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The announcement by Britain's Royal Mail that the Beatles will appear on stamps based on their most famous album covers represents a historic moment in philately.

They are not the first stamps to honour the Beatles, as the United States issued a stamp in 1999 featuring the Yellow Submarine. Nor are they the first national stamps to depict the members of the Beatles, as Burkina Faso and Turkmenistan have already been there, done that.

They aren't even the first British stamps to depict a living rock star (in this case Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr). A 1999 Royal Mail stamp honouring Freddie Mercury, deceased lead singer of Queen, inadvertently also depicted that band's drummer, Roger Taylor, who is alive. That caused a furor among philatelists, since it broke the Royal Mail's strict policy that members of the Royal Family are the only living people to be depicted on British stamps.

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So what makes the Royal Mail's announcement so significant? The first-class stamp in the set features Sir Peter Blake's cover art for Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, which includes a pantheon of the Beatles' heroes and influences. As a result, the stamp, to be released Jan. 9, represents the first time satirist Lenny Bruce, guru Sri Yukteswar Giri, occultist Aleister Crowley and, notably, William S. Burroughs, the Beat writer ( Naked Lunch, Queer, The Ticket That Exploded) and junkie, will appear on a postage stamp.

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