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Even Without Licking, These Stamps Promise To Keep On Sticking

NEWS flash: Many people don't like the taste of postage stamps.

Not that those Elvis commemoratives you're slapping on your Easter cards have a strong flavor, exactly. Typically, a stamp on the palate evokes nothing more than a hint of musty glue.

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But the whole licking and sticking process can be an annoyance, and, thankfully, the US Postal Service now has an answer: tuna-flavored first-day issues.

Just kidding. Actually, the solution is ''Peel & Stick'' stamps, an innovation introduced at post offices around the country in 1993 that is now exploding in popularity.

The US Postal Service will produce 6.8 billion Peel & Stick stamps in 1995, according to USPS spokesman Robin Wright. That's almost twice as many as were issued last year.

Peel & Sticks work just like your first-grader's ''My Pretty Pony'' stickers. Peel them off a sheet; stick them on an envelope. No user-added moisture required.

The sticky stamps' history is somewhat checkered. They were first printed as a special Christmas stamp for business mailers in 1974, but they failed to catch on because the adhesive was not water soluble and eventually soaked through to the front of the stamp, turning it yellow.

The stamps -- with a better adhesive -- were reintroduced in 1989 on a trial basis. They went into full production in 1993 with 362 million ''red squirrel'' stamps, followed by 734 million ''rose'' stamps. This year, USPS printed 1.2 billion ''cherub'' self-adhesive stamps in February.

Printed by USPS contractors such as 3M and Avery Dennison, the self-adhesive stamps cost slightly more to produce than regular stamps.

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They must meet the same requirements as regular stamps: adhere strongly to paper envelopes; be repositionable in the first 20 to 30 seconds after being applied; when dry, cling strongly enough to pull the paper off when peeled away.

The first-class self-adhesive stamps are available nationwide. They account for about 7 percent of first-class stamp sales.

Apparently, some stamp collectors miss the traditional look of regular stamps, which have perforations.

Later this year, USPS will print Peel & Sticks with simulated perforated edges. ''Collectors are very dyed-in-the-wool kind of people and they're used to the perforations in the stamps,'' Mr. Wright says.

DESPITE the Peel & Sticks' popularity, USPS says to expect traditional ''Lick & Stick'' stamps to, um ... stick around: ''It's all a matter of personal preference,'' Wright says. ''Some people want their stamps and want to lick them.''

Perhaps the USPS will see fit to improve the mailing experience for these traditionalists. Maybe flavored stamps could work.

Thanksgiving stamps could carry a hint of cranberry relish. ''Love'' stamps could taste like chocolate.

A gourmet series honoring the chefs of America might feature expensive stamps that taste like mahi-mahi grilled with a little poblano-lime relish.

On second thought, maybe glue flavor isn't so bad after all.

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