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The Story Behind Stamp Gaffes

Retired U.S. Postal Service official Terry McCaffrey tells all about the Lady Liberty error and more

Q. Do your choices sometimes elicit public criticism?

A. Oh, we get complaints! People will always find something they don't like. When we ran a picture of Mother Teresa, some wanted to know, "What happened to the separation of church and state?" Of course, we get fan letters, too.

Q. What was the most popular commemorative stamp ever issued in U.S. postage history?

A. Elvis Presley. His face sold over 500 million stamps.

Q. Did you personally choose Elvis as a subject?

A. There is a procedure that all designs go through. The Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee is a group of prominent people from diverse backgrounds that include the arts, academia, politics. They meet every three months, divide into two groups, one to choose the subject, the other to confer on the illustrations. An average of 30,000 to 35,000 suggestions for subjects come from the public every year. I finalized the projects upon approval of the committee, and of course the postmaster general has final authority.

Q. You've seen many changes in the last 40 years at the post office. How is it doing these days?

A. Our volume has dropped dramatically — email, people paying their bills online plus the recession caused a lot of it — a double whammy. The post office is in financial trouble.

Q. Some stamp collectors have made a killing. Do you collect stamps?

A. It would have been a conflict of interest while I was working at the post office, so I never did, and still don't.

Marlene Fanta Shyer is a writer in New York.

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