How does the Federal Government decide who or what gets honored on U.S. postage stamps?

Making stamps is a function of the federal government, and as is the case with most governmental projects, a committee has been appointed to get the job done.

The fourteen members of the Citizens’ Advisory Stamp Committee, representing expertise in American art, business, history, and technology, and sharing an interest in philately, are handpicked by the postmaster general to recommend subjects for commemorative stamps.

The committee convenes every two months to sift through the thousands of suggestions that pour in continuously from the provinces. Of the twenty thousand or so subjects submitted by the general public each year, twenty-five to thirty-five eventually make it through the committee to the postmaster general; once he gives final approval, they can become stamps.

During the watershed postal reorganization in the early 1970s, one of those events that go largely unnoticed by the public but retain deep significance within the government, the postmaster general, with help from the CASC, established the elementary criteria by which stamp subject selections are made.

Since then the list has been expanded to include twelve points:

1. U.S. postage stamps and stationery will primarily feature American or American-related subjects.
2. No living person shall be portrayed on U.S. postage.
3. Stamps honoring individuals will be issued in conjunction with anniversaries of their birth, but not sooner than ten years after the individual’s death. U.S. presidents are the only exception to the ten-year rule, and may be honored on the first birth anniversary following death.
4. Events of historical significance shall be considered for commemoration only on anniversaries in multiples of fifty years.
5. Only events and themes of widespread national appeal will be considered.
6. No commercial enterprise; specific product; or for-profit fraternal, sectarian, political, service or charitable organizations shall be recognized.
7. Towns, cities, counties, municipalities, schools, hospitals, libraries, or similar institutions shall not be considered.
8. Postage stamps commemorating statehood anniversaries will be considered only at intervals of fifty years from the state’s entry into the Union. Other anniversaries pertaining to individual states or regions will be considered only for postal stationery and only at intervals of fifty years from the date of the significant event.
9. Stamps shall not be issued to honor religious institutions or individuals whose principal achievements are associated with religious undertakings or beliefs.
10. No “semipostals,” stamps to be sold at a premium over their postal value to raise money for charitable organizations, shall be issued.
11. Significant anniversaries of universities and other institutions of higher learning shall be considered only in regard to Historic Preservation Series postal cards featuring an appropriate campus building.
12. No subject, except traditional themes such as Christmas, the U.S. flag, Express Mail, Love, and so forth, will be honored more than once every ten years.

Anyone can petition the Citizens’ Advisory Stamp Committee with an idea, and if the proposed subject meets the guidelines, it will be considered and possibly recommended to the postmaster general.

The rules, in addition to telling when and how something can be commemorated, dictate to some degree the subject matter itself. A stamp might be issued, for instance, to celebrate food in general, but rule number six will prevent a specific product, like Spam, from ever gracing U.S. postage.

Likewise, the government will not issue a stamp to honor one particular hospital, but health care in the abstract could be saluted.