FRED WOLFERMAN: Post Office Going Into Art Business
My wife went to the post office the other day to purchase some stamps.
Pretty routine stuff. She had undoubtedly been thinking about new shoes or her last three-putt when she got to the head of the line and asked for a roll of stamps. That was why, when the clerk asked if she liked vegetables, she said "Yes."
It suddenly occurred to her, she reports, that that seemed to be a peculiar question at the post office. After all, it wasn't Jenny Craig or Weight Watchers. Was this some new federal requirement for buying stamps?
All became clear when she was handed a roll of tiny vegetable posters with stickum on the back and thirty-nine cents printed in the corner. Just what we've all been waiting for -- more new stamps.
I had thought the standard old flag design was pretty nice -- simple, patriotic, easily recognizable. But apparently that is not enough for the post office. It's out to improve our diets. I know that is the reason for these stamps, because I haven't seen any with pork chops on them.
It is also out to improve our taste, as opposed to our diet, as evidenced by all the pretty paintings shrunk to the size of a thumbnail. For instance, you may be unaware of the handsome portrait of Ross' goose, available at usps.com, and possibly over the counter as well. This is a picture of -- you guessed it -- a bird.
It can be yours for only $15, and -- here's the best part -- it isn't usable for postage. It is also "water-activated," which, I'm pretty sure, doesn't mean that if you put it in water it will turn into an actual goose, but that you have to lick it. I guess "saliva-activated" doesn't sound all that appealing.
Of course, there's more. Much more. There's the Champlain Sheet, a little beauty commemorating the 400th anniversary of the explorations of Samuel de Champlain. The great thing about this one is that it contains two Canadian 51-cent stamps and two American 39-cent stamps, all stuck onto a nice poster with Champlain's (presumably) ship pictured on it. Who says our relations with Canada aren't cordial?
There are statehood stamps, celebrity stamps, Lunar New Year stamps, Navajo jewelry stamps. In fact, there are 20 pages of stamps on line, if you have the time to plow through them.
Think about all this for a minute. The function of the post office, nominally at least, is to get the mail from Point A to Point B. That seems to be plenty difficult enough. When did it become a mini-art dealer, or, perhaps more accurately, a dealer in mini-art?
It happened when the postal folks figured they could make money at it. After all, every stamp sold and not stuck on a letter is pure profit, less production cost.
I have nothing against stamp collecting. There have been some pretty famous stamp collectors. Franklin Roosevelt was one. Stamps even had a starring role in "Charade." Still, I'd think it would take the edge off the hobby when "special edition" stamps come out by the millions, with new designs every week. Isn't the whole point to have something unique that may hopefully increase in worth? I'd bet that a $15 goose stamp has hit peak value the instant the first buyer's money has changed hands.
On the one hand, the post office ought to have more than enough to keep it busy. It isn't known for its efficiency. It has to deliver mail to all manner of remote places at whatever cost. It has become a quasi-private enterprise, whatever that means, that is theoretically obligated to break even. Worst of all, FedEx, UPS and e-mail are trying to put it out of business -- and seem likely to succeed.
On the other hand, you can't fault the USPS for trying to be a bit entrepreneurial. If the Franklin Mint and that guy who paints those awful cottages can con people into overpaying for mass- produced stuff, why not the friendly folks at the post office, who have government-supported retail outlets in some of the most distant outposts imaginable?
Besides, sheets of stamps are cheaper than most wallpaper, and much easier to install, unless you buy moisture-activated geese, so they can be very useful for decorating. You just stick them up yourself, and, if you need some last-minute postage, go to a dark corner somewhere and pull one off.
Actually, I've been enjoying the vegetables quite a lot. And they must be very realistic representations, because I still don't like the squash.
Fred Wolferman lives in Southern Pines. Contact him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
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