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Mickey's magic makes a holiday splash

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Dec. 18, 2008 - You'd like to believe that Christmas has always been and remains a holiday focused on children. It used to be. Now, the abundance of commercials for toys has been replaced by ads for specialty razors, jewelry, cookware and cars -- not exactly what kids are looking for under the tree.

Of course, there are kids, and there are kids. One thing that clearly spans ages and appeals to many is Disney. Be it an octogenarian who was mesmerized by Mickey Mouse in "Steamboat Willie" in 1928, to the Woodstock generation who immersed themselves in "Fantasia," or children today who live for films such as "Ratatouille" or "Bolt," Disney characters remain icons here and abroad.

Because of their popularity, it's no surprise that Disney cartoons have appeared on postage stamps from America to Zambia and most countries in between. In fact, the 20 U.S. "Art of Disney" stamps issued since 2004 hold the record for the most popular U.S. stamp series ever issued. Originally intended as just one set of four stamps honoring Mickey Mouse, the series expanded to five yearly issues of stamps. In total, more than 211 million of the stamps have been purchased and collected.

With the stamp series now officially over, the Postal Service is offering a unique hardcover book that chronicles not just the stamps and the history of Disney but also the Disney animation process.

The 105-page volume chronicles rare developmental sketches created by the Disney artistic team and provides a background as to the development of many of the cartoon characters. In addition to the text and pictures, the "Art of Disney" book contains each of the stamps issued over the past five years as well the long-discontinued 1968 stamp commemorating Walt Disney himself.

The cost of the book is $49.95. Given that it was issued in limited numbers, a very few select Philatelic Counters at some post offices may carry it, but it is available online and by phone directly from the USPS in Washington. If ordered immediately it may arrive before Christmas.

For more information, call 1-800-782-6724 or go to www.usps.gov/store . When there, type "Disney" in the "search" box, and it will take you to the link for the "Art of Disney" book. It could make for a great gift for kids young and old.

Counterfeiting Reaches a New High

Sad to say, there may be a noticeable downside to the 2009 holiday season and a significant financial loss to those who aren't informed. Worse still, it's a result of the advanced technology that's bolstered so many aspects of modern-day life.

According to a recent report by the American Numismatic Association, counterfeiting operations have reached a new high. Many have heard about the fake $100 bills that are beginning to circulate with alarming frequency. Evidently, it's possible to bleach off the ink from $5 bills and replace the printing with images almost identical to the $100 bill. The bad part -- those stuck with the bills are forced to turn them in and receive nothing. If not turned in, you can be charged with passing counterfeit bills.

The one bright spot is that the watermark on the bills can't be altered. When accepting any $100 bill, from a retailer or a bank, hold it up to the light. If you see the watermarked image of Ben Franklin, it's OK. If you see a watermark featuring Abe Lincoln, refuse it immediately! The new anti-counterfeiting measures the government has put into place do work, but only if we use them.

The new fakes are flooding the market, and many are coming from China, where relaxed laws protect counterfeiters from liability. Make sure your holidays remain bright by being vigilant.

Peter Rexford, whose column is handled by Creators Syndicate, is an expert on the collecting of stamps and money.