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Unfurl the banners, call out the band! ... And now, ladies and gentlemen, we present for your edification and delectation (drumroll) the GRAYPOW STAMP (boom, tish). It's a genuine personalised postage stamp, printed for us oldies by Australia Post. It shows the logo LIFE BEGINS AT 50, which we awarded last month as a tribute to nine of the world's best Grey Power websites for senior citizens. (If you would like one of these unique stamps, see the panel below).

Australia Post issued the world's first personalised tabs attached to stamps in 1999. Since then, many other countries have adopted the idea, which has met with an enthusiastic response from customers around the globe. Canada has gone one better, by featuring the buyer's chosen picture on the stamp itself, instead of on an attached tab.

Belgians will soon be able to walk into any of the country's 1400 post offices, and use a computer and scanner to order their personalised stamps via the Internet. Belgian Post plans eventually to install photo/stamp cabines where a customer will be able to pose for a photo and have it printed directly on to a stamp.

"The concept offers enormous possibilities," says a European Stamps website (in Dutch). "Not only your own portrait, but also company logos, special occasions, expositions.

"This will create a totally new collecting area. But as a general rule it's obvious that this is a collectors' area that can never be complete... It's a chance for companies to go back to using postage stamps on direct mailings to make them more attractive and noticeable. And that is a positive development for philately in general."

Most personalised stamps are official issues with personal or commercial images and/or texts on tabs attached to stamps that are valid for postage. Collectors who  wonder if these  stamps ought to be included in their collections or exhibits should note that any item issued as a stamp by a recognised government agency can be used in a philatelic exhibition. If you visit  websites listed at the end of this article, you'll find many colorful and interesting examples.

Canada Post offers its customers a choice of five standardised frames, inside which they can display their favourite photos or other designs. These then become actual stamps - not mere tabs. "Give those marvelous moments a magical touch," says Canada Post. "Send us your favourite photograph and we'll make it into a sheet of domestic rate stamps, for just $24.95. What better way to preserve a valued moment than by making it into a personalized postage stamp?

"Canada Post's Picture Postage is enduring and unforgettable - and easy to create. You pick the occasion, select a frame style, and send us a picture along with the completed order form. Then every envelope you send becomes a lasting memento of a treasured moment. Picture Postage also lets you personalize the occasion itself, celebrating such things as:

  • Your child's artwork
  • The first order for your home business
  • A rare collectible you snagged
  • Aunt Lucy's and Uncle Fred's 50th
  • Your son's science award
  • Your daughter the hockey star
  • Your company's new logo
  • That Christmas in Mexico
  • The arrival of a newborn
  • Peewee Hockey League Champs."

The story of personalised stamps goes back to March 1999, when visitors to the Australia 99 world stamp exhibition in Melbourne posed for photographs which were then quickly printed in a laboratory.

Six months later, on September 1, 1999, Australia Post introduced the world's first personalised stamps. Seven special designs were produced, for use on special occasions: Congratulations, New Baby, Christmas, Thinking of You, Happy Birthday, Pollywoodside* and Greetings from Australia. Each stamp bore an image relating to the special occasion, with a section on the right featuring a photo, design or text supplied by the customer.

"Personalised Stamps is a unique service, allowing stamps to be personalised by printing a photograph on the tab of the stamp," says Australia Post.  "Invitations to birthdays, engagements, weddings, news of a birth of a baby or thank you notes can now be given a personal touch. It's also a special way to personalise your overseas or Christmas mail. Personalised Stamps make a wonderful gift or keepsake too."

Launching the scheme, David Maiden, Australia Post's philatelic group manager, said "Today marks the start of a new era for stamp users and stamp collectors around the world. The technology we have developed has the potential to change the image of stamps forever."

Postal authorities around the world agreed with him, and the idea has since been copied by Belgium, Canada, China, Ireland, New Zealand, Singapore, Switzerland, Taiwan and the UK. France's La Poste will follow suit towards the end of this year.

In March 2000, Singapore became the fourth nation to offer personalised stamps. Yeo Cheow Tong, Minister for Communications and Information Technology said "With increasing competition from electronic communications, personalised stamps could go a long way in ensuring that postage stamps remain relevant and help make social mail an enjoyable form of communication."

Singapore Post described its designs as being in "five psychedelic colors to convey the celebration mood." They featured the words (scrawled in large letters) Yipee, Yeah, Hurray, Yes and Happy. This year, the Indonesian Stamp Museum offers PRISMA, an acronym of Prangko Identitas Milik Anda (Your Identity Stamps). These show the Indonesian postal logo, the customer's portrait and signature or personal message. "PRISMA are real and legal stamps, they fulfill all aspects required by a stamp," it says.

Great Britain produced personalised stamps called Smilers for London's Stamp Show 2000. "Do you know someone who has a birth or wedding coming up?" the Consignia  (dreadful name) website asks. "Is there a celebration or house-warming to be announced? Or maybe someone wants to send some special 'thank you' cards. Now you can have a piece of mail which will be treasured for ever. All it takes is Smilers from Royal Mail, available to order with the Occasions and Smilers stamps. Have you got a once in a lifetime photo? Why not put it on a once in a lifetime stamp? Just imagine someone you care about receiving a letter with your photo attached to one of the Smilers. Quite simply, the pleasure would be priceless."

In Israel, at the International Philatelic Exhibition in Jerusalem, several photography stations were set up on the exhibition grounds where visitors were able to have their pictures taken and receive official stamps featuring a border of native Israeli flowers stamps plus their own portraits.

And in Finland last November, visitors to a stamp fair had their photos taken and printed out on a self-adhesive label as part of a Christmas stamp featuring a decoration and a bird.

Just how popular are personalised stamps? Well, when the Taiwan postal authority released a series last December, which included pictures provided by the buyers, more than 100,000 orders were received. Demand was so overwhelming that many customers had to wait 10 days for their stamps to be printed and delivered. Photos of weddings and children were the most popular subjects.

Most personalised stamps devote two-thirds of the area to the official national design, and  only a third of the total area to the personal section The Belgian Post Office (mentioned earlier) offers customers a choice of either one-third or two-thirds of the stamp's area for the individual design.

China produced its first personalised stamps for the 35th annual meeting of the board of governors of the Asian Development Bank. The China National Philatelic Corporation will produce a new personalised stamp for the World Stamp and Coin Exposition in Beijing in September.

New Zealand Post offers stamps which can be used on local and oversea mail. "Now you can add your own personal style whenever you send mail," it says. "Personalised stamps are an exciting way to add a photographic image on the tab of the new Greetings stamps.  Send a photo of yourself or anything else you choose (even your company logo) and it will appear on the tabs of your Greetings stamps."

Because New Zealand deregulated its postal market three years ago, a company called Pete's Post has produced a huge variety of stamps for hundreds of groups, including businesses, real estate agents, even eye specialists, but these can be used only on the company's local and national delivery services. Serious collectors will surely ask: do those stamps really qualify as genuine collectors' items?

* The sailing ship Polly Woodside. The three-masted iron barque, built for William J. Woodside and Co., was launched in Belfast, Ireland, in 1887. Now restored, she is on show at the Melbourne Maritime Museum.


Australia Post has just printed a unique personalised stamp, the GRAYPOW, for the author of this article. Featuring the slogan Life Begins at 50! it was designed as a tribute to nine of the world's best Grey Power websites for senior citizens.

If you would like to obtain one (or more) of these GRAYPOW stamps, send a five-dollar bill (Australian or US), or a five-euro bill*, for each stamp, with an unstamped self-addressed envelope, to

Eric Shackle
8 Kourung Street
Ettalong 2257
New South Wales

As a bonus, Eric promises to stick another GRAYPOW stamp on your envelope, so you'll receive both used and unused specimens. Allow two weeks for return mail.  If demand exceeds supply, there will be a further brief delay while Australia Post prints more stamps.

* If British readers remit a five-pound note, they will receive two unused stamps, since 5 is equivalent to nearly eight US dollars.

P.S. Please don't send a cheque (or check). Eric's bank would charge him up to $10 to cash it!

South African readers may acquire unused GRAYPOW stamps by sending an SA Postal Order or SA cheque for R30 for each stamp required, together with a stamped, self-addressed envelope to:-

Barry Downs
PO Box 110422
Hadison Park
8306 South Africa


Related Links

    EXAMPLES (click on exemples)
  4. CHINA
    FINLAND POST (Suomen Posti Oy)  
    STAMP MUSEUM (click on Personalized Stamp logo, then select About PRISMA).
Copyright 2002
Eric Shackle
Story first posted August 2002

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