October 30, 2010

Snail Mail Meets Email: Stamps and Stamp Collecting in Online Times

Based in the Redwood coast of Northern California, Oliver Seeler indulges his specialty: stamps that depict bagpipes. He thanks the Internet for enabling and fueling his philatelic hobby, particularly from the standpoint of cost: “The stamps are often difficult to find even after you have identified them. If you had to track them down by phone or by mail, it would just be prohibitive in terms of time and money.” As his bagpipe stamp collection grew and achieved a level of notoriety, it caught the attention of an aspiring stamp collector across the Atlantic. Sean Stewart discovered Seeler’s website and related a bagpipe stamp from New Zealand. This exchange sparked a mutual long-distance relationship and competitive streak over a shared niche.

The email interactions between Seeler and Stewart are now in the hundreds. One could imagine their stamp-collecting rivalry via Twitter. Their passion, aided and expedited by web speed, is a complement to the conventional outlets for collectors like stamp stores, clubs and conferences.

With eye for the new era of stamp collecting, the Tokyo Midtown Design Hub commissioned a dozen artists of the Japan Graphic Designers Association to create stamps for the email age. Designing for such a small piece of space is intimidating, but samples from the exhibit, held in 2008, show that they possess big character in a very small way.

These stamps are not on Seeley and Stewart’s radar of topical stamp collecting, yet they readily pique a collector’s fascination as designed objects.

From the exhibit’s opening statement: “If postage stamps were merely a tool necessary to send mails, it would not be necessary to have so many different postage stamps and designs. Postage stamps do not only function for their original purpose. They have emotional value in that they convey the feelings of the senders.”

View other designs of this stamp collection documented by Artist Leonardo Bonanni of the Tangible Media Group at the Media Lab.