Austrian Personal Stamps

What ARE "Personal Stamps"?

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On 5 Dec 2003 the Austrian Post Office issued a pair of commemorative stamps and announced that "every post customer will soon be able to have his or her own personal stamp; this is the prototype." These were classed as normal commemorative stamps, not personal stamps, and issued so that everyone might recognise the personal stamps, and to publicise this novel idea. The stamps came in horizontal and vertical formats with a face value of €0.55 and perforated 13¾ x 13¾. 500,000 of each were issued. The design and photogravure printing were by the State Printing Works.

For some time various countries (eg Great Britain) had been producing stamps in which an adjoining empty space could be designed individually. Photos, portraits, drawings, texts and the like could be provided by the customer and would be printed into the space; such labels had no postal significance. The resulting stamp together with the ornamental field then constituted a single unit.

The Austrian Post Office had however decided to integrate the space for individual design into the stamp. The constant parts of the design are the frame stating the denomination of the stamp and the wording ÖSTERREICH €0.55 at the bottom. The inner part of the stamp is empty, and can be designed individually by the customer in portrait or landscape format. The frame contains a number of security features as on all Austrian stamps. "This stamp fulfils the wishes of the Post Office's customers who have long been asking for appropriate stamps for specific personal occasions. Thus, for instance, invitations to a wedding can be sent with a portrait of the happy couple on the stamp."

Designing your stamp

These stamps can only be ordered through the Austrian Post web site, which is in German only, and is only useable by those who already know the system (or have read this page!). But first, you must design it. The Austrian Postal Authority have imposed certain conditions on the designs, including:

  1. The stamps must be printed by the State Printing Works.
  2. The image must be acceptable – no pornography, no Nazi propaganda, no undue political complications etc.
  3. You must certify that you have the rights to use the image for this purpose, have the permission of everybody shown in it, and are not infringing other people's trademarks (Bildrechte, Persönlichkeitsrecht, Markenrechte).

So for example photos of the Duchess of Cambridge on a private holiday, or the Dalai Lama anywhere, or an old commercial postcard found in a flea market, cannot be used.

There are also technical considerations: the image must be supplied as a JPG file with between 420 and 4096 pixels (the permitted compression is not stated). Then you must choose between:

A proof copy is made available to you as a PDF file – for example you submit the image on the left; the site’s software picks out the picture and ignores your frame then sends you this proof.

On the right is the commemorative issue for the introduction of the blue frame.

Stamp security

The picture is contained within a frame on which ÖSTERREICH or AUSTRIA and the value are printed. This frame is printed in a security ink, similar to that used for bank notes, which contains a special ingredient "Irodin"; presumably it has a unique fluoresence.

A typical stamp. The rectangle outlined in red at the top left is enlarged in the middle (in false colours) and enlarged again on the right, so that the faint pattern of the security printing can be seen. The shape is a stylised post-horn.

The printed stamps are sent in a yellow folder to the person ordering them; they can live anywhere in the world but these are Austrian stamps so are valid (for both inland and foreign mail) only if posted in Austria! A free-reposting label is provided, so that the stamps can be sent abroad (eg to GB) and affixed to your mailing, then the package returned to Vienna where they will receive a standard cancel and be posted.

The purchaser can use them as and when they wish so there is normally no 'First Day'. However some issues are ordered for a purpose (special event, birthday or anniversary for example) and can then have a recognised 'Day of issue'. Personal Stamps are not normally available from a post office; one exception would be if the organisers of a special event arrange for a Special Post Office – as was done for the Telfs Schleicherlaufen Card on the left. [However the cost of a Special Post Office has increased inordinately, and as a cheaper alternative some events purchase the necessary die and instead of a Personal Stamp have a commemorative meter mark!]

Some history of Personal Stamps

The first Personal stamp The first Personal Stamp was printed in September 2003 and honoured Manfred Paula, the former General Manager of the State Printing Works in Vienna. The print run was 500 or 600 and if you can find this item on ebay or another auction site expect to pay in excess of €100 for it! The first generally available Personal stamp was issued in November 2003 with a print run of 20,000 and was sold for €1.50 at the ‘Post Office in the Clouds’ at the Vienna Town Hall Christkindl Market [left]. This was followed by Kosel the philatelic dealer with 10,000 in each format, Prof Richard Zimmerl then editor of ‘Die Briefmarke’ [right], (20,000) Christine Steyrer publisher of Netto catalogues, (10,000 in each format), The Favoriten Stamp Club in Vienna, SOS Kinderdorf, 100 years of powered flight and Postbus AG completed the 2003 issues. Several of these and others (including the APS Anniversary) are shown here. By the end of 2004 approximately 2,700 orders had been received for personal stamps with about 140,000 sheets (2,800,000 stamps) printed - the equivalent of four ‘normal’ commemorative issues. Prof Richard Zimmerl

The Austrian Post Office soon realised that Personal Stamps were extremely popular – so they began to produce them themselves, effectively in direct competition with their own commemorative stamps. They have produced sheetlets of stamps either with several designs repeated throughout the sheet or with 20 different pictures. Examples: Klimt-at-Attersee and Snowcrystals. The Klimt was sold in a folder with details of the paintings shown on each stamp. A smaller-format sheetlet with 8 stamps has also been introduced; eg the ‘Masks’ issue and its folder’s front and inside shown here.

A6 card-covered booklets appeared, typically containing 6 or 9 Personal Stamps and descriptive text on such themes as football clubs, zodiac signs, Kung Fu Panda... A variant is CD-sized booklets containing Personal Stamps and a CD, featuring Mozart, or The Sound Of Music – the latter is in English and Japanese only.

A5 hard-cover books soon followed, with subjects such as Klimt, Habsburg treasures, Jugendstil, Austrian regional cooking (with the recipes) – at least 63 books are catalogued.

Many people order a Personal Stamp for a personal reason but some firms use them as a form of advertising - e.g Joh. Schlosser marked the 20th anniversary of his auction house with a series of stamps showing a stamp from each of the first five Austrian issues. Each member of the Austrian Philatelic Society received a letter in 2005 advertising their recently published book on the Vienna Pneumatic Post. The APS editor designed a Personal Stamp showing a pneumatic envelope from 1880 with the border colour adopted for pneumatic post items in 1908. This was ordered through a dealer in Vienna and affixed to the letters which were returned to a contact in Austria for posting.

Where can I get Personal Stamps?

The first 64 Personal Stamps were listed in the Austria Netto Specialised Catalogue 2004/05; however as the years passed and the number grew they first restricted the list to those which had an issue of 1,000 or more, and have now given up the struggle and list only the first 10. Apart from the sheer bulk of a comprehensive listing, almost all the Personal Stamps were privately ordered and are unavailable in the open market. Also, some catalogues – notably Scott – refuse to list them at all, on the grounds of low issue quantity, restricted availability and high premium over face value. Nevertheless the number, and presumably the popularity, of Personal Stamps continues to increase! Stanley Gibbons 'Part 2' has a brief mention and a couple of illustrations.

If you want to get your own, use the Austrian Post web site.

If you want examples of existing Personal Stamps, by far the easiest route is through the Austrian eBay site; look at categories ‘Personalisierte Marken’ and ‘Markenbuch’. Many dealers stock a selection of Personal Stamps, eg BriefmarkenGilg and Netto

Is a complete collection of Personal Stamps possible?

No. According to the Austrian Post Office on-line gallery the highest serial number as at 28 Nov 2016 is 8,121,391; the first-ever Personal Stamp in 2003 was numbered 800,001 so unless the sequence was broken the total number of Personal Stamps designs issued to date is 7,321,390!!

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© APS 28 Nov 2016