Ex-Postmaster General Decries Pop Culture Stamps

Friday, 08 Aug 2014 10:53 AM

By John Blosser

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A former postmaster general of the United States has accused the financially struggling Postal Service of "prostituting" itself in stamp designs, and has resigned from the influential Citizens Stamp Advisory Committee (CSAC).

Benjamin Bailar, 80, a member of the board for seven years and postmaster general from 1975-78, resigned July 23 in a letter to Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe, according to Linn's Stamp News.

"In my opinion, the stamp program should celebrate the things that are great about the United States and serve as a medium to communicate those things to a worldwide audience," he wrote. "To prostitute that goal in the pursuit of possibly illusory profits does not make sense to me."

Bailar, a well-known philatelist, was reacting to an ongoing major flap in the arcane world of stamp collectors, largely triggered when the USPS late last year launched a series of 16 "Harry Potter" stamps featuring characters from the British books and movies, in an attempt to raise money, according to Business Week.

In his letter, Linn's reported, Bailar even called for the abolishment of the committee, stating, "U.S. stamps have an impact on the self-image of the nation and how we are perceived by friends and enemies abroad.

"With some stamps to the contrary, we are no longer producing a program that, overall, supports that vision," he said.

Cary Brick, a 12-year former member of the committee, agreed with Bailar, telling The Washington Post that the committee "has been hijacked by the Postal Service's marketing geniuses who believe that stamp subjects should be selected and designed with what they hope their potential sales revenues will bring into the coffers," adding that the marketers "seem to equate postage stamps with super-sized soft drinks and fast food burgers."

CSAC Chairwoman Janet Klug told the Post, "The Postal Service is asking us to do more in the way of pop culture. We're trying to get a lot of young people interested in stamps. We have to go where they live."

Without question, pop stamps can make money – in 1993, an Elvis Presley stamp generated $26 million and over 124 million stamps or 24 percent, were hoarded by collectors and never used to mail letters, according to Business Week.

The CSAC was founded in 1957 and now has 11 members more or less evenly divided between prominent stamp collectors and design/marketing experts.

Linn's reported that Bailar wrote in his letter that committee membership has "become heavily weighted to artist and designers with fewer and fewer people who can truly provide solid input on the subject matter of stamps.

"While this may support a drive to 'sell the product' with abundance of pretty and popular culture subjects, the result is a program that lacks gravitas.

"Given the apparent desire of USPS to commercialize the stamp program, I would suggest that the committee be eliminated, or at the very least be further marginalized."

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