What are stamps for?

Vintage stamps pay for Priority Mail
Years ago, before Forever stamps and ClickNShip prepaid mailing labels, I bought a bunch of stamps for potential Express Mail. I also bought a batch of 1c, 5c, and 10c stamps. Those were to let me use the 33c stamps and such when the letter rate changed to 34c. Forever stamps made that irrelevant.

I finally unloaded the above stamps by paying for a Priority Mail package. I love the ‘upside down airplane’ stamp, a reprint based on the celebrated 24c Inverted Jenny airmail stamp (a.k.a. C3a among hardcore US philatelists). The blue profile of Ben Franklin dates from the late 1800s in style, but was recently reprinted by the USPS.

The down side is that you must take stamped Priority Mail to the counter, while ClickNShip just needs a scan, if that. I still have some more high value stamps to use up, but it’s probably worth it even if I have to stand in line to use them. That’s irony: I no doubt stood in line to get them in the first place, attempting to make things more convenient. So much for predicting the future.

Today, stamps aren’t much more than art or craft items. We are still obliged to use them for 1st class mail.  But seriously, we ought to be able to print any postage at home directly from the USPS web site. I don’t understand why we can’t, but I suspect it has something to do with politics and Pitney Bowes and perhaps Stamps.com.

When I was growing up, stamps were past their prime. Stamp collecting flourished on the assumption that stamps were utilitarian objects and not published on whim. This assumption died back in the 1800s with the development of “commemorative” stamps and “semi postals.” The former “commemorate” anything related to national history or landmarks, or anything else that fits on a stamp. The latter were a way to collect money for “charity” by adding a surcharge to the stamp’s cost. Postal agencies world wide printed millions of stamps and sold them by the sheet to collectors.

I stopped “real” stamp collecting around 1970. Within a very few years the US had issued twice as many postage stamps as had existed when I stopped collecting. It’s hard to take stamp collecting seriously when the point is obviously to sell glorified stickers that are never used.




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