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Print Curb Not Answer to Budget Crisis

October 24, 1985|BARRY KRAUSE

Question: I am a manager for the U.S. Postal Service. Recently we were asked to come up with ideas to help increase revenues or decrease costs. The Postal Service stands to lose $750 million this year. I have a suggestion that the Postal Service should print a limited amount of stamps monthly. This would create more rare stamps and help postal revenue. Do you agree? Or is this a crazy idea? If you print this, please do not use my name; I may get into trouble.

--USPS employee

Answer: What do you mean by a "limited amount of stamps monthly"? Fewer issues per month than at present? Or more limited total printing quatities of some or all issues of commemorative stamps?

The world's postal administrations have found that stamps do more than pay the postage on mail; they also bring in profitable revenues to the government from collectors who buy mint stamps for their collections and never use them for postal duty.

The costs vary, depending on a lot of factors, but let's say it costs 25 cents to print a pane (what most people call a sheet of stamps) of 50 individual stamps of a particular commemorative issue. At present first-class postage rates of 22 cents, the stamps in a pane of 50 have a face value of $11 (50 times 22 cents). That $11 minus 25 cents printing and other expenses equals a nice profit to the government coffers. So if collectors buy stamps and never use them, the government stands to make some nice money.

The problem with all of this is that you have to get the collectors to buy new issues. If a country issues too few stamps per year (say, five different varieties), then the world's philatelists may lose interest in collecting that nation's stamps. If too many new issues appear (100 or more per year), then collectors tend to complain about unnecessary new stamps that are draining their collecting budgets.

Many serious collectors of modern stamps will not buy the postal items of a country that issues "too many" new stamps in a year.

According to the Scott catalogues of official stamp issues, the United States has issued about 900 different varieties in the last 20 years, not counting special issues such as air mails or revenue stamps. This works out to be about 45 new stamps each year, or about one a week.

Any attempt to drastically reduce the different kinds of stamps that we issue each year will antagonize many special-interest groups and Congressional leaders who have "pet projects" in mind to get the Postal Service to issue a stamp honoring a specific famous American, place or invention.

Typical printing runs average a bit more than 150 million copies for a given stamp in America. To deliberately limit the printing of an issue to, say, 1 million copies would create great interest and financial speculation in current U.S. stamps, but would also damage our reputation among collectors who don't like "limited editions" designed to make a nation's stamps more valuable in the philatelic market.

In other words, chances are that nothing will change in either the number of new issues or their quantities being printed.

Since 1971, when the old U. S. Post Office Department changed into the semi-independent Postal Service, our postage rates have steadily gone up due to increased postal-employee wages and increased expenses for such items as gasoline and post office maintenance. If dedicated postal employees such as yourself would like to take a salary cut, or if you find gasoline for Postal Service trucks at 30 cents per gallon, then I can see some significant savings in postal expenses.

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