Elvis has one, as does Henry Fonda, Marian Anderson, the Civil Rights movement and even Kermit the Frog.
The oil and petroleum industry used to have one, but today? No, it doesn’t.
And according to some passionate people, it not only wants one but it needs one.
We’re talking about a postage stamp, and the efforts of a group of petition-driven people to make a stamp honoring the 150th anniversary of the Drake Well a reality.
It’s a national effort, and like Uncle Sam himself, it needs you -- or, specifically, your signature on a petition that says:
“The undersigned hereby urge the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee for Stamp Development to issue a commemorative stamp in 2009 for the 150th anniversary of the Drake Well oil discovery that launched the modern American petroleum industry.”
While this may only be of interest to those playing a spirited game of Trivial Pursuit, oil philately started in 1919, when the world’s first postage stamp to depict oil derricks of the Baku oilfield was issued by the National Republic of Azerbaijan.
So why doesn’t an industry that has had such an indelible -- you should excuse the expression -- stamp on the American experience not have one in this country?
After all, it did have one about 50 years ago, when the postal service issued a $.04 stamp honoring the first 100 years of the country’s petroleum industry.
Now, according to Lois McElwee, coordinator for the Oil City, Pa.-based Oil 150 Committee, it’s time for another.
“This is a chance,” she says, “to recognize the momentous national and international achievements that followed from the Drake Well oil discovery.”
You’d think that getting a commemorative stamp issued would be as easy as calling your favorite congressman and having him or her twist a few arms and call in some favors.
It’s not that easy.
The United States Postal Service’s Citizen’s Stamp Advisory Board, based in Arlington, Va., is in charge of deciding who and what gets honored with a stamp, and honors are allotted in 50-year increments, meaning the stamp for the Drake Well, if it is to be approved, must be issued in 2009.
Complicating the effort is the fact that the advisory board already turned down a recent similar request for a stamp honoring the 150th anniversary of the American oil industry.
Advisory board officials apparently didn’t care a lick about that idea.
“The Citizen’s Stamp Advisory does not publicize why it rejects a nomination,” McElwee said, “but there has been some discussion that the Postal Service has changed policy, deciding in recent years not to commemorate industries anymore.”
That’s when -- and why -- the Oil Region Alliance, which organized the Oil 150 Committee, came up with a new approach: They decided to shift the focus of the stamp away from the petroleum industry generally and toward the Drake Well specifically.
“Rather than give up on the idea of a commemorative stamp, we then specifically nominated the Drake Well success for consideration,” McElwee said.
According to Randy Seitz, president of the Alliance:
“The Drake Well as the birthplace of the oil industry in 1859 deserves commemoration. This is a big story. They don’t get any bigger. A special stamp will do this national story justice.”
The American Refining Group, the Ohio Oil and Gas Association and the American Oil and Gas Historical Society joined the Oil 150 Committee, the Oil Region Alliance and the Drake Well Museum in nominating the Drake Well.
McElwee, though, admits the perception of the oil industry in general may have played a part in the earlier decision to reject the stamp.
“The public perception of petroleum is a concern for the Drake Well stamp and the Oil 150 celebration efforts,” she said. “When it comes to the stamp consideration, though, perceptions aren’t a listed criteria for consideration they could come into play.
“On the other hand, one of the Citizen’s Stamp Advisory requirements is that the topic be relevant.”
An Educational Tool?
A look around the world shows that stamps honoring the petroleum industry appear, as you’d expect, in oil producing countries like Oman, Saudi Arabia, Azerbaijan and Iran. But according to India’s The Tribune, an additional 170 non-oil producing countries have issued more than 2,500 stamps relating to the refining, transportation and marketing of petroleum products. India alone has 10 such stamps.
What professions and personalities get honored in the United States range from the sublime to the ridiculous.
In 2006, a U.S. stamp was issued for African American actress Hattie McDaniel; to celebrate marriage; Disney; the 2006 Winter Olympics; favorite animals in children’s books; Benjamin Franklin; Sugar Ray Robinson; the Amber Alert; Katherine Ann Porter; and one featuring two blue birds kissing.
McElwee believes that the effort to obtain a stamp provides “an opportunity to educate the nation about the many ways petroleum impacts our lives everyday.”
As such, she says, the current stamp petition has been to many different locations around the country from schools, libraries, county fairs, conventions and symposiums.
If approved, the Postal Service will select the artist who will execute the design of the stamp. If they do elect to commemorate the Drake Well, McElwee says the committee plans to use an image of the Drake Well is in the design.
“I am not sure that they could commemorate the Drake Well without an image of it being incorporated but, there is no agreement on design,” she said.
Ultimately, though, it will be the members of the Citizen’s Stamp Advisory -- and not the industry, the various committees or even AAPG members -- who decide.
McElwee says she has heard that all decisions on stamps for 2007 and 2008 have been made, and those for 2009 -- the year in question for Oil 150 -- are being made now.
You wonder if Kermit had this much trouble.