Lennon's latest comeback is through the post

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The Independent Online
YOU CAN buy the album, watch the television series, and now you can lick the stamps. While the surviving Beatles hog the world's TV screens in the Anthology series, John Lennon is to appear on commemorative stamps issued by eight countries to mark the anniversary of his death.

The stamps, which go on sale on 8 December, 15 years after the ex-Beatle was shot dead on a New York street, are being issued by Antigua and Barbuda, Azerbaijan, Ghana, Guyana, Mali, the Maldives, Nicaragua and Palau, the Pacific island which is the latest member state of the United Nations. Palau's stamps show Lennon in his early Beatle days, Ghana's in the year of his death, 1980, and the rest at periods in between.

The issue of the stamps is being co-ordinated by the Inter-Governmental Philatelic Corporation, an American company which acts as postal advisers, designers and agents for 65 countries. According to a spokesman for the New York-based firm, the stamps are being issued in response to a worldwide demand from their client states for images of the dead Beatle.

"These issues are terrific for the countries issuing the stamps, because they raise the countries' profiles. ... At first, four governments wanted Lennon stamps, but eventually over 70 nations expressed an interest," the spokesman said.

Lennon's widow, Yoko Ono, is believed to have been involved in the selection process.

"Thematic" stamps such as these are snapped up by collectors and can provide developing states with much-needed foreign currency, but the demands of a global market-place in which the dollar holds sway have led to some strange "national" figures being stuck on envelopes and parcels. While Britain chooses Shakespeare, Churchill and Scrooge, St Vincent recently opted for Madonna, and Guyana a 30-stamp set based on Disney characters.

Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe and Judy Garland have appeared on Antiguan stamps. Last week, an official from the Nicaraguan embassy in London asked: "But why is there such a fuss over this John Lennon? What's he done?"

As agents, the IGPC will take a proportion of the profits from sale of the stamps. The company would not reveal the exact figure, but Michael Bolstridge, a British dealer who specialises in thematic issues, says the Lennon stamps could prove extremely lucrative for the company.

"Many countries produce these stamps solely to appeal to thematic collectors," he said. "For those that produce them, it amounts to a licence to print money.

"A percentage of the issue profits is meant to go back to the participating countries, but it's not clear what that percentage is." To enhance the value of the stamps to collectors, all the issues except the Maldives' are being limited to 100,000 sheets of 16 stamps each.

But why, if you can walk into a post office in downtown Managua or Baku and buy a Beatle stamp, can you not do the same in Liverpool or London or, for that matter, New York? "The US hasn't issued a John Lennon stamp perhaps because we tried very hard to deport him," said the IGPC spokesman. "Anyway, only those who are American-born feature on our stamps."

In Britain, no living person can be pictured facing the image of the Queen, ruling out Messrs McCartney, Harrison and Starr. In 1969, Lennon sent his MBE back to the Palace, as a protest at the war in Vietnam. It may be a long time before you can pop the Walrus in a British letter- box.

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