Who selects the stamps? Each year, the United States Postal Service issues approximately 35 new stamps, covering a wide range of images and fields of interest. In short, it is not hard to find something to like. New stamps are selected by the Citizen’s Stamp Advisory Committee (CSAC) of the USPS, whose members are appointed by the Postmaster General.
The CSAC was established in 1957. Currently, the committee has 13 members, representing “…collective expertise in history, science, technology, art, education, sports, and other areas of public interest,” according to the USPS website. Members of the public are welcome to submit proposals. Final approval is made by the Postmaster General. Development of an approved concept may take two to three years, so suggestions should be submitted at least three years in advance.
Recent controversies at the USPS – delayed holiday mail and package delivery, proposed cost-cutting measures, election mail issues – raise questions about who selects the stamps. What process and criteria does the Postmaster General use to select the CSAC members? Is there a vetting process by anyone other than internal staff? Does political partisanship factor into the choices?
The answers to these questions are not transparent. Meetings of the Citizen’s Stamp Advisory Committee are not open to the public. The USPS/CSAC website does not include biographies of its members. It is unclear whether members have term limits, or whether they are paid for their service.
Profiles of three new members, appointed to the CSAC, can be found in a press release issued by the USPS on Jan. 22, 2021.
Dr. Kevin Butterfield, a former professor of American history, currently serves as the executive director of the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington at Mount Vernon. He oversees Mount Vernon’s efforts to safeguard original Washington books and manuscripts while fostering new research.
Dr. Joseph L. Kelley is a gynecologic oncologist and Professor Emeritus in Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences at the University of Pittsburgh. He currently serves on the board of directors of Magee-Women’s Hospital of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
Roger R. Ream is president and CEO of The Fund for American Studies (TFAS), “an educational organization devoted to preparing young people for leadership.” Founded in 1967, TFAS is a conservative organization based in Washington, D.C.
Regardless of political affiliation, the Citizen’s Stamp Advisory Committee adheres to published guidelines when it selects the stamps. Images will “will primarily feature American or American-related subjects.” The stamps will “honor extraordinary and enduring contributions to American society, history, culture or environment.” Individual profiles will not be considered before the person has been deceased for three years.
The price of stamps rose in January 2021, and stamps featuring new images were issued on Jan. 24 to reflect this change. The cost of post card stamps rose to 36 cents; a Forever stamp is now 55 cents; and the stamp for an additional ounce is 20 cents.
Nature and the outdoors are always among my favorite stamps, and this year is no exception. A stamp featuring the beautiful Colorado hairstreak butterfly was unveiled in a ceremony in Estes Park, CO on March 9. The image was created by artist Tom Engeman, who has done extensive work for the US Postal Service, including highly detailed flag portraits.
William D. Zollars, a member of the U.S. Postal Service Board of Governors, noted “This stamp is the eighth in the butterfly series, developed in partnership with the greeting card industry specifically for oversize or square envelopes and other mail of nonstandard shapes and sizes.” Called a non-machinable surcharge stamp, the Hairstreak is available for 75 cents.
New postcard stamps feature images of four iconic American barns created by watercolor artist Kim Johnson, with stamp design by Ashley Walton. The previous postcard image, Coral Reefs, is still available at USPS.com at the new price.
Among the notable new Forever stamps is a portrait of playwright August Wilson (1945 – 2005), author of Fences, The Piano Lesson, and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, among his many works. Wilson received both a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony award for Fences, as well as a second Pulitzer Prize for The Piano Lesson. Ten of his plays are collectively known as The American Century Cycle. All ten plays have been produced on Broadway.
Additional new Forever stamps currently available include Espresso Drinks, Garden Beauty, Lunar New Year, Love, Nuclear Physicist Dr. Chien-Shiung Wu and more. Coming soon: Droids, from Star Wars (currently available for pre-order through USPS.com). Stamps that are pending but not yet released will feature Heritage Breeds, baseball legend Yogi Berra, Sun Science, author Ursula Le Guin, and artist Emilio Sanchez, among others.
Who selects the stamps may not matter as long as the images appeal to a broad range of users. But a word of caution: when a stamp holds particular appeal to you, buy it! Although stamps issued in past years may remain available through the USPS stamp store, many sell out and are not reissued.