Postal Service hopes Harry Potter stamps spell revenue

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Hold onto your owls, Harry Potter fans. The U.S. Postal Service is hoping you'll send your letters with one of 20 new Potter-themed stamps it unveiled Tuesday.

The Postal Service will print 5 million of the 20-stamp booklets, featuring film stills of the young wizard and his friends and foes (and yes, messenger owl Hedwig is represented). It's banking that Harry Potter's mass appeal will translate into strong demand, and that the stamps could get young people excited about stamp collecting, Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe tells The Washington Post.

Not excited, however, is the Citizen's Stamp Advisory Committee, a Postal Service panel that "evaluates the merits of all stamp proposals." The USPS bypassed the 56-year-old panel in selecting the Harry Potter stamp, the Post reports.

Adding insult is the fact the boy wizard is British and that the Potter images are photographic stills, rather than the illustrations that typically grace U.S. stamps.

Several panel members, the Post reports, are frustrated that the Postal Service "has pushed pop culture at the expense of images that could prove more enduring."

The Post adds:

"'Harry Potter is not American. It's foreign, and it's so blatantly commercial it's off the charts,' said John Hotchner, a stamp collector in Falls Church [Va.,] and former president of the American Philatelic Society, who served on the committee for 12 years until 2010. 'The Postal Service knows what will sell, but that's not what stamps ought to be about. Things that don't sell so well are part of the American story.'"

As the Two-Way has reported, the Postal Service is struggling with huge losses — and with finding ways to stem the red ink. Donahoe told the Post that the agency "needs to change its focus toward stamps that are more commercial," and acknowledged that the shift has created a sense of disruption on the advisory committee.

Given Harry Potter's enduring appeal, though, it's not a stretch to think that the new stamps might meet the advisory panel's stated goal: to ensure "that stamp subjects have stood the test of time, are consistent with public opinion and have broad national interest."

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