I have to be honest: I have mixed feelings about the United States Postal Service (USPS) issuing Harry Potter stamps.
I can understand that collectors would be upset by the fact that the USPS is honouring a British movie starring British actors made from a book by a British author and set in Britain. It does sound sort of un-American. I’m not sure that I have a problem with the fact that the images chosen were movie stills instead of illustrations. The movies are part of the Harry Potter identity now, and any artist creating a stamp would be using images of the actors in scenes from the movies, so I don’t see a real difference. It is blatant commercialism; even the USPS states that it picked subjects that would sell stamps. So the collector in me understands that some philatelists would be upset.
On the other hand, Harry Potter is big with the under-30 crowd. It isn’t just something children are into anymore; there is an entire generation that grew up reading books, watching movies, and playing with toys themed around the young wizard. If these stamps convince some of these young people to step away from an electronic device and look at a real stamp as something worth owning, then they will be good for the hobby.
In the end, it doesn’t really matter what I think; the USPS is going to follow the course it chooses regardless of my opinion.
The larger picture is the role of the USPS stamp advisory body, which seems slighted at having their opinions ignored. I went through a similar situation a few years ago in Canada, and a postal official reminded me that the word “advisory” implies that the body offers advice which may or may not be taken, with the ultimate decision-making authority being elsewhere. The same is true in the United States. In this case, the the postmaster general has made it clear that the USPS sees a need to pay attention less to issues that resonate with the past, and more with themes that have commercial appeal.
The truth is, most collectors have long accused postal authorities of seeing stamp programs as a source of easy money. Most of the time, postal authorities have countered that their goal is to produce stamps that have a broad appeal for all members of society. This motive isn’t unique: early air pioneers often carried mail to make money, usually in partnership with local postmasters who were quick to join in the game for a bit of revenue. Finally, today, the two sides are in agreement. Stamp sales represents a way to make money, and cash-strapped postal authorities are not going to turn down a chance to make money on philately.
Honesty is the best policy.