The U.S. Stamp Committee Is (Still) Up in Arms About a Harry Potter Stamp

Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog
Aug. 7 2014 3:16 PM

The U.S. Stamp Committee Is (Still) Up in Arms About a Harry Potter Stamp

75449529-london-united-kingdom-a-harry-potter-fan-from-fircroft
Maybe kids will get back into stamp collecting, after all. (USPS stamps not pictured.)

Photo by BERTRAND LANGLOIS/AFP/Getty Images

This morning, the Washington Post reported that former Postmaster General Benjamin F. Bailar had resigned from his position on the Citizen’s Advisory Stamp Committee over a decision to put Harry Potter on a set of stamps. The stamps came out last November, and the Post first reported on the displeasure of the CASC over the issue back then. The CASC is comprised of esteemed Americans like historian Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and Cooper Hewitt Museum director Caroline Baumann, and it has met quarterly for 56 years to select the subjects that grace our postage. Bailar’s resignation comes amidst an ongoing debate about whether the U.S. Postal Service is sacrificing “gravitas” in favor of more commercially viable subjects.

Given its current financial position, it’s not surprising that the USPS would be considering all possible paths to increased revenues. Mail volume declined by nearly 25 percent over the last decade, with the Postal Service experiencing a net loss of nearly $2 billion in the second quarter of this year; meanwhile, discussions about eliminating Saturday service continue. A boy wizard who’s inspired a $20 billion industry may well be the magic that’s needed to keep us muggles licking envelopes.

Advertisement

But according to the resignation letter Bailar submitted to current Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe, bowing to popular culture—and British culture at that—amounts to “prostituting” the stamp program. If the USPS is going to circumvent the CASC anyway (as they did in this case) by spurning highbrow cultural icons in favor of un-American flotsam, Bailar suggests that the panel may as well be disbanded.

CASC chairwoman Janet Klug explained that “the Postal Service is asking us to do more in the way of pop culture. We’re trying to get a lot of young people interested in stamps. We have to go where they live.” These days, though, philately is more popular among senior citizens than high school seniors. Today’s youth—who one might argue have largely moved on from Potter to Katniss and Tris—are surely more likely to express any remaining adoration for J.K. Rowling on Tumblr.

And even for those who like the idea of seeing their favorite boy wizard on a stamp, the results leave much to be desired. The Harry Potter stamps certainly don’t show the commitment to design we’ve seen in other commemorative stamps, like last year’s Althea Gibson stamp or 2012’s Innovative Choreographer series. They’re just photographs of Dumbledore, Dobby, and Hagrid slapped onto some postage.

For stalwarts of the old guard like Bailar, this unimaginative move, along with considerations to slash the committee’s quarterly meeting schedule in half, may signal doom for the future of stamps as we’ve known them. But perhaps they should scale back their dismay just a tad. Most of the commemorative stamps the USPS released in recent months have been neither boy bands nor Disney characters, but significant historical figures like Shirley Chisholm and Harvey Milk. Back in January, the USPS reissued the Chippendale stamp. No, not the male strip club; that’s Chippendales. (And not the chipmunk cartoon, either—that was Chip ’n’ Dale.) This reissue of 10,000 stamps featured a chair by the 18th century cabinetmaker Thomas Chippendale. Sure, he was from England, but he did make a mighty fine chair.

Eliza Berman is a writer in New York. Follow her on Twitter

TODAY IN SLATE

The Slatest

Ben Bradlee Dead at 93

The legendary Washington Post editor presided over the paper’s Watergate coverage.

This Scene From All The President’s Men Captures Ben Bradlee’s Genius

Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

Whole Foods Is Desperate for Customers to Feel Warm and Fuzzy Again

The XX Factor

I’m 25. I Have $250.03.

My doctors want me to freeze my eggs.

The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I’m 25. I Have $250.03. My doctors want me to freeze my eggs.
Technocracy

Forget Oculus Rift

This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual reality experience.

George Tiller’s Murderer Threatens Another Abortion Provider, Claims Free Speech

The Congressional Republican Digging Through Scientists’ Grant Proposals

  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 21 2014 3:13 PM Why Countries Make Human Rights Pledges They Have No Intention of Honoring
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 21 2014 5:57 PM Soda and Fries Have Lost Their Charm for Both Consumers and Investors
  Life
The Vault
Oct. 21 2014 2:23 PM A Data-Packed Map of American Immigration in 1903
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 21 2014 3:03 PM Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 21 2014 1:02 PM Where Are Slate Plus Members From? This Weird Cartogram Explains. A weird-looking cartogram of Slate Plus memberships by state.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 21 2014 9:42 PM The All The President’s Men Scene That Perfectly Captured Ben Bradlee’s Genius
  Technology
Technology
Oct. 21 2014 5:38 PM Justified Paranoia Citizenfour offers a look into the mind of Edward Snowden.
  Health & Science
Climate Desk
Oct. 21 2014 11:53 AM Taking Research for Granted Texas Republican Lamar Smith continues his crusade against independence in science.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.