Dealing with damaged stamps
Philosateleian Blog reader Danny J. says he has a little problem with his incoming mail:
Has anyone else noticed that envelopes with actual stamps attached seem to be mutilated more often than not? These days only a small percentage of mail is processed with an actual definitive or commemorative stamp, but I’ve noticed that most of them are mutilated somehow.
Sometimes the post office has canceled the stamps by scribbling through them with an ink pen; other times the stamps arrive ripped or torn as if they barely made it though a sorting machine of some type.
In my experience, Danny’s not too far off the mark: a lot of stamps on modern mail do seem to be damaged in some way, and often the mailpiece itself is bent or has suffered other damage along the way.
The explanation I’ve most commonly heard for ink scribbles on the stamps is that mail carriers are supposed to ensure that stamps cannot be easily reused; that is, they are supposed to be canceled. Mail carriers don’t necessarily have an official post office canceler with them on their routes, however, so they make use of whatever is handy, and that’s usually an ink pen or—even worse—a marker. The horror!
Although we as stamp collectors would prefer to have every stamp arrive in pristine condition, the folks in charge of postal services are more concerned with moving the mail than with fulfilling our every wish, so I’m not sure there’s much that we can do to protect our incoming mail. There are a couple of things you can do with your outgoing mail, however:
- When affixing stamps to an envelope, leave at least ¼″ of space between the stamp and the edges of the envelope. Many of the damaged stamps I see have been placed as close as possible to the edge of the envelope, and it takes very little for the stamp to end up damaged in that situation.
- If mailing anything other than a standard sized envelope, have it postmarked by hand at a post office counter if possible. I’ve noticed that large and non-rectangular envelopes are often not postmarked at all; I presume the cancellation machines in at least some mail facilities simply don’t accommodate larger items, and those larger envelopes seem to end up with a disproportionate share of pen cancellations.
Have you noticed the same problem Danny pointed out with damaged stamps? Have any ideas on how to prevent the damage from happening? Share your thoughts below.
Kudos to the overachieving postal employee
As stamp collectors, we often have a bone to pick with one postal service employee or another who just doesn’t see things the way we collectors do—issues like having our stamps postmarked by hand, for example, or not destroying mail in the process of delivering it. Despite that, there are some that really go the extra mile in doing their jobs.
Philosateleian Post Horn reader Danny J. shares with us some of his experiences with employees at various post offices in his area of the Appalachians:
There are many small, isolated rural post offices where you can expect and get personal attention to your needs. When I want to cancel my own stamps, they usually give me their stamp canceller and an ink pad and let me go at it. They also will go through their cash drawers checking their limited stamp inventory and hand me sheets to tear off any stamps I want. I’ve even had some postmasters willing to tear off stamps from long rolls so I don’t have to buy an expensive complete roll.
Sounds like wonderful service to me. But the postal employees’ accommodation of stamp collectors is hardly their greatest contribution. Danny continues:
I’ve heard some great stores from the postal carriers who check on the elderly, take care of pets (and occasional stray cows) along their routes, and generally keep an eye on the communities they serve. In my last job before retirement…we actually had carriers who would take the time to stop on their routes to ensure our patients got their daily pain meds if the caregiver had to be at work or out shopping!
You don’t hear nearly as many stories about things like that as you do about less positive developments with the USPS. The cynic might argue that there aren’t nearly so many positive stories to tell, but I say kudos to those postal employees who care about more than just getting a paycheck—not just in terms of customer service, but with regard to the intangible extras they give to their community.
Have you encountered particularly helpful postal employees recently? Share your experience by posting a comment or by e-mailing your story.
Last week, I had the opportunity to fill in in the mail room at work. While “playing mailman,” I got to exchange pleasantries with the various mail carriers and other shipping service drivers who deliver to the office.
One day, Joe the mail carrier was a bit behind schedule because his mail truck had broken down. He mentioned that the truck, which was built in 1987, has around 450,000 miles on its original engine (which has not surprisingly been rebuilt).
I joked that Joe could probably get license plates identifying his truck as an antique, but he caught me off guard when he replied that USPS trucks don’t need plates.
Once I thought about it, I realized he was right; I’ve never seen a license plate on one of the little white trucks that carriers to deliver mail in the city. On the personal vehicles rural carriers use, sure—but never on the USPS-owned vehicles.
This little revelation left me wanting answers, so I did a bit of research. It turns out that USPS-owned mail trucks are not required to have license plates per federal regulations instituted in 1973. Who knew?
Have any other odd tidbits about the mail? Leave the details in a comment.
Make your own pages
No, I’m not giving up on The Philosateleian—but if you need album pages for something other than United States stamps, you can create your own using the FreeStampAlbum.com beta.
Shameless plug: this major update to Philosateleia’s sister site makes it easy to create stamp album pages. Simply enter a caption for each of your stamps, plus each stamp’s width and height, and FreeStampAlbum.com will take care of laying out the pages for you. This is easier than manually arranging each page; trust me, I speak from experience.
If you have a moment, check out the upgraded site. Comments, questions, and suggestions are very welcome.
Fall 2012 update for The Philosateleian
The Fall 2012 Supplement (274 KB, 4 files, 15 pages) for The Philosateleian U.S. Stamp Album is now available for download!
This supplement adds spaces for regular U.S. stamps issued since early June, including the final stamps in the 2008–12 Flags of Our Nation series and a new addition to the 2010–12 Scouting series. Spaces are also added for this year’s duck stamps, and additional details are provided for varieties of the 2012 Aloha Shirts and Four Flags stamps.
Naturally, these new pages are completely free. (If you want to show your support, that’s welcome, but not required.) Get the supplement now!