Post-Modern: Royal Mail’s intelligent stamps

In 1840 the first ever postage stamp appeared in the UK bearing the profile of Queen Victoria. Since this remarkable occasion, stamps have not massively changed or evolved. Usually associated with tradition, royalty, British heritage and ‘geeks’, stamps are the last things you would expect to involve cutting-edge technology. Although when Royal Mail announced recently they were due to launch the world’s first ‘intelligent’ stamp to “bring them firmly into the 21st century”, after the initial surprise, you can’t help feeling ‘it’s about bloody time!’


The “intelligent” stamp is activated when it is placed over the camera of an iPhone or Android smartphone, and by working with Junaio image recognition technology, the stamp launches exclusive online content. What kind of content could a stamp possibly initiate we all ask ourselves? Well those viewing the “intelligent” stamp, which is part of the Royal Mail’s Great British Railways edition, will be directed to a short film of Bernard Cribbins reading WH Auden’s famous poem Night Mail. The poem was written in 1936 for a documentary type film of the same name about the London to Glasgow postal train.

Whilst the majority of us – excluding we suspect stamp collectors and train enthusiasts, are unlikely to become that exciting about the prospect of viewing such material online – Royal Mail is extremely excited about the new technology.
Almost bursting at the seams about the stamp, Phillip Parker, a spokesman for the Royal Mail said:

“This is the first time a national postal service has used this kind of technology on their stamps and we’re very excited about bringing intelligent stamps to the nation’s post.Through intelligent stamp technology, our stamps will open up to a whole new world of information, interest and fun to collectors and the millions of people who will receive them on letters in the coming months.”

But lets be honest, Royal Mail with its tendency in recent times to post your mail if the afternoon instead of the morning – that’s if you have any ‘snail mail’ at all, as in the 21st century most mail seems to be sent in an instant electronically – needed to become more ‘energized’ and ‘in-keeping’ with the times.

Although you’ve got to hand it to the British, we were the inventors of and first to use stamps, followed swiftly by Brazil and the United States, now we are the first to evolve stamps and move them into the realms of modern technology. One can only presume other nations will quickly follow.