Philately? If you’re a millennial, there’s a good chance you’ve Googled that there’s a word dedicated to collecting and studying postage stamps.
This same search also colors image of the hobby on the wane as younger generations become increasingly preoccupied with their screens and the constant supply of dopamine hits offered by TikTok, Instagram, Twitter and other popular social media platforms.
Two European postal services have sought to use the popularity of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) to revive the philately sector in recent years. Cointelegraph caught up with Dutch PostNL and Austrian Post (PostAG) at the Blockchain Expo in Amsterdam to dive into their joint efforts that have successfully combined postage stamps with NFTs.
PostAG head of philately Patricia Liebermann and PostNL product manager Sacha van Hoorn are a spirited duo who have sparked 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 postage stamps in 2019 with real-world stamps issued with a digital twin of the NFT originally minted on the Ethereum blockchain. Over the next two years, the Austrian Post continued the project with the NFC (Near-field Communication) chip functionality introduced in 2021 to support the functionality, verifiability and security of postage stamps.
Considering the declining interest in philately, Liebermann unpacked the original idea and its rapid adoption three years ago:
“In 2019 we came up with the idea of a physical stamp combined with NFTs, it was overwhelming and we were overwhelmed by all the feedback. And that’s why we said, well, there’s a target group that’s interested in this new way of collecting.”
Van Hoorn’s drive to continue to innovate PostNL’s stamp offering has already explored the use of augmented reality and artificial intelligence on stamps, but PostAG’s use of NFTs led it to reach out to its Austrian counterpart. Knowing that development would require a significant amount of time and resources, the collaboration was formed:
“So we actually decided to contact the Austrians because they were the first and we really wanted to have their experience and knowledge and ask them how did you do it?”
The partnership culminated in the joint launch of a new edition of crypto tokens, which is billed as the first-ever joint issuance of crypto tokens. It is also first edition of PostNL NFT stamps, with the stamps being issued in different colors of the Dutch and Austrian flags. The stamps also feature the national flowers of the respective countries with tulips and extend into the background of the PostNL and PostAG stamps.
The physical stamps are produced by the Austrian company Varius Card, whose CEO Michael Dorner unpacked the latest security features in an interview with Cointelegraph. The fourth edition of Crypto Stamps features invisible UV rays and forensic security. NFC chips also provide cryptographic proof of the stamp’s authenticity.
Dorner also highlighted recent conversations he had with an older generation of Austrians who were avid stamp users who were introduced to NFTs through PostAG’s Crypto Stamps. Some grandparents unfamiliar with digital collectibles inevitably asked their grandchildren to help them cope with the digital twin of their real stamps.
“They called their grandchildren and said, ‘Do you know what an NFT is?’ and the grandchild says, ‘yes, what do you have?’ All of a sudden they were sitting down to dinner together, checking crypto stamps, and the kids said, ‘Grandpa, let’s see what color you are.'”
All three individuals believe that postage stamps paired with NFTs are leading to a renaissance in philately, with Dorner describing the shift as the next generation of collectors:
“Two generations with two completely different aspects meet and talk. And here you have this new community, you have this ‘collectors 3.0′. Like 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 emphasizing that all previous collections paired with NFT have sold out completely.
While he didn’t give an approximate number, Dorner estimated that 150,000 to 250,000 stamps with NFT pairs have been sold as of 2019 – suggesting that the initiative could be one of the most successful NFT projects in the world. The latest release of Crypto Stamps is minted on the Polygon Blockchain.