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February 25, 2018

Effective January 21, 2018, postal rates increased. The price of a first-class stamp increased to fifty cents. A postcard stamp will now cost thirty-five cents.

When I think about it, fifty 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 just before Christmas 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 stamps! The price goes up next month!” 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 that remained open.  The man behind me commented, “No wonder rates are going up.  Customer service gets more expensive by the day.”

I remembered the day several years ago when our church secretary lamented, “Some of our members received their weekly newsletters two days later than normal.”

I reported that I had been in the Post Office that morning.  I said that I had learned that postal rates were going to increase soon.  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.”

Clare and I sometimes find unused stamps of various denominations tucked away in the back of desk or dresser drawers in our home.  Clare and I have made 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 purchased enough one, two, three, and five-cent stamps so we could complete the postage needed.

Some recipients of our mailings might have guessed our plan.  An envelope stamped with a vintage Hank Williams issue, 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, a retired educator, 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 y’all have already done 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. For example, in 2013 it cost forty-six cents to mail a normal-sized letter weighing one ounce or less to an address within the United States. In 2014, the rate increased to forty-nine cents. Customers who purchased Forever Stamps in 2013 may still use those stamps to mail their First Class letters today without adding additional postage to the envelope.

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!”

A Forever Stamp is currently worth fifty cents. The last rate change occurred on January 21, 2018. The next rate change may occur in May of 2018 or January of 2019.

Following a rate increase, the Forever Stamps not only save customers money, they also save money for the Postal Service. The Forever 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 who said, “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.

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