Pictured above is a stamp. It was issued on December 1, 2010, and honors the Statue of Liberty, which graces New York Harbor. It’s not the only stamp issued which aims to recognize the Statue of Liberty’s importance in American lore — here’s a Google image search which shows the one above as well as a handful of others. But the stamp above is a little different than the others.
It doesn’t actually depict the Statue of Liberty.
When the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) decides to issue a new stamp, it apparently doesn’t always send a photographer to the site. Instead, it often reviews existing photographs and selects one for use. That’s exactly what happened here. The Postal Service decided that it was time for another Statue of Liberty stamp, found a design they liked and a photograph which worked well with the concept, paid the photographer (or maybe Getty Images), and moved on. According to the Los Angeles Times, the USPS printed about three billion of the stamps in its first run, issuing two billion of them on the December 1st release date. And for months, no one thought much of it.
But in March of 2011, a stamp collector noticed a problem and contacted Linn’s Stamp News (which is probably the paper of record for such hobbyists). Lady Liberty’s windows seemed a bit off and her facial features seemed a bit too defined. And in general, she looked a lot cleaner than she should have been. The writer and Linn’s concluded that the statue pictured above wasn’t the Statue of Liberty — at least not the one in New York Harbor. It’s the replica one found at the New York-New York Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. Here’s a comparison of the two Statues of Liberty, below. The Vegas replica is on the left, the New York Harbor original on the right, and the stamp is in the foreground:
The USPS acknowledged the error shortly thereafter, but, per the New York Times, didn’t seem to care. A spokesperson for the Postal Service told the Times that “we still love the stamp design and would have selected this photograph anyway.” It still depicts Liberty, although indirectly, they noted, but as Mental Floss joked, “while she may be welcoming the tired and the poor, it’s because they’ve been up all night playing craps as opposed to spending months on a boat in search of a better life.”
Unfortunately, the mistake was no laughing matter as far as one person was concerned. The artist who sculpted the Vegas version of the Statue believed that the USPS was in violation of his copyright, and, in December of 2013, sued the Postal Service. The results of that lawsuit have apparently gone unreported, but a similar lawsuit, brought by the sculptor of the Korean War memorial featured (without permission) in another stamp, resulted in a verdict for the plaintiff and an award of over $600,000.
From the Archives: Stamped Out: How the USPS prevented a stamp with an error from being worth a lot of money.
Take the Quiz: How well do you know New York City? (Probably better than the Postal Service!)
Related: 500 Statues of Liberty. As of this writing, they’re 70% off!