They provide stamps of approval

SUNDAY SNAPSHOTS

Philately: Postal Service...

April 06, 1997|By Carl Schoettler

They provide stamps of approval; Philately: Postal Service 0) salespersons Phyllis Shipley and Acquinetta Walker know which commemorative issues are the hot tickets.

Those splendid monsters Dracula, Frankenstein and the Phantom of the Opera will finally be recognized with their own postage stamps in October, but Phyllis Shipley predicts Bugs Bunny will be the truly big hit of the year.

Shipley and Acquinetta Walker cheerily dispense collectible stamps from the philatelic window at the Baltimore Post Office, and they have a wealth of experience in forecasting hot items. tTC Walker even picked the Preakness winner one year, when she sold stamps at the Pimlico classic.

In this era of aggressive marketing, the Postal Service sets up stations at the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, the Belmont Stakes and many other big events. Collectors follow the horse races buying stamps, hoping for a Triple Crown winner as avidly as any horseman.

Walker was dispatched to Atlanta last year and sold 20,000 sheets, 400,000 Olympic stamps, to one French dealer. He paid $6.40 a sheet and expected to resell them for $10. The Postal Service sold 38.1 million Olympic stamps just for keepsakes, not postage.

"Now everybody is waiting for Bugs Bunny," Phyllis Shipley says. "Not just dealers. Kids."

Back in 1847 you plunked down a few cents and you got Ben Franklin or George Washington. Now you get Bugs Bunny for 32 cents.

Bugs' commemorative comes out some time in May. The sooner the better, customers say, but the Postal Service hasn't set a date yet. Ben and George, meanwhile, will reappear May 29 and May 30 in a re-engraved 150th anniversary issue for 50 cents and 60 cents each.

Commemoratives once celebrated national heroes and historical events almost exclusively. Now pop culture sells best. Elvis Presley is the King with 124 millions stamps "saved," which means they weren't used for postage. They're presumably tucked away in albums, desk drawers and shoe boxes.

The Bugs Bunny issue follows by a year the Postal Service's Comic Strip Classics, a sheet of stamps honoring such luminaries as the Yellow Kid, Little Orphan Annie, Prince Valiant, Li'l Abner and Dick Tracy. Some 20 million of those stamps were sold nationwide last year.

Dracula and company are scheduled to rise from the dead Oct. 1. The five-stamp Movie Monster panel will also feature Frankenstein, the Phantom, the Mummy and the Wolfman.

Another Hollywood icon, Humphrey Bogart, will be available in June. Bogie will have to go some to catch Marilyn Monroe, No. 7 on the on All-Time Most Popular Commemorative list with 46.3 million stamps saved, or James Dean, whose stamp was second most popular in 1995 with 31 million stashed.

But pop culture isn't all that sells. America's first triangular stamps, antique-looking issues with engravings of a clipper ship and a stage coach, went on sale just two weeks ago.

"That's been hot," Phyllis Shipley says. "I've already gone through six packs. That's 6,000 stamps."

So what other issues does Shipley think will catch on? There's the sheet of American dolls, a block of American football coaches (Bear Bryant, Pop Warner, George Halas and Vince Lombardi) and the first Kwanzaa holiday stamp.

Locally, stamps featuring Baltimore's own Rosa Ponselle, who appears in a block with three other opera stars, and a Fort McHenry postal card should sell well, too.

But some stamps just bomb.

"Richard Nixon didn't sell well," Shipley says. "We didn't sell many of the centennial of Utah, either."

@ "It's just a great and unique American art form," explains--Craig Hankin, a Cockeysville resident and the director of the Homewood Art Workshops at Johns Hopkins University.

Is it jazz? Blues? Rock and roll?

No, he is referring to comics.

"Comic books are American," he says, "They started here, and I )) feel proud of that fact."

An art teacher, painter and cartoonist, Hankin is a 1976 graduate of Johns Hopkins and later of the Mount Royal Graduate School of Painting at the Maryland Institute, College of Art. He produces elegant programs for artists' exhibitions, curates art shows and organizes lectures. For the past 10 years, he has been teaching drawing and painting at Hopkins.

But the 42-year-old father of two also knows "an awful lot about comics."

Since his earliest days, Hankin was drawn to art, specifically in the form of comics. With an easy smile, he confides, "I learned how to read by reading comic strips."

His lifelong enthusiasm has made him something of a comics expert; he has appeared on TV shows to talk about the topic. "I've been a cartoonist, and it's funny being something of an authority on the subject," Hankin says.

While often humorous, many comics offer more than a good laugh. "So much subliminal stuff happens when you read comics," Hankin says. Rather than engage audiences with "gag-a-day humor," the more ambitious cartoonists strive to sculpt characters and settings that question societal norms, he says.

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