Stamp controversy: Five stamps that have caused a fuss

Stamps, right - you put them on a parcel or an envelope without much thought. They're just tiny rectangles of expensive, adhesive paper - sometimes pretty, sometimes plain - but we don't tend to give them much thought. Unless, that is, the subject depicted causes consternation and that happens far more often than you might think.

Here are five examples of stamps that have caused a fuss:

Freddie Mercury

The exuberant Queen front man was loved and adored by millions of people around the world. Eight years after his death in 1991, Royal Mail issued a stamp bearing a topless Mercury running across the stage, taken from a concert. It was part of a 'Millennium' series of famous Brits. The stamp elicited many complaints, but not wholly for the reasons you might think.   

While some considered the stamp as glorifying Mercury's lifestyle, the majority of criticism was aimed at the blurry inclusion on Queen drummer, Roger Taylor, in the background. Why? It's against Royal Mail protocol to feature any living person on a stamp, bar the Royal Family. However, as the stamp had been approved by HRH herself, this rare breach was overlooked and the stamp released without further incident. 

Harvey Milk

You may not be familiar with the name, but Harvey Milk was an American politician and advocate for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights. In 1977, he became the first openly gay man to be elected to office and was considered an icon in the gay community. However, his tenure was cut tragically short when he was assassinated by a disgruntled colleague in 1978. In May 2014, the US Government issued a commemorative stamp featuring Milk - to mixed reactions. 

While scores of people queued to buy the stamp in Milk's former district of Castro, San Francisco, other parties have derided the tribute. The Christian American Family Association went so far as to issue a press release, claiming that they would return any mail that bore the stamp and encouraging others to do the same. The response hit the media and caused exactly the types of response you can imagine, actually serving to further encourage people to use the stamps.

Marie Stopes

It's a name that is synonymous with family planning; Marie Stopes was a pioneer, opening clinics in the 1920s to help women in trouble. It seemed obvious that she would be commemorated in a set of Royal Mail stamps that recognised influential women. However, her inclusion was widely derided - not because of her associations with family planning but because many accusations had been levied against Stopes for being a racist and Nazi sympathiser.

It is said that Stopes sent poems to Hitler and that she supported the concept of selective breeding as a means of 'perfecting the race'. Whether accurate or not, complaints were received and appeals made for the public to reject post that featured Stopes' image. Royal Mail nevertheless justified her inclusion, describing the collection as one which commemorated 'six unique individuals whose dedicated work not only changed the lives of other women, but society as a whole.'

Apollo 15

In 1970, Apollo 15 launched into space carrying a number of first day covers in a special deal arranged between astronauts, David Scott and James Irwin and philatelist, Hermann Sieger. Each was postmarked 'Kennedy Space Center', signed by the astronauts and stamped to prove the envelope went to the moon, together with it's unique number. Three hundred and ninety-either covers were taken on board, 100 which would be bought by Sieger and the remainder to be kept by the astronauts. This was in addition to a number of authorised covers that NASA and the US Postal Service knew about.

News of the unauthorised covers soon leaked, as it emerged that Sieger, Scott and Irwin profited handsomely from the scheme. NASA seized the stamps and took disciplinary action against the astronauts - deemed an embarrassment, their careers slowly fizzled out after they were dropped from various missions. In 1983, however, the astronauts legally forced the government to return the authorised covers and the value of the stamped envelopes - boosted by the scandal - soared well into the thousands. One cover went for $15,000 just six years ago.

Harry Potter

It's nothing new to learn that the boy wizard has upset a proportion of Americans in his time - how many banned JK Rowling's tomes from their libraries? However, in 2013, it was his image on a stamp that courted controversy. His crime? Not being American.

The inclusion of Harry, Hermione, Ron et al was considered a slap in the face for the Citizen's Stamp Advisory Committee, which was not consulted by the US Postal Service in its decision to issue the series of Hogwarts stamps. The two bodies already endured a 'fractious' relationship and the committee viewed the stamps as 'crass' - especially as they were part of a 'Forever' series that could be used at any time, regardless of whether stamp prices increase. The USPS argued it had to move toward a more commercial focus, in an attempt to boost stamp sales.

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