Uncle Sam's stamp store -- the Postal Services. Philatelic Sales Branch -- has been renamed. The agency's new title is "Philatelic Sales Division."
The change, although appearing to be rather slight, actually represents a major shift in responsibility for the sales unit. According to Riley Murray, the manager of the new division, the switch means that the sales division is now on an equal footing with the USP's Marketing and Stamps Divisions, and as such is in a better position to affect and implement USPs philatelic and marketing decisions. Formerly, the sales branch was a component of the Stamps Division.
In administrative terms, the sales unit now operates as a distinct division unto itself, and its role has been greatly expanded. "The main thing as I see it is that it puts more responsibility on us," Murray said, "and there is recognition of that responsibility."
Although the division's primary function will continue to be the sale of current postal issues and various philatelic products, it also will be taking on more and more non-sales related customer services.
The sales unit has already begun broadening its role. Besides processing philatelic orders, which last year totalled $15 million (this is $3 million under the USP's peak sales year -- 1978), the division's 97 employes also filled 4,200 requests for literature on "how to" collect, handled 14,000 general information requests, and processed thousands of orders for promotional items which support the USPS sponsored Benjamin Franklin Stamps Clubs. And Murray's division expects to provide more of this type of service in the future.
In addition, the sales division also expects to be doing more of what it does best -- filling orders for postal products. Last year it handled over 264,000 requests for stamps, postal stationery, souvenir cards, souvenir pages, mint sets, souvenir panels, collector kits, and an assortment of other items.
According to Murray, the facility and staff are presently geared to handle about 1,000 orders a day. This means that each order takes about 10 days to process. Although Murray would like to improve upon those numbers, to do so he first must overcome two formidable obstacles; the size of the division's present facility and the number of orders which collectors submit which are incorrectly prepared.
Under a USPS masterplan which was drawn up in 1973, the sales unit was to have moved into a larger and more mechanized facility by now, but the critical question of where to move has not yet been resolved. Until it is, Murray's division will try to make due.
Even if a new facility were approved the sales division would still have the other headache to contend with -- improperly prepared orders. And there are plenty of those.
Postal statistics show that roughly 30 percent of all incoming orders have something wrong with them. The largest number of mistakes is associated with requests for items which are no longer on sale or problems related to the method of payment or amount.
To help eliminate one part of the problem, the Postal Service developed procedures which detect and, whereever possible, make adjustments to faulty orders as quickly as possible. This process begins almost as soon as an order arrives at the sales division's Washington, D.C., facility.
Initially, requests go to one of four clerks who scrutinize each order form and make sure that the check or money order is properly made out (where a check has been incorectly made out, the order is returned).
Next a control number is marked on both the order form and the check or money order, and these are then microfilmed. From there on out the checks and order forms are handled separately.
After being microfilmed the order forms are batched into groups of 100 and handed to a computer programmer. That employe enters the control number and the name and address of the buyer, as well as punching in item numbers and quantities for all of the items requested.
The computer then calculates the total value of the order and searches its memory until it finds a check bearing the same control number which has been made out for the necessary amount. Orders which have an overage or shortage of payment are weeded out and go to a special computer operator who does nothing but make adjustments to imbalanced orders. What gets added or deleted is left to the operator's discretion.
Making such adjustments is terribly time consuming (it may take up to 10 minutes to work things out on each incorrect order), and the buyer may not end up with the items that were most desired. To avoid all this, postal officials urge buyers to double check all of the addition on their order forms.
After everything is balanced out the computer then generates its own special order form. These are printed out in groups of 100. A single materials list for that batch of 100 orders is also produced. This list identifies everything that will be needed to fill all of the orders in that group.
The composite list then goes to one of the sales division's two "vaults," where the stock needed to fill that complete batch of orders is pulled. The entire lot of stock for each 100 orders goes to a clerk who further subdivides everything down into batches representing 25 orders each. These smaller units in turn wind up with another clerk who actually will break everything down into individual orders.
The final step in the process is packaging and registration (the USPS suggests that all orders valued at more than $100 be registered to reduce the possibility of theft or damage).
Who uses the services of the Philatelic Sales Division? Postal officials estimate that the largest percentage of its customers are established collectors who spend on an average of $34.02 per order. The rest of those who buy from the sales unit are predominantly dealers, first time buyers, and the occasional on-again-off-again collector.
Collectors interested in finding out what curently is available at the Philatelic Sales Division should write for the USPS's new "Philatelic Catalog." This publication, which contains photographs and prices for new postal issues, can be obtained by writing: "Philatelic Sales Division, U.S. Postal Service, Washington, D.C. 20265." COINS
With all of the interest in gold coinage lately, it was inevitable that bogus gold pieces would begin showing up on the market, and they have.
In Los Angeles, Secret Service agents have begun making arrests stemming from a three month investigation of a counterfeiting operation that has produced literally thousands of phony gold Kurgerrands (luckily, most of these were seized before they could get into circulation). Thus far, two persons have been arrested in connection with this investigation.
According to Joseph Nooman, head of the special investigations section of the Secret Service office in Los Angeles, the fake Krugerrands have a brass core which was struck with steel dies. After being struck, the bogus bullion coins were dipped in gold to give them the necessary "golden" appearance.
Although the Secret Service's investigative laboratory is currently examing specimens of the counterfeits in the hope of establishing a list of minor characteristics which can be used to weed out the phonies, the easiet way to determine their illegitmacy is by their weight. The counterfeit Krugerrands produced in Los Angeles weigh only about half as much as those struck at the South African Mint in Pretoria, notes Noonam (the weight of a genuine Kurgerrand is 33.93 grams).
The Secret Service reports that it has recovered two sets of dies used in the manufacture of the counterfeits, as well as clay moulds which were used to produce the steel dies.
Despite the fact that the operation was apparently based in Los Angeles, coin sales were not restricted to that area.
Thus far, counterfeit Kurgerrands have shown up in 10 cities, including Honolulu, Chicago, Boston, Dallas and New York. In California, agents have recorded specimens in San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles and Sacramento. But, according to the Secret Service, Phoenix, Ariz., appears to have been the area hardest hit by the scheme.
Reportedly, most of the counterfeits were initially sold at race tracks and local bars to buyers who thought that they were purchasing stolen merchandise. The prices generally charged for the "bargain" Krugerrands ranged from $300 to $500, although apparently some buyers paid as much as $600 for coins.
Among those who purchased the phony coins were several Secret Service agents, who made "buys" about a month ago. In two separate transactions, agents bought approximately two dozen coins, and major seizures apparently followed.
Using the average market price for genuine Kurgerrands as a yardstick, the Secret Service estimates that it has confiscated approximately $5 million worth of the counterfeits thus far. And, notes Noonan, "There's probably a thousands phonies still out there."
The remaining counterfeit Krugerrands may soon be offered to unsuspecting collectors or investors, so Secret Service officials urge buyers to watch what they buy. Collectors who have doubts about the authenticity of a recently purchased Krugerrand, may wish to contact their nearest Secret Service office should be listed on the inside cover of your telephone directory).
In an apparently unrelated case, Treasury agents in the Philadelphia area purchased 120 counterfeit gold sovereigns during an undercover transactions June 6. Thus far, two arrests have been made in that investigation.
The phony gold sovereigns appear to have been struck from steel dies and are "good quality" imitations, noted one Secret Service official.
The bogus coins are basically bronze in composition and have at least one tell-tale flaw - they're slightly larger than they should be according to the Secret Service the counterfeits measure approximately 22.23 millimeters in diameter.
Reportedly, the counterfeits had a street sale value of $35 each. Genuine sovereigns, however, should carry about a $140 price tag.
As with the counterfeit Krugerrands, the Secret Service is interested in hearing from anyone who might have recently purchased a phony "gold" sovereign.