By Michael Baadke
When the United States Postal Service revealed its 2000 stamp program Oct. 14, it presented one issue as "the first prestige booklet ever offered" by the United States, an issue "containing 10 stamps with five designs featuring U.S. Navy submarines."
The term "prestige booklet" was originally used to describe special oversized booklet issues of Great Britain that honor a specific subject. Such booklets include postage stamps on panes with large borders, as well as additional illustrations and text on pages without stamps.A picture of the planned booklet is shown in Figure 1.
Like more conventional booklets, the panes are bound into cardboard covers, though the prestige booklet covers are usually printed in color. Each British prestige booklet commemorates some event or British icon, such as the Royal Mint, Agatha Christie and the BBC.
The stamps inside are usually a variety of definitive issues using Britain's well-known sculpted portrait of Queen Elizabeth II by artist Arnold Machin (pronounced "MAY-chin"). Decorative labels are sometimes included attached to the stamps.
Some British prestige booklets also include commemorative issues with designs related to the subject being celebrated.
Figure 2 shows some of the many panes from a 1998 prestige booklet that commemorated British definitive stamp designs of the 1950s.
An early version of a prestige booklet was a 1969 issue from Britain titled "Stamps for Cooks" that includes recipes on many of the interleaving pages.
The first British prestige booklet, as listed in the 2000 Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue, was issued in 1972 and tells "the story of Wedgwood."
Eight years passed before another British prestige booklet was issued. The 1980 version contains new stamps but once again commemorates the topic of Wedgwood ceramic arts.
A 1982 booklet honors British stamp dealer Stanley Gibbons. Since then, Great Britain has issued one or two prestige booklets each year.
The postage stamps in the prestige booklet may be used for mailing, of course, but because the booklet is so attractively packaged, many collectors save the entire item intact.
This can turn into a welcome money-maker for the issuing postal service. It takes in money on the sale of the booklet, but because many of the stamps are not used to mail anything, the postal service makes far greater profit than it may make on stamps that are used for postage.
Other postal administrations have seen the benefit of this type of product and have created their own form of prestige booklets.
The United Nations Postal Administration issued its first prestige booklets in 1995 to mark the 50th anniversary of the United Nations.
Each of the three stamp-issuing offices of the international organization issued one booklet with four panes of stamps plus pages of text and color photographs.
The stamps within the booklets were nearly identical to stamps issued at the same time in panes of 12. The stamp designs showed a composite image of people from all over the world.
In 1994 Tonga issued the world's first self-adhesive stamp with a hologram in a prestige booklet.
Denmark has issued what it calls a "minisheet booklet" as a special issue once each year since 1994. The first release pictured four famous castles in Denmark on four different stamps and included information about each.
The 1999 booklet, Denmark's sixth, pays homage to the Danish vaudeville revue. It is shown in Figure 3.
Like prestige booklets, Denmark's minisheet booklets have special panes of the featured stamps with decorative borders that are not found on the regular issues. The text about the stamp subjects is printed on the cover of the booklet.
Canada Post issued its first prestige booklet in 1990. Titled "Moving the Mail: The Story of Canada's Postal System," the booklet contains 25 39¢ stamps showing Canadian mail trucks, as well as illustrations and information about Canada's postal system.
Other countries that have used the prestige booklet format include Australia, Guernsey, Ireland, Norfolk Island, San Marino and the Philippines.
On rare occasions the United States has included additional information related to the stamp subject on the outer covers of its traditional commemorative stamp booklets.
Figure 4 shows both the outside (top) and inside (bottom) covers of the 1993 AIDS Awareness booklet. Each booklet contains two panes of five 29¢ AIDS Awareness stamps. The outer cover includes telephone numbers for AIDS information.
The U.S. Navy Submarines issue will be the first prestige booklet from the United States. Each booklet will contain two panes of five different stamps denominated 22¢, 33¢, 55¢, 60¢ and $3.20.
Although each of the five denominations fulfills a specific first-class postage rate (including two overseas rates), it is likely that more of these booklets will be saved intact than will be broken apart for postage use.
A closer view of one pane from the booklet, from a publicity photograph, is shown in Figure 5. It is to contain the five different stamps and tell the story of the U.S. Navy Submarine Force "Dolphin Pin."
Additional pages in the booklet will contain information about submarine development and capabilities.
The issue date for the U.S. Navy Submarines prestige booklet has not yet been announced by the U.S. Postal Service, but it is thought that the issue may be released sometime in spring 2000.
Chances are if the Submarines issue is a big seller for the United States Postal Service, it will be the first of many U.S. prestige booklets to come.