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Former Postmaster General: Stop 'Prostituting' the Stamp Program

Gone are the days of simple stamp design. Or eight-cent postage. Gone are the days of simple stamp design. Or eight-cent postage. akiyoko / Shutterstock.com

Add "angry ex-postmaster general" to the list of problems affecting the U.S. Postal Service.

Benjamin F. Bailar, who led the service from 1975 to 1978, has problems with current Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe's stewardship of the stamp program. In his letter resigning from the Citizens’ Advisory Stamp Committee, Bailar accused USPS of "prostituting" the program by issuing pop culture stamps in lieu of higher-minded cultural figures.

The Washington Post first reported the letter, which came after the board complained to Donahoe that they were being ignored in the decision-making affecting stamp issues. November's stamps featuring fictional British boy wizard Harry Potter were cited by members of the board as a cash-grab, as they had not been advised on the choice.

Bailar's letter does not pull punches about his feelings regarding such stamps.

The stamp program should celebrate the things that are great about the United States and serve as a medium to communicate those things to a world-wide audience... To prostitute that goal in the pursuit of possibly illusory profits does not make sense to me.

Bailar also said the committee has become too heavily weighted toward designers and he suggested that it be dissolved, "given the apparent desire of [USPS] to commercialize the stamp program."

"While they may support a drive to ‘sell the product’ with abundance of pretty and popular culture subjects, the result is a program that lacks gravitas," Bailar wrote.

Postal spokeswoman Toni DeLancey said in a statement this week that USPS appreciates Bailar's “extensive postal knowledge and prior experience as Postmaster General, which was invaluable.” Committee chairwoman Janet Klug told the Post that Bailar has been absent from recent meetings and has not kept up with the changes to the process.

“Ben likes history and I like history,” Klug, told the newspaper. “The Postal Service is asking us to do more in the way of pop culture. We’re trying to get a lot of young people interested in stamps. We have to go where they live.”

The United States Postal Service has for years issued stamps with popular cultural icons to try and gain young fans. In 2012, USPS printed 1 billion stamps featuring the animated show The Simpsons, double the run of the Elvis stamp. According to Bloomberg, only 318 million of the stamps sold, leaving USPS stuck with a $1.2 million printing bill.

In 1992, the USPS held a poll to celebrate National Stamp Collecting Month, pitting two different versions of Elvis Presley stamps against one another. The younger version won the vote and was issued in January 1993.

Recently, USPS held a ceremony in San Francisco to commemorate a stamp featuring psychedelic blues singer and 1960s counter-culture icon Janis Joplin. The stamp features psychedelic writing and colors, echoing the design of the Jimi Hendrix stamp issued earlier this year.

USPS currently has many cultural figure stamps available for purchase on its online store. Musicians Johnny Cash, Miles Davis, Ray Charles share the same format as movie star Charlton Heston, a series of Pixar stamps, "hot rod" stamps and stamps featuring George Washington, Civil War battle scenes and the emancipation proclamation. French singer Edith Piaf has her own stamp, as well.

Donahoe Thursday appeared at an event unveiling limited edition forever stamps celebrating farmers markets.

Bernadine Prince of the Farmers Market Coalition, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Postmaster General, Patrick Donahoe and Jim Crawford of New Morning Farm pose for a photo Thursday.

(Top image of used stamps via akiyoko / Shutterstock.com)

Prior to joining Government Executive’s staff, Ross Gianfortune worked at The Washington Post, The Gazette Newspapers, WXRT Radio and The Columbia Missourian. He holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from University of Missouri and a master's in communications from the American University.

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