Refresher Course

Stamp subjects are approved by committee

By Michael Baadke

If you want to see your favorite subject on a United States stamp, you'll have to run your idea past the committee first.

Figure 1. When the 29¢ Elvis Presley stamp was proposed, individuals were encouraged to vote in early 1992 for one of two designs showing the popular rock 'n' roll performer. Click on image to enlarge.
Figure 2. Recommendations to revise stamp designs come from CSAC members or other sources. Shown are two preliminary designs (left) and the issued stamps (right).

When details of the Celebrate the Century stamp series were first made public last June at the Pacific 97 world stamp exhibition, collectors learned that some of the subjects for the 150-stamp series would be selected by the general public, while others had already been chosen by the Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee.

The new stamp series is not the first to offer individuals a chance to vote for what should appear on a United States stamp. In 1992 the United States Postal Service made public two designs for a planned Elvis Presley stamp and conducted a mail-in vote to determine which design the public preferred.

Like the Celebrate the Century ballots, Elvis ballots were available at post offices. The ballot shown in Figure 1 was bound into the April 13, 1992, issue of the weekly magazine People.

By the way, the younger version of Elvis, choice "A," was the overwhelming favorite, and the Elvis stamp was issued Jan. 8, 1993.

The Celebrate the Century subjects and the Elvis Presley design are exceptions to how stamp subjects are normally chosen. For the vast majority of U.S. stamps, the subjects are selected by the Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee (CSAC), based upon suggestions mailed in by the public.

Each year the Postal Service receives approximately 40,000 proposals recommending subjects for stamps. The Postal Service notes that every proposal is considered.

The committee normally consists of 15 individuals from a variety of backgrounds, including artists, business leaders and stamp collectors. All are appointed by and serve at the pleasure of the postmaster general.

The group fulfills two important functions related to U.S. stamps. They recommend subjects for stamps to the postmaster general, and they also review and provide guidance on artwork and designs for stamp subjects that have previously been approved and are scheduled to be issued.

CSAC members meet four times a year in Washington, D.C., to review subject suggestions that have been mailed in to the Postal Service and preliminary stamp designs. To simplify this procedure, the Postal Service's Stamp Development staff handles the committee's administrative matters and records, including the initial review of stamp proposals from the public.

"The committee is provided a consolidated listing of proposals, including background information on each proposed stamp subject that meets the criteria for stamp subject selection," notes Azeezaly Jaffer, the Postal Service's executive director for Stamp Services.

The criteria for stamp subject selection defined by the Postal Service appears in a box on this page. The committee recommends new stamp subject proposals at each quarterly meeting.

While CSAC makes recommendations, the final decision for subject matter and design of all U.S. postage stamps and stationery rests with the postmaster general.

The committee splits up into smaller groups to handle its work. The design subcommittee recommends stamp designs to the full committee, and the subject subcommittee recommends subjects to the full committee.

Design subcommittee members are: Meredith J. Davis, Philip B. Meggs, Virginia M. Noelke, Terry McCaffrey and C. Douglas Lewis.

McCaffrey is the Postal Service's senior art director for Stamp Development. Noelke is the CSAC chairwoman and Lewis is the vice chairperson.

Other CSAC members are Michael R. Brock, David L. Enyon, Karl Malden, Stephen T. McLin, Richard F. Phelps, Ronald A. Robinson, John Sawyer III and Irma Zandl.

"The Postal Service is in the process of filling three vacancies on the Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee," Jaffer told Linn's recently. "Our immediate focus is to fill the vacancy created by the departure of longtime member, serious collector and philatelist, Mary Ann Owens."

As a stamp design is developed, the artist may revise his illustration based on recommendations from CSAC. Such recommendations may come from a member of the committee, or may originate from another area.

For example, when the 29¢ Joe Louis stamp of 1993 was in development, a design by artist Thomas Blackshear, based on a publicity photo of Louis, was shown to committee members.

In Linn's U.S. Stamp Yearbook 1993, George Amick reports that Karl Malden, a committee member since October 1990, pointed out that "the boxer's gloves, copied from the photo, were training gloves, with stitching between the fingers, rather than the smooth gloves fighters wear in the ring."

The design was revised by Blackshear. A preliminary sketch of the design and the finished stamp are shown at the top of Figure 2.

A design change on another popular stamp came from a source outside the committee. According to Amick, writing in Linn's U.S. Stamp Yearbook 1996, USPS officials originally intended to use a replica of James Dean's autograph on the 32¢ stamp issued to honor the actor, but the company that controls the rights to Dean's image "vetoed the idea. The management firm has its own 'corporate identity program' for Dean, with a specified typeface (Bernhard Modern) and color (PMS 453, a brownish gray called taupe) for the display of Dean's name, and it wanted USPS to follow those guidelines on the stamp."

The results are shown at the bottom of Figure 2.

According to the Postal Service, stamp subjects should be submitted to the Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee at least three years in advance of the proposed date of issue to allow sufficient time for consideration, design and production, if the subject is approved.

No in-person appeals by stamp proponents are permitted.

Ideas for stamp subjects that meet the CSAC criteria may be addressed to the Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee, in care of Stamp Management, United States Postal Service, 475 L'Enfant Plaza S.W., Room 4474E, Washington, DC 20260-2437.

Criteria for Stamp Subject Selection

The U.S. Postal Service and the members of the Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee (CSAC) have set certain basic criteria used in determining the eligibility of subjects for commemoration on U.S. stamps and stationery. These criteria first were formulated about the time of Postal Reorganization in the early 1970s, and have been refined and expanded gradually since then.

Following are the 12 major areas now guiding subject selection:

1. It is a general policy that U.S. postage stamps and stationery primarily will feature American or American-related subjects.

2. No living person shall be honored by portrayal on U.S. postage.

3. Commemorative stamps or postal stationery items honoring individuals usually will be issued on, or in conjunction with significant anniversaries of their birth, but no postal item will be issued sooner than ten years after the individual's death. The only exception to the ten-year rule is the issuance of stamps honoring deceased U.S. presidents. They may be honored with a memorial stamp on the first birth anniversary following death.

4. Events of historical significance shall be considered for commemoration only on anniversaries in multiples of 50 years.

5. Only events and themes of widespread national appeal and significance will be considered for commemoration. Events or themes of local or regional significance may be recognized by a philatelic or special postal cancellation, which may be arranged through the local postmaster.

6. Stamps or stationery items shall not be issued to honor fraternal, political, sectarian, or service/charitable organizations that exist primarily to solicit and/or distribute funds. Nor shall stamps be issued to honor commercial enterprises or products.

7. Stamps or stationery items shall not be issued to honor cities, towns, municipalities, counties, primary or secondary schools, hospitals, libraries, or similar institutions. Due to the limitations placed on annual postal programs and the vast number of such locales, organizations and institutions in existence, it would be difficult to single out any one for commemoration.

8. Requests for observance of statehood anniversaries will be considered for commemorative postage stamps only at intervals of 50 years from the date of the state's first entry into the Union. Requests for observance of other state-related or regional anniversaries will be considered only as subjects for postal stationery, and again only at intervals of 50 years from the date of the event.

9. Stamps or stationery items shall not be issued to honor religious institutions or individuals whose principal achievements are associated with religious undertakings or beliefs.

10. Stamps or postal stationery items with added values, referred to as "semi-postals," shall not be issued. Due to the vast number of worthy fund-raising organizations in existence, it would be difficult to single out specific ones to receive such revenue. There also is a strong U.S. tradition of private fund-raising for charities, and the administrative costs involved in accounting for sales would tend to negate the revenues derived.

11. Requests for commemoration of significant anniversaries of universities and other institutions of higher education shall be considered only in regard to Historic Preservation Series postal cards featuring an appropriate building on the campus.

12. No stamp shall be considered for issuance if one treating the same subject has been issued in the past ten years. The only exceptions to this rule will be those stamps issued in recognition of traditional themes such as Christmas, U.S. Flag, Express Mail, Love, etc.

Source: United States Postal Service