How does the Postal Service decide who (or what) gets a stamp?
The somewhat interesting answer to that question is that there’s a group called the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee that considers requests and makes recommendations to the Postmaster General. The Committee has some “guidelines” which are really more like “rules”: for example, nobody gets a stamp until ten years after they die (with the exception of former presidents) is a Committee guideline. (You can find a current list of members here. Here are the current selection guidelines from Wikipedia: it looks like they have abandoned both the “ten years after death” criteria and the “no living person” rule. Here’s an older version of the guidelines that includes both.)
Anyway, the CSAC has been given a considerable amount of deference until recently. With the Post Office bleeding money like there’s no tomorrow (which may very well be the case), there’s pressure to bring in more revenue by upping stamp sales.
This has resulted in the Postal Service bypassing the CSAC and deciding to issue Harry Potter stamps.
“Harry Potter is not American. It’s foreign, and it’s so blatantly commercial it’s off the charts,” said John Hotchner, a stamp collector in Falls Church and former president of the American Philatelic Society, who served on the committee for 12 years until 2010. “The Postal Service knows what will sell, but that’s not what stamps ought to be about. Things that don’t sell so well are part of the American story.”
I’m torn by this. I’m not a big Harry Potter fan, but I know people who are, and I can see using Harry Potter to get kids into stamp collecting. On the other hand, I think Hotchner has a point too; Harry Potter is not American and not historical, and shouldn’t stamps tell stories of America? And is better to suck kids in with pop culture figures, or with bits of real, interesting, American history?
I don’t know. I don’t even know if I’m going to buy any Harry Potter stamps; if I do, they will be gifts for the younger set. (I prefer to mail my letters with stamps depicting dead presidents. Speaking of which, I’d be absolutely delighted if the Postal Service came out with Nixon “forever” stamps. Indeed, if they really wanted to rake in some bucks, why not do new runs of “forever” stamps for every (deceased) president? I bet they’d sell a lot of complete sets and associated commemorative albums/stamp keepers/etc. to stamp collectors and history buffs.)
So, Harry Potter doesn’t rile me up too much. Reasonable people can disagree over the merits and demerits of his stamps. But there are some other things in the WP coverage that get under my skin.
Among those now under consideration are the Beatles
A vastly over-rated group with a few toe-tappers.
Apple founder Steve Jobs
I would buy Steve Jobs stamps, but I think it is too soon. The ten-year guideline is a good one.
basketball player Wilt Chamberlain
Died in 1999. Not a bad choice.
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Sure, why not?
and chef Julia Child.
Absolutely, I think Julia is worthy of her own stamp. And we are coming up on ten years since her death.
(Speaking of Julia, on a slightly related note: does everything in the world have to involve f–king cats?)
Manabe objected to the jazz singer Sarah Vaughan, people familiar with the discussions said, on the grounds that Vaughan is not well known among young Americans. Barbie has been on the table, although no decisions have been made on the Mattel doll.
I’d argue that one of the goals of the stamp program should be education. Issuing, say, a Sarah Vaughn stamp should be taken as an opportunity to educate people about Ms. Vaughn and her music. As for Barbie, I think there’s a fine line between commercial promotion and acknowledging icons of American history, but I’d come down on the side of Barbie being a part of history, too.
(Who is “Manabe”?
Members of the advisory committee have complained to [Postmaster General Patrick] Donahoe that they have been brushed aside by agency staff, led by marketing director Nagisa Manabe, a former Coca-Cola executive hired in 2012 to reinvigorate the postal brand. Manabe moved the stamp program into her department and pushed aside veterans in the program, according to postal sources.
In September, the committee’s frustration boiled over and all 13 members walked out of their meeting and signed an unprecedented letter to Donahoe demanding that he meet with them.
“Quite simply, as it is run now, this committee no longer represents the collector, both avid and amateur, the child just discovering the wonder of stamps, the bride looking for the perfect wedding stamp or the very citizens it was designed to serve,” said the letter, which was obtained by The Post and first reported by Linn’s Stamp News. The committee wrote that it had responded to the mandate to “think big and think commercial.” But Harry Potter “was developed even though we, as a committee, did not propose it nor discussed how it could be best presented.”
Meanwhile, the Postal Service has hired a “futurist” “to help map out the future of stamps”. But not just any futurist: they’ve hired Faith Popcorn.
This is mildly surprising, though: some members of CSAC are cranky about the Inverted Jenny stamps.
The Postal Service reissued the inverted image in September as well as 100 sheets of the image right side up. Spokesman Roy Betts said the goal was to generate excitement.
But to committee members, as well as many collectors, it has come across as a gimmick and an unfair lottery.
It isn’t clear to me, from the context, if the members are upset over the whole “Inverted Jenny” re-issue, which I see as the Postal Service equivalent of “fan service“, or if they’re just cranky about the right-side up upside-down Jenny stamps. Those do seem kind of gimmicky, but no more unfair than William T. Robey’s original purchase.