Believe it or not, I actually use the U.S. Postal Service. Most of the time, I ship packages via Priority Mail. Occasionally, I use stamps to mail something, usually the odd non-electronically payable bill or certified letter.
Due to the rarity of my stamp use, some time ago, I resorted to purchasing “forever” stamps. I thought that they were called forever stamps because, in this era of e-mail, it took people forever to use up a sheet of stamps.
Then one day, I was in my local post office when a postal clerk informed me that the name referred to the price of the stamps. Apparently, you paid for stamps at the current rate and they were usable “forever” — that is, the lifetime of the stamp — no matter how much postage increased during that time.
This made me wonder why they hadn’t just named them “lifetime” stamps. Concomitantly, it occurred to me that customers might hold on to them for a lifetime and not send any mail — so the final name choice was probably a good move on the part of the postal service.
Just yesterday, I noticed the last two stamps left on my current forever stamp sheet. It was time to buy more stamps.
Since I only buy stamps once or twice per year, I had to choose the design wisely. There’s nothing worse than hating a stamp design choice when it can take an entire year to use up one sheet of stamps.
A quick perusal of the USPS online store allowed me to narrow down my selection to two designs. As I contemplated which to buy, I suddenly remembered having seen an announcement for the release of four bicycle themed stamps in 2012.
As a long-time cyclist and bicycling blogger, the use of such stamps on my now and again letters seemed fitting. I scanned all of the pages in the online store in search of these stamps. They were nowhere to be found.
Another visit to my favorite search engine, to find the stamps’ release date, was warranted since none of the cycling blogs had any information. I found the answer on a philatelic site; the stamps would be released on June 7, 2012, about a month from now.
After careful consideration, I concluded that two stamps could last me a month. And it was worth the wait to support both cycling and the (floundering) U.S. Postal Service.
I clicked back onto the browser tab which contained a photo of the stamps. There, a press release on the subject quoted stamp services manager Stephen Kearne as saying:
“We are excited to promote one of the nation’s most popular outdoor activities with the issuance of these four Bicycling stamps. These days, increasing numbers of Americans ride bikes to work or use them to run neighborhood errands. Many travel organizations offer cycling tours, from leisurely half-day jaunts to weeks-long excursions. No matter how long the ride, choosing to bike rather than to drive cuts down on traffic congestion, fuel consumption and vehicle emissions, which benefits the environment and helps improve air quality.”
USPS art director Phil Jordan designed the stamps using illustrations by John Mattos of San Francisco, CA.
The stamps portray different types of riding, possibly intended to show various uses for a bicycle. The series begins with a child learning to ride a bike, followed by a commuter, a road racer and a BMX rider in flight.
With the exception of the child, the cyclists all appear to be athletic, which emphasizes the sport aspect of cycling. This somewhat contradicts the postal services’ intention of showing cycling as a means of transportation that “cuts down on traffic congestion, fuel consumption and vehicle emissions, which benefits the environment and helps improve air quality.”
When the announcement of these stamps became public, some cyclists were disappointed with the sport aspect of the stamps. They wanted the commuter to look more authentic, namely, to be dressed in street clothes with a more appropriately outfitted commuting bike. Some also criticized the road racer’s position and clothing as “off.”
Reading too much into these omissions is not a good idea. The USPS art director and illustrator are not serious cyclists who would know the ins and outs of cycling. They could have spoken to cyclists before designing the stamps, for the sake of authenticity. But, they are artists, who rely on visual cues to express and interpret the world around them, making the final product a reflection of things they had observed as non-cyclists would. And, we also must make allowances for artistic license.
While it might have been nice to include serious cyclists in the design of this series of stamps, it’s reassuring to see non-cyclists trying to portray and understand cycling. As cyclists, we can learn something by looking at cycling through their eyes. We can get a glimpse into how they see us and what they think we are doing.
Their ideas might not be accurate, but their attempts represent a step in the right direction towards bringing cyclists and non-cyclists together. Who knows? Maybe it will result in a truce between cyclists and drivers, or at least an attempt at mutual cooperation.
Rather than quibbling over details, cyclists should embrace this endeavor by the USPS to normalize and celebrate cycling. American cyclists can show support of cycling by buying these stamps when they become available on June 7, 2012. If these stamps become one of USPS’ best selling series, the average American may conclude that our numbers are many and that cycling, as a form of transportation, should be taken seriously.