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Poor History Students

by Lloyd A. de Vries

Writing the Harry Potter stamps story for Muggle… uh, sorry, for non-philatelist news people the other day made me think about how I felt about this issue and other recent actions by the U.S. Postal Service.

I realized I'm not upset that the U.S. is issuing Harry Potter stamps with only a minimal connection to American culture or history. Other countries' postal services are going or have already gone that route. Get used to it. As a collector, I have the option of deciding what I buy, what I keep, and what I skip. I'm already fairly selective.

No, what is annoying me is how the USPS people in charge of stamps are doing things. Twenty stamps on sale for Harry Potter all at once -- $9.20 – is overkill. Why not release four a year for five, as the Postal Service did with its Disney stamps a few years ago.

Need to put the Hanukkah stamps on sale sooner, because your customers are wondering why there are Christmas stamps on sale but nothing for the Festival of Lights? Fine, do it – but change the first-day cancels to the actual first-day date. Already canceled the ceremony programs and other merchandise with the old release date? Then at least make a postmark with the correct date available to collectors.

Oh, and don't put stamps with a Jewish theme on sale for the first time on Shabbat! That's insensitive.

Don't care what a bunch of (in your view) out-of-touch stodgy cultural elitists think should be on stamps and what shouldn't? That's your prerogative. Tell the Citizens Stamp Advisory Committee it's disbanded or only responsible for a few issues a year. Don't just ignore CSAC; that's rude. It's as if someone took my writing and replaced it with Wikipedia text.

What ought to worry the general public is that most of the members of CSAC are not stamp collectors. They're experts in American culture, including pop culture.

First day cover collectors (like myself) have their own particular gripes: The postmarks are too big and often don't print well on actual envelopes and stamps. The information about the postmarks and even the issues themselves is withheld, often until the day of issue. Yes, other countries produce their own cacheted first day covers. None sells as many FDCs as the USPS, not even when you factor in the differences in population.

You don't want to kill FDC collecting: When stamps are put on first day covers, they are "retained;" they're not going to be reused ten or 20 years later. Contrast that to the stamp you love to tell us is the most popular ever, Elvis Presley. I'm seeing it now in face-value bins at shows and discount postage lots. Stamp collectors and others are using them to pay for mailings. The Postal Service got a loan, not a gift on all those sheets that were thrown into dresser drawers.

Millions of the Elvis stamp, though, were used on first day covers, and not one of those will now be used for postage.

The same thing is going to happen with the $2 Jenny Invert Reprint. Thousands will be purchased by people hoping to hit the jackpot with one of the "unverts" (with the airplane rightside-up). Thousands of the stamp will end up on packages and letters.

My Latin teacher, Anthony Fiorella, used to say, "Those who fail to learn history are doomed to repeat it." (I know it wasn't original with him.) The Postal People now in charge of the U.S. stamp program aren't learning from history.

What worries me, though, is that the "Mickey Marketeers" now running the stamp program don't care about the history. If so, they're not alone. The attitude in Corporate America these days is join a company, puff up the bottom line, collect the bonuses, parlay the short-term success into a better job, and move on to another company, never looking behind at the wreckage.

I hope that's not what is happening with the U.S. stamp program. If it is, I hope the people responsible move on before the damage is permanent.

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