In a million-dollar case of mistaken identity apparently unprecedented in U.S. history, the Postal Service is pulling back and destroying 104 million commemorative stamps of Old West notables.
The move, announced late Tuesday, followed complaints by family members and Western history buffs that the stamp portrait of early black rodeo star Bill Pickett was based erroneously on a photograph of a brother and fellow cowboy, Ben Pickett."Subjects selected for American stamps represent America's culture and heritage. To release a stamp that was less than our best would be a disservice," Postmaster General Marvin Runyon said.
Beyond the demands that the error be corrected, officials said the move was prompted by concerns that the episode challenged the integrity of the Postal Service's procedures to insure accuracy.
"Unfortunately in this case, we found that the design, research and validation process was not followed thoroughly," Runyon said in a statement. "We are now in the process of historically validating each of the subjects in the Legends (of the West) series to ensure accuracy."
The commemorative set of 29-cent stamps, sold in sheet form, honors Pickett and 15 other famous personalities of the Old West - William "Buffalo Bill" Cody, Annie Oakley and Wyatt Earp among them.
The Postal Service had spent about $1 million printing 250 million of a planned 400 million stamps in the series and about 104 million had been distributed to post offices nationwide for sale beginning in late March, spokesman Ali Jaffer said,
Linn's Stamp News reported that 10 sheets - each bearing one Pickett stamp along with others in the series - already have been sold in Bend, Ore. Jaffer said that was unconfirmed.
Stamps with errors are avidly sought by collectors and dealers.
The case of mistaken identity was the first in the 147 years of stamp production in the United States, The Washington Post reported.
No date has been set for release of the revised series.
Backed by history buffs, Frank S. Phillips of Silver Spring, Md., a great-grandson of Bill Pickett, raised the identity question with the Postal Service, saying family photographs showed the portrait was that of Ben Pickett, not Bill Pickett.