Fred A. Glienna's proposal that we sell advertising space on postage stamps has merit, but most of my readers feel it would be one more nail in the coffin of the American ideal.
The most graphic protest is a post card from Patricia Crane Heyman of La Jolla with nine stamps on it. They display pictures of John J. Audubon, Sinclair Lewis, Margaret Mitchell, Crazy Horse, a black-tailed jack rabbit, an Olympic swimmer, the Earth, a quotation from the Preamble to the Constitution ("We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union") and finally the one that has the word LOVE over a heart.
The LOVE stamp is the one I referred to when I asked, "Would we really resent it so much if the words MY TOYOTA appeared at the bottom?"
Patricia Heyman's answer is succinct: "Yes, I would resent 'My Toyota.' "
The stamps expended to dramatize this message total $1.81 in value (Margaret Mitchell is only 1 cent), which is proof of Heyman's sincerity.
Donald P. Burcham of La Canada points out that the idea of advertising on stamps is not new. Rep. Barry Goldwater Jr. introduced a Free Enterprise Stamp Act in the 96th Congress, and the Postal Service has printed its own institutional messages on the backs of stamps--the side you lick.
Burcham encloses one of these. On the front it shows a postal employee selling a sheet of stamps at his window; on the back it reads: "Nearly 27 billion U.S. stamps are sold yearly to carry your letters to every corner of the world. People serving you."
Would Nissan or Ivory Soap pay for a discreet message on the back of a stamp?
Harry L. Weiss of Beverly Hills notes that many nations in Europe and Latin America issue charity stamps in behalf of such causes as Red Cross, children's health, and care for the aged and indigent. These cost a few pennies more than standard postage stamps.
Irvin Borders corrects me for saying that "the cost of a postage stamp has recently risen from 22 to 25 cents." He points out that the cost of the stamp has not risen. "You can still buy a 22-cent stamp for 22 cents, and a quarter always did get you a 25-cent stamp if you wanted it."
What has gone up, of course, is the cost of postage. A 22-cent stamp still costs 22 cents; but you have to add a 3-cent stamp to get a 1-ounce letter delivered.
Leo Ochs of San Gabriel finds the idea of advertising on postage stamps revolting: "After all, our postage stamps are something special, so much tradition attached to them that an advertising blurb on one would be like putting the Marlboro man on the side of the Washington Monument!"
Prof. Tom Lasswell of the department of sociology, USC, recalls a time when postal service was better and cheaper: "I am old enough to recall two home deliveries of mail on weekdays, with next-day delivery of first-class mail in nearly any city that could be reached by train within 12 or 15 hours. First-class letters required 2-cent stamps at the time."
Oh, well, in those days you could get a New York steak and a glass of beer for 90 cents.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Postal Service continues to issue a fascinating variety of stamps, without advertising. In today's mail alone I see a 15-cent stamp with Oliver Wendell Holmes; a 22-center with Knute Rockne; a 30-center with a ballot box and the legend: "To cast a free ballot. A root of democracy"; a 25-center with an 1880s bread wagon; a 22-center with the flag flying over the Capitol Building; a 3-center with Dr. Paul Dudley White; a 14-center with Julia Ward Howe; a 3-center with Dorothea Dix; a 15-center with buffalo on the plains and the legend: "America the Beautiful"; and the previously mentioned 25-center of Earth. Add the eight other issues on Heyman's post card.
As I say, our stamps tend to be patriotic, proud and inspirational. But as Calvin Coolidge said, "The business of America is business." Why not a stamp that says LOVE MY TOYOTA?