Why I love the USPS

Illustrated Dictionary of Gardening — A Practical and Scientific Encyclopedia of Horticulture, edited by George Nicholson, circa 1885. Found at The Old Design Shop.

The USPS has many wonderful secrets to saving money on postage. I remember discovering media mail, with which I could ship a box of books across the country for a mere $0.50 per pound. Even just the basic mail service boggles my mind — I can send a piece of paper over a thousand miles away within a few days, for under a dollar. Nothing is this cheap these days.

As a teenager I had the privilege of going to an arts program in San Francisco. It was my first time living away from home, and I’d spend three months in my own room in an unfamiliar city. My parents sent me a few essentials to ward off homesickness: my very first cellphone (prepaid for three months); a digital camera; and a stack of fifty blank, prestamped postcards. I used each of these things constantly, and the postcards were my favorite.

I collected free papers and scraps from around the city, and managed a decentralized scrapbook on the postcards. Newspaper clippings, pressed leaves, and bus tickets collaged to the blank fronts and colored with watercolors. On the backs, I wrote small notes to my friends and family. I tried to do one postcard every day. I have fond memories of that time in my life.

I still send postcards on occasion, though not as much as I’d like. I’ve used them for warm up inking and drawing, and to keep in touch with a few dear souls around the country. Thirty-nine cents a piece, a postcard at the cost of postage and paper.

So, now that I am gearing up to send out my wedding notes — save the dates, invites, RSVPs, thank you cards — it was obvious I’d look into the pragmatic, low-stress offerings of the USPS. And I was delighted by what I found.

For my save-the-dates, I’m using prestamped postcards with a lovely design that came out last June. Colorful flowers and a bee, designed by Ethel Kessler and illustrated with a block print by Cathie Bleck. It’s on recycled cardstock, and costs four cents more than mailing it. For the invites, they have the same design on a double reply card — I print directly onto the card, seal it, and my guests receive a prestamped RSVP to fill out and send back. Seventy-one cents apiece, plus the cost of the design and copier.

When put into practice, this plan went afoul just slightly. My local copy shop couldn’t print on postcard-sized paper, and my home printer refused to. So, the save-the-dates would have to wait a little longer. I pine for the days when I had access to a letterpress shop.

I ended up ordering a custom rubber stamp for the front design and self-inking stamps for the back. One address stamp, and a monogrammed circle stamp with our wedding date and town. Those two will come in handy for the rest of our stationery.

For my design, I used an old illustration of an apple blossom. The rubber stamp didn’t have very fine detail despite the high-resolution file specified for the stamp, but it still ended up looking nice. I went with it, since I wanted the things done.

I will probably use something similar for invites, thank yous, and what-have-you — with hopes that the next few tries go smoothly.

While looking through my options, I started to get curious about stamp art. Who decides stamp art, and how? Can I order a set of small-denomination (Something like 3 cent stamps) stamps with emoji on them, and use them like stickers that benefit the USPS?

Looking back to USPS’ Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee, I learned that artists can submit proposals and portfolios for consideration, but that all stamp designs are chosen two or three years in advance. I reckon that the current set of emoji will be old hat by then.


One could, of course, order custom stamps from a third-party stamp retailer — but those denominations don’t get lower than 25 cents — it would only take a 🍍 and a 🤓 to send a standard letter, and then you have to pay a little more for the custom design. It’s more fun to put at least three on there, right?

The new (and adorable) tiger cub stamp.

But three stamps would exceed the $0.49 needed to send that mail. In ordinary circumstances, those proceeds go to the USPS. Then, there are semipostal stamps, like the new (and adorable) tiger cub stamp. With these stamps, any proceeds that exceed the cost of postage go to a designated organization. In this case, they go to the US Fish and Wildlife Services, to be placed in conservation funds devoted to saving specific species: African and Asian elephants, marine turtles, great apes, and (of course) tigers and rhinos.

I’m almost out of stamps, and I think I know which ones I’m buying next. May the tiger visit your mailbox soon.

Now I just need an excuse to use one of their new international stamps. Can I send fan mail to the ISS astronauts?

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