- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 15, 2005

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Like any good businessman, David Failor works hard to understand his customers and make sure he has a product they will want to buy — and maybe save. That’s when his employer, the U.S. Postal Service, reaps a big profit.

Stamps that are bought but not used mean $150 million to $200 million annually for the Postal Service.

It’s Mr. Failor’s job, as director of stamp services, to make sure there is a ready supply of eye-appealing stamps on the market.

“People really look at the stamps they put on a letter. They want attractive stamps,” he said.

Any stamp would get the material delivered, but attractive ones draw more customers and people who save some of those stamps. Although fewer people are joining stamp clubs than in the past, large numbers of people still collect or at least accumulate stamps.

A stamp really is nothing more than a receipt for prepayment of postage. So collectors pay for the service of having their letter delivered, take the receipt that proves they paid, but never demand the service.

Many people collect used stamps. But their postmarks make them less attractive to others who want items in mint condition, which are a better investment over the long term. For example, a 15-cent Henry Clay stamp issued in 1903 is now worth $5 used, but $170 in mint condition.

The number of stamps that are purchased but never used is in the millions every year.

Sales last year of philatelic products, including framed stamps, an annual stamp yearbook and other items, came to nearly $50 million, compared with $40 million a year earlier. That total is in addition to the $150 million to $200 million the agency takes in from stamps that are purchased but not used.

Elvis is still king of that group.

The 29-cent Elvis Presley stamp issued in 1993 accounts for 124 million stamps bought but never used, the Postal Service reports. That translates into almost $36 million in income for the agency.

The Postal Service made $22 million each from the wildflowers stamps that were issued in 1992 and the rock ‘n’ roll series from 1993.

The first U.S. postage stamps were issued in 1847 — a 5-cent Benjamin Franklin and an 10-cent George Washington. They remained in use for many years, with the colors changing somewhat. A 1-cent Franklin and a 3-cent Washington were added in the 1850s.

Today, a mint-condition original Franklin sells for $6,250 to $12,599 depending on its shade of brown or orange. A mint Washington is valued at $27,500.

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