The case of the Harry Potter stamp

The U. S. Postal Service is coming out with a Harry Potter stamp.  Never mind that there is nothing American about Harry Potter.  And never mind that the stamp is just a shot from the movie, with no particular artistic design.  And that the committee whose job it is to recommend subjects for stamps and to approve designs rejected it.

The postmaster wants stamps to be “more commercial” and less grounded in American history, culture, and landscape.  The goal that is to trump everything else is to make money for the deficit-plagued national monopoly.  Here is another idea:  Instead of tinkering with stamps, offer better service!

An account of the controversy, a picture of the stamp, and some additional thoughts after the jump.

Nothing against Harry Potter.  Recent stamps have done quite a bit with American movies and movie makers, American cartoons and literary characters.  But surely American stamps should have an American connection.

Are any of you stamp collectors?  Does anyone do that anymore?  I agree that stamps are little works of art and pieces of history.  Any of you philatelists, please weigh in.

From Harry Potter stamp riles Postal Service panel, traditional stamp collectors – The Washington Post:

On Tuesday, the U.S. Postal Service is scheduled to release 20 postage stamps honoring Harry Potter, and officials at the cash-strapped agency hope the images, drawn straight from the Warner Bros. movies, will be the biggest blockbuster since the Elvis Presley stamp 20 years ago.

But the selection of the British boy wizard is creating a stir in the cloistered world of postage-stamp policy. The Postal Service has bypassed the panel charged with researching and recommending subjects for new stamps, and the members are rankled, not least of all because Potter is a foreigner, several members said.

The dispute caps more than a year of friction between the Postal Service and the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee, named by the postmaster general to help make sure that the Amer­ican experience is properly ­portrayed. The committee has grown increasingly disaffected over how the agency’s marketing staff has pushed pop culture at the expense of images that could prove more enduring.

Set up as a filter between the postmaster general and the public, which petitions the Postal Service for about 40,000 stamp subjects and designs each year, the committee includes such eminent Americans as historian Henry Louis Gates Jr., former American Film Institute president Jean Picker Firstenberg, and Olympic swimmer and sportscaster Donna de Varona. A former postmaster general, a top Smithsonian Institution official, graphic designers and philatelists also belong.

Its mission is to ensure that stamp subjects “have stood the test of time, are consistent with public opinion and have broad national interest.”

For one of the only times in its 56-year-history, the committee was not consulted in the decision to put Potter and his friends and foes on the run of 100 million “forever” stamps.

“Harry Potter is not American. It’s foreign, and it’s so blatantly commercial it’s off the charts,” said John Hotchner, a stamp collector in Falls Church and former president of the American Philatelic Society, who served on the committee for 12 years until 2010. “The Postal Service knows what will sell, but that’s not what stamps ought to be about. Things that don’t sell so well are part of the American story.”

Postmaster General Patrick R. Don­ahoe said in an interview that the agency “needs to change its focus toward stamps that are more commercial” as a way to increase revenue to compensate for declining mail volume as Americans switch to the Internet. . . .

“The attitude should be that stamps are works of art and little pieces of history,” said Don Schilling, a collector in Los Angeles who writes a blog on the subject. “They shouldn’t be reduced to the latest fads, whatever’s going to sell.”

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.


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