STAMP COLLECTING NEWS
2/12/02 Columnist Takes On Theme Stamps
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'Theme-y' Postage Stamps: Catchy, Creepy

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_____Previous Columns_____
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About Bob Levey's Washington
Bob Levey can be reached at (202) 334-7276 or by e-mail at leveyb@washpost.com, or c/o The Washington Post, 1150 15th Street, N.W., Washington, D.C., 20071.

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By Bob Levey
Tuesday, February 12, 2002; Page C11

The U.S. Postal Service will never be confused with MTV, and most of the time that's just fine. I'm not looking to be entertained when I mail a letter. I'm looking for on-time delivery and cheap-as-possible prices.

But I have to confess that, in my declining years, I look forward to buying stamps more than ever. Reason: The Postal Service has begun to issue stamps that quicken the pulse.

Muddy Waters on a 34-center, in living color! My Chicago blues-crooning idol!

Baseball parks of yore. You haven't lived until you can bore your son with the knowledge that the Philadelphia Athletics used to play in Shibe Park -- and there's a picture of it on a stamp.

The 20th century is done (pause for sighs of relief). But cultural icons from every decade of the 20th appear on stamps. The hit parade includes Lucille Ball, the Mercury space capsule and the Grand Ole Opry.

And now on sale or coming soon to a post office near you . . .

Ogden Nash, Langston Hughes, a series on mentoring children, and American bats (the kind that fly, not the kind that hit home runs).

The Postal Service will still sell you garden- variety stamps that show the American flag and the Statue of Liberty. But if you haven't asked for what's new and what's hot when you visit the stamp counter, you're missing out.

Among other things, you're missing the chance to send a message.

About six months ago, I plunked down major coin for several sheets' worth of carnivorous plant stamps. These were glorious full-color representations of highly harmful-looking vegetation. What could be more apt when I send my monthly checks to the bloodsuckers at the mortgage company and the credit card bureau?

When I wrote to World's Greatest Daughter, who also happens to be World's Greatest Musical Theater Performer, what better stamp to choose than one that honors "My Fair Lady"?

I can hardly wait to write to female friends in this business. I'll use the four stamps (out soon) that honor women in journalism.

And if my daughter isn't sick of "theme-y" stamps yet, an Irving Berlin series is about to hit the deck.

The artwork is so great on "theme-y" stamps that Bob Levey is about to type a sentence he never thought he'd be capable of:

I won't particularly care if the basic stamp goes up by 4 cents this year. I'll get at least that much pleasure from the Year of the Horse stamp, the Harry Houdini stamp and the Andy Warhol stamp (all set to debut in 2002).

Don Smeraldi, a spokesman for the Postal Service, said a committee of 13 people chooses "themed" stamps. Members are appointed by the postmaster general. All serve for minimal bucks. Among the current members of the committee are actor Karl Malden, TV basketball analyst Digger Phelps, a curator from the National Gallery, a historian and a graphic designer.

The committee gets more than 50,000 suggestions a year. It recommends 20 to 30. The postmaster general has the final say, but Don said he almost always accepts what the committee recommends.

The committee tries "to be well-rounded," Don said. Members tilt toward designs that will attract children and designs that will educate.

It takes about three years from committee approval to a stamp being available in post offices. The committee is now hard at work on 2004 choices, Don said.

The committee routinely gets odd ideas, and ideas submitted in odd ways -- including brainstorms scrawled on napkins, Don said.

Among the wackier ideas:

A scratch-and-sniff stamp that would emit the smell of beer.

A stamp honoring the hamburger.

A series of stamps on outhouses.

None made the final cut.

The 2002 crop of "theme-y" stamps includes winter sports, the U.S. Military Academy's bicentennial, John James Audubon, teddy bears and Duke Kahanamoku (a Hawaiian swimmer, surfer and Olympic gold medalist).

If I were on the committee, I'd recommend Boss Shepherd, George Clooney, Phil Rizzuto, Bill Gates, contract bridge, the U.S. Coast Guard and whichever boss I wasn't getting along with at the time.

But the postmaster general would never appoint me. I hum Muddy Waters when I work. My fellow committee members would rush to cover my mouth with Muddy Waters stamps. I'd be the cause of rampant waste. That seals my doom as surely as stamps would seal my lips.

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