US Stamps

By Charles Snee

Linn’s columnist John Hotchner responds to criticisms of U.S. program proposals

February 20, 2015 09:46 AM

In our Feb. 23 issue, we published an open letter to Postmaster General Megan Brennan.

In that letter, Linn’s U.S. Stamp Notes columnist John Hotchner, former PMG Benjamin Bailar and former U.S. House of Representatives Chief of Staff Cary Brick spelled out their prescription for reinvigorating the United States stamp program.

All three served on the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee, and thus have a keen appreciation for how subjects are chosen and brought to life on the nation’s stamps.

In the same issue, Hotchner devoted his column to presenting 16 proposals that he believes will help the U.S. Postal Service better promote the stamp program and entice more people to collect stamps.

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After reading the column, I wrote to Hotchner, expressing my dismay at two of his proposals.

“Plate numbers on booklet stamps?” I asked. “The USPS tried that, and it fizzled out pretty quickly.

“Limited-edition items, such as progressive proof sheets? The Jenny Invert collector’s folio included such items, to the tune of $200. That, as you write in the column, was a ‘naked raid’ on collectors’ wallets. Do we really want more of that?”

Hotchner was quick with a reply, because he felt that he hadn’t made his “best case for each of the recommendations due to space considerations.”

He first expanded on the idea of putting plate numbers on booklet stamps, which the USPS first tried in 2000.

“The USPS gave it almost no publicity when they did it, did it on low volume panes, and relatively low quantities survive,” he explained.

“And still they are avidly collected, are included in the catalogs and albums, and are eagerly snapped up in the infrequent event they are seen in club auctions and [American Philatelic Society] sales books.

“I think if the USPS did a proper job of marketing the product, it would be both a money maker for them and popular with the same folks who like plate number coils.”

I am not a big fan of limited-edition philatelic items and other gimmicks, but Hotchner had a reasonable rejoinder to my frowning, in particular, over progressive proofs.

“Yes, I realize they did this with the [Jenny Invert sheet], and that the price was outrageous. But here again, in the same way that no one is forced to use Express Mail stamps, those who want to for whatever reason are glad [the option] is there.

“And in suggesting progressive color proofs, all I am saying is that I believe there is a market for them, and that they would make an interesting and even desirable collectible as they would actually educate on how stamps are produced — a factor mostly missing from the press sheet phenomena.

“Is it a naked grab for collector money? Yes, but it is not like the $12 Jenny Invert sheet, or the 20-stamp Harry Potter extravaganza, which collectors have to have because otherwise they will be album blanks.

“Color proofs are discretionary — buy ’em if you like ’em. Don’t if you don’t. Collectors can vote with their wallet, and if the USPS charges a reasonable amount, my bet is they will sell well.”

Hotchner doesn’t define “reasonable,” and I have my doubts that more such items would sell well.

Better to focus on the stamps and leave the gimmicks on the drawing board.

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