Innovations opening door to ‘new face of philately’

By Jesse Robitaille

Often considered disruptive in philatelic circles, recent technological innovations also offer postal services “increasing opportunities in what has become a multi-billion dollar market.”

This according to the latest report from the Universal Postal Union (UPU), which offered an update on the big-money market for postage stamps in its official publication Union Postale.

Believe it or not, proponents say postage stamps have seen increased visibility and interest with the advent of the Internet and e-commerce.

But while it’s difficult to align philately’s increased visibility with technology’s otherwise damaging impact on lettermail (i.e., the literal use of stamps), there’s at least one thing for which the Internet has been greatly beneficial.

For one, the Internet has paved the way for the rise of thematic collecting.

“For example, someone interested in collecting all items related to a specific subject can now simply search for the subject online and find numerous thematic products for purchase, including stamps,” reads the summer edition of Union Postale.

More than a means of paying for a service, modern stamps also highlight a country’s history and culture. But aside from their practical utility, stamps are also collectible—and it’s a truly global market.

The philatelic revenues of UPU members have reached about $2.5 billion US (compared to just under $1.4 billion US in 2004).

The secondary market, which includes collectors, dealers, investors and anyone else buying second-hand philatelic products, is believed to be worth even more—as much as $13.8 billion US, according to the UPU report.

As a result, more postal services are moving their sales online, where there’s more opportunity to reach collectors.

Along the same lines, posts are also updating their marketing efforts to reach new consumers beyond the scope of stamp collectors. This is readily visible with Canada Post’s far-reaching themes, including its recent set honouring Leonard Cohen (see “Cohen stamps celebrate somber singer’s life,” CSN Vol. 44 #13) plus past series featuring Star Trek.

The UPU’s case study highlighted Austria’s Österreichische Post, which launched its online shop in 2012 and generates about $2.2 million US a year from the sale of philatelic products on its platform.

Among the initiatives led by Austria’s national postal service is its yearly release of one technically innovative stamp.

“Its latest innovation is a crypto stamp. Others have included an embroidered Styrian hat stamp, an oak wood stamp and a stamp containing 4.5-billion-year-old meteorite dust.”

With postal services worldwide working to improve not only the quality but the content of their stamp programs, it’s an interesting time to watch the “new face of philately” come of age.

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