There was recently a bunch of news stories invovling the overproduction of the Simpsons commemorative issue stamps. Basically, anticipated demand did not reach the level that the U.S.P.S. thought it would and there are a bunch (688 million) left from the initial printing. L.W.A. member Lisa M. saw these stories and sent me a question as to why the stamps, if there are so many left unsold, aren't for sale on the U.S.P.S. website. She said that she had sent emails to the Postmaster and their Customer Service, but she was reaching out to me too; so I put on my journalist cap and went a questioning.
Now, I've heard rumors of stamps being burned if they aren't sold. I have no idea if this is true or not, but I suppose it makes a twisted sort of sense. The U.S. Mint "de-trashes" their unsold commemorative issues, but you can't melt down and remold a stamp. Personally, I'm uncomfortable with the idea that as-yet-unpurchased stamps are destroyed; so I sent out tweets to my contacts and did a bit of Internet hunting while I waited for their responses.
Turns out there are multiple methods that different countries use to deal with their surplus postage stamps. Indeed, sometimes they do outright destroy them. Sometimes, they use overprinting to reissue an older stamp in a new denomination. There's also a technique known as CTO or "Cancelled to Order". These stamps are cancelled by the P.O. in large numbers and then issued to stamp dealers and other wholesalers at a discount. The Stamp Collecting Blog explains it very well.
"By producing 'collector quality' copies en masse, the postal services have managed to achieve several goals with one move. The collectors became happy as they received the stamps with light and unobtrusive cancel without any damages caused by real postage. The postal office services were happy as they didn’t have to do manual cancelling and hear collector complaints of poor job. And above all, the postal ministry managed to create new income channel…If the above sounds familiar, then take a look of the 'new issue' services of any country. These are the spawns of CTO." -The Stamp Collecting Blog, "Demystifying CTO"
So what happened to the 688 million extra Simpsons stamps? This clip from NBC states they were, indeed, destroyed. However, the reason given is that the "price had changed." Now, I don't know about you, but I know how to use an additional 1 cent stamp to mail a letter. I suppose the arguement is that customers wouldn't want the "hassle" of using the extra stamp, but couldn't they have put together a package for sale online that contained a Simpsons booklet and the appropriate number of 1 cent stamps? I guess, in the end, it wasn't worth the effort or the storage costs.
Moral of this sad stamp tale, if you love a stamp, buy as many of that stamp as you can, when you can. There's no guarantee as to how long they'll last.
P.S. Come see us tomorrow and Sunday at the Renegade Craft Fair in Chicago. We're booth 210!