Which Elvis Stamp Got Returned to Sender?

The Elvis portraits that fans voted on for use on a stamp.
Photo Credit
United States Postal Service

1992 gave Americans a very big decision. No, not who to vote for president - what was the Elvis Presley stamp going to look like?

The King of Rock and Roll had been dead for nearly 15 years, and that year saw a greater consideration of his place in popular culture. Having been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's inaugural class in 1986, RCA Records began standardizing and releasing his voluminous back catalog on CD, culminating in the five-disc box set The King of Rock and Roll: The Complete '50s Masters. Featuring just about everything from his first few years as a singer - including several recordings that were discovered in the creation of the package - the collection went double platinum (a rarity for box sets) and earned a Grammy nomination for Best Historical Album.

That attention spread to other parts of American life as well, and the United States Postal Service decided that Presley was worthy of appearing on a postage stamp. But the creation would be unlike any other stamp to date: after commissioning dozens of potential designs, the USPS realized a dilemma: do you showcase the young, devil-may-care singer at the start of his career, or the older crooner with mutton-chop sideburns and bejeweled bodysuits?

From that indecision came a masterstroke of publicity: the USPS unveiled two designs on Feb. 24, 1992 at the Las Vegas Hilton where Presley played most of his live shows - and they let the fans decide. Mark Slutzman's airbrush/acrylic approach captured the young King, while commercial artist John Berkey took an angular, oil paint-based approach for the older Presley. Post offices printed out official ballots and even tucked some into copies of People. Voting closed that spring - and young Elvis was the winner, reportedly earning two-thirds of the 800,000 ballots cast. (Among those in favor of the young Elvis was Arkansas governor Bill Clinton, who'd appear on a successful ballot that year when he was elected president of the United States.)

The 29-cent stamp was released to the public on Jan. 8, 1993 - what would have been Elvis' 58th birthday - and immediately became one of the most-collected stamps on the planet. Stutzman was commissioned to create another three stamps in a series of "Rock 'N' Roll Legends" to complement the King, designing striking portraits of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and Bill Haley.

And the Elvis mystique continued to grow. In 2015, the USPS issued a "Forever" stamp with Presley's face on it in 2015 - making him one of the only non-presidents to feature on more than one stamp.

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