Commemorative Stamps — How the United States Postal Service Selects Them Stamps

It is likely that everyone has seen at least one United States Postage Service (USPS) commemorative stamp they like. But how does a person, monument or other subject find its way onto one of the postal service’s commemorative stamps or pieces of postal stationery?

The subjects for the stamps are chosen by the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee (CSAC), whose members are appointed by the Postmaster General. Once the post office receives a suggestion, the U.S. Stamp Development Office ensures that it meets the criteria for a stamp or postal stationery. The subject must be:

  • An individual or object that is American or has an American connection;
  • An event of historical significance is eligible on its 50th anniversary and in multiples of 50 years;
  • Individuals are honored on their birthday, anniversary of some event in their lives or to mark one of their achievements;
  • An individual must have made an important contribution to American society and culture;
  • Stamps to mark the admission of a state to the union are eligible 50 years from the date of the admission and in 50-year intervals thereafter;
  • The Air Force, Army, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard and their Reserve and Guard components are eligible — as are the service academies — to mark their anniversaries at 50-year intervals.

Subject matter must be positive, which is why disasters are not considered. Also ineligible are government agencies, associations and organizations, as well as people or institutions whose principal contributions are related to religion.

After the Stamp Development Office says the idea meets the eligibility requirements, the idea goes to the CSAC, which decides either against issuing a postal product or to keep the idea under consideration by passing it on to the Postmaster General, who approves the idea and the design. The USPS has photographers, designers, art directors, photographers and illustrators under contract to design postal products. Artists and designers who want to be considered for this work may submit samples to the Stamp Development Office after reading its guidelines for submission.

The process of choosing a subject for a commemorative stamp can be a long one. In most instances, at least 18 months should be allowed for the process. On average, the committee only recommends between 15 and 30 subjects for commemorative stamps annually.

The postal service’s first official commemorative stamp was issued in 1893 to mark the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, which marked the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s landing in America. The Elvis Presley stamp issued in 1993 is one of its top-sellers. Another Elvis Presley stamp — a Forever Stamp — was issued in August 2015.

Even though one of the duties of the CSAC is to vet the worthiness of the subject, it is now standard procedure for members of the public to start a petition campaign to propose a stamp. Many groups and organizations use their resources and members to write letters to the committee, promoting the subject of their choice. The public is encouraged to mail suggestions to: Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee, 475 L’Enfant Plaza SW, Room 3300, Washington, D.C. 20260-3501.

  • Stamps
  • USPS
  • Commemorative