Universal Postal Union (UPU) Stamps - Introduction


Universal Postal Union (UPU) established in 1874 is headquartered in the Swiss capital of Berne. The original intent was to have regulatory policies in place for International mail exchanges. Though the initial venture catered to only 21 member countries it still helped resolve several international mail delivery related problems among those countries. Since then, it has evolved to a specialized agency of the United Nations with a membership of 191 countries. Their goals include:
  1. Set rules for International mail exchanges.
  2. Be the primary forum of co-operation among postal sector players.
  3. Establish a universal network of affordable state of the art products and services in the postal service sector thereby improving mail volumes and quality of service.
  4. Raise consumer awareness about illegal issues of postage stamps.
The following three early achievements help understand the need for such an organization:
  1. Helped formalize postage rates by the postal administration at the source based on size, weight, and destination of the mail material instead of the variable rates collected by the various countries en route. This greatly improved both service and mail volumes as customers found it much easier to mail material internationally.
  2. Established fair distribution of revenue sharing among International postal bodies based on the overall weight of material crossing borders. This ensured that postal services of member countries are fairly compensated for the volume of mail they physically serviced as opposed to being compensated only on mail sourced at their end.
  3. Establishment of International Reply Coupons (IRCs): This helped create a new service for postal administrations which enabled customers to provide a prepaid means for customers at the receiving end to respond to a solicitation of some kind.
A major initiative which has huge ramifications for philatelists all around the world is its initiative to combat illegal stamp issues. On this front, the World Association for the Development of Philately (WADP) and the UPU together formed the WADP Numbering System (WNS) on January 1, 2002. The organization aims to create a database of all authentic stamp issues of member countries. Some issues with this program are:
  1. Not all member countries are part of the program – only around fifty percent of the countries in the UPU are participating in this currently. Bureaucracy could be a reason. Only those postage stamps that met WNS International Bureau’s process of verifying authenticity is attributed a WNS number.
  2. As this verification applies only to those stamps issued after January 1, 2002 only the recent stamps have a WNS numbering and a verified registration associated with them.
  3. WNS does not address the issue of forgery.
Issues with significant philatelic interest:

The first issue commemorates the establishment of UPU is the silver jubilee issue of Switzerland in 1900 (Scott 98-103) and depicts allegorical design symbolizing communication. The set of three stamps catalog for $65 MNH and at half of that for used set. This set is not especially rare and can be purchased from eBay for around one-third catalog value.

A few countries issued stamps commemorating the golden jubilee (1924). Switzerland issued a set of two stamps depicting the building in Berne where the first UPU congress convened in 1874 (Scott #204-205). These are very affordable and catalog for less than $10 Used and less than half that for MNH. The Universal Postal Congress (meets once every 4 years) was held that year in Stockholm, Sweden and they issued a number of stamps (Scott #197-228) with four different designs commemorating the event. The lower denominations of these issues catalog for a few dollars while the higher denominations catalog in the 100’s.

The UPU emblem portrays five messengers to symbolize the five continents as they distribute mail around the globe. A statue with this design was erected on 4th October 1909 in Berne, Switzerland. Acceptance of this emblem as the official UPU symbol came much later and stamps representing this emblem debuted in the 1949 commemorative issues from various countries. For the anniversary years of 1974 and 1999 multiple countries issued stamps along similar design. There is significant collector interest in these issues and most of them have very affordable catalog values. Further many countries issued stamps as they gained membership with the UPU and these too sport a good collector interest.


Last Updated: 09/2015.

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