IF YOU WANT A STAMP, it helps to be a member of the club. And few people are better placed to win a stamp than postal officials.
On Aug. 25, the U.S. Postal Service will issue a 45-cent stamp in Beijing, China, honoring their club -- the Universal Postal Union. Created in 1874, the UPU is an international body that establishes the rules and regulations for the movement of mail between nations.
What makes this stamp interesting is that it is, by my count, the 17th stamp since 1974 that the Postal Service has issued in honor of the UPU. There were eight commemoratives in 1974 and eight more in 1989, when the UPU held its congress, a gathering of the world's postal pooh-bahs, in Washington.
By that standard, the release of only one stamp for the upcoming UPU Congress in China represents a sharp reduction in stamp output. For other groups that have been clamoring for stamps for their organizations, such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the new UPU stamp is probably one stamp too many.
Speaking of the VFW, it has been lobbying for years for another stamp. One of the big three veterans service organizations (along with the American Legion and Disabled American Veterans), it got a 10-cent commemorative in 1974 for its 75th anniversary and that only seemed to whet the veterans' appetite for a stamp this year for the organization's 100th birthday.
Last summer VFW Commander in Chief John E. Moon carried the stamp campaign to the White House, urging President Clinton to support their request. He conceded that a VFW stamp probably wouldn't be "a money maker like Marilyn Monroe or Bugs Bunny" stamps, but argued that "the men and women who serviced their country with dignity, honor and pride deserve recognition with the VFW stamp."
Postal officials say President Clinton didn't urge them to overturn their earlier rejections of a VFW stamp, but on Aug. 16 in Kansas City, Mo., the VFW will get its stamp. Well, sort of.
A 33-cent commemorative featuring a stylized, fluttering flag will be released at the organization's centennial meeting. Before the VFW members doff their service caps in celebration, the Postal Service has advised that this stamp isn't just for them.
It "honors the men and women who have served our country, including the many who have given their lives to protect our welfare," the agency said in its internal Postal Bulletin. Translation: This stamp is being issued to honor more than military veterans or those who by virtue of military service overseas qualify for VFW membership.
As Chief Postal Inspector Kenneth J. Hunter put it when he unveiled the stamp's design in October: "It also serves as a lasting tribute to those policemen, firefighters and other law enforcement officers who have given their lives to protect the welfare of all Americans."
A Postal Service news release noted that there are more than 2.3 million people engaged in protective service occupations, including law officers, firefighters and private security guards. "The Honoring Those Who Served stamp salutes those public servants and all veterans who have served in the U.S. armed forces, whether in wartime or peacetime, in active units, the reserves, or the National Guard."
The self-adhesive stamp was designed by Uldis Purins of Newton, Mass., and was printed by Avery Dennison on gravure presses at its South Carolina plant. It produced 102 million of the stamps, a relatively large order for a commemorative. It is being sold in sheets of 20.
The UPU stamp is considered a regular issue stamp, one that post offices should keep in stock for use on overseas mail. Gerald Gallo of Bethesda designed the stamp, which was printed on offset presses by Ashton-Potter USA Ltd. at its upstate New York plant. It printed 43.2 million of the stamps, which are also being sold in sheets of 20.
The latest in the series of rose stamps goes on sale Aug. 13 in Indianapolis. This time it's a coral pink 33-cent stamp painted by Ned Seidler of Hampton Bay, N.Y. Sennett Security Products of Chantilly has printed 1 billion of the stamps on gravure presses in Wisconsin. It will be sold in booklets of 15 and 20 stamps.
THE U.S. MINT has placed a new commemorative silver dollar on sale, but what's getting lots of attention is the disclosure that the agency has struck the first noncommemorative gold dollars since 1889. The 39 gold coins are the first of the new Sacagawea dollars, scheduled to appear next year.
But the gold coins, which carry the year 2000, obviously were struck before then and that has prompted Coin World to question the Mint's authority to produce the coins. The circulating version of the $1 coins will be gold-colored. The newspaper has reported that Mint officials say they had full authority to strike the coins as parts of "numismatic sets." Twelve were sent into space aboard the space shuttle Columbia. The Mint placed six of the 39 coins in its vault in Washington and destroyed the others.
There is no question about the authority for the new silver dollars. They mark the 125th anniversary of Yellowstone National Park and were authorized by Congress in 1996. The image of Yellowstone's Old Faithful geyser is on the coin's face and an American buffalo is on its reverse.
Up to 500,000 of the dollars can be struck. Proof quality dollars are being sold for $37 each and uncirculated copies are available for $32. The price includes a $10 surcharge that goes to the national park system.
For information on the coins, call 800/872-6468.
INDIVIDUALS seeking first-day cancellations of the stamps mentioned above should purchase the stamps at their local post office and place them on addressed envelopes. These should be mailed in a larger envelope to: Coral Pink Rose Stamps, Postmaster, 125 W. South St., Indianapolis, IN 46206-9991; Those Who Served Stamps, Postmaster, 315 W. Pershing Rd., Kansas City, MO 64108-9991; or UPU Stamp, U.S. Postal Service Cancellation Unit, P.O. Box 419400, Kansas City, MO 64144-6400. Requests for the Rose stamp should be postmarked by Sept. 12; the Those Who Served, Sept. 15; and the UPU stamp, Sept. 24.
Next week in this space: Photography columnist Frank Van Riper.