By Jim Beard
[Welcome to Make Mine Marvel, a bi-weekly series of articles devoted to all the things we've loved about Marvel over the past 60 years. From toys to video games, movies to trading cards, Underoos to stamps and more, we embrace it—warts and all. Kick back and enjoy Marvel's merry past with us.
For those of you who collect old comics, you know, ancient
comics, like from the 1970s, you may have stumbled upon a few Marvels that are incomplete. That's right; from 1974 to 1976, Mighty Marvel itself gave us all permission to cut up our comics.
How many went under the scissors? How many were clipped and chopped asunder? How many future college tuitions were thrown to the wind? And for what? What could have made a legion of Marvel fans mutilate their beloved four-color masterpieces?
Marvel Value Stamps. That's right. Marvel. Value. Stamps.
"The Marvel Value Stamps were fun," reflects long-time Marvel editor Tom Brevoort, "but they were kind of dopey, too. Definitely a product of era-thinking, when it was okay to cut up your comics (which was slightly traumatic, even then). It's a continuing source of frustration to collectors today, who'll pick up an otherwise-beautiful looking back issue from the era and find a hole cut out of the interior page where the Value Stamp had been."
After a jaunty and taunting teaser in February of 1974, Marvel unveiled their master plan: Letters pages in Marvel comics would include a "stamp," which consisted of a picture of a Marvel character (in color!) and a number. Readers were encouraged to clip the stamps and send away for a 16-page Stamp Book (only fifty cents!) to paste them in. Why exactly they were doing this was unclear at first—including the specific implied "value"—but then all was revealed, albeit over a succession of Marvel Bullpen Bulletins.
It seems the Marvel Value Stamps were meant to be a reflection of the stamps the grocery store and gas stations would give out with transactions, ones that you would later take to redemption centers for everything from pots and pans to color televisions. Marvel too had a redemption plan in place which, yikes, entailed having the lucky possessor of all 100 stamps and the stamp book send them all in to Marvel. It was a strange time, to be sure: Cut out pieces of your comics, paste them into a booklet you had to buy, wait to be told why you were doing all this, and then have it taken away from you.
But wait! Here's what you got for all your clippin', savin' and mailin'! The first benefit from collecting all 100 stamps was a "special discount" on admission to a few different comic conventions around the country, among them the San Diego con (precursor to Comic-Con International). If that wasn't enough for all the Friends of Ol' Marvel, a complete set of stamps would also net them a 10% discount on actual, official Marvel merchandise actually officially sold by the House of Ideas itself. In fact, once they had their first 10% discount coupon in hand and made an order, Marvelites would then get another 10% coupon, and then another and another, in perpetuity as they continued to make orders. Wow!
Modern sarcasm aside, it was most likely a pretty exciting deal for a young Marvel fan at the time, provided they were able to attend one of the conventions, wanted something from Marvel's merchandise department and got their full Stamp Book back. Alas, some unlucky kids didn't even know about the Stamp Albums or the benefits thereof and simply thought that Marvel Value Stamps were a far-out bonus to reading and collecting Marvel Comics.
Response was reportedly so intense and favorable for the first "series" of the stamps (which ended with a #100 featuring eating-machine Galactus), that Marvel introduced a second series in late 1975. Always eager to shake things up for their "frantic followers of foolishness and frivolity," the House of Ideas gave a slight twist to the proceedings by making the 100 new stamps puzzle pieces that when assembled created 10 larger graphics of Marvel characters. There was also a new, you guessed it, Stamp Book. For fifty cents, it was a steal, and Marvel's peerless publisher, Stan "The Man" Lee himself, graced stamp #100, bringing the curtain down on the whole shebang with a resounding ka-boom.
When it was all said and done, Marvel had, perhaps inadvertently, crafted one of the oddest chapters in comic book promotion and hype. One can see young fans in drugstores across the land, scrambling through the Marvel titles, feverishly pawing through the pages, looking for a Marvel Value Stamp in the letters column or some other text page, eyeballing those savory words:
"This is it! Your MARVEL VALUE STAMP for this issue! Clip 'em and collect 'em!"
Did any True Believer hesitate before setting scissors to newsprint? Was there even the slightest remorse as the twin blades sliced and the stamps wafted through the air, destined for gluing into a stamp book, on a family pet or even on a bedroom wall? We shall never really know, but for many, the scars still run deep, literally and figuratively.
Lest you think the Value Stamps have been completely eradicated, the not-so-sticky stamps have appeared several times over the last few years. 2006 saw a booming resurgence in stamps with 28 in that year's series, spread across numerous issues of MARVEL SPOTLIGHT. There was also the special Stamp #101 (following the original run's numbering), displaying an intrepid Irving Forbush, in 2006's MARVEL LEGACY: 1970S HANDBOOK. And most recently, Stamp #102, sporting the smiling mug of Willie Lumpkin, was revealed in the MARVEL LEGACY TPB. But times have changed and scissors remained silent.
Special thanks to the fine folks at Marvel Value Stamps: The Unofficial Index for providing images. Check out their site for scans of every stamp!