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How To Get Yourself on a Postage Stamp

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If you're like me, you probably take postage stamps for granted. I'll slap one on an outgoing bill or letter, but I don't usually give them much thought. However, there's a rigorous process that one has to go through to get his mug on a stamp, so we thought we might answer some questions for any aspiring postage subjects.

I want to be on a postage stamp! What do I have to do?

If it's a United States Postal Service stamp you're gunning for, we've got bad news. The first thing you have to do is croak. According to USPS rules, no living person can appear on U.S. postage. Don't expect to have your stamps immediately show up at your wake, either; another rule stipulates that people can't be honored by portrayal on a stamp until five years after their death. (This rule is relaxed slightly for recently deceased U.S. presidents, who can be honored on the first anniversary of their birthday following their deaths.)

If I'm notable enough, though, five years after my death I'll start showing up on letters, right?

Not necessarily. There are still a few more hurdles over which your candidacy must jump. First, the USPS usually only issues stamps on significant anniversaries of a subject's birth, so you might have to wait until what would have been your hundredth birthday. (The "significant" part of this equation is a bit up for grabs, though; the USPS sold over 124 million Elvis Presley stamps issued on what would have been the King's 68th birthday.)

Once you've found your way onto a single stamp, it's a long wait before you get another chance to provide postage. USPS rules state that no person can appear on a commemorative stamp if they have appeared on another stamp in the previous 50 years. On the plus side, that means we're only 33 years away from our next Elvis stamp!

What else might keep me off a stamp?

Not everyone is eligible for stamphood. According to the USPS, it won't issue a stamp to commemorate "individuals whose principal achievements are associated with religious undertakings or beliefs." Sorry, Parson.

Of course, these rules may be more flexible than the USPS is letting on. When the USPS announced its slate of commemorative stamps for 2010, one of them featured Mother Teresa. Atheist groups blasted the stamp for having religious underpinnings, but the USPS responded that the issue was more to honor Mother Teresa's humanitarian work than her religious beliefs. (A similar controversy arose in 1986 when the USPS honored orphanage founder and Catholic priest Father Edward Flanagan on a 4-cent stamp.) Despite the controversy, the Mother Teresa stamp is coming to a post office near you in August on what would have been her 100th birthday.

As citizens do we have any say on what ends up on stamps?

Do we ever! Since 1957 the Postmaster General has maintained the fairly obscure Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee. This group of 15 or so citizen advisors offers the USPS a "breadth of judgment and depth of experience in various areas that influence subject matter, character and beauty of postage stamps." The citizens on the committee are appointed by the Postmaster General and meet four times a year to discuss stamp proposals.

What citizens have served on this committee?

The committee members are leaders from all sorts of diverse fields, which means that the committee's roster often reads like a random assemblage of folks you'd never invite to the same dinner party. Past members include Academy Award winner Karl Malden, author James Michener, and basketball coach Digger Phelps.

Highlighter enthusiast Phelps actually served two terms on the committee from 1983 to 2006, and he wrote extensively about the behind-the-scenes machinations of the group in his memoir. According to Phelps, the committee received a deluge of up to 50,000 proposals a year and often felt pressure from members of Congress to approve certain stamps. Phelps wrote, "The pressure doesn't work; if anything it turns off the committee."

What luminaries are currently on the committee?

The biggest name is probably Henry Louis Gates, the Harvard professor who ended up having a "beer summit" at the White House last year. Other members include former American Film Institute head Jean Picker Firstenberg and Joan Mondale, wife of former presidential candidate Walter Mondale.

Has the committee ever let a controversial stamp slip through the gates?

Certain ill-advised issues have sparked firestorms of controversy. In fact, in 1994 a stamp nearly caused an international incident.

With the 50th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki approaching, the CSAC and the USPS made the decision to issue a stamp depicting a mushroom cloud with the caption "Atomic bombs hasten war's end, August 1945." The USPS defended the commemorative stamp by saying it sought to depict an important historical event without offering a judgment on the event itself.

As you can imagine, though, lots of people questioned the tastefulness of a stamp that depicted the deaths of thousands of civilians. Japan's Foreign Minister protested the issue, as did the mayor of Nagasaki, who called the stamp "heartless." The Japanese Embassy in Washington took its case to the State Department in hopes of canceling the stamp.

Eventually, the Japanese protests grew so loud that the Clinton White House had to lean on the USPS to quash the stamp. The USPS replaced the mushroom cloud stamp with one depicting Harry Truman announcing the end of the war.

Have there been any controversies that weren't quite that heavy?

As part of a tie-in with the movie The Land Before Time, the USPS issued a set of four dinosaur stamps depicting Tyrannosaurus, Stegosaurus, Pteradon, and Brontosaurus in 1989. Sounds harmless enough, right?

Not to scientists. First, it's spelled "Pterandon" with an "n," and the species in question is a pterosaur, not a dinosaur. Moreover, the name "Brontosaurus" was no longer used in the scientific community; Apatosaurus had taken its place. Scientists railed against the USPS' poor fact checking, and the USPS responded that it used the name "Brontosaurus" because it was more familiar to the public.

Famed paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould wrote a very funny essay about this flap that's featured in his collection Bully for Brontosaurus, but a New York Times editorial had the best comment on the whole imbroglio: "But give the Postal Service due credit. The flak over its blunder has given "˜apatosaurus' more currency than it could ever get in a billion years of repetition in learned journals."

How long have these commemorative stamps been around?

The USPS issued the first commemorative stamps in 1893 to honor the World Columbian Exposition that was taking place in Chicago. Although the idea of commemorative stamps is a familiar and popular one now, it didn't thrill everyone at the time. It particularly irked Congress, which issued a joint resolution to denounce the "unnecessary" stamp issue.

Postmaster General John Wanamaker "“ the same Wanamaker who started a wildly successful chain of East Coast department stores that bore his name "“ stuck to his guns and thought the special stamps could make the postal service some serious cash. He was right; the stamps were almost immediately hot sellers, to the tune of two billion sold. Wanamaker himself spent $10,000 buying the $2 stamps in the hope that the idea of commemorative stamps would become valuable items for collectors.

Wanamaker's idea obviously worked. In 2006, the USPS estimated that the Elvis alone had sold over 120 million stamps that were never used for postage, which provided over $30 million in loot for the postal system's coffers.

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Live Smarter
How to Rescue a Wet Book
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Water and books don't usually go together. If you're one of the many sorting through waterlogged possessions right now—or if you're just the type to drop a book in the bath—the preservation experts at Syracuse University Libraries have a video for you, as spotted by The Kid Should See This. Their handy (if labor-intensive) technique to rescue a damp book features paper towels, a fan, some boards, and a bit of time. Plus, they offer a quick trick if you don't have the chance to repair the book right away.

The Kid Should See This also notes that literary magazine Empty Mirror has further tips on salvaging books and papers damaged by water, including how to clean them if the water was dirty (rinse the book in a bucket of cold water, or lay flat and spray with water) and what to do if there's a musty smell at the end of the drying process (place the propped-open book in a box with some baking soda, but make sure the soda doesn't touch the book).

Of course, prevention is the best policy—so store your tomes high up on bookcases, and be careful when reading in the bath or in the rain. (That, or you could buy a waterproof book.)

[h/t: The Kid Should See This]

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15 Common Stains and Easy Ways to Get Them Out
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There's a stain solution to nearly anything you've spilled, smeared, squirted, or slopped.


Four people sitting on a bench with the photo cropped from the waist down. All of their denim-clad knees are covered in grass stains.

Everyone loves a lush, green lawn—except when it’s smeared on your clothes. The next time you’ve got a Kentucky Bluegrass mess, just apply some pre-wash stain remover and let it sit for 15 minutes. You can also go the natural route and mix up a solution consisting of one part vinegar to two parts water. Then, use a old toothbrush or other small brush to work it in. Finally, launder as usual.


When it comes to bloodstains, look to the experts: ER nurses. According to them, the first step is to rinse the spot with cold water ASAP and blot it until you’ve gotten as much blood up as possible. Then, dab a bit of hydrogen peroxide directly to the stain and watch it magically rinse away.

If the problem is upholstery or carpet, you’ll also want to use the cold-water-and-blotting method, but this time, add a tablespoon of dish detergent to two cups of cold water. Carpet cleaner intended for pet stains may also work well.


A blob of spilled ketchup on a white background.

The next time you find yourself with this condiment running down your shirt, don’t despair. First, flush the spot with water, starting with the back side of your shirt. Pretreat the spot with a liquid laundry detergent and let it sit for a few minutes, then rinse well. Repeat this step until you’ve removed as much of the condiment as possible, then treat with a pre-wash stain remover and launder as usual.


Dribbling Crest on your shirt before heading out the door to work is certainly annoying, but it’s definitely not the end of your apparel as long as you act quickly. Remove the excess goop first, then get a cloth wet with warm water and blot the area. Next, add a few drops of laundry detergent to the warm water and continue blotting. Blot with clean, warm water to rinse and allow the spot to air dry.


A glass of red wine tipped on its side. Some liquid remains in the glass, while the rest has been spilled out onto a white napkin and tablecloth.

This solution almost feels like a science experiment: Find the affected area and stretch the fabric over the opening of a bowl, securing it in place with a rubber band. Generously sprinkle salt on top of the fabric, then pour hot water through the fabric into the bowl and watch the stain disappear. Finally, toss it in the washer as normal.


Got a grease stain? There’s a good chance that the antidote is sitting next to your kitchen sink. Any petroleum-based dish detergent, like Dawn or Sunlight, is designed to cut grease. While you probably use it to get your pots and pans sparkling, it has a similar effect on clothes. Just saturate the grease spot with the soap, let it soak in for a few minutes, then toss in the washer.


A yellow coffee cup tipped sideways, sitting on top of a blue dress shirt. The coffee has spilled all over the blue shirt.

If it’s a really fresh stain, you might be in luck (and also scalded). Running the stain under cold water from the back of the stain just might do the trick. If that doesn’t work, rub liquid laundry detergent on it and let it sit for 3 to 5 minutes. For old stains, soak the garment in cold water after you treat with detergent, then rub the fabric every 5 minutes to loosen up the stain. If it’s still stubbornly hanging on after about 30 minutes, soak it in warm water for another 5-15 minutes, then rinse thoroughly.

If this all sounds like a lot of work, try a gel stain remover, which does a good job at getting into the fibers of the fabric.


Even if you’re extremely careful, putting on your shirt after you’ve already put deodorant on can be a tricky affair. But you don’t have to find a new shirt after those telltale white stripes show up on your shirt. Rub the smudges with pantyhose, knee highs, foam rubber from a padded hanger, or a dryer sheet. If you don’t have any of those things available, you can even rub the fabric of your shirt against the stain to loosen the residue.


Various circular and square pans containing liquid and powder makeup, with brushes dipping into some of them.

If it’s concealer, eyeliner, blush, eyeshadow, or mascara, just use a little prewash stain treatment and wash as usual. Lipstick or lip balm may be a little more stubborn. If stain stick followed by laundering doesn’t work, try sponging the stain with a dry-cleaning solvent and washing again.


When the baby douses your shoulder with the remains of her lunch, you’re better off if she's breast-fed. Simply wash your clothes in normal detergent, then hang to dry in the sun. The sun’s bleaching properties should do the trick if the detergent didn’t.

Because of formula’s chemical makeup, formula stains are another matter entirely. After scrubbing at the stain with a stiff brush to remove as much of it as possible, sprinkle the entire stain generously with baking soda. Then pour club soda over the stain and let it soak until the mixture stops fizzing. Then, launder as usual, air dry, and cross your fingers.

11. MUD

The ankles of a pair of mud-splattered blue jeans hanging in front of a washing machine.

First, resist the urge to work on the stain while the mud is still wet. Most of the time, it pays to work on a stain while it’s fresh, but wiping at mud is only going to smear it around and make the stain bigger. Once it’s dry, shake off the dirt or vacuum it up. Then rub liquid detergent into the stain and let it soak for about 15 minutes. Rub the stained area with your fingers every few minutes to loosen the dirt. If the stain remains after 15 minutes, apply some stain stick, gel, or spray, and let it sit for five minutes. Wash with detergent as usual.


Remove as much of the paint as possible with a paper towel, or, if the paint is dry, scrape it off with a dull knife or spoon. If the paint is water-based, all you have to do is rinse the stain in warm water until the color has run out, then wash as usual. If it’s oil-based, you’ll need to treat the mark with turpentine first, then rinse and launder.

13. INK

A pen in the pocket of a white dress shirt, with a blue ink stain starting to form in the bottom of the pocket.

The ink removal method will depend on what type of fabric you’ve marked with ink, but in many cases, rubbing alcohol or a solution of vinegar and dishwashing detergent will take care of it. Better Homes and Gardens has a quite comprehensive list of fabrics, from cotton to velvet, including detailed instructions for each. Your ink stain doesn’t stand a chance.


Just because it’s permanent marker doesn’t mean you’ve got a permanent problem. Get the stain damp first, then spritz it with a non-oily hairspray. Blot at the marker stain with a paper towel until you see the color transfer from the fabric to the paper towel. You can also try the same method with rubbing alcohol, putting paper towels underneath the stain to absorb the color.

If you’re up for a bit of an experiment, soak the affected area in a bowl of milk and watch the marker ink change the milk colors. Repeat with a fresh bowl of milk until the stain is gone.


A clear glass tipped sideways on an off-white colored carpet, spilling red juice out onto the rug.

Contrary to most of the other advice for stain removal, you don’t want to get liquid detergent anywhere near a fruit juice stain—it will only set it. Instead, use white vinegar to blot the stain, then rinse with cool water. If the stain persists, try a digestant enzyme paste (unless your fabric is silk or wool) and let it dry for 30 minutes, then rinse.


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