Stamping out postage increases -- forever

01/23/2014 3:22 PM

01/23/2014 3:23 PM

Starting this Sunday, it’s going to cost you a bit more to mail a letter.

The price is going up 3 cents -- the largest increase in years -- bringing the cost of first-class postage to 49 cents.

The increase is being advertised as temporary -- a financial fix for the cash-strapped U.S. Postal Service lasting no more than two years. After that, the rate will likely adjust -- up or down -- depending on inflation.

The most obvious way to avoid the price hike is to purchase “Forever” stamps at the current 46-cent price. You have until Saturday to purchase them at the lower price, knowing they can be used no matter how high postal rates eventually go.

Or if you’re a former philatelist like me, you just might have enough postage to last your lifetime sitting forgotten in the bottom of a closet.

A few months back, I took my childhood collection to a coin and stamp show at the N.C. State Fairgrounds to get an idea of how much my stamps were worth. My collection, a hodgepodge of mostly five-, six- and eight-cent stamps, had been purchased with allowance and babysitting money in the 1960s and 70s.

I came home rich in memories only.

It seems the state of stamp collecting hasn’t fared much better than the postal service. Mass production and fading interest in the hobby are to blame, making most modern-era stamps worth no more than face-value.

“Pretty much everything from 1938 or 1939 [to the present] is best used for postage,” Bruce Dodge told me this week. “That’s the best way to go,” said Dodge, 76, the proprietor of Chester Stamps in Raleigh’s North Hills area and a long-time collector.

While he’s saddened to see stamp collecting fade from popular culture, he sees no sense in buying new stamps when the old ones will do.

Whenever he has a letter to mail, he, too, dips into his stash, though it’s getting more difficult to find room on the envelope to put enough four- and five-centers to add up to nearly 50 cents.

Just don’t be tempted to put stamps on the back of an envelope, postal service spokeswoman Monica Coachman said.

Unused vintage stamps may be used in any combination, she said, but they must be on the front of the envelope and preferably in the right-hand corner or as close to it as possible.

Otherwise, she said, the automated equipment might kick the letter out to be hand-checked for proper postage. “It just might slow down delivery,” Coachman said.

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