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“The Price of a Postage Stamp”

November 4, 2005

I stopped by the Post Office last week to mail packages to our out-of-town children and grandchildren.  As I waited in line, I overheard a conversation between a postal clerk and a customer.  The woman was in line to purchase just one stamp.  She complained, “I have so many stamps at home, but I never seem to have one when I need it.  Just last week I bought a roll of one hundred stamps, and here I am without one.”

The clerk responded, “You need to use up those thirty-seven cent stamps. The price is going up after the first of the year.”

That transaction completed, the clerk slid a “Next Window Please” sign in place and announced, “I’m going to lunch.” Three of us were left standing in line to wait our turn for the one window remaining open.  The man behind me commented, “No wonder rates are going up.  Customer service gets more expensive by the day.” 

The same day, our church secretary lamented, “Some of our members received their weekly newsletters two days later than normal. I don’t understand. I mailed them the same as usual.”  I recounted the exchange I had witnessed in the Post Office earlier, including the fact that postal rates were going to increase.  A Deacon who happened to be in the office quipped, “The Post Office has to increase rates. We have to pay the storage fee so they can keep those newsletters two extra days.”

Unused stamps of various denominations are tucked away throughout our home.  Clare and I have recently made an effort to use all of the random leftover stamps we could find.  Some we unearthed went back to the time when first class postage was twenty-nine cents and stamps still had to be licked.  We purchased enough one, two, and five-cent stamps to complete the postage needed to use up all our old stamps. 

Some recipients of our mailings might have guessed our plan.  An envelope with a twenty-nine cent Hank Williams bracketed by a five-cent toleware coffee pot, a two-cent Navajo silver necklace, and a one-cent ring-necked pheasant would certainly be noticed. One might conclude that we are philatelists, a word that sounds slightly risqué but is the correct name for stamp collectors.  Philatelists we are not.  There is a difference in collecting stamps and accumulating them.

Recently, philatelists had a field day.  Bill Gross of Newport Beach, California, was just one stamp shy of having a complete collection of every United States Postage stamp issued during the nineteenth century, a total of about three hundred rare stamps.  The missing treasure was a small 1868 blue-hued one-cent stamp bearing the image of the first Postmaster General, Benjamin Franklin.  Only two are known to exist.  Donald Sundman, of Camden, New Jersey, owned one. 

Donald and Bill worked out a swap.  Bill traded a block of four twenty-four cent “Inverted Jenny” stamps for Donald’s rare one-cent stamp.  The “Inverted Jenny” stamps are an equally rare misprinted issue depicting an upside-down airplane.  Both the one-cent stamp and the block of four were valued at three million dollars.  Talk about postal rate inflation!

Several years ago, my sister-in-law needed to mail a package.  She was a school guidance counselor in rural North Carolina. She could only go to the small country Post Office after work. On Monday, the Post Office was closed.  The sign on the door, crudely written, read, “Closed – We Are Bush Hogging.”  She tried again Tuesday afternoon, only to find a new sign. It read, “Closed – We Are Dipping Our Dogs.”  Undaunted, she returned on Wednesday.  The Post Office was open. She took her place in line behind a man in overalls.  As he stepped to the window, he said, “I wanna’ buy some of them stamps y’all have already done licked.” Philatelists take note; a rare stamp indeed.

When I think about it, thirty-seven cents, or whatever the new rate will be, is a small price to pay to send a birthday card from South Carolina to a grandchild in Michigan. The inscription on the New York City Post Office was adapted from the Greek historian, Herodotus. “Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”  No mention of bush hogging, dog dipping, or lunch breaks.

-Kirk H. Neely 

© H-J Weekly, November 2005

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