Stamps are the kind of thing we only think about on two occasions: when the postage rates increase or when we need to mail something and don’t have one. You wouldn’t think that something as innocuous as the little strip of paper that your grandmother uses to make sure you get your six dollar birthday check each year would be capable of raising many eyebrows. But you would be wrong.
Here are eight postage stamps that sent the masses into an uproar…
Mexico Issues Most Racist Stamps Ever
In May 2005, Mexican President Vicente Fox sparked a healthy amount of outrage when he stated that Mexican migrant workers took jobs in the United States that “not even blacks” would want. He later expressed regret for making the statement and insisted that his comments were misinterpreted. In an epic display of the most horrible timing imaginable, a few weeks later the Mexican government introduced a line of postage stamps celebrating the 50th anniversary of this:
Kind of makes that statement about jobs seem like the “I Have a Dream” speech, yeah? What you’re looking at is the cover of Memin Pinguin, a comic about a character who often finds himself the butt of jokes from white people because of his appearance and mannerisms. Nothing racist to see here, folks!
When controversy erupted over the proposed stamp, Mexican officials argued that Memin Pinguin was a product of the period when he was created and should not be interpreted as racist. You know, like the Ku Klux Klan! This prompted then White House press secretary Scott McClellan to respond that “racial stereotypes are offensive no matter what their origin. The Mexican government needs to take this into account. Images like these have no place in today’s world.”
Mexico responded by mentioning that they weren’t offended when the United States brought Speedy Gonzales to the world in 1953. Hey, Mexico, you leave our racist icons out of this!
If you think the fact that Mexico would honor this atrocity with a postage stamp at this point in history is shocking, you’ll probably be downright floored to know that Memin Pinguin is still published and talks are underway to make it into a major motion picture.
The United States Flag Gets an Extra Stripe
Philately might sound moderately dirty, but it’s really just the study of stamps and postal history. Being that an entire subset of the world’s population spends their free time obsessing over the most inane details of every stamp the government releases, it should come as no surprise that the error visible in the above stamp was picked up on pretty quickly.
In case you’re not seeing it, allow us to demystify things. There are 14 stripes on that flag. As history has (we hope) taught you, the U.S. flag only has 13 stripes.
The error was first mentioned in a letter to the editor in Linn’s Stamp News, a magazine we assume you all subscribe to. But the story really picked up steam when it was posted on the website Stampsofdistinction.com.
Postal officials later admitted that they were indeed aware of the error. The extra stripe was added to give the flag “more definition,” which is kind of like adding a third boob to a picture of a beautiful woman because “everyone loves titties.”
Niue Splits Up the Royal Wedding
How excited are you about the upcoming royal wedding between Prince William and Kate Middleton? Yep, we don’t give a shit either, but plenty of people do. And we’re not just referring to those maniacs at Entertainment Tonight. At first glance, it would appear that the tiny island nation of Niue is looking forward to the festivities. After all, they did release a set of official postage stamps to commemorate the event. That’s going above the call of duty if we’ve ever heard of it. You’d be hard pressed to get us to even show up at a wedding unless the promise of an open bar reception was somewhere in the invite.
But this might be a case of looks being more than a little deceiving. The layout of these stamps has prompted some to question whether they’re celebrating the royal wedding or mocking it. For one thing, the stamps are perforated in a way that splits the happy couple right down the middle, which seems to suggest that the people of Niue think the marriage won’t last. To be fair, they’ve totally got history on their side in that argument.
And then there’s the matter of the stamps’ denomination. Prince William’s is worth more than Kate Middleton’s. Shenanigans!
But some argue that this “controversy” is just a ploy to drive up the price of these stamps on the collector’s market. We’re not so sure about that, though. As you’re about to learn, the Brits take their stamps pretty damn seriously.
Roger Taylor Breaks British Rules By Not Being Dead
So here’s the deal: According to British law, the only living people allowed to be portrayed on postage stamps are members of the Royal Family. Everyone else just has to wait until they die. Like Freddie Mercury, for example. He got his awesomely mustached mug plastered on a stamp as part of the “Great Britons” Millennium Stamp series issued in 1999 by the Royal Mail.
That’s all to the good. Freddie Mercury was a stone cold legend and more than worthy of the hono(u)r. The problem is that Queen drummer Roger Taylor can be seen, albeit just barely, in the picture that was chosen for the stamp also. His current state of aliveness does not meet the stringent “dead folk only” requirement.
Cue the royal outrage, British Philatelist Peter Jennings:
“I am extremely surprised that the Royal Mail has broken the strict rule that no living person other than a member of the Royal Family may appear on a British postage stamp. Roger Taylor is clearly shown behind a set of drums proclaiming the name Queen on a stamp which depicts lead singer Freddie Mercury.”
Clearly, there’s only one acceptable resolution to this controversy. Someone is going to have to kill Roger Taylor. We’re sorry, but rules are rules, people.
Robert Johnson Kicks the Habit
Let’s get one thing clear right away, the fact that the feds decided to put blues legend Robert Johnson on a postage stamp is unspeakably awesome. You won’t find us complaining about that decision at all. But the tribute wasn’t without controversy.
In a case of political correctness gone horribly overboard, the cigarette dangling from Johnson’s mouth in the iconic photo used on the stamp was edited out of the picture. That’s something like putting Flavor Flav on a postage stamp and editing out his famous clock. It’s an artistic decision rendered even more egregious by the fact that only two known pictures of Johnson even exist. The cigarette is present in both.
Some other artistic liberties were taken also. The picture was colorized and, call us crazy, but it kind of looks like Johnson is wearing lipstick. That hardly seems necessary. Anyone who’s ever listened to a Robert Johnson record knows the music is the very definition of stripped down. His stamp should have been the same. We’d probably send a lot more mail these days if our stamps looked like this:
But there was a lesson to be learned from all of this. That lesson, sadly, is that the Postal Service gives not a fuck what we think. A few years later, they issued a Jackson Pollock stamp and did the exact same thing.
England Celebrates Nazi Sympathizing Family Planner
Those wacky Brits just can’t win when it comes to postage stamps. If people aren’t pitching a bitch over living people pictured on stamps, they’re losing their shit just because a family planning pioneer honored by the Royal Mail just happened to also be a Nazi sympathizer who thought poor people, sick people and people of mixed race should be sterilized. So uptight, England!
We kid, of course. People had every right to be upset over England’s decision to put Marie Stopes, a woman who opened the first ever birth control clinic in Britain in 1921, on a government approved stamp. While opening the first family planning clinic in the country is a nice achievement, it’s one that happened with all sorts of shadiness behind it.
Stopes’ clinics were generally clustered in impoverished areas, which we’re sure is just coincidental to the fact that she was a proponent of reducing the birthrate in poor areas in the name of “racial progress.” Yowsers!
Add to that the fact that she also attended a 1935 Nazi congress on population science and once sent Hitler a book of love poems and what you get is a woman who makes for a whole lot of unhappy Jewish people when you start tossing her name around as some kind of hero.
U.S. Thinks all Black Rodeo Heroes Look Alike
You know what you never see in old-timey cowboy movies? Black people. But that’s a big steaming pile of horse shit, because black people had as much to do with whatever cowboys did as anyone.
Take Bill Pickett, for example. This stud pioneered the art of bulldogging, which may or may not be more commonly known as steer wrestling. You never hear much about that guy, do you?
Well, when the Postal Service decided to right this wrong by honoring Pickett with a stamp in 1994, they managed to perpetuate another long standing wrong even further. For decades, this picture of Bill Pickett had been making the rounds among, you know, people who like checking out pictures of famous cowboys and stuff:
It was this very picture that Mark Hess, the artist who created the Bill Pickett stamp for the Postal Service, used as the template for his artwork. But here’s the thing, that’s not Bill Pickett in the picture, it’s his brother, Ben Pickett. The Pickett family notified the Postal Service of the error, but before they had a chance to recall the offending stamps, someone had sold 183 panels of them.
Had they left it at that, this would have made the erroneous Bill Pickett stamp one of the most sought after and expensive collectibles on the market. Apparently, the government has time to worry about shit like this, because instead of letting it happen, they decided to make 150,000 panels available to the public via lottery.
Meanwhile, Mark Hess painted the correct face onto the existing artwork using a different picture, the stamp was reissued, and the country quickly returned to its normal state of thinking that John Wayne invented cowboys.
The Other Statue of Liberty
Confusing a somewhat obscure cowboy for his brother who also happens to be a cowboy is funny, but ultimately forgivable. Less forgivable: Mistaking the actual Statue of Liberty for the hussied-up knockoff version that resides in front of the New York New York Casino in Las Vegas.
That’s exactly what happened when the Postal Service issued a new Statue of Liberty stamp this past December. Like all good stamp controversies, this one was outed by the fine folks at Linn’s Stamp News. You just can’t get shit past them.
What’s really troublesome about this story is how the error happened. Turns out the Postal Service just pulled a shot of Lady Liberty off of a stock image site and plastered that shit on a stamp. How fucking lazy is that?
The government remains defiant in the face of criticism, though. Even though the stamps include a brief write-up about the history of the real Statue of Liberty, not the knockoff Vegas replica, they swear that this is the picture they would have used for the stamp no matter what. Apparently, the real thing is just a little too homely for public use.
While we do agree that fake Liberty has the nicer grill, she’s also built like a total softball player. Check out those arms! We’ll take the real thing any day, thank you very much. Even if she’s a bit of a butterface.
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