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The Liberty Bell Is Forever

March 26, 2007 — What's a symbol of the United States that will last forever? The bald eagle? No, it's sometimes endangered. The flag? It has changed, and could change again, with the number of states.

The U.S. Postal Service has picked the Liberty Bell as the design for its first Forever stamp, a stamp that will pay the postal rate to mail a letter no matter when it was purchased, no matter when it is used.

"The Liberty Bell is an icon that resonates for freedom and independence for all of America, and those are exactly the qualities we want people to associate with the Forever stamp," Michael Plunkett, Acting Vice President of Pricing and Classification for the U.S. Postal Service, told The Virtual Stamp Club in advance of the design's release.

The design of the stamp was unveiled Monday at the National Postal Forum, a gathering of companies in the mailing industry.

"That's a decent design. I was worried we'd get something abstract," said VSC member Dennis "dennisww" Wallick of Chevy Chase, Md.

The stamp goes on sale April 12 at 41 cents, the new first-class mail rate that goes into effect May 14. As postage rates rise in the future, the price for the stamp will also rise — but stamps purchased for 41 cents will still be honored on letters.

Instead of a denomination, the stamp carries the word "Forever" along its right side.

"Who said nothing lasts forever?" Postmaster General John E. Potter said in a statement.

Non-denominated flag stamps will also be issued for this rate change, but unlike the Forever stamp, these will be sold at 41 cents and will be worth exactly 41 cents, whenever they're used. If the rates go up, mailers will need to add additional stamps.

"Eventually, we think with the advent of the Forever stamp, the non-denominated stamps will become a thing of the past, that the Forever stamp will become the bridge between different stamp rates," Plunkett said.

There also won't be a need to print extra one-, two- or three-cent stamps right before a rate change.

In this case, the Postal Service says it has plenty of two-cent stamps on hand already.

Some people might decide to buy extra Forever stamps this year as an investment against future postal rate increase, but the Postal Service isn't worried.

"Our stamp prices generally increase at or about the rate of inflation, so people who buy large quantities, hoping that they'll be creating a windfall for themselves, might end up being disappointed," Plunkett said.

In the meantime, the USPS will be able to earn interest on the money spent on the hoards of Forever stamps, and some of the stamps will be lost or destroyed before they can be used. The agency will also save money it would spend printing the non-denominated stamps — which in the past have been printed immediately after a rate change for use during the next rate change.

Besides the Forever and non-denominated flag stamps, other stamps appearing at the new rate in the next two months include 15 different Star Wars stamps (May 25) and a triangle-shaped stamp for the 400th anniversary of the settlement of Jamestown, Va., the first permanent English colony in North America (May 11, three days before rates change).

Other countries have similar good-forever letter-rate stamps. The idea for the stamp in this country was imposed on the Postal Service by the Postal Regulatory Commission. According to Bill McAllister of Linn's Stamp News, it was championed by panel member Ruth Y. Goldway, a former mayor of Santa Monica, Calif.

"The Postal Service sees itself as a monopoly and the place where the monopoly is strongest is in first-class mail," Goldway wrote in The New York Times in November.

Earlier this month, she told Linn's the USPS sees itself "as a delivery system for big mailers," and consumers are treated "with disdain."

She hopes the Forever stamp will change that.

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