Good news for philatelists everywhere!!!!!!!! The United States Postal Service announced last week that it would auction rare stamp-related collectibles, such as early proofs made from steel dies and uncut press sheets, at its new Postal Store on eBay.com. Among the items up for sale are a 20th Anniversary of Moon Landing Priority Mail Stamp Proof (one of three in existence), originally issued in 1989 (current bid: $535); an 8-cent Antarctic Treaty Stamp Die Proof (one of two in existence) signed by Postmaster General Winton M. Blount (current bid: $355); and the 64-page hardcover 1999 Commemorative Stamp Yearbook, featuring the 27 commemorative stamps issued that year (current bid: $50).
This auction, featuring more than 100 items, will end on Monday, September 23. There will be additional sales in the future.
“The Postmaster General’s Collection began in the 1860s with a small sampling of stamps and Post Office Department files,” explains Tom Rizzo, spokesman for the USPS Northern New England Division. “Today, and thousands of stamps later, the collection has become a one-of-a-kind stamp archive consisting of unique and rare stamps and original stamp artwork totaling approximately 30,000 items. To preserve the collection, only duplicate items will be auctioned . . . The goal of this alliance [with eBay] is to expand the Postal Service’s reach to more domestic and international customers through the online store.”
The USPS could use the extra cash, of course. A self-supporting government entity, the Postal Service delivers more than 40 percent of the world’s mail to 152 million residences, businesses, and post office boxes across the country. It’s also broke, mainly because Congress has required it to set aside billions of dollars every year, to ensure there is enough money to fund retirees’ health benefits for the next 70 years — a restriction postal officials note applies to no other government agency or private business.
“Despite operational improvements which have generated significant cost savings, the financial position of the organization has become untenable,” the organization’s five-year business plan reads. “The USPS continues to endure the negative effects of electronic diversion combined with a weak economy and excessive funding obligations. This dire financial position requires urgent action to ensure continued mail delivery and to restore long-term self-sufficiency.”
Selling antique stamps online is just one (small) prong of the USPS’s revitalization scheme, which includes consolidating the national postal network, eliminating Saturday mail delivery (though packages will still be delivered six days a week), and adopting a new health-care plan for all USPS employees. By using an online channel (eBay) to generate a new source of revenue (sales to international stamp collectors), the Postal Service may regenerate a bit of its lost income using the same medium that is helping bring it down.