For 25 years, about the only way to get on a U.S. postage stamp was to be dead -- at least a year for presidents, 10 years for everybody else.
Then came Tim Kinsella.
The senior midshipman at the Naval Academy is very much alive -- and very much on a stamp to be issued Oct. 10 commemorating the 150th anniversary of the academy.
Mr. Kinsella, along with academy graduates and sailing team members Steve Karson, Ara Barton, Jim Detwiler, William Wright and Chip Wyre, were photographed sailing a 44-foot sloop in Chesapeake Bay on a chilly October day in 1992. The photo, which appeared on the cover of the 1993-1994 academy catalog, was reproduced in watercolor for the 32-cent stamp.
The Postal Service, which seems to have an annual stamp controversy, is having none of this one.
"These are just generic people, generic midshipmen," said Robin Wright, a Postal Service spokesman. "The art work reflects the Naval Academy and not any one person."
Just to be sure, the Postal Service ordered Naval Academy officials not to release the names of the midshipmen, and none could be reached. The five graduates still are in the Navy.
Postal Service rules allow real people to be depicted if they are unrecognizable. The rule seemed to have been stretched furthest when astronaut Neil Armstrong was shown on a stamp commemorating the moon flights.
"This is very common and has happened dozens of times," said Mr. Wright. "None of these people are meant to be honored individually."
New York artist Dean Ellis, the stamp's designer, said he wasn't trying to make the sailors famous. "At first I thought it was rather pedestrian," said Mr. Ellis, 74. "Unless you read the legend, the sailboat doesn't really say the Naval Academy to the general public. But I'm happy with the way it turned out."
The stamp is a composite of the sloop and the Naval Academy chapel. Mr. Ellis said he made sure the chapel dome could be seen while sailing on the bay.
"Stamp collectors are very fussy about that," he said. "If I didn't check, I'm liable to get letters that say you can't see the dome from that point."