THE SAD HISTORY OF U.S. STAMPS
(or How the USPS is Sticking It to the Public)
Greg Meyer 149CL email@example.com
The USPS is literally changing the sticking (or is it the licking) habits of the public. For many years we have taken to licking and kept on kicking. That is, until recently. There is underway a massive change to the way we apply stamps to envelopes through the use of self-adhesive die-cut stamps - from tear and lick to peel and stick. The new non-lick Self ADhesive stamps (SADs) are for the convenience of the user and seem to be taking us by storm or as the phrase goes: if you can't lick 'em, stick 'em. In fact, recently one self adhesive had to be released early to meet public demand (we have this one on Page with intended FDOI (first-day-of-issue) cancel even though released earlier; enough of this now; this is discussed later). The USPS produced so many SADs and varieties that the entire subject is overwhelming; it took several months, tending towards years, before I felt knowledgeable enough to even converse in the subject! Others might not have been so dense; but, my readings through philatelic literature highlighted similar confusion. This entire subject is very important to us Souvenir Page collectors since most (as you'll see - a high majority) SADs are on Pages; and, some should be very hard to get FDOI! Thus, some of our Pages are collectable delights and might command some bucks, if not now - in the future. So it is imperative that we Page collectors get a thorough understanding of our collections, the types of SADs produced and which ones the USPS affixed to our Pages. Trying not to be too pedantic, I want to share some of my frustrations and insights into what I found when compiling information on SADs on Souvenir Pages.
LET THE EXPERIMENT BEGIN
The USPS's first attempt at producing self-adhesive stamps was for the Christmas '74 Peace on Earth precanceled 10¢ Dove issue (Scott 1552). This stamp was printed on pressure sensitive paper, imperfed and in sheets of 50, with stamps spaced ¼ inch apart; no coil version made. The USPS affixed these stamps to Souvenir Pages by hand. Luckily for us, the USPS affixed the Dove to the Christmas Souvenir Page, even though it had a much later release date. This resulted in a dual-canceled Page, 23 Oct for the Angel and Currier & Ives issues and 15 Nov cancel for the Dove. The stamp had problems as noted by the "adhesive migrating through the paper and causing discoloration" - clearly visible on our Souvenir Pages. This is a very nice item - encompassing all Christmas issues which required a dual cancel! By the way, the First Day Ceremony Program did not have the Dove issue (wasn't available); however, collector enhanced programs do exist with the Dove and applicable cancel; but, our Page came standard with all stamps and appropriate cancels. As suspected, the USPS deemed the Dove a SAD failure (one of the few times if not the only time). A stamp poster exists with these three stamps affixed with a 23 Oct Smithsonian cancel - across all three! I hope to write about this and other stamp posters with Smithsonian unofficial first-day cancels at a later time (if reader response is positive) entitled: Unofficial First-Day Smithsonian Cancels (or A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Smithsonian).
Stamping ahead to November 1989, fifteen years after the first experimental failure with the self-sticking Dove stamp, an extraordinary thing happened; the USPS issued a self-adhesive Eagle and Shield stamp in an EXTRAordinary booklet - and charged an EXTRAordinary price ($5 for 18 stamps which included a 50 cent surcharge for its special features) and a coil strip of 18, stamps spaced ¼ inch apart on a liner w/o plate number (Note: only 600 rolls of 5004 coil stamps were made, many of these affixed to covers, First-Day Ceremony Programs and Souvenir Pages). Both coil and booklet pane versions are identical when removed from their backing. It is interesting to note on how these coils got started:
Eagle and Shield SAD's posed a problem to those preparing covers, First Day Ceremony Programs and Souvenir Pages. Stamps would have to be peeled off and individually affixed, a monumental task for the 50,000+ Souvenir Pages alone. However, off-the-shelf equipment for automated affixing of labels from coil rolls existed and were readily available. Thus, the USPS had the stamp manufacturer print a single vertical row (coil) along the left side of the stamp web sheet and spaced each stamp with the proper interval to be handled by off-the-shelf label affixing machines. Thus, Eagle and Shield stamps affixed to our Pages are in reality "coil" singles and not "booklet" singles as described on the Page. This is impossible to tell since both have identical faces when separated from their linings. And once the decision was made to initially create this coil variety, the decision was made to offer them to collectors (of course). SAD stamps are on a roll. Thus, there appears to be sense to the no-sense coil after all. More about this later.
Rolling ahead another six months, the USPS issued, as part of a marketing test, stamps that could be sold through bank Automated Teller Machines (ATM's). These ATM stamp panes were the first U.S. stamps printed on non-paper - a "plastic" polyester film that met thickness requirements of bank teller machines. The test proved successful except for environmentalist outcries of non-recyclable material filling up our dumps. These plastic ATM self-adhesive stamps were issued in panes of 12, die cut with no perforations or plate numbers; no coil version counterparts made as with the Eagle and Shield OTC (over the counter) convertible booklet panes. The problem of affixing ATM SAD stamps to Souvenir Pages was sub-contracted to an employer of disabled persons, who peeled individual stamps from the paper backing and applied them to our Souvenir Pages. They did an outstanding job for us. I can't even stick one lousy little 32 cent stamp on an envelope straight! In January 1991 catastrophe struck, postal rates for first class increased to 29 cents (from 25 cents). The USPS was still in the midst of its experimental ATM test. In process was an all new ATM made of paper to meet the objections of environmentalists; but, the new stamp was not ready. How inconvenient of the USPS to raise stamp prices to us in the middle of their SAD experiment. The USPS needed to replace its 25 cent experimental with a 29 cent experimental; so, they made the decision to go ahead and make another plastic stamp, the F stamp - damn the environmentalists, full presses ahead. The format was the same, panes of 12, die cut without perforations or plate number; no coil version. This was the second and last U.S. plastic stamp, stamps which were touted as one that could be put in swim trunks (or suits for the ladies), go swimming and still be able to readily affix them to envelopes. Since the same manufacturer Avery was involved, these stamps were probably also affixed to philatelic material by hand.
In June of 1991, the USPS, as promised, issued its second generation ATM self adhesive made of paper. The 29 cent Liberty Torch was issued in panes of 18, die cut with no perforations or plate number; no coil counterpart made.
In 1992 two other SAD experimentals were released: an OTC convertible pane and coil (Eagle and Shield) and an ATM Christmas issue (Locomotive). These two issues essentially ended the testing period with the USPS stating "we have come of age".
In summary, all self-adhesives to date have been die cut ( rather than perforated) and issued in panes on backing paper that, when folded over, formed a basic booklet. The over-the-counter (OTC) self-adhesives have coils which were produced to facilitate machine-affixing of stamps to covers, First Day Ceremony Programs and our Souvenir Pages. Now the self-adhesive die-cut story takes place in earnest. As stated in one of Linn's Stamp Yearbooks: "the Postal Service got into the 20th century by issuing postage stamps with pressure-sensitive glue to do away with the archaic, unsanitary habit of applying stamps that previously passed through many hands [to which the user applied] a solution of saliva." At least the USPS did its part in reducing the threat of hoof-in-mouth disease - as noted by no new cases being reported.
GETTING A GRIP ON THESE STICKY STAMPS
Before progressing further, SAD's have their own terminology, some or most of which I may have made up. Whatever, a set of terms is needed and these need to be discussed prior to proceeding. I've enclosed a summary table, TABLE 1, which list the face-different SADs as well as any major and minor varieties released to date. Major categories classify stamp issues into three distinct categories: Sheet, Booklet and Coil; minor further distinguishes perforation differences (type and gauge), plate numbers on stamp faces and special die cuts. The TABLE headings define fields which sub-divide SAD's into discussable categories.
The Souvenir Page where SAD can be found (if affixed). The numbering system used here is a proposal submitted for adoption to the ASPPP (even though Uncle Bud thinks we have already done so). This system is based on the recent USPS Page numbering system "year-FDOI sequence number". The first SAD appeared on the 20th Page, ordered by FDOI, in 1974 (74-20). Suffixes are appended for watermark varieties and coil and booklet pane plate numbers. I am using this submitted proposal without suffixes for the discussion. Whatever, this is the number used throughout and should pose no problem in correlating to any other numbering system.
Distinct number of face-different SAD stamps and varieties. Three numbers are given: number of face different stamps/ + major varieties/ + minor varieties. If a booklet and coil were made for the same face specific stamp and no minor varieties (varieties within any major category), then a 1 / 2 would show up in this column - the first number for the number of face different stamps (one in this case) and the second number for all the major varieties for this face, two in this case. Most collectors would be satisfied if the USPS would affix all the major varieties manufactured for each "face" issue. Minor varieties would be nice (different perfs, die cuts or types, etc. known and sold through the Philatelic Center would suffice). Wouldn't it be great to get Bugs Bunny Page with both the perf and imperf varieties. These are do-able since the Pages are produced "after the fact". Knowledgeable focus group members would be of help here.
A description of the stamp issue. This is an abbreviated field with enough information given to trigger the mind into what the stamp is that is being discussed.
MAJOR STAMP CATEGORIES:
Stamps are printed in sheets and cut into panes to be sold at the post office. Plate numbers appear in the margin area and not on stamps. Stamps are perfed on all four sides. This category is distinguishable (most of the time) from booklet and coil types. The USPS issues sheet stamps for definitives, commemoratives and specials. Sheet stamps are sub-divided into adhesive types: REG and SAD (discussed later).
Stamps designed to have a cover so as to be easily carried on person. Conventional booklets are pre-folded and dispensed through vending machines whereas OTC and ATM booklets are not folded (user has to fold) and are sold over-the-counter or through ATM machines. The fold-over covers protect the stamps. Plate numbers usually appear in the tab or margin area or not at all. Conventional booklet panes have two columns of stamps and at least one straight edge; OTC and ATM booklets usually have three columns of stamps. Booklets are divided into two categories: Regular - conventional water-activated gum, two columns of stamps and with at least one straight edge; and, SADs with two or three columns of stamps with self-adhesive gum . As hinted above, booklet SADs are further sub-divided into three categories: OTC convertible panes, VENding panes and ATM convertible panes. These categories are referred to as OTC, VEN and ATM for simplification to the listings and discussion. These are defined further a little later.
Stamps specially produced for use in dispensers. Come in rolls with two straight edges and two edges with slit-like cuts or small holes (perforations) and recently with plate numbers on face at various intervals.
Each of these three major stamp categories are subdivided into adhesive types:
REG: Regular or conventional; water activated adhesive which requires moisture prior to affixing stamp to envelope (tear-and-lick)
SAD: Self-ADhesive; adhesive not requiring moisture - DO NOT WET - (peel-and-stick)
96-30 RIVER BOATS:
SAD SHT - Self-ADhesive sheet; commemorative pane of stamps issued with self-adhesive backing.
95-19 PINK ROSE:
SAD COIL - a self-adhesive from a stamp roll and designed for stamp dispenser.
93-21 RED SQUIRREL:
SAD BKLT - adhesive stamp pane issued flat and folded into booklet form.
In light of the above booklet discussion, the last example indicates something is lacking; this category needs to be further sub-divided to specifically discuss booklet SAD's:
Over The Counter. Pane of stamps affixed to a backing, which when folded converts into a booklet. The backing serves as the cover. Panes sold OTC are in flat, unfolded format. Large in size (three columns of stamps) vice those sold through vending machines (two columns of stamps). These booklet types require users to fold by removing a strip in the gutter area first. PN in gutter strip. OTC is short for "Over The Counter convertible pane". USPS calls these items "convertible booklets'; I prefer the term "convertible pane" which when folded converts into a booklet. Nitty, nitty.
95-19 PINK ROSE:
OTC Self-ADhesive pane - an unfolded booklet pane of self-adhesive stamps sold over the counter (vice vending machine)
Self Adhesives sold through VENding machines. These booklets are already folded for automated use and are usually small and narrow in size. They can have either separate covers or be affixed to a backing to protect stamps. PN in tab area (except for two recent booklets: Yellow Rose and Statue of Liberty).
96-03 FLAG o/PORCH:
VEN SAD: self-adhesive pane of stamps folded into a booklet for dispensing through a vending machine (folded booklet of self-adhesive stamps sold through vending machines - as well as over the counter).
Stamps similar to OTC convertible panes, except manufactured to specifications needed to dispense stamp panes through Automatic Teller Machines (to prevent "double vending"). Thickness is that of a dollar bill (really $20 bill). No plate numbers are on the pane. Stamps look washed out on Page because their thinness allows the Souvenir Page color to influence its appearance.
95-47 CHILDREN SLEDDING:
ATM self-adhesive convertible pane - an unfolded pane of stamps designed to be dollar-bill size and sold via Automatic Teller Machines. Uses a very thin backing. No PNs (plate numbers) used.
Now it's time to get off the stamp pad. Discussions follow the three major categories:
(Pane's Sticky Details)
"BOOKLETS, BOOKLETS, BOOKLETS"
(Booklets are in the Pane's Fold)
"COILS, COILS, COILS"
(Their SAD Roll in Finding an Identity)