Recently the Post Office issued a series of stamps that honors the Harry Potter characters. What is radical about them is that some of the stamps feature the images of the actors playing the various Harry Potter characters. Here the Post Office is getting into a grey area.
According to information from the U.S. department of the Treasury, Congress passed a law on April 7, 1866, prohibiting the portrait or likeness of any living person on currency, notes, bonds, or securities. Postage stamps have generally been considered to be securities, especially by most stamp collectors and by those individuals tasked with the job of arresting stamp counterfeiters.
According to the Treasury Department, this law still applies to day.
Most people were under the impression that the U.S. Post Office has a similar policy in effect. Well it looks like it did up until the year 2011. Supposedly: “No living person shall be honored on U.S. postage.” However it seems that this rule has been disregarded a number of times since then.
The verb “portray” is defined in most dictionaries as, to make a picture of or describe in words. One recent example of a seeming violation is the image of the still living James Cameron which was portrayed on a U.S. stamp in 200 when “A James Cameron Film” was painted above the name “Titanic” on the 33 cent stamp from the Celebrate the Century series.
We now come back to the new Harry Potter series, which features a portrayal in the form of a full color photograph of the British actor Daniel Radcliffe portraying Harry Potter. Does this stamp violate the law? Here is where the stamp enters the grey area. While Harry Potter is a fictional character and as such is not living, Daniel Radcliffe is very much alive and well.
Recent Post Office officials have expressed an interest in featuring live people on U.S. Postage stamps. However the Postal Service board of governors have signaled that they would prefer this not happen. The issue has been up in the air since, until the Harry Potter stamps arrived.
If pressed for an explanation, the U.S. Post Office may rationalize and say the stamps only portray fictional characters, which is partially true. However the stamps do portray both a living person and a fictional character. Another issue is whether American stamps are supposed to honor American subjects. All of the actor portrayed on the Harry Potter stamps are not American in way, shape, or form. They are English, Irish, or of other English ethnic backgrounds. I will leave it up to you to decide if the Post Office is violating the law of the land.