From an embroidered stamp shaped like Austria’s traditional dirndl dress to others made of porcelain, glass, meteorite and lederhosen-shaped leather, this Central European country’s postal service is no stranger to philatelic innovations.
This June, Österreichische Post – Austria’s national postal service – unveiled its digital “crypto” stamp powered by the Ethereum blockchain, a decentralized open-source platform that generates digital “Ether” tokens, a form of non-fungible token (NFT) or cryptographic token (hence the “crypto” name).
But unlike cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, which is fungible (or interchangeable) because each Bitcoin carries the same monetary value, an NFT represents something unique – each with a different “value,” so to speak.
These NFTs are commonly used to regulate and verify digital scarcity in “crypto-gaming,” where players can – like in the popular game CryptoKitty – use NFTs to breed, sell, purchase and collect virtual cats. Each virtual cat is unique and owned by the user, validated through the blockchain and vulnerable to the ups and downs of that specific market.
You might be surprised to know the highest-selling CryptoKitty as of last September sold for 600 Ether (about $162,00 Cdn., at the time). Because each cat is unique, some of them – mainly the earlier generations – are more expensive.
As a collector, you might know where this is going.
NFTs are also used for digital items like “crypto-collectibles,” whose “value” – or level of uniqueness, in the case of the crypto stamp – can be used to regulate scarcity or rarity.
This is the principle mirrored in the recent issue from Austria: the stamp can be used as postage, but according to the postal service, it’s also “a virtual collector’s item.” The landscape-format issue is split directly down the centre, with the postage on the left and the crypto credentials – the so-called “virtual collector’s item” – on the right, beneath a scratch ticket-style covering. Se-tenant in nature, the two sides can be separated, with the stamp going on a letter (or parcel) and the opposite side going in your collection.
The stamp’s digital details are also stored within Ethereum, where it sits in a digital account owned exclusively by the stamp’s owner.
IS IT PHILATELIC?
Why should you, the collector, care about any of this?
Is it philately?
Well, of the 150,000 stamps issued beginning June 11, there are five different colours with varying degrees of scarcity—78,500 black, 40,000 green, 20,000 blue, 10,000 yellow and only 1,500 red.
Because they’re government-issued – but especially because they’re tied to a government-issued postage stamp – these crypto-collectibles would be welcome in any complete Austrian collection.
And like a virtual cat worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, each of these stamps represents a store of value that can grow and fall depending on the whims of a very strange market.
Not only is it true to philatelic form, but it’s also the first time an NFT has been launched by a government or a government entity.
Designed by Julia Obermüller, the stamps have a denomination of 6.90 Euro (about 0.022 Ether, as of June 26).
Unfortunately for collectors, the stamps sold out quickly; however, they can be traded using the “All About Stamps” app, which is a digital collector’s album for stamps of Austria, Germany, Switzerland and Liechtenstein. Using the app, users can find and contact other collectors with which they can trade the crypto stamp.