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Small Nations Peddle Postage For Big Profits Marilyn Monroe Stamps Produce Big Revenues

Tue., May 23, 1995

The world’s first postage stamps featuring Marilyn Monroe have been selling like, well, cheesecake in the African nation of Sao Tome and Principe. Just don’t ask the islanders who she was.

They may not know her, but they just may come to love her. If early projections pan out, Norma Jean Baker will be Sao Tome’s biggest revenue-earner this year behind cocoa.

Brilliantly colored and big as a passport photo, the Marilyns are “a gesture of respect to that great North American celebrity, as yet unknown in our nation,” Sao Tome Postmaster General Antonio Cunha said Monday.

Unknown is right. Although the series of nine stamps have been in circulation since January, a quick phone survey showed that while actor Clint Eastwood and rock singer Axl Rose were familiar names, the late blonde bombshell was still a stranger at the mayor’s switchboard and to two news agency reporters and waiters in two restaurants.

It’s not surprising that two remote, impoverished, Portuguese-speaking islands might be hazy on American pinup girls. But American pop icons can be revenuegenerators for small nations.

Both Sao Tome and Papua New Guinea came out with Elvis Presley postage months before the U.S. release last year. And former British colonies occasionally print stamps with Sir Winston Churchill or the royal family to entice British stamp collectors, the world’s great buyers.

The first run of 20,000 Marilyn stamps has already earned the islanders some $100,000 in sales to collectors around the world. Further printings are planned for later this year.

And rather than being driven from the market when the United States releases 400 million copies of its own 32-cent homage to the screen star on June 1, Sao Tome should benefit from the American marketing push, said John Van Emdem of the International Collectors Society in Baltimore.

“Since there is only one American Marilyn, buyers will be looking for other stamps to fill out an album,” he said. “One stamp is not much of a collection.”

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