How the US Postal Service got Daffy

It took months, plus a panel of experts, artists, approvals, revisions,

Daffy Duck is now arriving at 38,000 post offices across the United States. He's on sheets and sheets of postage stamps bearing his cartoon image.

But none of the stamps will be sold until April 16. And the only place you'll be able to buy the stamps that day is in Los Angeles. L.A. is home to Warner Bros., Daffy Duck's creator, so the city has been chosen as the stamp's official "first day of issue" site.

On April 17, you can get Daffy at any post office.

New commemorative stamps come out all the time - at least 20 of them annually. It takes three years of discussion, review, design, more review, approvals, and tests for an idea to become a stamp.

But thanks to Bugs Bunny, Daffy didn't have to wait that long. Bugs was the first in a Looney Tunes series that began in 1997. The Postal Service was looking for ways to get kids interested in stamp-collecting. The once-popular hobby had lost some appeal.

"That was a shame to see," says Barry Ziehl, a spokesman for the Postal Service. "Stamps are little snapshots of history. They're entertaining and educational, and we didn't like seeing the hobby dwindle." (There's a benefit to the USPS, too: If you buy stamps just to collect them, the Postal Service makes more money.)

The USPS wanted more kid-friendly stamps. Cartoon characters seemed a good place to start.

But first the idea of cartoon stamps, like all stamps, had to win the approval of the Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee. The committee has 15 members, all experts in various fields - education, history, art, and so on. They meet four times a year to review ideas for new stamps. Proposed stamps must have wide appeal. No living person can be honored on a stamp. Anniversaries can only be honored in multiples of 50 years, and so on.

Bugs Bunny was a good choice as the first cartoon character on a US stamp. Bugs has been entertaining audiences for more than 50 years, and Warner Bros. was willing to share him.

Mickey Mouse is probably the most obvious choice for a cartoon stamp. The USPS has talked with Disney about a Mickey stamp, but without reaching an agreement.

Bugs Bunny was a hit. His stamp outsold every other commemorative stamp in 1997. Sylvester and Tweety topped the chart in 1998, and Daffy is expected to be a hot seller, too.

It took a while to settle on a design for the Bugs Bunny stamp, says senior US stamp designer Terry McCaffrey. (It shows Bugs leaning on a mailbox.) But once the mailbox "theme" was chosen, the next designs went faster.

In last year's Sylvester-and-Tweety stamp, Sylvester the cat is climbing up a mailbox, trying to catch a fluttering Tweety, who's delivering the mail.

Daffy gets annoyed

This year's stamp will show Daffy looking upset about finding Bugs Bunny and Tweety-and-Sylvester stamps on letters in his mailbox.

"It was the easiest of the three designs to come up with because of that history," Mr. McCaffrey says from his office in Washington, D.C.

The review team was concerned that people wouldn't get the joke. Were the pictures of Bugs, Tweety, and Sylvester too tiny on the stamps-within-a-stamp design? The design was simplified and the printing process adjusted to reveal more detail.

Even so, McCaffrey says, people may have to look twice to get the joke.

After McCaffrey receives approval from the committee for a stamp, he assigns the project to one of six art directors who work for him. A director then contacts an illustrator, designer, or photographer to do the job.

Lots of people want to help. McCaffrey is contacted by about 1,500 artists every year who offer to design stamps!

Stamp art must be small - but not that small. The Postal Service wants artwork that is no more than four to five times the size of a stamp. That means art that's about five by seven inches. The image has to be simple so that when it is shrunk down to stamp size (using a digital scanner), the details won't be lost.

Even after the committee has approved the stamp's concept and the artist has done the art, the stamp must pass more tests. The design must be checked for accuracy.

Where did the antennae go?

In a new series of insect stamps due out in October, each illustration was sent to at least three different insect experts for review.

"They would look at the artwork," McCaffrey says, "and say, 'No, that isn't the right color,' or 'The legs aren't long enough,' or 'This one's antennae are missing.' " Back to the drawing board.

Printing comes next. Chuck Delaney is the USPS's printing-program manager.

"We produce between 35 billion to 40 billion stamps a year," Mr. Delaney says. Some stamps have "small" print runs. A state's anniversary has limited interest nationally, so maybe only 15 million are printed. But for a stamp like the 1993 Elvis Presley stamp, the most popular commemorative stamp ever, half a billion were printed.

And after the stamps are printed and packed in cardboard boxes, how do you suppose they ship them to post offices? By registered US mail, of course.

*For more information about collecting US stamps, call 1-888-STAMPFUN. You'll receive a free STAMPERS magazine, plus posters, book covers, and more. Or call up www.stampsonline.com

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