Just for fun, imagine that you're the head of the postal system of a make-believe country with a vibrant, growing stamp collecting community, but for some inexplicable reason, you hate stamp collecting and wish to hurt the hobby. The problem is: you don't know where to begin. Surely there must be an expert to whom you can turn -someone with much greater experience and knowledge of how to persuade collectors to turn away from stamps?
Fortunately, there is! The United States Postal Service has instituted many policies over the last forty years which have hurt stamp collecting in the U.S., and provides many valuable lessons on how to decimate the hobby. Here are a few of the more outstanding examples:
- Abandon your conservative stamp-issuance policy, and issue so many stamps each year that you make collecting your country's stamps less affordable to collectors, and utterly unaffordable to most dealers, who may have once purchased multiple sheets for each issue. The United States issued only 10-20 stamps per year in the '60s, but its current steroid-driven issuance policy has ratcheted the figure up to 150-200 per year!
- Make plate block collecting more costly by re-formatting plate blocks so that the collector has to purchase plate blocks of 16 or 20 stamps, rather than the traditional plate block of 4. Alternatively, issue "mini-sheets" of 20 stamps, with each sheet having four different plate blocks, thereby rendering plate block collecting meaningless. Also, create other types of position multiples, such as zip blocks and mail-early blocks, to thoroughly confuse collectors.
- Issue stamps with trite or redundant subject matter. Love stamps, greeting stamps, and stamps featuring cartoon characters fit the bill. If your country's constitution mandates a separation of church and state, then issue stamps which violate this rule, such as stamps honoring religious holidays. Since 1962, the U.S. has issued Christmas stamps, thereby violating the First Amendment, and more recently, it has also issued stamps for Hanukkah and Eid, an Islamic holiday. Regardless of whether or not it would be fair to allow every religion or belief system in the U.S., including Scientology, Satanism, Rastafari, Santeria, Wicca, etc. to have its own stamp, it is certain that many non-believers duly appreciate having their tax dollars support the government sponsorship of religion.
- Issue stamps which are visually uninspiring or downright ugly. Many stamp collectors feel that the U.S.P.S. implemented this enlightened policy most consistently in the 1970s, but every once in a while, it spits something out which hearkens back to it. Fortunately for those who hate stamp collecting, we'll probably never go back to issuing well-designed, beautifully engraved stamps with important subjects, as we did during the classic period that ended about seventy years ago. The stamp pictured at left, the 1984 20c Family Unity stamp (Scott #2104) brilliantly combines trite subject matter, ugliness, and emotional blackmail. Children's art is supposed to be cute (or people are supposed to pretend that they think it is), but often the infantile scribbles that are chosen for postage stamps are truly awful. The 1977 13c Christmas-Mailbox stamp (Scott #1730, pictured at right) integrates two anti-philatelic strategies: it violates the Constitution's Establishment Clause, and it's hideous enough to increase the viewer's risk of seasonal affective disorder.
- Issue stamps with a type of gum which makes it impossible to soak used stamps off of envelopes without damaging the stamps. This will help kill interest in collecting your country's modern used stamps.
- Produce and sell overpriced collector products, such as year sets, framed sheets, commemorative panels, and other presentation items, in order to bilk beginning collectors and alienate them from the hobby when they later figure out that they've been had.
- Finally, inadequately educate postal clerks. For instance, if an inordinate number of them don't know the postal regulations and believe that philatelic shipments can't be sent via insured mail, or that "old" mint U.S. stamps aren't valid for postage, it will cause considerable inconvenience and irritation among their stamp collecting customers. Encourage your postal clerks to use a ball-point pen or magic-marker when canceling envelopes with attractive stamps or multiples on them , thereby rendering them worthless to collectors.
As you can see, the U.S. Postal Service has done a fine job of creating a "challenging" environment for American stamp collectors . Learn from the master.