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USPS Semi-Postal Stamps

What are semipostals?

Semi-postal stamps are a relatively new concept in the US, though common in many other countries - the first semipostal stamp world- wide was issued in New South Wales (now part of Australia) in 1897 to fund a home for consumptives (victims of TB), though there was a semi-postal envelope issued in Great Britain in 1890. The idea is to provide support to a charity through the sale of postage stamps, so most semi-postals have two numbers separated by a "+" on them, the first number indicating the denomination as postage, the second the contribution to the charity, their sum being the price of the stamp.

(CLICK HERE to see a selection of semi-postal stamps from other countries.)

How about the USPS Semipostals?

The USPS has broken with tradition in its semi-postals, putting no denomination on them at all. This has had the advantage that they can be kept on sale through rate changes without a need to change the stamps (see below), but has the disadvantage that their current postal value can be a source of confusion. The USPS Domestic Mail Manual states: The postage value of each semipostal stamp is the First-Class Mail nonautomation single-piece first-ounce letter rate ... that is in effect at the time of purchase. So they have the value in effect when sold, and in theory ones still on sale but purchased before a rate increase have their old value, but since there is nothing to distinguish old ones from new ones, in practice they are worth the rate in effect when they were taken OFF sale. Below are details about the four issued so far by the United States Postal Service.

DETAILS ABOUT THE USPS SEMIPOSTALS

BREAST CANCER RESEARCH

This one requires special comment: when first issued, in 1998, it was very controversial, as our first semi-postal. Critics predicted it would be a flop, people would not pay extra to fund a charity. They were wrong, thanks in no small part to the support of Senator Diane Feinstein, who introduced the initial legislation authorizing the stamp, and has campaigned tirelessly since for public support, and to have it kept on sale. Initially it sold for 40¢, and paid the then-current First Class rate of 32¢. When the rate went to 33¢ in January, 1999, it still sold for 40¢, but had a value as postage of 33¢. When the first-class rate changed to 34¢, it still sold for 40¢ per stamp. When the rate went to 37¢, the price of this stamp was raised to 45¢, while its value as postage was 37¢. When the rate went to 39¢ on 1/8/2006, the price stayed at 45¢. On May 14, 2007, the First Class rate was increased to 41¢, and the price of the Breast Cancer stamp was upped to 55¢. As of this update (6/6/2016), it has a postal value of 47¢ and a purchase price of 60¢.

In 2014, Congress extended the sale of the Breast Cancer Research Stamp to December 31, 2019.

As of March, 2016: Total Stamps Sold: 1 Billion (!), and the Total funds Raised = $83.5M

Image Issue date Current
Denomination
(6/6/2016)

Sc. B1 & B5
7/29/98 47¢

SOME HISTORY: Legislative action on this stamp was signed into law on 11/11/2005, extending its life until the end of 2007. The initial authorization in 1997 stipulated that the selling price of the stamp should be no more than 25% greater than its postal value, but 55¢ is 34% greater than 41¢, so they must have waived that restriction.

LATER (5/4/2007): According to this article, in 2001 Congress made special rules about the pricing of semi-postals, but as stated in the article, the rule makes no sense to me.

LATER STILL (5/5/2007): A little Googling led me to this document, which spells out the details of the relevant legislation. And here's a USPS page that confirms it - "The new formula sets a minimum differential of 15-percent, with no cap on the price. The new legislation also provides that the total price must be divisible by 5."
OK, that's clear enough.

I was still curious why they decided to raise the price ten cents, rather than just five, which would have satisfied the formula just as well. I decided to e-mail Teresa Rudkin, the USPS spokesperson quoted in that first article, to see if she could shed further light on the question. She very kindly put in a call to Postal HQ, who replied in perfect bureaucratese as follows:

The law creating the stamp states that the price of the Breast Cancer Research semipostal stamp must meet certain requirements. The Governors of the Postal Service determined to raise the price in order to meet the requirements of the law creating the stamp and in connection with the increase in the First-Class Mail nonautomation single- piece first- ounce letter rate increase.

She sent me the following link to another USPS web page, and told me to look at the April 12 Postal Bulletin - http://www.usps.com/cpim/ftp/bulletin/pb2007.htm
(See the section titled "Breast Cancer Research Semipostal Publicity Kit.") Note that they discuss the issue of stamps bought at the old rate -

Customers are welcome to use any Breast Cancer Research semi-postal stamps they purchased when lower rates were in effect, but if stamps were purchased before the rate change, they should affix additional postage to reach the appropriate rate based on the size and weight of their mailpiece. There is, however, no easy way to determine when these stamps were purchased, so we assume the stamps are being used properly for the First-Class Mail nonautomation single- piece first-ounce letter rate in effect at the time the stamp is used for postage. Consequently, pieces bearing the Breast Cancer Research semipostal stamp should not be treated as shortpaid.

So that means that Breast Cancer stamps purchased under the 39¢ rate should be used with TWO CENTS additional postage, not TEN CENTS (as suggested in that first article). Adding more than two cents benefits only the USPS, the additional money will not get factored into their calculations of money due to the research facilities.

I asked Teresa Rudkin about this, as follows:

By the way, Teresa, it occurs to me that if people add ten cents to letters using pre-increase stamps, only the USPS will benefit. How would the additional money get into the USPS accounting of payments due to the research groups? They should add just two cents, to pay the additional postage cost. Or am I missing something?

and she replied as follows:

I had to check with Postal Headquarters to make sure I had my ducks in a row on this one.

No, you're not missing anything, and I can see how our messaging on this issue could be more clear.

We record the income for the BCR stamp at the time of sale. Individuals who bought these stamps when the First-Class rate was 39 cents, and then use them after rates go to 41, only have to add 2 cents to cover the increase in postage.

All of which still begs the question "Why 55¢ rather than 50¢?"
 

HEROES of 2001

Issued at the same time as the rate-change stamps for the increase to the 37¢ basic First-class rate of 6/30/02, this stamp sold for 45¢, and had a value as postage of 37¢. It is no longer on sale through the USA Philatelic catalogue, or the USPS web site. The last time it was listed in the USA Philatelic catalogue was the Fall, 2004 edition, when the First Class rate was 37¢, so that is its value today. (Officially withdrawn from sale 12/31/2004)

Image Issue date Denomination

Sc. B2
6/7/02 37¢

 

STOP FAMILY VIOLENCE

This stamp was withdrawn from sale on December 31, 2006, so its value is frozen at the first-class rate in effect on that date, or 39¢

Image Issue date Denomination

Sc. B3
10/08/03 39¢

 

SAVE VANISHING SPECIES

This stamp was issued on September 20, 2011, with a price per stamp of 55 cents, and a postal value of 44 cents (the one-ounce First Class rate at that time).
As of this update (6/6/2016) the stamp has a purchase price of 60¢ and a postal value if 47¢ - its current authorization will expire on 9/20/2017.

As of 3/2016:
Total Stamps Sold: 31.2M
Total Raised, Net: $3.2M

Image Issue date Denomination

Sc. B4
09/20/11 47¢



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All text Copyright © 2006, William M. Senkus

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Created -- 02/13/2006
Revised -- 06/6/2016