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Forever Stamps: Already Done Been Licked

May 11, 2009

Effective Monday, May 11, 2009, postal rates will rise. The price of a first-class stamp will increase two pennies to forty-four cents. A postcard stamp will now cost twenty-eight cents.

When I think about it, forty-four cents is a small price to pay to send a birthday card from South Carolina to a grandchild in New Hampshire or in Tennessee. Still, complaints are common.

 I stopped by a branch 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 scolded, “You need to use up those forty-two cent stamps! The price goes up next week!” That transaction completed, he slid a NEXT WINDOW PLEASE sign into 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 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, “No wonder the Post Office has to increase rates! We have to pay a 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 are making a concentrated effort to use up all of the random leftover stamps we can 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 have purchased enough one, two, three, and five-cent stamps so we can complete the postage needed. 

Some recipients of our mailings might have guessed our plan.  An envelope with a twenty-nine cent Hank Williams bracketed by two five-cent toleware coffee pots, a two-cent Navajo silver necklace, and a one-cent ring-necked pheasant would certainly grab your attention.

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.

Several years ago, 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.  The one-cent stamp and the block of four were each valued at three million dollars.  Talk about postal rate inflation!

Our sister-in-law, Dawn, recounted an interesting experience from her days as a school guidance counselor in rural North Carolina.  She needed to mail a package but could only get to the small country Post Office after school hours.

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 that have already done been licked.”

Philatelists take note; a rare stamp indeed.

In 2006, the United States Postal Service applied for permission to issue a stamp similar to non-denominated stamps in other countries. The stamp is commonly referred to as the Forever Stamp. It is accepted for first-class postage even after a rate change. The Forever Stamp, released in April 2007, pictures the Liberty Bell and is self-adhesive. In other words, they’ve already done been licked.

As the impending price increase approached, the Forever Stamps were a best seller. One postal employee told me, “They’ve been selling like hotcakes!”

Following a rate increase, the Forever Stamps not only save customers money, they also save money for the Postal Service. The Liberty Bell Stamp was invented to cope, after a price hike, with the cost of printing large issues of low-value stamps. With the wide circulation of the Forever Stamp, demand for one, two, and three-cent stamps has decreased.

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 or dog dipping.

 Kirk H. Neely
© May 2009

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