Flat Earth: Loss of face at the US Postal Service

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The Independent Online
EVER heard of Bill Pickett? No. Well, if you go to the United States for a holiday this spring and send a postcard home, it's possible his face will be on the stamp. Possible, I emphasise, because it seems the US Postal Service has got the wrong man.

In normal circumstances that wouldn't be a problem. The stamp world thrives on mistakes; it's good for collectors and everyone makes money. But in the arena of political correctness Bill Pickett is a name to remember. For Bill was black and 'a famous American cowboy' to boot.

It's not clear whether he's famous because he was black and the son of a slave, or because of his peculiar talent for immobilising steers by biting their lower lip. This apparently stuns a vital nerve and causes the beast to crumple to the ground. As a consequence he was known as 'Bill Pickett the bull-dogger' and gnawed his way through all the best rodeos in the West.

In recognition of, among other things, his fine set of teeth, he was chosen to join Buffalo Bill, Annie Oakley, Wyatt Earp and other top gunslingers on a series of stamps to commemorate heroes of the Old West. He was the only black. And according to Bill's great-grandson, Frank Phillips, they've got the wrong man. Instead of the bull-dogger, they've stuck his brother Ben on the stamp.

This is the first time in its 147 years that the Postal Service has made such a mistake. Marvin Runyon, the Postmaster General, has to decide whether to scrap the series - due out in March - or reprint the 400 million stamps at a cost of dollars 1.2m (pounds 800,000) with Bill's face rather than Ben's. He'll probably go for a reprint. 'I'd hate for the other 19 individuals (on the stamp series) to (lose) their opportunity to shine in the sun,' Mr Runyon said.