SYNDICATED COLUMN: Stamped Out

The Statue of Liberty Stamp Error and the End of America

It may seem like a minor thing. Objectively it is a minor thing. But the Great Statue of Liberty Stamp Screw-up of 2011 presents a picture-perfect portrait of a society in the midst of collapse.

You can tell a lot about the state of a country from its stamps and its currency. At a nation’s peak its graphic iconography tends to be striking, elegant and original. As it begins to wane abstraction gives way to self-caricature, innovative design to self-parody, high art to kitsch.

Look at U.S. stamps and paper money from 100 or 50 or even 30 years ago and you’ll see my point. Quarters were nearly sterling silver; now they’re mystery metal (nickel-copper-zinc alloy).

America: we’re not what we used to be.

A century ago President Theodore Roosevelt commissioned the famous Beaux Art sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens to redesign the nation’s coinage. Among the results were Saint-Gaudens’ breathtaking $20 gold “double eagle”; numismatists consider it one of the most elegant coins of the 20th century.

How the mighty have fallen! According to U.S. Mint officials recent revamps of the $100, $50, $20, $10 and $5 bills were undertaken without the slightest consideration for aesthetics. They didn’t even consult an art director. Stymieing counterfeiters was the sole concern.

Now the U.S. Postal Service has issued its newest first-class “forever” stamp. As the most widely used denomination, a new forever is a big deal.

The new stamp features a photo of the head of the Statue of Liberty. Well…not exactly. Instead of the Statue of Liberty paid for by coins donated by French schoolchildren, the proud iconic figure which has greeted millions of immigrants to New York, the stamp bears the visage of the small replica which stands in front of the New York-New York casino in Las Vegas.

Mistakes happen. As every philatelist knows, another error—the 1918 “Jenny Invert,” which features an image of an upside-down airplane—is one of the most prized collectibles in philately because Post Office officials destroyed all but one sheet of the 100 stamps.

That’s the usual response to a catastrophe in stampdom. Ten years ago Postal Service recalled and destroyed the entire run of a stamp that wrongly placed the Grand Canyon in Colorado.

But that was before the economic collapse that began in 2008. The Postal Service is broke. Quality standards? Can’t afford them. Incredibly, postal officials are allowing this monstrosity, this bastard creation, this artistic obscenity—the face is clearly the wrong one—to be sold at your local post office.

“We still love the stamp design and would have selected this photograph anyway,” USPS spokesman Roy Betts told The New York Times.

Uh-huh.

“The [postal] service selected the image from a photography service, and issued rolls of the stamp bearing the image in December,” reported the newspaper. “This month, it issued a sheet of 18 Lady Liberty and flag stamps. Information accompanying the original release of the stamp included a bit of history on the real Statue of Liberty. Las Vegas was never mentioned.”

It’s bad enough that they use photographs. Stamps should be engraved. Engraved stamps look classier and more substantial.

But whether they are using an engraver, illustrator or photographer, a U.S. stamp ought to be a big gig. For an assignment such as this I would expect the USPS to hire a professional and pay huge money—six-figures huge. It’s a stamp, for Chrissake.

Nope. The U.S. Postal Service buys stock photos. For stamp design. That’s right—the same cheesy clipart you can download for your kid’s birthday party invitation.

Insane.

In and of itself, this is no big deal. These are lean times. Austerity abounds. Why not save a few bucks?

It matters because symbolism matters. The kind of country that puts stock photos on its stamps is the kind of country that puts a single air traffic controller in charge of one of its biggest airports. The kind of country that doesn’t fix its mistakes is the kind that tells people under the age of 55 that they can go to hell and die when they get old and sick because it’s more important to cut taxes for rich scum than to fund Medicare.

As for the symbolism of a phony Statue of Liberty that stands in front of a casino in the nation’s gambling capital—well, that’s obvious.

It would be fine if the money being saved by printing crappy stamps went to new textbooks in inner-city schools. But it doesn’t. It goes to Halliburton and Bill Gates. Now that American workers have been hung out to dry, robbed and fleeced, wrung out and burned out, the government and its associated agencies (the USPS is quasi-governmental) have turned on themselves in service to the 21st century robber barons.

Don’t get mad about the stamps. Get mad at what they mean.

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL

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7 thoughts on “SYNDICATED COLUMN: Stamped Out

  1. Today I got the US Mint catalog in the mail. Did you know the War on Quarters program has been expanded to include commemorating Civil War battlefields? I can’t believe it. Just as the 10 year state quarter program was set to expire and return to normal, they added US Territories, National Parks, and now Civil War battlefields to keep this endless program going! The US Mint is just as bad as the US Postal Service. They ignore tradition, artistic design and are only out to make a buck. Teddy Roosevelt would not recognize the special interest coinage of today. Coin size is determined by vending machine lobbyist. Coin and currency designs are chosen by security consultants. We need to return to the basics: one design for the penny, nickel, dime, quarter, half dollar and for godsakes return to a full size dollar coin. Customizing money for each special interest group is just as bad as the Postal service allowing picture stamps to be created or worse, using the wrong image of the Statue of Liberty. I want coins that would make both TR’s proud.

  2. Ted,

    How can you complain about not funding Medicare giving money to rich scum? Medicare part A pays maybe $0.10 on the dollar for patient care and the other $0.90 on rich scum called hospital administrators and board members. They truly are rich scum. They’re more overpaid than any other executives, and hospitals lag behind just about every other industry in record keeping, safety, training, and quality control.

    Simple things like making surgeons follow pre and post op checklists and switching to uniform electronic records could save hundreds of thousands of lives, and hundreds of millions of dollars a year. This will probably not happen in our lifetimes because stubbornness is engrained in the medical establishment. Its no different than 150 years ago than when a doctor who dared recommend hand washing between patients to prevent infections was committed to a nuthouse!

    Its an unfair stretch to call someone like Bill Gates scum, since he made his fortune developing products that improve other people’s lives. Do you write your blog on a PC? If it had not been for the standardization enforced by Microsoft in the 80’s and 90’s, the internet today would probably be like HAM radio, a useful communication tool for the initiated, but a transformative medium. True, some one else easily could of or would have done what Bill Gates did, but he would then be just as reviled by every other Tom, Dick and Akira72 born between 1970 and 1985 who thought there was a lot of money to be had in computers.

    Besides, I’d venture to guess that the Gates foundation’s vaccination initiatives in Africa eliminated more suffering than Medicare.

  3. For Alf de la fe — if the Post Office would have taken notice and raised their rates to a sensible value years ago, then maybe none of this would have been necessary. Unions are not the problem, management is the problem (IMHO).

  4. I feel much the same as you do. Two days ago I went to the Post Office, something which I do several times a week. There was a sign on the gate which informed customers that “Due to unforseen circumstances we are closed for the day” and instructed us to go to the nearest Post Office. The reason they were closed? Two employees called in sick.

    We live in a society that no longer values quality nor has a work ethic. A society which rallies against immigration because of lost jobs but which does not like to work yet wants to get paid highly for not working (unions). I fear that things are going to get much worse.

  5. At a nation’s peak its graphic iconography tends to be striking, elegant and original.

    I sense someone who has a fetish for propaganda posters of the 30s and 40s (no surprise there), especially the Soviet ones, am I right?

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