According to an Associated Press article I read over lunch, the USPS is changing their rules, and will permit living people to be portrayed on postage stamps. Since Jan. 1, 2007, the requirement has been that a person must have been deceased five years before appearing on a stamp. Before that, the rule was 10 years. (By tradition, though, former presidents are remembered on a stamp in the year following their deaths.).
Presumably, the intent behind the new rule is to get popular people on stamps so that people collect stamps and (ideally) never use them (which makes the post office money), or decide to use them (which increases use of the service). The post office has discovered in the past that putting popular people and subjects on stamps does get the stamps purchased: witness the success of the Disney stamps and the Simpson stamps (cartoon characters, despite what children believe, are not alive, but simply timeless).
(As an aside: I’ll note that you have always been able to put living people on stamps, just not stamps published by the USPS. I seem to recall that stamps.com had a service where you could put any non-obscene photo on a stamp).
So, my first question to you is: What living characters should go on US postage stamps? Honoring living politicians is certainly not the way to go, although popular media personalities might work. After all, just imagine (insert name of popular sexy superstar) on a stamp. Given the post office’s current budget problems, what we’ll most likely see is sponsored stamps, where the post office auctions off the right to get a living person on a stamp. Surely Berkshire Hathaway would pay to put Warren Buffet’s face on a stamp? [Note that if you have suggestions, the USPS wants them. Send them via Facebook, Twitter, the postal service website and, of course, by mail to the Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee, c/o Stamp Development, Room 3300, 475 L'Enfant Plaza SW, Washington DC 20260-3501.]
Of course, this leads to the second question: Does anyone looks at postage stamps anymore? I was thinking about that this weekend, as my current sheet of stamps is the “Go Green” commemorative pictured on the right (click for a larger image). These stamps (which look to me like Easter Seals) contain various messages that exhort the public to “Go Green”, including fixing leaks, sharing rides, composting, insulating the home, planting trees, etc. Of course, there’s one big green thing missing on the list: use your computer to receive and pay bills. That’s not there because (of course) that reduces the use of the mail. I think about that everytime I use a stamp from this sheet.
One last thought related to stamps. One of the hobbies of my youth that has gone to the wayside is stamp collecting. This hobby, popularized by presidents such as FDR, used to be really big. Nowadays? Stamp collections are mostly worthless, except for really old stamps. First day covers have even less value. I stopped keeping my collection up to date in the late 1990s. The move to adhesive stamp sheets with 20 different images meant that you had to buy an entire sheet. Even when all the images on the sheet were the same, you still needed to buy an entire sheet to get the plate numbers (no more blocks of four). The adhesive is such that you can no longer soak off stamps, and you get fewer and fewer real stamps on envelopes you receive at home. I’m not sure when I’ll reach the point where I’ll declare my collection valueless, although I’m pretty sure the foreign portion of my colletion is so spotty there’s no value there. This leads to my last question: Were you/Are you a stamp collector, and what are you doing with your collection these days?