Monday, March 23, 2009

News and Views

Here's a recap of some interesting philately news:

The U.S. Postal Service went from a $1.4 billion (US$) surplus to a $2.8 billion deficit in about 3 years according to this Yahoo article. Even with postage rates increasing this May, the post office may need to drop 6-day home delivery down to 5 days.

Don Shilling of Stamp Collecting Round-Up published a short article detailing one side effect for stamp collectors when the U.S. Postal Service has to cut back -- the stamp schedule for 2009 has been decreased. Even the iconic Flags of Our Nation coil stamps have been affected -- the fourth series of stamps, originally due in Fall 2009, has been delayed until 2010.

Could a 20 million pounds (UK) collection have actually been discarded by trash collectors? According to this article, collector Jim Ford is planning on suing his city council for the actions of the trash men who discarded the albums. There are lots of holes in this story; would such a valuable collection really be "aired out" after being soaked by a burst pipe? And would such a valuable collection have escaped the eyes of local philatelists for all these years? At least one expert says no. Update -- be sure to see the first comment from a reader who indicates he is collector Jim Ford! --

A ten-year old postage stamp has helped authorities in Chicago to arrest a man for mailing a bomb threat to a Jewish school. The Chicago Tribune reports in this story, that the threat was mailed with a stamp bearing a design of two swans forming a heart shape. A subsequent search of the suspect's home found a book of the 10-year-old stamps with one stamp missing. The authorities have found other evidence, including a fingerprint, which led to the arrest.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

A Pi-Day Puzzle Pi Stamp
The mathematical symbol for pi

If you haven't looked at your calendar yet, today is Pi Day. This is the day in which the month and day of the calendar is 3/14, the first three digits to the mathematical formula for pi (3.14...).

Before I go any further, I want to ask you a puzzle that relates to pi.

Suppose you could put a steel band tightly around the equator of Earth. Assume, for the sake of this puzzle, that the earth is perfectly round, without hills or valleys, and that the steel band would make a exact circle around Earth where it is touching the surface evenly. Then, you take a cutting torch, open up a gap in this band, and weld in exactly 1 extra meter (for non-metric readers, approximately 1 yard) of metal.

Question -- how high would this extra meter of material allow the band to be raised, evenly, throughout the entire circumference of the earth. If you haven't heard this question before, the answer, provided below, will likely amaze you.

I have searched through various websites trying to find stamps that portray the symbol for pi, but have came up virtually empty-handed. I have yet to find a postage stamp, issued by a postal authority, with such an image.

I did find several representations of pi on stamps designed by For readers who have never heard of Zazzle, the company markets metered stamps with custom images that are valid for postage in several countries. Technically the stamps are metered stamps -- the barcoding on the stamp is what identifies the stamp as valid postage for the United States Postal Service -- the picture is just an add-on. Customers can provide their own images for the pictorial image on the stamp or purchase them with pre-made images.

Zazzle makes up various designs and sells them. They have several images with pi on them, including the two represented here. Pi Stamp
Pi to 80 decimal places

Are there any pi stamps issued by postal agencies and not companies like Zazzle? Maybe readers can provide another example, but a quick search through websites dedicated to stamps featuring mathematical-related terms failed to turn up an example.

Now, back to the puzzle. The steel band would be raised approximately 1/6th of a meter (approximately 6 inches for non-metric readers) above the surface of the earth! And even more amazingly, it doesn't matter what the diameter of the round surface is -- from something as small as a pea or as large as the sun -- the result is the same -- the band will be raised about 1/6th of a meter larger than the object in all cases.

For those who might doubt this, here is how the solution is determined. My apologies to mathematicians everywhere!

The circumference of an item is equal to the diameter of the object multiplied by pi. When you add one meter of material to the steel band, you are adding 1 meter to the circumference. Since pi is approximately 3, then the one meter of extra circumference increases the diameter of the circle by about 1/3 meter -- 1/3 meter in diameter * pi (approx. 3) yields approximately 1 meter in circumference. So by adding 1 meter to the steel band, we are, in effect, increasing the diameter of the band by 1/3 meter. This yields a radius increase of 1/6th meter (diameter = 2 times the radius). Thus approximately 1/6th of a meter is how much the steel band is raised from surface at any one spot.

For those who prefer their numbers more precise, divide the 1 meter by an approximation of pi (3.141592...) and you get 0.318309... of a meter for the increase in diameter, which yields 0.159159... of a meter increase in the radius.

Happy Pi Day!

Friday, March 6, 2009

News and Views

Here's a recap of some interesting philately news:

Curious to know why there are so many Chinese stamp collectors? Slate Explainer answers why philately is such a hot hobby in China. Part of the answer lies in the fact that the Chinese government promotes the hobby as a way of spawning national interest.

Sarkozy and The 'Hobby of Kings', on last week's BBS News website, reveals to the general public what most philatelists have known for several years -- namely, that French President Nicolas Sarkozy is a dedicated stamp collector. His wife, Carla Bruni, is reportedly "glad her husband was enjoying a more sedate hobby. He was known to have previously enjoyed karaoke."

The most famous American collector would probably be President Franklyn D. Roosevelt. has a nice article entitled Our Stamp Collecting President. The article briefly references one of FDR's last acts, the creation of the United Nations commemorative postage stamp issued by the U.S. I further detail the story here.

Curious as to the current price for a first class stamp in the U.S.? Visit the minimalist website What better way to find out what those Liberty Bell "Forever Stamps" are going for these days.

Stamp News is reporting that Slovakia is joining the growing list of postal organizations to issue a scented stamp. Slovak Post's 2009 Easter stamp will be enhanced by the scent of narcissus. Looks like I may have to start working on an addendum to my World's Smelliest Postage Stamps article!

That's it for now. Don't forget ... if you need something (philately-related or not) from, use my special search page to find exactly what you want. You will pay the same price as if you had gone straight to, but by using the search feature, a small commission will come back to Stamps of Distinction.