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FDC Rate Increases

by Marjory Sente

The Postal Service is preparing for the 2001 rate increase with the issuance of 11 nondenominated stamps. Ten were released at Washington, D.C., on Dec. 15, while the other is scheduled to make its appearance in January.

Perhaps it is the time of year, but reading about the issuance of these stamps reminded me that on three earlier occasions the USPS released holiday stamps without values.

The first time this country released a nondenominated stamp was on Oct. 14, 1975, when the U.S. Postal Service issued two adhesives for the holiday season without any printed value.

Both a Christmas Contemporary stamp, picturing Prang's 1878 Christmas card, and a Christmas Traditional stamp, reproducing Domenico Ghirlandaio's Madonna and Child, were issued at Washington, D.C. Unlike earlier U.S. holiday stamps, these could only be used on mail to U.S. addresses because of the Universal Postal Union agreement that stamps used internationally must bear denominations.

Early in 1974 the first-class letter rate had increased from 8¢ to 10¢, and by mid-1975 there was talk of another rate increase. Not knowing when that increase might go into effect - perhaps during the crucial holiday season - the USPS elected to issue the pair without values, so that they could be used no matter what the cost to mail a letter might be.

The increase from 10¢ to 13¢, however, did go into effect on Dec. 31, 1975, at the tail end of the holiday season.

The year that brought American postal patrons two first-class rate hikes, 1981, also brought the next nondenominated U.S. holiday issues.

After absorbing a hefty 3¢ increase on March 22, 1981, when the rate jumped from 15¢ to 18¢, Americans later that year were greeted with news that the cost to mail their holiday cards that year would be not 18¢ but 20¢. The letter rate jumped another 2¢ on Nov. 1, 1981.

On Oct. 28, anticipating the new rate, the two nondenominated holiday stamps were issued as 20¢ adhesives. The Christmas Traditional adhesive featuring a Botticelli Madonna and Child was released at Chicago, while the Christmas Contemporary stamp, with a felt bear on a sleigh and the text 'Season's Greetings,' first appeared at Christmas Valley, Ore.

The 2¢ increase did not seem to dampen the spirits of the cachetmakers.

K.M.C. Venture produced a Christmas cachet with a text proffering warm wishes to the recipient.

Figure 1 shows an FDC with a design produced by DRC Cachets, picturing Santa and his elves playing with toys. The cachet is a nice complement to the stamp.

Ten years later brought the next round of nondenominated holiday issues.

Six nondenominated stamps valued at 29¢ were released on Oct. 17, 1991: a Romano Madonna and Child on the Traditional stamp released at Houston, Texas, and five Contemporary Santa stamps, appropriately issued at Santa, Indiana.

The 29¢ rate had been in effect since Feb. 3, 1991, so why were these stamps issued without values?

According to a Postal Service press release, 'It normally takes several months to print and distribute the more than two billion stamps needed to meet customer demand during the holiday season. Since the postal rate case submitted to the independent Postal Rate Commission in March 1990 still was unresolved when it was time to begin printing the holiday stamps, the Postal Service began producing them in the nondenominated format.'

While the holiday stamps are interesting issues, they are far from the only nondenominated adhesives that the USPS has issued. Beginning in 1978, it introduced the 'A' Eagle stamp, with a value of 15¢.

The series of U.S. rate-change stamps with alphabetic characters corresponding to new rates continued through the (32¢) 'H' Hat stamps, issued for the 1999 rate increase.

The 'A' through 'D' stamps featured a stylized, monochrome eagle, but beginning with the 'E' Earth stamps, the letter was related to the object appearing on the adhesive, as in a child's alphabet book.

When the (29¢) 'F' stamps were issued on Jan. 22, 1991, they included a flower (or, on its self-adhesive ATM stamps, a stylized portion of the U.S. flag, and the notation 'For U.S. Addresses Only').

Figure 2 shows an 'F' Flower FDC. Its cachetmaker, who signed his design 'F.....#1,' used the occasion to chart out U.S. letter rate increases since 1885.

FDCs for nondenominated stamps add an interesting dimension to changes in U.S. postal rates. Sorting out the values, as well as keeping tabs on the dates for the stamps' first days of issue and the change in rate, can be a challenge. Usually, as is the case this time, the two dates do not coincide.