WASHINGTON—Every time Mary-Anne Penner pulls the rope at a first day of issue ceremony to reveal a new stamp, the audience erupts in applause. She smiles as the crowd admires the artwork.
As U.S. Postal Service Director of Stamp Services, Penner has many jobs within the Postal Service. She oversees everything from stamp development and printing to cancellation design and the execution of first day of issue ceremonies, where the Postal Service showcases its newest stamps.
Penner stands about 5 feet 7 inches tall with blonde hair and bangs. She often wears a pantsuit, and at stamp shows, she dons a lapel pin featuring that day’s newly-issued stamp.
Through her nearly 35-year stretch with the Postal Service, 55-year-old Penner has held countless positions.
“I’ve done it all: clerk, mail carrier, postmaster, delivery supervisor,” she said. “But this (Director of Stamp Services) is the best job in the Post Office.”
Penner enjoys interacting and meeting people on the job. “People are creative with our stamps,” she said. “And collectors are passionate. It’s great to see the same faces at the stamp shows.”
Not only does Penner get to interact with customers, but she also works with the families of celebrities who are being honored on stamps.
“When working with people related to celebrities, I am amazed at how down-to-earth they are,” she said. “When we released the Mr. Rogers stamp, Mrs. Rogers was so honored and happy. It feels good to know we made them feel good.”
Before getting involved with the Postal Service, Penner had her sights set on practicing medicine. When she graduated high school in 1980, she started on a pre-medical school track at the University of Maryland Baltimore County.
While she was studying there, her brother decided to take the postal exam, and their mother pushed Penner to take it, too. Penner passed the exam and began working full-time as a clerk and mail carrier for the Postal Service. Her brother never joined the Postal Service.
Penner returned to the University of Maryland University College in 1999, taking classes at night and earning her bachelor’s in business management in 2002.
In April 2015, Postmaster General Megan Brennan appointed Penner as acting director of stamp services. A year later, Penner’s role became permanent.
As director, Penner has taken steps to bring the Postal Service into the 21st century.
“In our USA Philatelic catalog, we’ve introduced augmented reality for stamps,” Penner said. “Customers can download the USPS AR app and interact with the catalog.”
The USPS AR app allows readers to scan images in the magazine with their smartphones. The app overlays videos highlighting the stamps’ first day of issue ceremonies, allowing readers to learn more about the stamps.
Penner has also focused on using the USA Philatelic magazine to explore the history behind the Postal Service’s new issues. The magazine offers a section called “Look What’s New,” which features blog-like articles telling about the stamps’ designs and related stories.
“We’re trying to make people more interested in what we have,” she said. “When we released the ‘love skywriting’ stamp, we had a skywriter fly over the ceremony and write ‘love’ in the air. We’re changing things up.”
Penner said she is also working closer with the American Philatelic Society, American Stamp Dealers Association, and the National Postal Museum to bring more traffic to stamp shows.
At the 2017 American Philatelic Society Stamp Show in Richmond, Virginia, the Postal Service showcased a virtual reality stamp gallery, where visitors could put on a headset and watch stamps come to life.
When visitors viewed the 2017 “sharks” stamp through the headset, they were transported to the sea and surrounded by swimming sharks. For the “protect the pollinator” stamps, visitors were given a close-up view of bees collecting pollen from a trove of flowers.
Penner said the Postal Service is planning to use this technology to continue to reach more audiences, including at this weekend’s USA Science and Engineering Festival at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington.
Penner also introduced the use of Facebook Live to broadcast first day of issue ceremonies. Now, if collectors are unable to travel to see the ceremonies, they can watch from their computers.
Co-worker and manager of stamp development Bill Gicker enjoys working with Penner.
“It’s an adventure every day,” he said. “We work well together, whether it be about the Citizen’s Stamp Advisory Council, rights and permissions process, design development, or manufacturing.”
When she’s not at work, Penner spends time with family. She lives in Maryland with her husband.
“My husband is from upstate New York,” she said. “We are currently building a summer home on Seneca Lake.”
Her 29-year-old son also lives in Maryland. He earned his master’s degree in business entertainment management from Full Sail University in Winter Park, Fla.
As a hobby, Penner collects elephant-themed items.
“My dad bought me my first small, marble elephant at a coin and stamp show when I was five,” she said.
She also has a love for cars.
“One day I dream of owning a Rolls-Royce.”
Penner inherited her father’s stamp collection in 2013, which consists mostly of stamps from Vatican City.
“The ones he did not have in his collection were the expensive ones!”