Hoping to boost sagging revenue, the U.S. Postal Service on Monday abandoned its longstanding rule that stamps cannot feature people who are still alive and is asking the public for suggestions.
It's a first that means living sports stars, writers, artists and other prominent — or not-so-prominent — people could take their places in postal history next to the likes of George Washington, Martin Luther King Jr., and Marilyn Monroe.
"This change will enable us to pay tribute to individuals for their achievements while they are still alive to enjoy the honor," said Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe.
But it seems to be at least as much about money as admiration.
For years, the post office has been facing severe financial problems due to the growing use of email. A burst of interest in stamp design and collecting — which the Postal Service is seeking to promote partly through social media — could bring in new dollars, since stamps that are collected rather than used for postage provide added revenue.
Poking fun at the Postal Service's money woes, Comedian Stephen Colbert has been pushing to become the first living person depicted on a government-issued stamp. His Comedy Central website proposes a "Farewell to Postage" stamp with a photo of him holding up a smartphone that shows an email telling the Postal Service "See Ya!"
Judging by initial public reaction in interviews Monday, Colbert faces competition.
Cyndi Scarlett, 54, of Alexandria, Va., who works in humanitarian development, touted her choice of Apple Inc. founder Steve Jobs to be the first living person on a stamp. Walking by a post office in downtown Washington, D.C., she cited his company's role in reshaping everyday life, from the ubiquitous Macintosh and iPod to the iPad.
"He has changed the face of technology in America," Scarlett said.
Elizabeth Saunders, 38, a former educator who lives in Washington, said she believe first lady Michelle Obama deserves the honor, pointing to her efforts in combating childhood obesity. Saunders said she was impressed when she recently saw the first lady on the TV show, "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," building a house for a military family.
"She's just not afraid to get her hands dirty," Saunders said.
But Justin Pierce, a 29-year-old consultant from Arlington, Va., had a TV personality in mind for the first stamp: actor Charlie Sheen, who was fired from the show "Two and a Half Men" last season. "He's an American icon," Pierce said.
Janice Myles, a paralegal from Washington, said her pick would be someone who epitomizes the everyday American — herself. "I'm spiritual, I have no criminal record. My only downfall is that I don't speak different languages. I don't judge people; I look at the facts," she said.
Since Jan. 1, 2007, the Postal Service has required that a person be deceased five years before appearing on a stamp. Before that, the rule was 10 years. Still, former presidents were remembered on stamps in the year following their deaths by tradition. And, more recently, people have been able to upload photos and design their own stamps for personal use through the U.S. mail.
The post office is inviting suggestions for new stamps through Facebook, Twitter, a Postal Service website and by mail to the Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee, c/o Stamp Development, Room 3300, 475 L'Enfant Plaza SW, Washington, DC 20260-3501.
The advisory committee already receives as many as 40,000 suggestions for new stamps each year and culls them to about 50 finalists, which are sent to the postmaster general for a final decision.
People can view upcoming stamps on Facebook at facebook.com/USPSStamps, through Twitter(at)USPSstamps or on the website beyondtheperf.com/2012-preview. Beyond the Perf is the Postal Service's online site for upcoming stamp subjects, first-day-of-issue events and other philatelic news.