The Wrong Honor

January 20, 1994|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- Persuaded that an eagerly awaited new stamp does not depict a --ing black rodeo star but his portly back-office brother, the Postal Service has taken the bull by the horns and ordered the stamp's entire press run -- 20 million sheets in all -- stopped, recalled and destroyed.

But the order -- the first in post-office history -- came after at least one post office, in Oregon, had sold several of the stamps by mistake, postal officials said yesterday.

That raises the prospects of a few philatelic treasures. The manager of stamp services for the Postal Service, Azeezaly Jaffer, said yesterday: "I don't know where those stamps are."

The Postal Service will know exactly how many of the 29-cent stamps were sold, and where, after the millions of sheets that have already been printed and shipped around the country are returned to the agency's main distribution center in Kansas City, Mo.

The stamps were not scheduled to be released until March 29.

Mr. Jaffer said officials decided this week to halt production of its "Legends of the West" stamp series midway through the press run after determining that one of the sheet's 20 stamps, honoring a long-dead rodeo star, Bill Pickett, actually showed his brother, Ben.

The action will cost the Postal Service about $1.1 million, he said. A revised "Legends" sheet, featuring a historically correct portrait of Bill Pickett, along with 15 other Western figures and four landscapes, could be ready for sale close to the original March 29 release date.

The first inklings of problems with the Pickett stamp surfaced last month, when historians complained that the man depicted on the it was too heavy and round-faced to be the rodeo star.

Mr. Pickett's relatives later said the likeness was taken from a widely reprinted early photograph that was labeled a picture of Bill Pickett, but actually shows his brother, Ben.

Ben Pickett worked mostly as a manager and back-office man for Bill Pickett's cowboy and rodeo activities, they said.

The Postal Service has never recalled an entire stamp series to correct an error. But Mr. Jaffer said the decision came down to a question of "value and integrity and setting the record straight."

That decision creates a potentially invaluable oddity for anyone who holds one of the Ben Pickett stamps, experts said.

Of the stamps shipped to post offices, it is believed that only three or four were actually sold, in Oregon, Mr. Jaffer said.

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