Philately? If you’re a millennial, chances are you’ve used Google to find out that there’s a word devoted to stamp collecting and studying.
This same quest also paints the picture of a hobby in decline as younger generations are increasingly preoccupied with their screens and the constant stream of dopamine hits served up by TikTok, Instagram, Twitter and other popular social media platforms.
Two European postal services have tried in recent years to capitalize on the popularity of nonfungible tokens (NFTs) to revitalize the philatelic sector. UKTN spoke with PostNL of the Netherlands and the Austrian Post Office (PostAG) at the Blockchain Expo in Amsterdam to delve into their collaborative effort that has successfully combined postage stamps with NFTs.
PostAG philately head Patricia Liebermann and PostNL product manager Sacha van Hoorn are a lively duo that has fostered a working friendship that appears to be the backbone of the NFT-driven renaissance of stamp collecting in both countries.
PostAG first explored the use of NFT stamps in 2019 using real stamps issued with a digital twin NFT originally minted on the Ethereum blockchain. Over the next two years, the Austrian Post Office continued the project with Near Field Communication (NFC) chip functionality introduced in 2021 to improve the functionality, verifiability and security of stamps.
Reflecting on the declining interest in philately, Liebermann unfolded the original idea and its rapid implementation some three years ago:
“In 2019 we came up with the idea of combining a physical stamp with an NFT, it was amazing and we were blown away by all that feedback. And that’s why we said, okay, there’s a target audience that’s interested in this new way of collecting.”
Van Hoorn’s efforts to continue to innovate PostNL’s stamp offerings had already explored the use of augmented reality and artificial intelligence on stamps, but PostAG’s NFT exploits prompted her to reach out to her Austrian counterpart. Knowing that development would take a lot of time and resources, a partnership was formed:
“So we actually decided to contact the Austrians because they were the first, and we really wanted to have their experience and their knowledge and ask them, how did you do it?”
The partnership has resulted in a joint launch of a new edition of Crypto Stamps that will be labeled as a first-ever joint issuance of crypto stamps. It is also the first edition of PostNL NFT stamps, where the stamps are issued in different colors of the Dutch and Austrian flags. The stamps also feature the national flowers of the respective countries, with tulips and edelweiss in the background of the PostNL and PostAG stamps.
The physical stamps are produced by the Austrian company Varius Card, whose director Michael Dorner unpacked the latest security features in conversation with UKTN. The fourth edition of the Crypto Stamps features invisible UV rays and forensic security. The NFC chips also provide cryptographic proof of the authenticity of a particular stamp.
Dorner also talked about recent conversations he had with older generation Austrians who were avid stamp users who were introduced to NFTs through PostAG’s Crypto Stamps. Unfamiliar with the digital collectibles, some grandparents inevitably asked their grandchildren to help them get to grips with the digital twins of their real world stamps.
“They called their grandchildren and said, ‘Do you know what an NFT is?’ and the grandchild says, ‘yes, what have you got?’ Suddenly they were sitting together for dinner, they checked the crypto stamps and the kids said, ‘Grandpa, let’s see what color you are.’”
All three individuals believe the NFT paired stamps are leading to a philately renaissance, with Dorner describing the shift as the next generation of collectors:
“Two generations with two completely different aspects come together, and they talk. And there you have this new community, you have these ‘collectors 3.0’. Just like the young collectors, we all suddenly became interested in stamps again.”
These positive sentiments are also supported by the popularity of each launch, with Dorner and Liebermann highlighting that all previous NFT-linked collections were completely sold out.
While Dorner doesn’t give an estimated number, he estimated that 150,000 to 250,000 stamps with NFT pairs had been sold since 2019 – suggesting the initiative could be one of the most successful NFT projects in the world. The latest edition of Crypto Stamps is minted on the Polygon blockchain.