Philatelically, we're fickle. Numismatically, we're not. You think people would leave well enough alone. Think again.

The postal people issue dozens of different stamps every year, honoring everything from famous politicians to Alaskan dog sleds. Some people have their favorite stamps, others couldn't care less as long as their letter gets there in one piece.

For a while now, the folks who did care about such things could pick up a sheet of "Season's Greetings" stamps to use at Christmas time, say, or "Love Stamps" for Valentine's Day. You might not have had quite as many Christmas correspondents -- or lovers -- as you did stamps, but eventually you'd get rid of them -- the stamps, that is -- without confusing anybody too badly. And if you decided to pay your exterminator bill with a "Love" stamp on the envelope -- well, that was your choice. Why not give the poor guy a thrill?

Lately, though, the postal people have been tinkering. They've started printing little booklets of stamps filled with a regular smorgasbord of personal messages: "Get Well!" "Thank You!" "Love You, Dad!" "Best Wishes!" "Happy Birthday!" "Love You, Mother!" "Keep in Touch!" "Congratulations!"

That's just great, assuming you're one of those people who has one lovable father, one lovable mother, one sick somebody, one successful somebody, one good-deed-doer, one poor pen pal, one best wishee, and two birthday celebrants for every nine letters you send.

Not very likely.

A letter arrived here the other day wishing me a happy birthday -- it wasn't, not for months. I can see "Love You, Dad!" getting a workout from lawyers filing paternity suits, but otherwise, I just see confusion. And you can bet there'll be more of it. How long before the next set of message stamps rolls off the presses?

Send Money!

Tough Luck!

Feed the Cat!

Stop Whining!

Great Dress!

They Know!

Wake Up!

Stay Away!


Enough, indeed. At least the stamp people have been trying something new, however misguided. In the coin world, nothing's been shaking for decades, and that has some people up in arms. "It's time for a change in our change!" they're saying. (Seriously -- I read that in the newspapers!)

"Coins are America's calling cards all over the world," one concerned citizen was declaring recently, "and it's time we showed the world what a great country we are by featuring new designs by the finest American artists of today."

Well, I'm no artist, but if we're ready to show the essence of America to the world, I've got a few suggestions. Maybe you'd like to have some of these jingling in your pocket:

One cent: Nobody likes the one-cent coin anymore. It's a pain. It's a bother. A perfect reason to mint a new "Sean Penny," in honor of the young actor who's become America's goodwill ambassador at home and abroad. We can't show his face on the coin because he's still alive, but a clenched fist on the front of the coin will do just as well. On the back, a broken camera. And the motto? "GET OUTA MY FACE."

Five cents: You think of America, and you think of baseball. Why not a new "Baseball Nickel"? (There even used to be a pitch called a "nickel curve," you know.) You could put the pitcher on the front, the batter on the back. The motto, naturally, would be "PLAY BALL."

Ten Cents: The telephone is one of America's greatest contributions to civilization. Put Alexander Graham Bell and an old-fashioned telephone on the new dime, to honor the days when you really could make a call for just 10 cents. As a motto, how about "ALL CIRCUITS ARE BUSY."

Twenty-five Cents: Rock 'n' roll is here to stay, and it started right here. The "Rock 'n' roll quarter" -- just right for jukeboxes -- is the perfect way to celebrate it. Put Elvis on the front, an electric guitar on the back. The motto: "DON'T BE CRUEL."

Fifty cents: America is places as well as things. What's more American than California? We can have the Golden Gate Bridge on the front. On the back, a hot tub. For a motto: "LIKE, MONEY."

One dollar: Are we ready for the "McDollar"? I think so. If there's anything that's come to represent America all around the world, it's McDonald's; it's time we gave the place the recognition it deserves. On the front, we could have Ronald McDonald in full clown get-up. On the back, those famous arches. (America returns to the gold standard at last!) And then, instead of having the dollar simply equal 100 cents, why not make it worth a Big Mac, an order of fries and a Coke? Think of all the time the world would save making change. The motto: "YOU DESERVE A BREAK TODAY."

Five dollars: And finally, for the most valuable coin in the new collection, only the richest slice of Americana will do. Introducing the " 'Wheel of Fortune' Five-Dollar Piece!" The front of the coin should be a replica of the big wheel itself. For the back, it's got to be Vanna White. What about the rule against picturing living people, you wonder. The experts aren't jumping to any conclusions here; neither should you.

And the motto? "I -- G -- D -- E TR -- -- T."

Rick Horowitz is a Washington columnist and radio commentator.