Commemorative Postage Stamps : History, Selection Criteria, and Revenue Potentia l

Order Code RS2022 1 Updated April 15, 2003 CRS Report for Congress Distributed by Penny Hill Press http :llpennyhill .co m Commemorative Postage Stamps : History, Selection Criteria, and Revenue Potentia l Nye Stevens Specialist in American National Governmen t Government and Finance Divisio n Summary More than 1,700 commemorative stamps have been issued since the first in 1893 . In recent years they have been marketed to attract non-collectors and children . In 2002 , the U.S . Postal Service (USPS) issued 121 different commemorative stamps . In considering subjects for commemorative stamps, the USPS Citizens' Stam p Advisory Committee, guided by 12 basic criteria, reviews and appraises th e approximately 50,000 proposals submitted for commemoration each year . Th e Postmaster General (PMG) has the exclusive and final authority to determine bot h subject matter and design . A number of resolutions are introduced in Congress eac h year urging that consideration be given to a particular subject for commemoration, bu t few are passed, and the advisory committee accords them no special status . The commemorative stamp program contributed an estimated $174 million i n retained revenues for the USPS in fiscal year 2002 . According to postal officials, a well chosen stamp design can generate millions of dollars in additional postal revenues . This report will be updated for each Congress . The Commemorative Stamp Progra m Postage stamps were introduced in 1847, but for a half century the designs wer e limited to images of Presidents and founding fathers . The first commemorative postage stamps were issued in 1893 to mark the Columbian Exposition of that year . The succes s of the Columbian stamp series prompted the Post Office to continue offering stamps t o commemorate historic events and places . The commemorative stamp became a fixtur e of mail service, contributing to civic education and drawing millions into the hobby o f philately. Congressional Research Service + The Library of Congress CRS-2 When USPS was established in 1971 with an expectation that it would be selfsupporting, the revenue potential of commemorative issues became a more prominent consideration. Social issues such as conservation, employment of the handicapped, an d higher education were added as commemorative features to the traditional mix o f historical and patriotic themes . In 1993, USPS released the Elvis Presley stamp, whic h generated unprecedented enthusiasm among postal customers (as distinguished fro m collectors) and still holds the record for stamps saved - 124 million with a face value of $35 .9 million . The USPS has been criticized by collectors for issuing too many commemorativ e stamps, as well as for producing too many stamps of a particular issue . Concerns have been expressed that too many stamps diminished the value of the stamps to the hobbyis t and had the potential to drive collectors away . Under Postmaster General (PMG) Marvin Runyon, a former collector himself, it became USPS policy to produce and market fewe r commemorative stamps . However, in the effort to expand and appeal to a wider range o f interests, USPS in the late 1990s began designing stamps not only to attract non collectors, but also children . This expansion, however, has increased the number of commemorative stamps produced and marketed . The number of separate commemorativ e stamps issued rose from 26 issued in 1997, to 81 in 1998, and 121 in 2002 . In 2002, several of the issues were multi-stamp panes, for example the 50-stamp issue with a retr o postcard design featuring "greetings" from each state . Several of the stamps issued in recent years were designed for children (e .g., Looney Tunes, Peanuts, teddy bears, an d Bright Eyes, a grouping of various bright-eyed animals and fish) . Errors and subject selection in commemorative stamps have sometimes generate d controversy . For example, in 1994 postal officials belatedly discovered that a stam p featuring wild west star Bill Pickett depicted the wrong man . To prevent such occurrences in the future, a historian has been hired by the USPS to authenticate al l chosen stamp designs . In addition, the agency has contracted with Photo Assist, a Washington, DC firm, to conduct "visual and textual research" in the development o f stamp designs. A widely-circulated news story in 2000 pointed out that of 1,72 2 commemorative stamps issued since 1893, only 133 (8%) featured women or women' s issues . 1 The Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committe e The Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee was established by the PMG in Marc h 1957 . Before it was established, political influence often determined what stamps wer e issued .' The committee operates under 39 U .S.C . 404(a) (4-5), and its primary purpos e is to provide "philatelic, history, and artistic judgment and experience" in the selectio n and design of commemorative stamps . The committee consists of 15 members, none o f whom is a postal employee, and whose backgrounds reflect a wide range of educational , artistic, historical, and professional knowledge . Members are appointed and serve at the ' Marilyn Gardner, " A Stamp of Approval on Stamps About Women," Christian Science Monitor, August 16, 2000 . 2 U.S . Congress, Subcommittee on International Security, Proliferation, and Federal Services , Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs, The Issuance of Sernipostal Stamps by the US. Postal Service, 106 th Cong., May 25, 2000 (Washington : GPO, 2000), p . 20 . CRS- 3 pleasure of the PMG for 5-year staggered terms . Current members include actor Kar l Malden, graphic designer Michael Brock, and former basketball coach Richard ("Digger" ) Phelps . No member may serve more than three terms . The PMG appoints one member to serve as chairperson and another member as vice chairperson, each serving 2-yea r terms . The committee meets quarterly in Washington, DC, or at the call of the committee chairperson, to review the thousands of suggestions that are received by the USPS . Its meetings are not public . The committee itself employs no staff. To speed up the committee's task, research employees of the stamp development group analyze all stam p subject suggestions upon initial receipt . Subcommittees of staff researchers are forme d on special themes such as sports, medicine, transportation, black heritage, and performin g arts to provide additional background and research . Occasionally, commemorative idea s require considerable research to explore an idea's merit or to devise a strong visual appeal . All supporting materials are then presented to the committee, along with any suggestions . While the primary responsibility of the committee is to review and apprais e all proposals submitted for commemoration, the PMG has the exclusive and fina l authority to determine both the subject matter and the designs for U .S. postage stamps . Members of Congress are often asked by constituents to support a particula r commemorative theme or event. In doing so, a Member may choose to write the PM G expressing support for a particular stamp proposal . This usually results in a referral to the advisory committee. It is not uncommon for Members to introduce congressiona l resolutions encouraging the commemoration of a specific subject . In the 10 7 th Congress , 33 resolutions for this purpose were introduced, 25 in the House and eight in the Senate . None of the resolutions emerged from committee . In the 106 `h Congress, two resolution s were agreed to in the Senate : S .Res. 218, expressing the sense of the Senate that a stam p should be issued to recognize the 4-H Youth Development Program's centennial, an d S .Res . 371, expressing the sense of the Senate that a stamp should be issued to honor sculptor Korczak Ziolokowski and the Crazy Horse memorial he created . While considered by the advisory committee, neither subject was recommended for issuance . Rule 19 of the House Committee on Government Reform, as adopted for the 105 th through the 10 8 th Congresses, has discouraged the prospect that House resolutions urgin g postal commemoration will be considered : The committee has adopted the policy that the determination of the subjec t matter of commemorative stamps properly is for consideration by the Postmaste r General and that the committee will not give consideration to legislative proposals fo r the issuance of commemorative stamps . It is suggested that recommendations for th e issuance of commemorative stamps be submitted to the Postmaster General . Criteria for Selecting Commemorative Stamp s The Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee receives about 50,000 nominations eac h year, and gives no special attention to those submitted by Congress or other legislative bodies . As a basis for its recommendation to the Postmaster General, the advisor y committee uses 12 criteria when considering commemorative stamp subjects . They are : CRS-4 • It is a general policy that U .S . postage stamps and stationery primaril y will feature American or American-related subjects . • No living person shall be honored by portrayal on U .S. postage. • Commemorative stamps or postal stationery items honoring individual s usually will be issued on, or in conjunction with significant anniversarie s of their birth, but no postal item will be issued sooner than 10 years after an individual's death . The only exception to the 10-year rule is th e issuance of stamps honoring deceased Presidents, who may be honore d with a memorial stamp on the first birth anniversary following death . • Events of historical significance shall be considered for commemoratio n only on anniversaries in multiples of 50 years . • Only events and themes of widespread national appeal and significance will be considered for commemoration . Events or themes of local or regional significance may be recognized by a philatelic or special posta l cancellation, which may be arranged through the local postmaster . • Stamps or postal stationery items shall not be issued to honor fraternal , political, sectarian, or service/charitable organizations . Stamps or stationery shall not be issued to promote or advertise commercia l enterprises or products. Commercial products or enterprises might b e used to illustrate more general concepts related to American culture . • Stamps or postal stationery items shall not be issued to honor cities , towns, municipalities, counties, primary or secondary schools, hospitals , libraries, or similar institutions . Due to the limitations placed on annual postal programs and the vast number of such locales, organizations, an d institutions, singling out any one for commemoration would be difficult . • Requests for observance of statehood anniversaries will be considered fo r commemorative postage stamps only at intervals of 50 years from th e date of the state's entry into the Union . Requests for observance of othe r state-related or regional anniversaries will be considered only as subject s for postal stationery, and only at intervals of 50 years from the date of th e event . • Stamps or postal stationery items shall not be issued to honor religiou s institutions or individuals whose principal achievements are associate d with religious undertakings or beliefs . • Stamps with a surcharge for the benefit of a worthy cause, referred to a s "semipostals," shall be issued in accordance with Public Law 106-253 . CRS- 5 Semipostals will not be considered as part of the commemorativ e program and separate criteria will apply.' • Requests for commemoration of significant anniversaries of universitie s or other institutions of higher education shall be considered only fo r stamped cards and only in connection with the 200`h anniversaries of their founding. • No stamp shall be considered for issuance if one treating the same subjec t has been issued in the past 50 years . The only exceptions to this rule will be those stamps issued in recognition of traditional themes such a s national symbols and holidays . Other than applying these criteria, the USPS has no formal procedure for submittin g stamp proposals, which can be by letter, post card, or petition . After a proposal is determined not to violate the USPS criteria, each proposed subject is listed on th e committee's agenda for its next meeting . In-person appeals by stamp proponents are no t permitted . Proponents are not advised if a subject has been approved until a general announcement is made to the public . The USPS encourages the submission of commemorative postage stamp subjects t o the committee at least three years prior to the proposed date of issuance, to allow sufficien t time for consideration, design, and production . Suggestions may be addressed to th e Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee, c/o Stamp Development, U .S. Postal Service, 47 5 L'Enfant Plaza, S .W ., Room 5670, Washington, DC 20260-2437 . Revenue-Raising Potential of Commemorative Stamp s While it is feasible to track the gross revenues USPS gets from the sale o f commemorative issues, determining how many stamps are saved (i .e . not used for postage ) is difficult . This is because commemorative sales and usage are interchangeable with, an d not counted separately from, other stamps and other forms of postage . In an attempt to gain some knowledge of the contribution its commemorative program makes to its bottom line, USPS has tried a number of approaches to measure the retention rate for commemorative stamps . Before 1989, clerks collected "intent to retain " data from customers on six to eight issues per year, and projected retention revenues fro m the responses . In the following years, USPS launched quarterly surveys of a representative sample of approximately 60,000 households, asking them to report the stamps they bough t and those they intended to retain . This was an expensive approach, however, in par t because 84% of the households reported that they retained no stamps and thus analyst s could learn little from them about relative appeal of various types of issues . In 1999, USPS launched what it teuned a more cost-effective design using 10,250 quarterl y surveys, 61% of which were to go to households pre-screened (by a market researc h company) to be "stamp retaining households . " For a discussion of the semipostal stamp program, see CRS Report RS20921, Semiposta l Stamps : Authorization, Revenue, and Selection Process, by Nye Stevens . CRS- 6 The resulting revenue estimates are still inexact and, because of frequen t methodological changes, cannot be directly compared . However, there seems to be ampl e evidence that the commemorative postage stamp program provides net revenues measure d in the hundreds of millions of dollars for USPS . According to USPS estimates, retentio n revenues for the past five years have been as follows: Fiscal year Retained revenues 1998 $166 .6 millio n 1999 $215 .1 millio n 2000 $271 .8 millio n 2001 $198 .6 millio n 2002 $173 .8 millio n Source : United States Postal Service . A major contributor to retained revenues in 1998, 1999, and 2000 was th e "Celebrate the Century" series, commemorating each decade of the 2 0th Century with a multi-stamp pane . While the citizens' advisory committee recommended subjects fo r the first five decades - 1900 through 1940 - subjects for the remaining five decade s were selected by nationwide balloting of the American public .