Innovation has also become part of the postage stamp world, with new technologies and options popping up constantly. One such innovation is QR codes on some stamps – why do stamps have a QR code in the first place?
Some stamps have a QR code as part of the modernization of postal companies—the most prominent of which is Royal Mail in the UK. QR codes on stamps allow consumers and postal companies to trace mail. Consumers can also use interactive phone options, like video messages or pictures.
In this article, I’ll discuss why some stamps have QR codes and what this means for stamp buyers and collectors. I’ll also mention some reactions by stamp collectors who’ve had to adjust to a new future of their precious hobby.
What Barcoding Stamps Means for Consumers
It may take a while until most countries start issuing stamps with QR codes. Slowly but surely, though, stamps are being modernized through barcodes. One of the first countries to do just that was the United Kingdom. Royal Mail announced at the start of 2022 that they were switching to QR technology on stamps.
Some countries also using this technology with some of their stamps include:
- The US
Although the US is on the list, things aren’t that simple. The US has used similar technologies to QR codes and even barcodes for a long time but in a more limited capacity. While the stamps you buy at your local post office or convenience store don’t come with a QR code, those bought at a stamp dispenser usually come with a QR code.
Still, the USPS isn’t interested in modernizing their stamps by having QR codes attached to them. Although they have the Intelligent Mail Barcode, it’s attached to letters, not stamps, and tracks mail, much like QR codes on stamps.
Since the UK is the most developed regarding QR codes on stamps, I’ll mostly be using Royal Mail’s stamps as examples of what using and collecting stamps might look like in the near future.
The QR Codes Can’t Be Forged
A major problem regarding stamps is fake or forged stamps. Next to the fake ones, there are used stamps, where the cancellation mark was deleted so the stamp could be reused again. It’s difficult to end such illegal activities through traditional anti-forgery police actions.
However, the end to such activities might be in sight thanks to barcoded stamps. QR codes are the perfect weapon against stamp forgery because the technology uses a unique code for each stamp separately. This means that when you buy a barcoded stamp, and the system reads the code, you can’t reuse it because it’s digitally permanently canceled.
If somebody were to try and make a new QR code and place it on a stamp, if that code isn’t in the system of a postal company (which it isn’t), the stamp is unusable. Although this isn’t essential for every consumer, it’s a nice extra security feature that wasn’t there with non-barcoded stamps.
Consumers Can Track Their Mail Using the Barcode
The tracking option is a fantastic feature of barcoded stamps used by postal companies and their customers. Previously, people could trace larger packages, but not smaller mail, such as letters or postcards. Having a QR code on a stamp now makes tracking smaller mail pieces possible.
Luckily, the USPS has a tracking feature called Informed Delivery, but the only downside is that the process takes a bit longer because you must type in the tracking number (all 35 of them!) or the barcode. With QR codes, all you need to do is open your phone camera and “read” the code on the stamp.
The New Stamps Offer Fun Interactions in the Digital World
One of the main reasons postal companies have started adding QR codes to their stamps is to connect the ever-expanding gap between traditional modes of communication (letters) and new technologies (social media). While only a few see the point in having those QR codes on stamps, others see their potential in the digitalized world of the 21st century.
Some digitalized interactions barcoded stamps offer include:
- Sharing personalized video messages
- Sending pictures
- Reading additional information about a particular stamp
For instance, Royal Mail’s first video that came automatically attached to the first QR-code stamps was of Shaun the Sheep, a famous claymation character in the UK. Newer generations that don’t use stamps often may appreciate the incorporation of the digital element, which is something more familiar to them.
Certain Non-Barcoded Stamps Won’t Be Used Anymore
The biggest change barcoded stamps have brought was replacing their non-barcoded counterparts. It’s important to mention that not every stamp has been replaced by one with a QR code. In Royal Mail’s case, only the “everyday” stamps (depicting Queen Elizabeth II or King Charles III) are being issued with barcodes. Other commemorative stamps issued in smaller numbers and for special occasions don’t come with a QR code.
Those replaced with newer barcoded versions await their final days, and they no longer carry any postal significance. If you were to use one of those, your mail would be returned to you until you buy a barcoded stamp.
There’s No Price Difference
The silver lining might be the price if you aren’t sold on the whole barcoded-stamps idea. If nothing else, the price remains the same! Even though these barcoded stamps come with some cool features combined with digital technology and offer the mail-tracing option, you won’t have to pay extra.
Barcoded stamps are postal companies’ way of modernizing the traditional (and some would say dying) industry, especially with letters and postcards. However, this isn’t a move to make more money because they want these innovations to attract new customers and make money that way rather than increasing stamp prices.
Of course, stamp prices are set differently in each country, so you should check your postal company’s policy about pricing. Generally speaking, the price for “everyday” stamps should remain the same with barcoded counterparts.
What Do the Collectors Say?
Stamps aren’t just practical when sending letters to family members who have never learned to use a smartphone or email. They’re also collectible items millions of people worldwide choose to collect throughout their lives. Stamp collectors don’t like huge changes in their usually calm stamp-collecting world.
Yet, postal companies didn’t have collectors on their minds when designing and issuing barcoded stamps. So, what do these collectors think about the new features of stamps?
Most Stamp Collectors Aren’t Excited About Them
Generally speaking, stamp collectors aren’t interested in newer stamps because they don’t offer any immediate investment potential. Most collectors never want to look at those barcoded stamps again. What postal companies, and even ordinary customers, call modernization, stamp collectors call a disaster.
For them, the significance of stamps as historical and national pride worth collecting was replaced by cheap innovations no one even needed. Some people even took the matter into their own hands.
Dinah Johnson, who isn’t a stamp collector but the founder of the Handwritten Letter Appreciation Society, decided to cover the QR code with stickers so she wouldn’t look at the hideous new design.
Dealers and Collectors Are Confused About Their Collectability Potential
A common question among many stamp collectors is: can you even collect barcoded stamps? The answer is purely subjective and depends on the individual collector’s taste. However, the need for such a question’s interesting, and it’s like a barcoded stamp isn’t a stamp at all.
For instance, a more worrying issue with dealers and collectors in the UK has had more to do with those stamps that got replaced by their barcoded counterparts. All those unused “everyday” stamps had to be used or returned to the Royal Mail. The issue here was that all the beautiful and collectible stamps had to go back to the postal company.
All this made dealers and collectors wonder how on earth they’d ever find those original stamps again if millions of them get used or destroyed.
Stamp Collecting Is Joining the Digital World
A few stamp collectors aren’t concerned about stamps with QR codes, and some collectors understand it’s high time stamp collecting joined the digital world. That’s the future, after all. Plus, stamps produced with QR codes aren’t that many in terms of categories.
Barcoded stamps include only “everyday” pieces that not that many collectors collect anyway. As long as commemorative stamps aren’t barcoded, everything’s under control.
Do I Have To Use the QR Code on Stamps?
You don’t have to use features that come with QR codes, such as a tracking-mail option or interactive video messaging. However, people must still buy stamps with QR codes if their postal company sells only those stamps. Also, you should use the QR code on stamps only once per stamp.
Not many countries have stamps with QR codes, but the trend’s slowly gaining momentum. The UK was one of the first countries to introduce stamps with QR codes.
With these types of stamps, consumers and collectors can:
- Track their mail
- Use the official postal company’s app for interactive options, like videos and pictures
Barcoded stamps aren’t more expensive than ordinary ones, and not all stamps have QR codes. Stamp collectors aren’t sure how to feel about the new stamps since old stamps won’t be used anymore. That could mean they won’t be able to find those collectible stamps.