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Bugs Bunny, first cartoon U.S. postage stamp, gets collector licking

May 22, 1997 GMT

BURBANK, Calif. (AP) _ Bugs Bunny’s debut Thursday as the first cartoon character on a U.S. postage stamp got a licking from collectors, who decried use of the wascally wabbit as a dumbing-down of the philatelic tradition.

First-day sales of the stamp were confined to the Burbank Post Office and the Warner Bros. studios, which markets Bugs Bunny toys and other products. The studio backlot was used for the hare-raising unveiling.

The stamps _ all 265 million _ will be available nationwide Friday.

``It’s impossible for me to see that this is anything but a crass commercial campaign that takes away from the higher purpose of the stamp program,″ Kathleen Wunderly, education director for the American Philatelic Society, said from State College, Pa. ``A stamp is a symbol of a nation’s identity.″

The stamp shows a toothy Bugs Bunny leaning on a mailbox and clutching a carrot with ``USA″ floating nearby in cloud-style letters.

``Bugs Bunny’s timeless and ageless humor has entertained audiences worldwide over the years,″ Postmaster General Marvin Runyon said at the unveiling, attended by schoolchildren.

Nine-year-old Sabuh Honarchin said: ``We’ll send our friends more mail and I’ve already started a stamp collection.″

The stamp also got the endorsement of stamp collector John Andrews of San Antonio, who attended the ceremony. ``Bugs Bunny is one of the most recognizable icons in the world, probably third to Elvis and Coca-Cola,″ Andrews said. ``He is a part of Americana.″

But Michael Laurence, editor and publisher of the Linn’s Stamp News in Sidney, Ohio, said, ``Many of the old-time stamp collectors are upset and resentful. It appears that George Washington has been displaced by Bugs Bunny.″

In defense of the stamp, Postal Service spokesman Barry Zeihl said: ``The nature of America today is commercial.″

The idea for the stamp came from Warner Bros., whose animators sketched the first Bugs Bunny in 1940. But postal officials were already considering such a stamp out of concern that its Ben Franklin stamp collecting program for children was losing popularity, Zeihl said.

``It is our job to help save the hobby of stamp collecting,″ Zeihl said.