US Stamps

USPS is following wrong playbook with Circus sheet

May 3, 2021, 7 PM

The mint three-stamp Circus souvenir sheet from the United States Postal Service.

Collectors who purchase The 2014 Stamp Yearbook from the United States Postal Service will be treated to one item available in mint condition nowhere else: a special three-stamp “Circus souvenir sheet.”

Linn’s senior editor Jay Bigalke provided the following details about the sheet in our Sept. 15 issue:

“The souvenir sheet will include three stamps: a $1 Clown stamp described as an alternate version of the Barnum and Bailey Clown Poster forever stamp (Scott 4898) issued May 5 as part of the Vintage Circus Posters stamp set, and two intaglio-printed 50¢ Circus Wagon stamps based on the 1990s Transportation coil stamp design (Scott 2452).

“The souvenir sheet will have a die-cut selvage and decorative metallic ink border, according to the Postal Service.”

It sounds like an attractive item, and the Postal Service should make it available individually through Stamp Fulfillment Services, not solely in a book of stamps that will cost $64.95. Bigalke reports that the face value of the 90 stamps included totals $44.63.

Having to shell out almost $65 to acquire a souvenir sheet with a face value of $2 does not strike us as a collector-friendly approach.

And new-issue dealers aren’t going to be pleased either.

In order to make a reasonable profit on the Circus sheet, dealers will have to sell it at a substantial premium above face value.

Based on what is known thus far, it is a near certainty that the Scott editors will not assign a catalog number to the Circus sheet because of the limited distribution via the 2014 yearbook.

Instead, the sheet will probably be acknowledged in a footnote accompanying the listing for the Circus Poster stamps. 

Similar treatment may be expected for the souvenir sheet first-day covers that the Postal Service plans to offer.

From our perspective, what is more lamentable about this situation is that the Stamp Services division of the Postal Service drew inspiration from the playbook of another country’s postal administration, which has issued similar limited-edition items for the past decade or so.

Foreign postal administrations have issued such items as a way of thanking their loyal customers. Now, it seems, the Postal Service intends to do the same thing.

Of course, thanking one’s customers makes good business sense. But that laudable intent breaks down when so many other customers who didn’t buy a yearbook are left with an empty space in their albums.

Among our loyal readers, the initial reaction to the Circus sheet was swift and severe.

Our Sept. 22 Letters To Linn’s column carried three letters from irate readers.

One of them pulled no punches when he wrote, “The recent announcement of the Circus Poster souvenir sheet is the height of arrogance. It is just a money-making rip-off.”

While making money is certainly on the minds of USPS officials, it is unlikely that sales of the 2014 yearbook will amount to much.

Pre-orders began Sept. 1, and the Postal Service has stated that the print run “will be limited.”

Announcement of the Circus souvenir sheet comes at a time when relations between collectors and the Postal Service’s Stamp Services division are tenuous at best.

Improving this situation is not difficult.

At the top of the list is making all stamps readily available to all collectors. This is pragmatic customer service, because collectors want their collections to be complete.

Closely connected with availability is information. 

Put another way, the Postal Service should keep the communication channels wide open, so collectors have time to weigh their options.