I Know How to Piss Off Collectors

Inverted Jenny
Why not take credit for an error?

There was a thread on a stamp collecting forum lately where collectors were gushing over the place the Post Office had in American history and how we all ought to be thankful for the job that they’re still doing.  It all started with a graphic put up by the Post Office, bragging about all the things they’ve done.  Of course, it doesn’t tell the whole story.  It says they made $65 billion in 2012, what they conveniently forget to mention is that they lost $1.3 billion in just the first quarter of 2013 alone.  The Post Office operates at a loss, it fails to cover it’s own operating costs to the tune of $14 million dollars per day.  They claim not to take any tax money and a lot of those losses are on paper only, but shortfalls have to come from somewhere and when they have legitimate losses, that money has to be made up, it doesn’t come from thin air.

Then they point out how many U.S. stamps are valuable, but they don’t bother to realize that all of the stamps they list are over 95 years old and the most valuable U.S. stamp on their list is an *ERROR*!  Yes, they’re trying to take credit for a mistake that they made.  Of course, we realize that value, in general, is a product of rarity and because the 1918 inverted Jenny was a single sheet of 100, it’s going to be very valuable.  The fact remains that there are very few modern expensive issues because they’re just released in far too massive quantities.

Next:  charity!  Except the figures taken in by semi-postals are misleading at best.  There are only two semi-postals that have been issued since 1998 and, on average, they bring in 10 cents per stamp for the charitable cause.  $76 million raised for breast cancer research might sound like a lot, but that’s spread over the course of 25 years so far, it’s a mere $3.04 million raised per year, a squirt of piss in the $6 billion breast cancer research industry raised each and every year.  Somehow I see this as a complete failure of the program, certainly if anyone was impressed with it, they would have released more charitable semi-postals over the years.  If they want to help charities, the Post Office could donate half-a-cent from every one of the 27 billion stamps sold every year in the United States and donate $135 million dollars to the charity of their choice each and every year.  Come on guys, what you’re doing is less than impressive.

Then, they talk about commemorative stamps and how many they sell.  You’ll notice that almost all of them are recent issues, dating from the time that the Post Office has been whoring stamp designs to collectors.  They produce tons and tons of individual stamps and most of them never sell.  There was a recent story that the Post Office got stuck with 682 million Simpsons stamps that they had to destroy because they couldn’t get rid of them.  Of their list, only a single large volume stamp (actually a collection of 50 stamps), made in 1992, was produced before I stopped collecting new U.S. issues.

One thing I skipped over, on purpose, was their little whine that 66% of Americans have access to e-mail and that’s only going to rise in the future.  Yes, much of the purpose of the Post Office is going to go away entirely in the very near future, in fact, their mainstay business, sending letters, has largely evaporated already.  I don’t see this as a bad thing.  Oh sure, for postal employees it certainly is, but every industry has to deal with reality and technology marches relentlessly onward.  Trying to cling to how it used to be is generally pointless.  I wouldn’t mind if daily mail service went away entirely, the overwhelming majority of crap I get in the mail is junk anyhow, it all gets dumped in the recycling bin before it reaches the house.  Virtually all bills are electronic these days, there are only a few companies that still send paper bills and there isn’t a single bill now that isn’t paid online.  We very rarely buy stamps anymore, we might buy a book or two a year and that’s really limited to sending out birthday cards and the like.  I can’t tell you the last time I stepped foot inside a post office except to pick up a package and even that’s rare.  As I said on the stamp forum, if every post office vanished tomorrow, I probably wouldn’t notice.

But wait, what about the stamps?  Surely as a stamp collector, that matters, right?  Not at all because I gave up on the United States Postal Service decades ago when it became clear that they were whoring themselves to the collector market, putting out hundreds of designs per year, not because the American people demanded it, but because they thought they could make a buck selling bits of colored paper to collectors.  They aren’t even attractive bits of colored paper, it’s something that a 4-year old could create in Microsoft Paint in a few seconds.  What’s the point when you have ugly stamps, created only to make a buck and appeal to a tiny demographic who want some event or person immortalized on a sticky-backed square?  No thanks, I’ll pass.

stamps-5Besides, there’s a whole world of stamps out there to collect, it’s not like anyone will ever run out.  In just the first century of stamp production, between 1840-1940, over 90,000 stamps were issued worldwide.  That number more than quadruples if  you add in the next 60 years alone, to a total of 527,628 stamps.  It really gets absurd when you think about it, virtually all countries produce more and more and more stamps every single year, some of them just flood the market to make money.  Take Liberia, for instance, which issued 771 stamps in just the year 2000 alone.  That year, 17,836 were released worldwide, with a face value of $8,876.   In 2009, there were 15 countries that issued more than $200 in face value stamps, to buy a complete worldwide set at catalog value would cost $35,050.  Does anyone have over $35k to spend on stamps each and every year, not to mention getting older stamps?  Not many people, I’m sure.

Maybe it’s time to accept the eventual extinction of the postal service.  It’s fighting a losing battle anyhow, it’s hemorrhaging money and the signs clearly show that it’s only going to get worse.  Why are we wasting so much money on a service largely dedicated to delivering a daily dose of spam to our mailboxes?  Get everyone on e-mail and stop pretending that paper-mail makes much sense in the modern era.  There are plenty of companies out there to deliver our packages and if the USPS wants to become competitive and do that, more power to them.  I just don’t see why we should continue to do something that’s useless and financially wasteful, just because it’s in the Constitution.

And I don’t even mind if my stamp-collecting brethren hate me for saying so.

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