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Soaking destroys some new stamps

Some of the nation's newest stamps are disappearing, literally floating off the paper. "Virtually exploding" is the way Wayne Youngblood, a collector and writer for Linn's Stamp News, describes it. When collectors put the new 29-cent wood-duck stamps in water to soak the stamps off envelopes they were shocked to see the ink _ and the ducks _ disintegrate before their eyes. The ink flakes and floats off the paper.

It's also happening to a number of other new stamps, all produced by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Images on the 19-cent fawn and hot-air-balloon stamps and the booklet version of the 29-cent love stamp are reported to fall apart when placed in water for several minutes.

Dickey Rustin, a spokesman for the Postal Service, said the problem is the result of new paper being used by the bureau. When immersed in water, the paper can't hold the water-based inks the bureau uses to print gravure stamps.

Rustin and Ira Polikoff, a spokesman for the bureau, agreed that collectors are probably the only people who will be affected by the problem. "For the general public, I don't see any impact," said Rustin.

Bureau officials say they hope to resolve the problem once the current gravure paper stocks are exhausted.

Polikoff said, "We have produced a functional stamp. It meets the specifications set by the Postal Service." Spilling water or coffee on the stamps and wiping them off is no problem, said Polikoff.

Privately printed versions of the 29-cent love stamp and the wood duck do not disintegrate, a fact that postal executives are likely to point out when they defend their plans to expand the use of private stamp printers during a scheduled hearing Wednesday before the House subcommittee on postal operations and services.

Officials say there are no plans to reprint the affected stamps on new paper. Ultimately that could make used copies of these stamps more valuable than mint ones.

The Postal Service has ordered 180-million commemorative stamps to celebrate Operation Desert Storm, but a private printer will produce the stamps, which have yet to be announced publicly. The stamps may be released during the victory parade Saturday in Washington.