WASHINGTON - Motorcycles and skiers, baseball players and lovers, a 40-stamp series featuring America's biggest, tallest and deepest, from sea cliffs to bison to waterfalls and lakes. They're all commemoratives planned for next year by the U.S. Postal Service.
Comic book superheroes brighten one set of stamps. Others feature Benjamin Franklin, explorer Samuel de Champlain, Florida wetlands and snowflakes.
"Our 2006 program commemorates a wide range of diverse American icons with something that will appeal to everyone," Postmaster General John E. Potter said in announcing the planned designs.
With the price of a first class stamp climbing to 39 cents on Jan. 8, most of the new issues will carry that rate.
But the first to be released won't have a price on it, since it had to be printed in advance to be ready for distribution in early January. That's the latest Love stamp: Entitled True Blue this year, it depicts two birds on a branch looking devotedly at each other with the space between them forming a heart. A revised version with the 39-cent price will be issued in March.
Love, of course, often leads to marriage and the post office is prepared.
A white dove is featured on a set of wedding stamps in one- and two-ounce rates designed for sending wedding invitations and reply envelopes. They are due in March.
And, not yet done with matters of the heart, in April there will be a set of romance stamps featuring Disney characters such as Mickey and Minnie and Lady and the Tramp.
On Jan. 11, a stamp featuring a downhill skier will commemorate the Olympic Winter Games in Turin, Italy.
It's the first of several sporting stamps planned for the year.
Boxer Sugar Ray Robinson will be featured on a stamp in April, and during the summer there will be a set recalling baseball sluggers Roy Campanella, Hank Greenberg, Mickey Mantle and Mel Ott.
At the end of January, Hattie McDaniel, who won the 1939 Academy Award as best supporting actress for her role in "Gone with the Wind," will be honored in the Black Heritage series.
Maintaining the entertainment theme, the post office's annual Legends of Hollywood stamp, scheduled for June, will feature Judy Garland, the 1940 Academy Award winner for her performances in "Babes in Arms" and "The Wizard of Oz."
Also entertaining is a January set of stamps featuring favorite children's book animals such as The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Curious George and Fox in Socks.
And Pulitzer Prize winning author Katherine Anne Porter will be memorialized in the post office's Literary Arts stamp series.
Four stamps honoring Benjamin Franklin will be released in Philadelphia in April, part of marking the 300th anniversary of the birth of the great scientist, statesman, writer and the nation's first postmaster general.
Looking back even farther in history, the U.S. Postal Service and Canada Post will issue joint stamps in May recalling the 1606 voyage of explorer Samuel de Champlain.
More recent history is noted in a set of stamps, also planned for May, featuring American diplomats Hiram Bingham IV, Frances E. Willis, Robert D. Murphy, Clifton R. Wharton Sr., Charles E. Bohlen and Philip C. Habib.
A set of 40 stamps called Wonders of America: Land of Superlatives, will be released in the spring featuring such sights as the nation's deepest lake (Crater Lake), tallest man-made monument (Gateway Arch) and largest land animal (American Bison).
The Nature of America series for 2006 will feature southern Florida wetlands with a set of 21 stamps showing the region's plants and animals.
Moving from the wonders of nature to the wonders of imagination, the post office will release a set of 20 stamps recalling DC Comic Books superheroes including Superman, Wonder Woman, Plastic Man, Batman, Green Arrow and many more.
Back down to earth, the annual motorcycle rally in Sturgis, S.D. in August will be the location for release of a set of stamps commemorating the role of motorcycles in American culture. The popular hogs of Harley-Davidson are included, of course, as well as the 1918 Cleveland and 1940 Indian cycles.
An Amber Alert stamp will be issued in May to note the program that draws attention to missing children.
The World Philatelic Exposition, a giant meeting of stamp collectors, comes to the United States only once every 10 years and it will be held in Washington May 27-June 3. The post office is responding with a souvenir sheet reissuing a set of stamps from 1923. While most commemoratives carry the current first-class rate, these are pricey. A $1 stamp shows the Lincoln Memorial, a $2 issue depicts the Capitol and a $5 stamp features the Capitol Dome.
The American Treasures entry for 2006, meanwhile, features the beauty of 10 quilts made by the African American women of Gee's Bend, Ala.
Finishing the year with its usual holiday offerings, the contemporary stamps will feature photos of snowflakes while the traditional Madonna depicts a painting done around 1765 by Ignacio Chacon in Peru. The original painting now hangs in the Denver Art Museum.
On the Net:
U.S. Postal Service: http://www.usps.com