While many people have complained about a first-class stamp going up from 13 cents to 15 cents, the U.S. Postal Service is very proud of it.

I talked to one of the men who developed the 15-cent stamp and he considers it one of the greatest breakthroughs in mall delivery since the invention of the ZIP code.

"For years we've dreamed of a 15-cent stamp, but it is one thing to have the concept and another to make it a reality. Ever since the people upstairs said they wanted it, we have been working day and night to develop one according to their needs."

"What specifically did they want?"

"They said they wanted a stamp lighter in weight so we could get more letters on an airplane. At the same time it had to take a beating from hail and snow and sleet. The stamp also had to be flexible enough to bend when it was bought in rolls instead of sheets. And the most important requirement was that it could not be used again when the post office failed to cancel it."

"How did you solve the last problem?"

"That was the most difficult," he said. "The post office has been losing between $10 million and $20 million a year because when people got a letter with a stamp that was not canceled they steamed it off and used it again. This is a federal crime, but very few federal attorneys will prosecute.

"They say it is too difficult to find a jury that will convict someone of recycling a postage stamp. So the people upstairs told us we had to come up with a stamp that couldn't be used twice. It wasn't an easy assignment. The first thing we developed was a glue with an explosive base. When a person tried to pry off an uncanceled stamp from a letter, the stamp would blow his hand off. We thought we had the solution but the Occupational Safety and Health Administration raised objections so we had to go back to the drawing board."

"That was tough luck," I said, "because it would have done away with the crime."

"Then we came up with a blue dye. If you tried to get the stamp off the envelope you would be covered from head to foot with this indelible dye, and then our postal inspectors would be able to make a foolproof arrest."

"The people upstairs didn't go for that?"

"They did, but the postal workers kept getting the dye all over their clothes and wanted the service to pay for new uniforms."

"What was the answer?"

"A secret glue which makes it impossible to steam the stamp off. It self-destructs if anyone tampers with it after it has been stuck on an envelope. It's the biggest breakthrough since the invention of air mail."

"Will the new 15-cent stamp speed up the delivery of mail?"

"I should hope so. With less weight and more stable corners, our new 15-cent stamp could break the record from New York to Washington by 45 minutes. A first-class letter can now get to any place within 500 miles in less than four days."

"That soon?" I said in amazement.

"Our only problem at the moment is that many people are putting the old 13-cent stamp and two one-cent stamps on their letters. This means that our people have to cancel three stamps instead of one. That will slow delivery down for a while. But once there are enought 15-cent stamps in circulation, you'll never have another complaint about the Postal Service again."

"There is a rumor that you people are now working on a 20-cent first-class stamp that would make the 15-cent stamp obsolete in another year."