Artifact: Stamp Act

Credit: USPSCredit: USPSHistory, that great ironist, is up to its old tricks. The United States Postal Service is issuing a stamp commemorating Ayn Rand, an arch foe of precisely the sort of government-supported monopoly that is now paying her homage. And oh what company she'll keep--1999's other honorees include Daffy Duck, Prostate Cancer, Insects and Spiders, Victorian Love, Xtreme Sports, and James Cagney.

Just as the recent Elvis stamp portrayed the slim, young Elvis, Rand's stamp offers a slim, young, glamorized Ayn, setting her portrait in an art deco context dominated by a stepped architectural skyline. Indeed, if the stamp seems to evoke The Fountainhead, it's no accident: The stamp's artist is Nicholas Gaetano, who has done several covers for recent Rand editions.

Give the USPS this much: It esteems Rand's work in a way that the literary establishment does not. "Rand believed that a productive society is the result of individual freedom and effort," reads the official announcement. "Her philosophy influenced all her books and made her a controversial but respected author."

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