By Michael Baadke
The United States Postal Service has offered cacheted No. 10-size first-day covers for sale at two of its recent first-day ceremonies, but has not yet offered the covers on it retail website or announced their existence.
Questions submitted to the Postal Service about these items were not answered prior to this issue of Linn’s going to press, so it is not known at this time if these covers are the beginning of a new product line that will produce additional similar FDCs.
Cachetmakers have expressed concerns in the past that the government agency has the resources to quickly position itself as a dominant force in the cacheted FDC market, potentially driving independent cachetmakers and private sellers out of business.
Since Postal Service contractors print stamps for a tiny fraction of the face value that independent cachetmakers must pay, the USPS appears to have an economic advantage in producing cacheted FDCs.
Independent cachetmakers and FDC servicers in Canada and Great Britain struggled when the postal authorities of those respective nations began producing and selling cacheted FDCs.
U.S. Postal Service officials previously stated they would not get into the business of making and marketing cacheted covers.
The two new cacheted FDCs known so far both feature wraparound allover full-color cachets with illustrations closely related to the subject matter featured on the stamp.
The FDC for the Mister Rogers forever stamp issued March 23 in Pittsburgh, Pa., shows Fred Rogers smiling with his left arm extended into a model of the famous neighborhood that served as the setting for his long-running childrens’ television series. At right is a larger photo of the Neighborhood Trolley, just below the stamp and its black pictorial first-day cancel (which also shows the trolley).
The back of the envelope pictures white clouds in a blue sky, plus the USPS eagle logo and lettering at lower left.
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The STEM Education FDC, for the set of four forever stamps issued April 6, is franked with one of the four stamps and postmarked with the pictorial cancel.
The envelope design highlights the four letters that stand for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) and shows one detail from each of the four different stamps in the set.
The envelope reverse includes symbols, formulas and other images from the stamps, plus the Postal Service logo at lower left.
These covers were sold by Postal Service workers for $9.95 at the first-day events.
An eight-page brochure provided at the STEM Education stamp ceremony offered stamps and related products, including the cacheted cover as USPS item 477628, that could be ordered from Stamp Fulfillment Services, the USPS mail-order philatelic sales division.
The Postal Service almost always staffs a table for retail sales at or near the first-day ceremony venue when a new stamp is being officially issued. Visitors to the event can count on stamps being available for purchase, and the Postal Service often will offer uncacheted (blank) FDCs franked with the new stamp and tied with a black or digital color postmark.
The Postal Service began offering blank white No. 6¾-size envelopes with full-color pictorial first-day cancels in January 2005.
Linn’s columnist Lloyd de Vries wrote about the new development in the Jan. 24, 2005, issue.
He quoted Barry Southard, president of the Cachet Makers Association, as saying, “Some fear that we are on a slippery slope towards the USPS getting into the business of cachetmaking and special cancels full time.”
When first introduced, the color cancels were only available on the Postal Service’s uncacheted envelopes, though it had also marketed a four-color cacheted cover for the 2005 presidential inauguration with a multicolor cancel showing the Great Seal of the United States.
The color postmark program was later expanded to offer postmarks on envelopes submitted by cachetmakers or collectors, with specific restrictions and limitations.
Linn’s Washington Correspondent Bill McAllister wrote in the Jan. 24, 2005, issue that the USPS inauguration cover was “alarming some first-day collectors and cachetmakers who believe the Postal Service might be moving toward creation of official first-day covers.”
David Failor, then executive director of Stamp Services for the USPS, told Linn’s, “We have no intention of getting into the first-day-of-issue cachet cover business. I know that’s kind of the agreement that we’ve always had with the cover community, that we would not get into that.”
However, the Postal Service did issue another cacheted FDC on Jan. 27, 2005, to celebrate the new 37¢ Marian Anderson stamp in the Black Heritage commemorative series (Scott 3896).
The Anderson FDC, with a professionally designed allover cachet in gradient shades of sepia, was sold through Stamp Fulfillment Services.
The envelope measured 7¼ inches by 5¼ inches, and the design continued on the reverse. It was sold with a pane of the new stamps and an individual insert card for another new USPS product, the Black Heritage Cultural Diary.
While the Postal Service continued to produce pages for the Black Heritage Cultural Diary, it stopped producing the accompanying “illustrated envelope,” as it was identified by the USPS, shortly after reports appeared in Linn’s and Scott Stamp Monthly.