The U.S. Postal Service recently treated philatelic reporters to a preview of its 2006 stamp program. Although the reporters at Stampshow 2005 in Grand Rapids, Michigan, were shown designs for nearly all the issues, they were not permitted to photograph any of them, and were only given designs for 5 stamps, all from the same set. Another design of another issue, the Washington 2006 souvenir sheet, had already been released.
Heroic U.S. Stamps For 2006
While the USPS isn't touting a theme for next year's U.S. stamps, many of them emphasize heroes - real and imagined. Ten stamps will highlight comic book superheroes like Superman and Batman but there will also be stamps for bats-men - baseball sluggers.
Of all the sports, it seems like baseball is one of the most requested, whether it's the sport or individuals that played baseball, Dave Failor, executive director of Stamp Services of the U.S. Postal Service, told The Virtual Stamp Club. "There's been a lot of requests for a Mickey Mantle stamp, and we wanted to go a little bit beyond that, and highlight some of the other great sluggers that have had an impact on major league baseball over the years, so we added Mel Ott, Roy Campanella and Hank Greenberg."
Other heroes on next year's stamps include Benjamin Franklin, born in 1706. The four stamps will note Franklin the Scientist, Franklin the Printer, Franklin the Statesman and Franklin the Postmaster.
"He was such a varied individual that we thought that if anybody needed to be featured in a block of four stamps, Benjamin Franklin would certainly be the right subject matter," said Failor.
But Franklin isn't the only American diplomat on the 2006 stamps: Six professional diplomats, chosen on the advice of the American Foreign Service Association, will be featured in a six-stamp "souvenir sheet." They are Hiram Bingham IV, who saved many French Jews from the Holocaust; Francis W. Willis, the first woman U.S. Ambassador; Charles Eustis Bohlen, a specialist in Soviet affairs who served as the Russian translator for Presidents Roosevelt and Truman at the Tehran, Yalta and Potsdam conferences during World War II; Robert D. Murphy, a top aide to President Roosevelt during World War II and later as Ambassador to Belgium and Japan; Clifton R. Wharton, the first black U.S. Ambassador; and Philip C. Habib, who held top posts in the State Department and was called out of retirement by President Reagan in 1981 to prevent war in the Middle East.
Diplomats is one of four issues coming out during the major international stamp show in Washington next year.
"We're very excited that the stamp collecting world is coming to Washington, DC," said Failor.
The other issues are a sheet reproducing classic issues of 1922-23 (Lincoln Memorial, U.S. Capitol and the Freedom statue atop the Capitol Dome); a joint issue with Canada celebrating the exploration of Samuel de Champlain; and Wonders of America, subtitled "Land Of Superlatives."
The Champlain stamp will come both in a pane of 20 and in a souvenir sheet that includes two of the U.S. stamp and two of the nearly-identical Canadian stamp that will be issued at the same time — a joint issue. In the past, USPS officials have said that U.S. stamps are always printed in the U.S., and, in response to a question from reporters, yes, this souvenir sheet will be printed on the U.S. side of the border.
The 40 stamps in the Wonders of America sheet evokes the classic tourism postcards of the mid-20th Century with those large illustration-filled letters. The subjects include "Tallest Dunes," "Biggest Flower," "Windiest Place," "Deepest Lake," and so on — "just all sorts of wonderful kind of "kitchy" things that look great on stamps," said Failor.
It's probably Failor's favorite issue of the year.
"It's such a varied group of stamps and it represents all parts of the country — urban settings, rural settings, isolated settings," he told The Virtual Stamp Club. "I think it's going to be a lot of fun and there's going to be a lot of things that we can do with those stamps."
After several years without any joint issues, since 2001's failed attempt to have a joint issue with Mexico honoring Frieda Kahlo, 2006 will start off with another joint issue, eight stamps of Favorite Children's Book Animals, in connection with Royal Mail of Britain.
Also on the lighter side are two entertainment issues sure to please film aficionados: The 12th Legends of Hollywood stamp subject is Judy Garland, featuring a publicity shot from "A Star Is Born" (1954). The margin area (selvage) of the 20-stamp pane features Garland as Dorothy in "The Wizard Of Oz" (1939).
"She was just the consummate entertainer," said Failor."
The 2006 Black Heritage entry honors actress Hattie McDaniel, the first African-American to win an Academy Award (for "Gone With The Wind," 1939). The Postal Service notes that she worked hard to "change the [film] industry from within, as far as the discrimination that African-Americans felt."
"If you collected comic books over the years, or even if you didn't, you kind of know who all these characters are, and they're going to look great on envelopes," said Failor.
But all of them are from the same publisher DC Comics. Marvel Comics' superheroes will be featured in 2007.
The Olympics stamp shows a skier and the Olympic rings logo, and Failor said negotiating the rights to use them was not a problem this time; the USPS currently has good relations with the U.S. Olympic Committee. In previous years, that has not been the case, leading to the USPS using 5 stars one year instead of rings.
The two new wedding stamps, in one- and two-ounce denominations, show stylized doves by Michael Osborne, who designed the 2002 Love stamps. These will be sold in a unique format: a booklet that looks like a greeting card, with the script title "Our Wedding Stamps." The left side has a pane of the one-ounce stamps (lavender), while the right side is a pane of the two-ounce (light green) ones. Separate panes will be available only for the one-ounce stamp. Failor said the USPS has been told lavender and light green are the hot wedding colors.
2006's Nature of America Series subject is the Southern Florida Wetland, the eighth in the series. There are at least 20 different plants and animals in the illustration, which shows a freshwater community that mingles with a saltwater community. The subjects include another egret, a panther, a crocodile and a bald eagle. This is a very popular series, said Failor, and he imagines it will continue for several more years. A press sheet will be offered.
The 2006 social awareness issue is Amber Alert, and the design by Vivian Fleischer, who created 2005's Love Bouquet stamp stamp, shows a mother with her arm around a child's head.
"Helping to bring awareness to that seems like a very important cause to us," Failor told The Virtual Stamp Club.
But illustrating Amber Alert wasn't easy.
"How do you take a negative subject matter and have a positive image that people are excited about and want to have on their mail," asked Failor. The pastel image by Fleischer "really just helps bring home the message that we want to keep our children safe and protect them."
The Washington 2006 souvenir sheet, featuring classic stamps of 1922-23, will be issued Memorial Day at the international stamp show.
The exact order of next year's stamps is somewhat up in the air, because of a pending rate increase request. Not only does the Postal Service's Stamps Services division not know exactly when the rate increase will go into effect - early January is most likely - the USPS may withdraw the request if it gets the legislative relief that it has requested on a pensions escrow account.
No issues have been assigned to the major annual shows for which the USPS usually reserves popular issues, the two New York Mega-Events and the American Philatelic Society's Stampshow. That's partly because the schedule is still up in the air, and partly because a number of new definitives are likely if there is a rate increase.