for this endeavor seeking a stamp to Honor the men WHO CAME IN PEACE. I am a member of the AFDCS and have collected stamps all my life. New subjects are Great, but the Past must be Honored.

    Dec 03, 2013
  • anon

    Designing most stamps in the hopes of getting young users or developing young collectors is a waste of time and money. Most young people don't even know what the Postal Service is all about. And when it comes to communicating they rely not on stamps, but email, twitter, cell phones and other modern means of communication. To the extent that USPS moves away from the more traditional criteria for selecting stamp designs, it will further contribute to its own demise. I have been collecting stamps since 1945 and have been purchasing fewer and fewer because I am not interested in the design-subjects selected. Traditional stamp design has contributed much to telling the American story. Designing stamps picturing the Harry Potters of the world adds little to that tradition. For instance I have recommended on several occasions that a stamp series be issued featuring President and Vice President on one stamp, but what do I get instead--Donald Duck or Harry Potter! YOu are destroying your own market and turning your back on the tens of thousands of stamp collectors who have supported you over many, many years.

    Dec 04, 2013

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