By Michael Baadke
There's a lot more to moving the United States mail than just putting a stamp on an envelope and waiting for it to be delivered.
There's so much more, in fact, that the United States Postal Service has enormous volumes of regulations and guidelines that it uses to keep the mail moving in an orderly fashion.
As might be expected, a number of these rules affect the stamp hobby and can make a difference in how a collector conducts his postal business.
From a collector's viewpoint, some of these regulations are helpful while others are a nuisance.
One in particular actually falls into both categories at the same time.
When stamp collectors purchase coil stamps from the Postal Service, they are usually required to purchase a minimum of 25 stamps to obtain a plate number single.
At regular intervals, one stamp in a coil strip will have a small plate number near or at the bottom of the design: that's the plate number single. Collectors like to save these stamps in the center of longer strips, usually consisting of three or five stamps.
With regularly denominated stamps, such as the 33¢ Flag Over City coil stamps, it's fairly easy for the collector to use up any excess stamps as postage.
Not so when it comes to service-inscribed stamps: nonprofit, presorted-first-class, standard-mail stamps and so on. Postal regulations prohibit the use of these stamps for postage unless the mailer has a permit.
That's the nuisance part.
Here's the helpful part.
The permit that's required is free, and it's available at any post office.
To use up extra service-inscribed coil stamps, collectors need to ask at their local post office for form 3615, which is titled "Mailing Permit Application and Customer Profile."
Section B, box 2 of the form is labeled "Precanceled Stamp or Government Precanceled Stamped Envelope Authorization (No Fee)." That box needs to be checked.
The permit is issued at no charge, and the information is kept on file at the local office.
When a collector wants to use his service-inscribed stamps as postage, he must use the proper amount to pay the correct rate.
Figure 1 shows an envelope mailed in May 1998 when the first-class rate was 32¢.
The mailer used one nondenominated self-adhesive Butte stamp (with a nominal value of 5¢), one nondenominated self-adhesive Juke Box stamp (with a nominal value of 25¢), and two 1¢ Omnibus coil stamps. All together that adds up to 32¢.
The values of these service-inscribed coil stamps are listed in the Postal Service's USA Philatelic mail-order catalog.
Collectors may request a free catalog by writing to Information Fulfillment, Dept. 6270, U.S. Postal Service, Box 219014, Kansas City, MO 64121-9014.
The collector who sent the Figure 1 envelope included his permit number on the envelope, but that's not required.
It is recommended that each mailpiece be marked "First-Class Mail" to override the inscriptions on the coil stamps.
Collectors are required to hand the mail they are sending by permit to a clerk at the specific post office where their permit is on file.
They may not drop these envelopes into a mailbox. It's quite likely that doing so will get the envelopes returned to the mailer instead of delivered to the intended destination.
The regulations covering such mailings are not used very often, so collectors sometimes find that their postal clerk or postmaster is not familiar with the details.
The relevant regulations are published in section P023.2.1 of the USPS Domestic Mail Manual, a big book of rules that is kept in every post office in the land.
Why all the rules regarding these stamps?
If you look at these stamps when they are used on the bills or advertisements mailed to your home, you'll notice most or all of them arrive without a postmark.
If anyone could use these stamps at any time, it would be easy for unscrupulous mailers to soak off the unmarked stamps and glue them onto their outgoing mail.
That's called reusing stamps, and it's against the law.
The regulations give postal clerks an opportunity to examine the mail as it is being sent out, to make sure no one is illegally profiting from the reuse of uncanceled stamps.
A few weeks ago a reader wrote to Linn's Stamp News asking if there was a postal regulation that stated she could use her Priority Mail postage stamps on other kinds of mail.
By "priority mail postage stamp" it's likely the reader meant the $3.20 stamp shown in Figure 2. It fulfills the most common Priority Mail rate for first-class mail weighing between 12 ounces and two pounds.
There doesn't seem to be a regulation that specifically states it's OK to use these stamps for other types of mail, but yes, it is allowed.
Postal Service spokesman Don Smeraldi told Linn's that although the intended use of the stamp is to pay Priority Mail postage, it may be used properly to pay other standard rates as well.
For example, someone mailing a four-ounce first-class package by air to France needs to pay $3.40 in postage. There is no problem using the $3.20 stamp and another 20¢ stamp to do so, even though the rate class is not Priority Mail.
Section P022.2.0 of the Domestic Mail Manual points out that "All postage stamps issued by the United States since 1860, unless listed in 2.2, are valid for postage from any point in the United States or from any other place where U.S. Mail service operates."
Here's what's listed as invalid in section 2.2: "Postage due, special delivery, special handling, and certified mail stamps."
Examples of these are shown in Figure 3.
The rules for the use of Official mail stamps are in another section of the DMM, E060, and state that it is mail sent by U.S. government agencies, relating solely to the business of the U.S. government.
That basically means that collectors can't use Official mail stamps as postage either.
These regulations limit how collectors may obtain postally used examples of these stamps. In some cases, properly used examples of these restricted stamps are hard to come by. Collectors who discover entire covers that use these stamps should consider saving the intact cover, rather than clipping the stamps and soaking them off, as the intact cover is almost always of greater value than the individual used stamps.
Many other regulations also affect collectors and the proper use of stamps.
Collectors with questions about proper mailing guidelines can ask the local post office for information.
The Domestic Mail Manual is also available on the Internet. It can be accessed at www.usps.com/cpim/buspubs.htm with the use of the Acrobat Reader.
Information about obtaining and using the free reader is available at the Internet site.