“The ‘H’ Rate make-up stamp” and other alphabetical postage stamps

Have you ever seen “The ‘H’ Rate make-up stamp“?* Any guess as to how much it’s worth? What’s with the “H” anyway? Hah. Well, I participated in LiveJournal’s holiday_wishes community this past winter (second year in a row = w00t!) wherein one of my wishes was for unused postage stamps of any denomination. One of my kind benefactors sent me two “H” Rate make-up stamps along with a few others that actually have cent values on them. I was confused, but I’m not going to look a gift horse in the mouth, so I just put them in my folder along with all my other stamps.

Today I sent out a birthday present to a friend and needed to know how much those pesky alphabetical stamps were/are worth so that I could (hopefully) use them. (Cue: “YAY for t3h Intarnets!”) I found out that “The ‘H’ Rate make-up stamp” is worth all of 1¢… that is, $0.01. [sarcasm] Woo hoo, let’s throw a par-TAY. [/sarcasm] Oookay, so that’s no big deal. At least now I can use them.

So that got me wondering why anyone would want to name a stamp “The ‘H’ Rate make-up stamp” over the simpler (and less confusing) “1¢ stamp.” Turns out that “The ‘H’ Rate make-up stamp” isn’t the first one to confuse the hell outta everyone, including many postal workers (see the comments section here). Apparently, “H” stamps and other lettered, nondenominational stamps were originally “contingency” stamps. According to the PNC^3 Glossary, a contingency stamp is “a stamp printed in advance of an impending rate increase, for use while stamps bearing the new rate are prepared. These had been ‘alphabet’ stamps, until the rate increase in 2001, when the contingency stamps were prepared with a design similar to that of the intended design for the next first class coil stamp, and marked ‘first class’ instead of using the numeric value.”

Basically, in 1978, some genius decided that a first-class (at the time, “first-class” was 15¢) “‘A’ US Postage” stamp would be sufficient for the needs of the American people. And, they decided to make it horribly unattractive. (“A” stamps—as with all the stamps in that link—are still valid, by the way.) At least “The ‘H’ Rate make-up stamp” isn’t as confusing as the “G” stamp, which came in “seventeen different versions, in six different formats, with five different rates, from four different manufacturers—there were six different sheet stamps, six coils, three booklets, and two self-adhesives”… *headdesk*

So, now I’m just glad that my kind LJ holiday_wishes gifter sent me “The ‘H’ Rate make-up stamp” instead of a couple of “G” stamps.

* Not to be confused with “The ‘H’ Rate stamp,” of course.

PS: The lettered stamp series ended in 2001. Too bad they stopped it before producing an “‘I’ Rate” stamp. Hahahahaha. (Get it? An “irate” stamp? Well, I think it’s funny.)

Viannah E. Duncan

Viannah E. Duncan is a writer and activist hailing originally from Los Angeles. She lives outside of Baltimore, Maryland, and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Wilkes University. She has a cat, Cleo.

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