I miss the ‘engraved’ stamps we used to have. It seems to me that once upon a time, the images on stamps were made by someone meticulously carving a design into a die. Nowadays it seems that the pictures on stamps are just made on PhotoShop or something and printed off on a computer. I know that it’s a lot cheaper to make pictures on a computer than it is to engrave dies; but many of the stamps just look a little too cheap.
The last ‘engraved’ stamps I bought were large triangular ones. I don’t remember what was on them, but I think they were airplanes or tall ships. IIRC, they are 32 cent stamps. And you had to lick them to make them stick. I don’t think I ever used any of them on a letter; just stuck them in an envelope because I thought they were neat.
I see commemorative stamps at the Post Office. Some of them are okay. But when I buy a book or roll of stamps, the choices seem to be rather limited. I can have Old Glory, but I’m getting really sick of hyper-patriotism. I could get ‘Love’, but that seems sappy. The ‘Happy Birthday’ stamps are good if it’s someone’s birthday, but it just feels funny putting it on my phone bill. Last time I bought stamps, I bought a roll of 100 ‘heron’ ones. (I think it’s a heron. Anyway, it’s a white bird on a blue background.) They’re nice, utilitarian stamps without an overt ‘message’.
Utilitarian. What does it matter what’s on a stamp, as long as it gets the job done? It doesn’t, really. But I do miss the old engravings of Presidents’ heads, airplanes, etc. The adhesives you have to lick I can take or not.
My wife is a philatelist, collecting American and Scandinavian stamps; my ex-boss collects American and Canadian.
Engraving is alive and well, just not convenient to the production of multicolored stamps. Sweden regularly issues engraved monochrome stamps illustrating folk arts, etc.; the stamps one buys for prepaid bulk mailings, non-profit mailings, etc., are generally engraved monochrome stamps (recently illustrating antique vehicles, IIRC).
At least you still get stamps. Here in the UK, they no longer sell stamps for over £1.00 except at philatelic counters. If you want to mail a package, rather than getting a bunch of pretty stamps to stick on it, you get a boring, very badly printed, sticky white label instead. How rubbish is that?
If you take a parcel to the Post Office, they use a computer-printed black-on-white label for postage. When I mailed my fiancée’s birthday present to her, I requested that instead of using the ugly sticker that they use ‘Happy Birthday’ stamps. They did.
Not a philatelist, but a postal worker here, so I know my stamps. As a general rule, I like American stamps and would agree with Johnny L.A. that the engraved ones are classic and the flag and “love” ones are pretty ordinary.
Aside from US stamps, the UK puts out some good ones when it gets a mind to (they had a “millennium” series I liked, and a cool railway-themed one too). Japanese stamps are fantastic and Chinese ones can be good. With some exceptions, Aussie ones are crap, New Zealand worse, and South African ones the worst of them all. They really look like something a kid has cut out of a cheaply printed magazine.
The greatest stamps of them all, IMHO, were issued under the watchful eye of one Mr Saddam Hussein, and are alas no more. Gaddafi can do a good’un too, and even ol’ Fidel has a bit of philatelic style.
Colophon, they trialled that UK-style label system here about fifteen years ago, but the public voted with its feet. They still do it if you lodge a parcel at the counter, but if you ask them for stamps to affix yourself later, you still get stamps. I think $20 is the highest one.
My grandfather used to work for a trade magazine, and received a lot of mail from the Middle East. He used to give the stamps to me, back when I collected them, and often I’d find envelopes from Iraq absolutely covered with dozens of low-value stamps, sometimes even on the back of the envelope as well.
I still have my old stamp collection. Some of the Iraqi stamps had surcharges “to support the Palestinian martyrs”. As a kid, of course, I had no idea what this was all about; I just thought the war-like pictures were cool. During the 1990s and 2000s, it looks like the propaganda slowly got more and moreblatant…
I suppose this is as good a place as any to mention that the USPS has announced its 2005 stamp issues:
Lunar New Year (all 12 Chinese symbols)
Black Heritage: Marian Anderson
Spring Flowers (4)
Northeast Deciduous Forest (10)
Jim Henson and the Muppets (10 character stamps + Henson)
American Scientists (4, including Richard Feynman)
Robert Penn Warren
Yip Harburg (wrote “Over the Rainbow”)
Masterworks of Modern American Architecture (12)
American Treasures: New Mexico Rio Grande Blankets (4)
Distinguished Marines (4)
Lets Dance: Bailemos (5)
Advances in American Aviation (10)
The Art of Disney: Celebration (has its own thread)
To Form a More Perfect Union (10 Civil Rights stamps)
America on the Move 50s: Sporty Cars (5)
Constellations (4, including Orion)
Madonna & Child
Holiday Cookies (4)