USPS taps nonfungible tokens to sell stamp images
Washington Postal Scene by Bill McAllister
The United States Postal Service has come up with yet another way to make money with stamps.
It is selling digital images of U.S. stamps through VeVe, a New Zealand company that creates something called nonfungible tokens (NFTs) on the internet. An NFT is a unique digital identifier that cannot be copied or substituted.
NFTs are numbered, making each stamp image unique.
NFT collectors say they hope that there will be a secondary market for the images, one that could make their NFTs even more valuable.
But, as with actual stamps, there is no guarantee that the NFT stamp images will rise in value.
Judging from the VeVe website, some of the biggest sellers seem to be cartoon characters.
The USPS recently got in on the NFT action by selling four images of the 2021 Day of the Dead forever stamps (Scott 5640-5643). The images were made available for sale beginning Nov. 2, 2021.
“A few thousand copies” of the Day of the Dead stamp images quickly sold for $6 each, according to Dave LeClair, editor of the How-To Geek website.
He said those stamp images soon began selling for a minimum of $195 each on the VeVe secondary market.
“So they weren’t a bad investment at their launch price,” he said in a Jan. 21 article.
On Dec. 24, 2021, the USPS added four more NFT images for its A Visit from St. Nick Christmas stamps (Scott 5644-5647).
LeClair said that “the rarest of these is currently commanding upwards of $250.”
Those prices show that “there is a market for these USPS NFT’s after all,” he said.
That’s good news for Amity Kirby, the Postal Service’s licensing manager, who has led the USPS into what the agency has described as “the cryptocurrency space.”
Kirby disclosed the Postal Service’s venture Jan. 18 on the agency’s Mailin’ It podcast (a digital program that can be downloaded from the internet).
It is part of an overall effort to expand the Postal Service’s brand, she said.
“This is a way for us to reach typically younger audiences that may typically not use the Postal Service traditional products and services,” Kirby said.
“Social media is beautiful for your brand,” she added.
Kirby said the stamp image project had its roots in collaborative sales efforts the USPS did last year with the Vans shoe and Forever 21 clothing companies.
“The NFT market has really exploded and is very, very popular,” she said.
Asked to explain what an NFT is, Kirby said: “This is a way for people to collect digital stamp art. It’s not a stamp, it’s the art.”
“Worst case scenario we put it out and nobody buys it. And it’s just terrible,” she said.
But the Day of the Dead NFTs sold out in 0.3 of a second, she said.
Kirby also disclosed plans for 2023, including a 60th birthday celebration for the agency’s Mr. ZIP cartoon character that introduced the ZIP code to postal customers in 1963.
The Postal Service is giving Mr. ZIP “a little bit of a facelift to kind of refresh him and make him a little more youthful and fun” as he marks his sixth decade of service, Kirby said.
“Our stamp program, for instance, is a huge educational piece that we can leverage with Mr. Zip,” she said, hinting that he might reappear on some stamps planned for 2023.
Asked what the Postal Service’s reaction to the stamp image program has been, USPS spokeswoman Tatiana Roy said, “I don’t have additional information to provide you at this time other than it has gone extremely well and we look forward to new offerings in the coming year for the collecting community.”
The Postal Service is far from alone in attempting to tap the market for digital images.
The Associated Press reported Jan. 26 that the heirs to the estate of famed artist Pablo Picasso are planning to auction more than 1,000 digital images of ceramics he created.
The Associated Press described the sale as an “attempt to integrate the world of fine art and crypto assets.”
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