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How the West Was Lost

The Grand Canyon "It was a basic human error," USPS Stamp Services executive director Azeezaly S. Jaffer told members of the philatelic press in a conference call on June 3, 1999. He was referring to the microprinting on the Grand Canyon international-rate stamp that put the natural formation in Colorado rather than Arizona.

Normally, all designs and text are checked three times within the USPS, but the Grand Canyon design was one of several prepared in advance for a possible rate change. At a meeting of stamp design coordinators earlier this spring, it was decided that microprinting should be added to the stamp, to let recipients overseas know where the Grand Canyon was.

The designers discussed which river ran through it, which is the Colorado River. However, that river runs through several states; the Grand Canyon is only in one, Arizona. Design coordinator Edith Kessler, who was in charge of the issue, then called the typographer at the printing plant and asked that the microprinting "Grand Canyon, Colorado" be added. "You know that since the Bill Pickett we have been super careful in everything that we do," Jaffer told the writers. After the Legends of the West stamps were printed and distributed to post offices, but before they were to be sold to the public, it was discovered that the Bill Pickett stamp design had been based on a photo of his brother.

A new policy has arisen from the Grand Canyon error. "Any changes that are made at the printer come back in-house for three independent reviews," said Jaffer. He characterizes Kessler as a brilliant designer, and defends her, saying, "It was an honest, human mistake. It was unfortunate, but I'm glad that our QA (Quality Assurance) people were able to catch it in time, before...we had a blatant error out on the street or available for sale."

Lloyd A. de Vries

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