By Michael Baadke
The new United States 33¢ Tropical Flowers self-adhesive stamps issued May 1 come on a coated liner paper that makes it easy to peel off each stamp for use on mail.
However, the new stamps are placed on both sides of the liner, not just one side, the first time a U.S. stamp has been presented that way.
The new format is just one of many different layouts used for the self-adhesive stamps sold by the U.S. Postal Service.
The first U.S. self-adhesive postage stamp was the 10¢ Christmas issue, Scott 1552, released Nov. 15, 1974.
The stamps were die cut into a rectangular shape with rounded corners. They were sold in panes of 50 with the stamps spaced apart on liner paper that had roulette slits between each stamp.
That way, individual stamps and blocks of stamps could be separated from the full pane while remaining on the liner.
Those early self-adhesives were terribly expensive to manufacture, and 15 years went by before the Postal Service issued another self-adhesive stamp.
The next stamp that was issued, the 25¢ Eagle and Shield of 1989 (Scott 2431), was the first to appear in a flat pane that the Scott Specialized Catalogue of United States Stamps and Covers calls a "fold-it-yourself" booklet.
This item is pictured front and back in Figure 1.
Soon after the 25¢ stamp was issued, the Postal Service chose the name "convertible booklet" to identify these flat panes that can be folded up and placed in a pocket.
Some collectors simply refer to this type of smaller pane as a "sheetlet," a word that Linn's does not use.
Stamp collectors who choose to save the entire pane keep these items flat and intact, but mailers can remove a couple of peel-off strips and easily fold the pane into thirds.
The new Tropical Flowers pane of 20 stamps is also a convertible booklet.
The Postal Service thought that the special features of the 1989 Eagle and Shield pane were worth a little extra money, so it charged $5 for 18 25¢ stamps (face value: $4.50).
A coil version of the same stamp was offered through selected philatelic outlets for the same price: 18 stamps for $5.
The two versions of the Eagle and Shield stamp were identical to one another and differed only by format: 18 stamps on a rectangular pane made up of six rows of three, or 18 stamps in a single long strip.
Just six months later another self-adhesive stamp format appeared: the ATM pane, designed for dispensing from automatic teller machines.
The 25¢ Flag ATM issue of 1990 (Scott 2475) was intentionally created on a pane that is the same size, shape and thickness as a dollar bill, so the stamps could be sold at banks to ATM customers.
The 25¢ Flag and a nearly identical issue from 1991, the F-rate (29¢) Flag ATM (Scott 2522), were both issued in panes of 12. Both stamps were made out of a specially formulated polyester film instead of paper.
The ATM format was a success and continues today, though paper stamps soon replaced the polyester issues.
On March 13, the Postal Service issued a pane of 18 33¢ Flag Over Chalkboard stamps in an ATM-format pane.
That pane is illustrated in Figure 2. For comparison a $1 bill is shown peeking out at left from underneath.
Notice that across the center of the pane is a peel-off strip that makes it, like the convertible booklets, easy to fold. The first ATM issue to feature this element was the 29¢ Christmas Train ATM stamp of 1992.
In 1996 makeshift folded booklets containing self-adhesive stamps appeared in post office vending machines. The first of these contained 15 or 30 of the 32¢ Pink Rose stamp and sold for $4.80 or $9.60.
Each booklet had a generic blue cardboard cover with trimmed panes of the standard-issue stamps spot-glued inside.
The same year, 32¢ self-adhesive Flag Over Porch stamps were issued in folded booklets within a specially designed cardboard cover. The $6.40 booklet contained two panes of 10 stamps, with each pane on its own liner paper.
These folded booklets could be dispensed from vending machines or sold over the counter and quickly replaced booklets of lick-and-stick style stamps.
Another booklet innovation appeared in December 1996, when the 32¢ Yellow Rose stamp was issued in a folded booklet of 15. The inside of the booklet cover was a coated liner paper and the self-adhesive stamps were arranged upon it.
The booklet is shown folded and unfolded in Figure 3.
Finally, the Postal Service also issued self-adhesive commemorative stamps in 1996 depicting Riverboats in flat panes of 20, with die cutting through the liner that allowed postal clerks and collectors to easily separate mint stamps from the pane.
A similar format has been used on several commemorative and special stamps since then, including the 32¢ Madam C.J. Walker stamp and 32¢ Flowering Trees issues of 1998, and this year's 33¢ Malcolm X and 33¢ Cinco de Mayo stamps.
Obviously, the Postal Service was trying very hard to encourage the mailing public and stamp collectors to accept self-adhesive stamps, and it experienced great success.
Although self-adhesive coil stamps appeared in 1989 with the 25¢ Eagle and Shield issue, the public couldn't actually buy rolled-up coils of stamps — only the strips of 18 stamps sold to collectors were generally available.
It wasn't until five years later that full rolls of self-adhesive coil stamps were sold, and that issue, the 29¢ Statue of Liberty of 1994, came only in coils of 5,004 stamps, more than the average household mailer might use.
Self-adhesive stamps in coils of 100 finally appeared in 1996 bearing the 32¢ Flag Over Porch design that had been in use for a year in other formats.
Two varieties, Scott 2915A and 2915C, were manufactured by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. The difference between them was the gauge of the wavy-line die cuts on the vertical edges.
Scott 2915A is shown at the bottom of Figure 4. Note that there is no excess liner paper showing around the edges of the stamps and that each stamp interlocks with the next.
At the top of Figure 4 is Scott 2915B, a similar coil stamp manufactured by Stamp Venturers.
These stamps are separate from each other on the liner paper and show additional paper above and below the stamp.
These are the two most common self-adhesive coil formats.
A third appeared in 1997 when two linerless self-adhesive coils were issued.
Shown in Figure 5 is a dispenser holding a coil of 100 of the linerless 32¢ Flag Over Porch, Scott 3133.
These coils roll off the dispenser like cellophane tape for use on mail. Collectors obtained coated liner strips from the Postal Service's mail-order division to save unused strips of this unusual item.
Self-adhesive postage stamps have come to dominate the market in the United States, and the Postal Service has created a number of format varieties for the convenience of its customers.
It should be interesting to see what turns up next.