Jewish World Review August 19, 2004 / 2 Elul, 5764

Lloyd Garver

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Consumer Reports

Postage stamps get personal | You no longer have to be dead to have your face on an official United States postage stamp. You no longer have to be famous. You don't even have to be human. Last week, the Postal Service authorized a private company to sell postage to people who want to create their own stamps. All you have to do is choose a photo, upload it to, and order it. In about a week, you'll be able to send out mail with stamps bearing that embarrassing photo of your now grown-up kid as a two-year-old, in her pajamas, wearing pearls and earmuffs.

Ken McBride, chief executive of, says that orders have been pouring in for stamps featuring kids, pets, and family celebrations. The stamps cost more than their face value, and there are rules: no nudity, no celebrities, no copyrighted material, and no politically partisan images.

As with most innovations, I have mixed feelings about these personalized stamps. (I didn't trust microwave ovens for years). At first, the stamps sounded like fun. I could see people using them, especially for special occasions like Christmas, birthdays, or after a weight loss. I thought I might send my college kids letters, using our dog, Rascal's picture as the stamp. I figured they'd think it was cute. (Then I tried to remember the last time they thought anything I did was cute. I came up with "never"). But there were plenty of photos that I've taken that might amuse my friends if I used them as stamps. And most of all, personalized postage would finally give me something to do with my digital photos besides putting them on my computer and never printing them.

But I started feeling a little guilty as I considered personalized stamps in a broader, historical context. Stamps are not just indications of how much postage costs. They are little bits of history. They represent countries, and often honor heroes. They symbolize a nation's struggles and its triumphs.

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George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Benjamin Franklin have been on our stamps. It doesn't seem to be in the same tradition to have stamps with a picture of that guy down the street with the bad toupee and the old Buick. The White House belongs on a stamp. Does your first apartment? It was fitting that the Marines at Iwo Jima were honored for putting up the flag. Should we honor you and your buddy in the same way for putting up a basketball hoop in the driveway?

Will stamp collectors brag about having the entire series of the Johnson family picnic in Omaha, Nebraska? Will they trade their mint condition Bobby Edwards T-Ball stamp for a Janice Smith, "This Is What My New Kitchen Looks Like" stamp?

Maybe this innovation will motivate people to rediscover the lost art of letter writing. Hardly anybody writes personal letters these days, preferring to use the phone or e-mail. It would be ironic if the digital camera and computer promoted a return to the old ways. And it is possible that people will be more willing to sit down and write a letter to their friends, now that they can show off their bowling trophy on the envelope.

But where will it all stop? Should I worry about personalized American Flags next? Maybe instead of stars in the blue field, they'd have a picture of Uncle Oscar's new teeth.

So, I'm a little confused about this. I'm not sure if the personalized stamp seems weird to me because it's weird or just because it's a new idea. I certainly don't want to participate in something that seems almost sacrilegious, that might make a mockery of a great American tradition. Then again, Rascal is a really cute dog.

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JWR contributor Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from "Sesame Street" to "Family Ties" to "Frasier." He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover. Comment by clicking here. Visit his website by clicking here.


08/12/04: The Political Olympics
08/05/04: Candidates are relying too much on research and taking some voters for granted
07/26/04: Color Code Confusion
07/08/04: Two Johns, no waiting
07/01/04: College Kids: They're Ba'aaack
06/11/04: A real sucker
06/03/04: What America really thinks
05/28/04: Fly the nice skies
05/20/04: A margin of error
05/06/04: TIPtoeing Around New York
04/29/04: The trouble with tall people
04/22/04: It's over for the Yankees
04/15/04: Silver bullets, tarnished excuses
04/08/04: A basketball fan's Nirvana
04/01/04: Something you're dying to write
03/25/04: Trumping Trump
03/11/04: Spelling still kounts
02/10/04: Leave the Amish alone
02/05/04: 'The State Of The Column' Column
01/15/04 Being Fat And Fit?
01/12/04 How to win the lottery
01/05/04 Sign Of The Times
12/27/03 Your Checklist Of Football Cliches
12/19/03 Clean getaway for holiday shoppers
12/15/03 The Cadillac Of Columns?
12/08/03 Dearest (Insert Name Here) ...
12/01/03 If they advertise it, we will buy
11/21/03 Feeling young, small and intimidated
11/14/03 The ulterior motive behind changes in those airline passenger meals
10/30/03 Real Money From Virtual Reality
10/23/03 Seeing red on new greenbacks
10/10/03 A sorry state of affairs
10/02/03 Revealed! Celeb-authored kids' books arriving just in time for the holidays
09/25/03 Just say 'yes' to dinner
09/11/03 In search of cool
09/04/03 Taking 'Intelligence' Out Of 'CIA'
08/28/03 Relaxation makes me nervous
07/31/03: What empty nest?
07/17/03: America's Big Hang-Up
06/27/03: Mental gymnastics
06/19/03: Why do we lie to our doctors?
06/02/03: Driving around in circles
05/28/03: These writers don't monkey around
05/19/03: Testing the water
05/13/03: New car hell
05/05/03: Bed and breakfast bewilderment
04/28/03: Sexy? That's a laugh!
04/10/03: When 'all A's' isn't good enough
04/04/03: A kibosh on complaining
03/13/03: Cut those billionaires some slack
03/05/03: Will they ever run out of celebs? The pols hope not!
02/26/03: Unfortunately, we can hear you now
02/19/03: Just say what you mean

© 2004, Lloyd Garver