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Self-Adhesive Stamps Still Take a Licking

Government: Philatelists gripe that moistureless variety poses problems, such as oozing glue. But post office says other customers love them.


WASHINGTON — Consumers may rave about the U.S. Postal Service's popular self-adhesive stamps, but collectors say they're causing some sticky problems that are hard to lick.

"There's a sea change going on in postage stamps and it's driven by the public, not by stamp collectors," said stamp writer and collector Ken Lawrence. "This is the wave of the present and of the future, and stamp collectors are dismayed by it."

The Postal Service admits it got off to a bad start when it issued its first no-lick Christmas stamp back in the mid-1970s.

The glue was virtually impossible to remove. It soaked through the stamps, ruining them and causing album pages to stick together.

Those stamps proved to be such a disaster that collectors still talk about them. The post office didn't take another stab at self-adhesive stamps for more than a decade.

But now they've completely redone the stamps, replacing the glue with a water-soluble compound and designing the paper so it won't bleed through. The stamps' popularity has caught fire with the public and there's no turning back.

"This is something stamp collectors are going to have to adjust to," Robin Wright, a Postal Service spokesman, said. Consumers "are asking for them so much we can't keep up."

Two years ago, the Postal Service says, it printed about 2 billion of them. Last year, it was up to about 7.6 billion and this year more than 20 billion, or about half the stamps it will print, will be self-adhesive.

Wright said the post office remains a big booster of stamp collectors and their hobby. It sponsors stamp shows around the country, issues special stamps and puts out as many new designs and commemoratives as possible.

"We could come out with one stamp every year," said Wright. "People wouldn't like it much, but it would serve the purpose of getting a stamp on a letter."

"But we can't do away with self-adhesive stamps," he said. "The demand is too great."

Collectors, or philatelists as they're known, applaud the post office's efforts and welcome the agency's concern. But still they don't rest easy.

"All of us stamp collectors tend to like to collect old-fashioned things," explained Lawrence.

Improved as they are, collectors say, even the latest no-lick stamps still cause problems.

Minute amounts of glue oozes out from the stamp back, collecting dust and sticking to things. They're difficult to soak clean. It's impossible to save them in new or mint condition after they're stripped from the backing paper.

"We don't know enough about them," said Russell Skavaril, a longtime stamp collector from Columbus, Ohio, and the chairman of the American Philatelic Society's panel on preservation.

"We don't know how long they're going to last, what special care might be needed for them," he said "We need to learn how to deal with them, how to keep them."

Les Winick heads a Chicago organization, the Arthur Salm Foundation, that's studying the new stamps and how best to preserve and collect them.

While the results aren't in yet, Winick, an avid collector for more than four decades, knows what he thinks.

"It's a huge mess," he said. "But obviously the public likes them so stamp collectors are just going to have to live with it."

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