Nixon's Last Stamp

July 14 may be your last chance to put Tricky Dick behind bars. That date, appropriately Bastille Day, is the last time the U.S. Postal Service will issue Richard Nixon stamps.Of course, it's not the stamp that depicts the 37th U.S. president in jail, but a graphic feat accomplished by gluing one of the stamps onto an envelope bearing a drawing of Tricky Dick's head and shoulders in a cell. The envelopes, the brainchild of Thom Zajac, publisher of the Santa Cruz, California, Comic News, are distributed by his Tricky Envelope Company.Zajac says he was with a friend in Santa Cruz when the commemorative was originally released in April 1995. "My blood boiled over when I saw it and the guy I was with said Nixon belonged behind bars, not honored on a stamp."Zajac, who describes himself as a "political animal" and an "expert" on Nixon and Watergate, says he had a flash and contacted Arsen Melkonian, an artist with the Comic News. Although people were already defacing the stamp with such hand-drawn alterations as Hitler mustaches, Zajac wanted a stronger image, but one still acceptable to the Post Office.Melkonian came up with a drawing of a torso at a cell door, complete with hands gripping the bars. When the Nixon stamp is affixed, you get a full Tricky Dick smiling vainly out at you.Zajac ordered a chancy 100,000 press run of the expensive four-color envelopes (printed with soy ink on recycled paper), and hoped he could make back his investment. After hitting the front page of his hometown paper, his project was soon spotlighted on CNN, featured in The New York Times Magazine, and even waved around by Dan Rather on the CBS Evening News.Following the media exposure, Zajac quickly exhausted his original supply. To date he's sold 500,000 of the Nixon envelopes.Buoyed by success, Tricky Envelopes issued five additional designs requiring other commemoratives for completion. Some, like those of Louis Armstrong (featuring a luscious 1920s jazz club scene) and Marilyn Monroe, are based around popular culture, but the remaining three are decidedly political.Another scene requiring the Nixon stamp shows him standing by innocently while political figures such as J. Edgar Hoover, LBJ and others plot the Kennedy assassination. There is also a "Flag Over Hemp Field" envelope utilizing an Old Glory stamp, complete with a pro-legalization statement on the back, and a Newt Gingrich "commemorative" which needs the "Love" stamp.Zajac also sells a special edition Watergate commemorative envelope. On August 8, 1995, the 21st anniversary of Nixon's resignation, Zajac flew to Washington D.C., where he stamped and canceled 1,000 envelopes bearing the postmark from the Watergate Complex post office. He also stayed at the Howard Johnson hotel in the so-called G. Gordon Liddy room from which the former White House aide supervised the 1972 "plumbers'" break-in at the Democratic National Headquarters office across the street.Postal officials say they don't approve of envelopes without room for the new bar-code system, but that the Tricky products are acceptable. A free catalog is available from Tricky Envelopes, PO Box 8543, Santa Cruz CA 95061; 408-426-0113.

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