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The story of personalised stamps

Personalised stamps from idea to implementation

A personalised stamp made at Stamp fair in 2000.

The story of personalised stamps started in 2000 when Posti offered its private customers the chance to have a sticker with their own image made to affix next to the stamp on the envelope. Similar combinations of stamps and personal images were already on the market in the UK, Australia and Canada. In Finland, the service was offered at the stamp fair in 2000 and at Santa Claus’ Main Post Office in Rovaniemi. Customers could use the services of a photographer and stamp printers at the events. The first experiments with personalised stamps in Finland were only available to a small number of people.

Someone had the idea of taking a photo of each of the athletes in advance at the 2000 Sydney Olympics in Australia, and if an athlete earned a medal, a stamp with the photo would be issued. Inspired by Sydney’s example, Markku Penttinen, Director of Posti’s Philatelic Centre, came up with an idea for a new kind of personalised stamp. As many ordinary people had access to a digital camera and an Internet connection, it was possible to create a browser-based ordering system. Posti worked with IBM and Ifi Oy, which specialises in digital image services.

A maximum card of Posti’s first own corporate stamp, Amor. A maximum card is a postcard on which the motif, postage stamp and postmark repeat the same theme.

Testing of the processes to produce the new personalised stamp was completed in spring 2003, and it was time to start testing the system’s functionality in practice. It was decided that the same conventions should apply to the motifs on personalised stamps as on all other stamps: no politics, religion, extremism, weapons, alcohol or nudity. If there is any text in a foreign language on the stamp, it must come with a translation by an authorised translator. The motifs that people want on their stamps go through a process of acceptance by the human eye before they are printed.

The idea was to initially test the process capacity with a small number of stamps. Posti first launched a branded stamp aimed at companies on 14 May 2003. The motif on the stamp was a photograph chosen by the customer. Posti also issued its own first corporate stamp, Amor, which was given a catalogue number for Norma, the catalogue of Finnish stamps. Posti has regularly issued stamps made using the personalised stamp technology ever since. Catalogued and sold like regular stamps, personalised stamps also became collectible, although personalised stamps made for companies and individuals are challenging to collect.

Sender Timo Pieskä, photographer Hanna Ahomäki. The first photo of his grandson, taken at the maternity ward on 28 October 2003. The stamp is one of the first personalised stamps ordered by a private customer. Timo Pieskä pre-ordered it as a regular customer of the Philatelic Centre in autumn 2003. The situation was unique: the customer’s first grandchild was born when personalised stamps had just entered the market.
Personalised stamps available for everyone

In autumn 2003, when the ordering and approval process had been proven to be smooth and people liked the new stamps, private customers could order personalised stamps. Regular customers of Posti’s Philatelic Centre could submit pre-orders after the 2003 Stamp Fair, and all customers could order them from 26 March 2004 onwards. Finland was the first country in the world in which customers could order stamps with their own images and using their own equipment. The service aroused great interest across the world, and Markku Penttinen visited several countries to lecture on personalised stamps.

Screenshot from Posti´s personalised stamp -online service: a preview of a stamp sheet.
Personalised stamps today

Personalised stamps can be ordered from Posti’s online service. First you upload your photo and select a frame. The image can be zoomed in or out and rotated. Once you are happy with your stamp, you can order it from the online shop. Personalised stamps are sold in sheets of 10 non-value indicator stamps.

Since the launch, the most popular motifs on personalised stamps have been children and babies, pets, landscapes and nature as well as photos of various important events and old photos. Personalised stamps are used to tell the history of a family and to celebrate various anniversaries and important events in life. A personalised stamp is a way to customise a letter so that the recipient can keep it as a memento.

Stamps issued by Posti have traditionally marked the anniversaries of various organisations and dignitaries. Companies can now use personalised stamps to celebrate their special days if the stamps issued by Posti are not suitable for that purpose. Companies’ personalised stamps often also serve as a marketing tool as shipments can be customised with a stamp related to their business.

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