Stamps and Politics
The postage stamps of the United States have pictured thousands of different persons. Major past presidents along with Benjamin Franklin dominated depictions in American postage until the 1970s, when the United States Postal Service became a government corporation instead of a department within the federal government.
The trend ever since has been to show popular figures to increase sales to collectors and other folks who keep the stamps without using them for postage. So we have had all kinds of musicians, sports stars, and historical war events on stamps. Then came a sheet of historical cartoons, a sheetlet and postal card of Bugs Bunny and now we have Sylvester the cat and Tweety the canary on a sheetlet.
The U.S.P.S. used to issue single stamps to commemorate an event. Now it issues blocks of stamps and whole sheets of different stamps. A common practice now is to issue a sheetlet of about 20 stamps, with repeated blocks of 5 stamps, and a big picture on the left. That's how the recent stamps honoring the artist Alexander Calder was issued. There are 5 different stamps showing his abstract art and a picture of the artist at the side. The recent sheet showing movie monsters follows this pattern also. Even though the stamps repeat, some collectors and souvenir seekers will keep the whole sheetlet. For 20 stamps, that's $6.40 for the post office without having to perform a postal service.
Stamp collectors are complaining about the plethora of stamps being issued. Many collectors have specialized in unused U.S. stamps, keeping all that were issued. With sheet after sheet of new issues, it has become a very expensive hobby, especially for children. Back in the 1950s, a stamp cost 3c and children could easily buy the dozen or so commemoratives issued. Now a stamp costs 32c, and there are hundreds per year, not to speak of the high values for priority and express mail, some costing over $10. Stamp collecting is no longer so popular with kids, and many collectors worry that philately, the hobby of stamp collecting, is headed for extinction.
Of course, children and other collectors can collect used stamps from the mail at low cost. But collectors also complain (mostly to stamp collecting periodicals) that many of the topics on US stamps have become frivolous. Stamps show people that nobody has heard of and who played some minor role in history. Some of these stamps are due to the political influence of some pressure group, while others are issued to cash in on the popularity of a topic.
Personally, I would not mind the obscure people, the cartoons and multiple issues, if the postal service at least honored those historical figures that deserve a place in American philately. But the U.S.P.S. stamp program has been anti-intellectual and has refused to honor many great and well known historical figures that had a prominent role in American history. The British post office has been guilty of this as well. Where are the great British philosophers, economists, and social reformers? Why no stamps for the great names such as John Locke, Adam Smith, David Ricardo (the great classical economist), John Stuart Mill philosopher and economist), and Alfred Marshall (major economist)? And in America, the great social philosopher, economist, and social reformer Henry George has never appeared on a stamp. Incredibly, George has not appeared on any stamp of any country at all. Tens of thousands of different persons have appeared on stamps, but not Henry George.
Is this not an outrage? Stamps for Sylvester and Tweety, five stamps and a sheetlet for one abstract artist, stamps for movie monsters and crayons, but not one stamp for the influential, well known, key American historical figure Henry George! Is it that Henry was just a bit too controversial, that his ideas are so explosive and relevant to today's social problems that the U.S. government fears issuing just one little stamp for George?
There is a committee that is supposed to suggest stamp topics to the U.S.P.S. and takes suggestions from the public. There have been many letters to the committee urging the U.S.P.S. to issue a stamp honoring Henry George, but the committee has so far refused to recommend it. Those of us who feel that major historical people should be recognized in U.S. postage can keep trying. Write to:
Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee, c/o Stamps Development Branch, U.S.P.S. Headquarters, 475 L'Enfant Plaza SW, Washington, DC 20260-6352.