MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Thousands braved a cold drizzle outside Graceland mansion to purchase the first issue of U.S. stamps honoring Elvis Presley on what would have been the King of Rock 'n' Roll's 58th birthday.
'It was a great evening to be an Elvis fan, definitely worth waiting for, and a wonderful tribute and much deserved to have Elvis recognized on a commemorative stamp,' said Sheila James, communications secretary for Graceland.
The crowds began lining up about 18 hours in advance of the 12:01 a. m. CST start of stamp sales. Nationally, the stamps went on sale at noon Friday.
'We've never done anything like this before,' said U.S Postal Service spokeswoman Beth Barnett.
James estimated the crowd of stamp buyers at Graceland totaled as many as 10,000.
Despite the chilly temperatures and drizzle, there was a party atmosphere as people waited for midnight. Under a large tent, the Graceland organization arranged a concert featuring three musical acts, including a performance by the U.S. Navy band, preceding the ceremony releasing the stamp.
'This is the most popular stamp the postal service has issued,' Barnett said. 'I can't think of any other issue that's generated this much attention or publicity.'
The postal service printed 500 million Presley stamps and sent 3 million of them to Memphis, where besides the regular Graceland contract post office, five portable post offices were brought in to handle the throng of stamp buyers.
The stamp depicting a young Elvis singing at a microphone was chosen by popular vote over a design showing the entertainer about 20 years later at the peak of his career, which ended with his death at Graceland in 1977.
The postal service plans to release another booklet of stamps featuring rhythm and blues legends -- including another Elvis stamp -- in June, and a country and western series in September.
Lines formed outside post offices throughout the country Friday. In New York City, hundreds of Elvis fans lined up at Manhattan's gigantic main post office with its two-block-long lobby to buy stamps and then stood in another line to get them canceled with a special 'Elvis Station, New York, N.Y., stamp.
Fred Verschleiser, 43, Co-op City, the Bronx, N.Y. was first in line to buy Elvis stamps and have them canceled. The unemployed data compliation analyst bought a sheet of 40 stamps for $11.60.
'I think it's great because New York's the greatest city in the world and now I'm making history,' he said.
In California, hundreds of people lined up Friday outside the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace to snatch up a limited series of the first- day-of-issue Elvis stamps.
The commemorative stamps were hand-canceled on a black-and-white $3 postcard with a photo of 'The King' shaking hands with the former president in the Oval Office.