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Pupils to put personal stamp on mail

Fund-raiser turns children's artwork into actual postage

WASHINGTON -- After years of handing over money for candy bars and wrapping paper, parents might see a new school fund-raiser this year: their child's art on a postage stamp.

ArtStamps, a Connecticut company, has begun converting student art into US postage -- marking the first time that children's color drawings will appear on real 39-cent stamps.

Postage has long taken on personality, from pop icons to comic book heroes, sports stars to sports cars. One company even lets people put photos on stamps. Yet this one is for kids. Their masterpiece might already be hanging on the fridge.

Like the dragon that 11-year-old Hannah Clark drew. She's turning it into her own stamp.

``It's the best thing I've ever drawn, actually," said Hannah, who goes to Cielo Vista Elementary School in Southern California. ``This is really cool. It's better for kids because it's more fun to see your art on a stamp than someone else's."

ArtStamps plans to launch its product today after testing it in a couple schools last year. Each stamp features a child's first name and age, and a title if the artist wants one.

A sheet of the stamps costs $20. Of that, $7.80 goes to the Postal Service -- the same amount as usual for 20 stamps -- and $3 goes to the school involved in the fund-raiser.

The remaining $9.20 goes to the company, which says about $2 of that is profit.

Company president George Castineiras figured parents and grandparents would like the idea for the creativity it encourages, if not for the bragging rights.

``What I didn't anticipate," he said, ``was how appealing it would be to the students, once they look at their art and realize, `Wait, this is going to move my mail around?' "

The Postal Service benefits by any increased interest in stamps and mail. With their own stamps, kids may be motivated to write letters -- a forgotten tradition in the age of e-mail.

Technically, the children's artwork is called ``personalized postage," because the term ``stamp" is reserved for items made or sold by the Postal Service. ArtStamps produces the kids' postage through Endicia, a licensed vendor of the Postal Service.

Hannah's school district adopted the project as a fund-raiser this year. Schools collect the drawings, the orders, and the money, then ship them in and wait for stamps to arrive.

``There's a `cool' factor with it," said Hannah's dad, Chris, who leads the fund-raising foundation for the school district. ``The kids are actually making postage stamps."

Plus, he said: ``People get tired of the same old fund-raisers. We all have a decade's worth of wrapping paper. We can't really go to our neighbors and ask them to buy more."

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