Whether the trend is being driven by improved automated postal sorting machines or the insatiable demand of stamp collectors for ever-more novel designs is unclear, but lately more nations are issuing commemorative stamps that arouse the urge to lick, sniff and touch.
Austria has been a pioneer in this area. In addition to joining forces with Austria’s famed Swarovski Crystal to create a swan stamp imbedded with bits of real glass crystal, the Austrian post office honored the UEFA European Championship by creating a soccer ball stamp out of a synthetic mix of rubbery polyurethane. To immortalize Andi Herzog’s winning soccer goal in the 1998 World Cup, it put a three-second moving image of the goal on a postage stamp, and to honor simultaneously a native craft and national flora, Austria issued embroidered stamps featuring its Edelweiss and Clusius flowers.
Austria isn’t alone in its novelty stamps. Brazil promoted the fact that it is one of the world’s foremost coffee bean suppliers by creating a coffee stamp coated with a varnish containing microcapsules of coffee scent. A great companion to this stamp is France’s chocolate-scented stamp issued to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the arrival of cocoa beans to the country. And to draw attention to its cork industry, Portugal issued a stamp printed on very thinly sliced cork.
This may seem over-the-top for something that goes on an envelope, but commemorative stamps have long generated significant revenue for the issuing country (not to mention an investment opportunity for collectors). For some tiny island nations, the creation and issuance of beautiful commemorative stamps is an industry itself, a primary export product.
Now as email cuts into postal profits, the competition to appeal to collectors worldwide with exotic commemorative stamps is becoming intense.