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Stamps to feature contemporary people

By Paul Courson, CNN
updated 12:33 PM EDT, Mon September 26, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • U.S. postal stamps can now feature living people
  • Agency hopes the stamps will encourage business, improve revenue
  • The number of suggestions may top 1992's "Elvis Presley" stamp runoff
  • Advisory panel will review suggested nominees ahead of first issue next year

Washington (CNN) -- Although some people believe Elvis Presley is still alive, and he's been on a stamp, the U.S. Postal Service is opening up the opportunity to honor people on a stamp who are unquestionably still around.

The agency Monday announced it has dropped a rule that imposed a five-year waiting period after a notable person's death before they could be considered to be featured on a stamp.

"We wanted to make sure the people we suggested had stood the test of time," said Stephen Kearney, the Postal Service manager of stamp programs. But in deciding to discontinue the rule, Kearney explained it was limiting the number of worthwhile, relevant candidates, especially those considered meaningful by young people who might be encouraged to buy stamps.

Using the agency's Facebook and Twitter accounts, as well as letters sent through the mail, the Postal Service invites the public to submit a "Top 5" list of living individuals in a nominating process leading to a new stamp by the middle of next year.

Avoiding dubious figures remains part of the selection criteria that measures whether a candidate has done remarkable things for America. A citizen stamp committee will review the nominees that come in over the next month's time, and by mid-November the panel will make a final suggestion to the Postmaster General who will approve or reject.

"Today with today's news cycle, it's hard to hide anything, and the committee will still be careful about those they pick," Kearney said.

He also ruled out today's politicians. "What we don't want to do is let stamps get involved in the political process," Kearney told CNN, "so it's very unlikely we would do politicians who are still in the game right now."

Kearney said, "We're not ruling out sports stars, musicians, writers and artists." And he added "another possibility is we might feature people who are not necessarily famous right now," but who have demonstrated real or potential achievement.

Among notable sports figures, basketball's Michael Jordan, professional golf's Tiger Woods, and baseball's Roger Clemens may come to mind among candidates of achievement who could be considered under the new rules that include the living.

Kearney said "when it gets to a final stage, we do complete research" into the person who may become the first contemporary honoree, potentially ruling out anyone with questionable background since, in Kearney's words, "surprises are not good in the world of stamps."

That said, Elvis Presley is an example of someone, dead or alive, who contributed to American culture. In 1992, long after his generally accepted death in 1977, the Postal Service held a public vote as to whether an Elvis stamp should depict him early in his career, or how he was in later years.

The portrayal of a "young" Elvis won out, on a margin of three-to-one from more than a million votes cast. "Elvis was the king of stamps," said Postal Service spokesman Mark Saunders, who said the runoff nearly 20 years ago was conducted using only post cards obtained and mailed at 40,000 post offices nationwide.

The Postal Service is in the midst of closing thousands of post offices as part of a financial overhaul to cut red ink. The commemorative stamp program brings in about $200 million a year in profit. "The main source of profit is those who buy and keep the stamps," Kearney explained,"it's serious money, but it's a relatively small drop in the gap we have to close."

Still, if the popularity of Facebook and Twitter can supplement snail mail, postal officials believe the competition to name the first living person featured on a U.S. stamp may top the public's participation in the Elvis runoff.

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