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NEW YORK (Reuters) - After printing 3 billion copies of a new postage stamp bearing an image of the Statue of Liberty, the United States Postal Service received a strange question from a stamp collector.
Did postal officials realize the photograph was not of the famed statue in New York Harbor, but of a less-feted fiberglass and Styrofoam replica outside a Las Vegas casino?
They did not.
"We certainly regret having made the error," Roy Betts, a USPS spokesman, said on Friday.
The first-class postage stamp, which shows a low-angled close-up of Lady Liberty's face and crown, was issued in December, according to an announcement about the "world-recognized" symbol of the United States.
The statement described the statue as a gift from the people of France, designed by sculptor Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi, which stands 305 feet tall on Liberty Island off the tip of Manhattan, "a symbol of political freedom and democracy for millions of people around the world."
None of which is quite true of the half-sized replica outside the New York-New York Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas.
The USPS became aware of what it is calling a "mischaracterization" about a month ago, Betts said. News of the mix-up was first reported in the latest issue of Linns Stamp News, a magazine for stamp enthusiasts.
The differences are subtle: the eyebrows and eyes of the replica are a little more sharply defined and she has a small rectangular patch on the central spike of her crown that the original lacks. The younger Las Vegas model also looks more fresh-faced, whereas the 124-year-old New Yorker is showing her age with darker-colored streaks on her nose and cheeks.
Betts partly blamed Getty Images, the stock photography company that supplied the image, for ambiguously labeling the image in its database. While the image is simply titled "Statue of Liberty," the keywords attached to it include "Nevada" and "Replica Statue of Liberty - Las Vegas," although Betts say this information was added only after the USPS raised the point with Getty.
Getty Images did not return a call seeking comment.
MGM Resorts International, which owns the New York-New York Hotel, seemed pleased with the mix-up.
"We all thought that the Post Office was honoring just one great American institution, but in reality it was honoring two -- The Statue of Liberty and Las Vegas -- with just one stamp," said Yvette Monet, a spokeswoman for the company. "Regardless of how it came about, New York-New York is honored to be the first Las Vegas casino resort to be on a U.S. stamp."
The USPS said it will correct the catalog information connected with the stamp and live with the error, and has no plans to issue a recall. "Our track record is excellent for this as far as we're concerned," said Betts. "We've been issuing stamps since 1847. Very few errors have occurred over the years."
"We love the stamp design," he added, "and we would have done the same thing and used the same artwork."
The USPS has previously issued 23 other stamps featuring the Statue of Liberty, and officials said all of them show the actual statue -- they think.
Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Greg McCune