Stamp of Approval

By Lorraine LorenzoSeptember 3, 2017

Philately is alive – and getting a makeover – in today’s selfie generation

Philately crusaders, from left: Nenita Rabuya, Josie Cura, Alfonso Jose Cruz, a friend of the club, and Alfredo Roxas. The FSCS would regularly set up a table at the PHLPost lobby, where they would sell old and rare stamps.

MEMBERS OF THE country’s stamp collecting community converge every Tuesday and Thursday at the historic halls of the Philippine Postal Corporation (PHLPost) in Manila. Groups like the Filipinas Stamps Collector Society (FSCS) and the Pampanga Stamps Collectors Society (PSCS) would sell, trade or auction their rarest and most expensive stamps to both novice and experienced collectors.

Enthusiasts like Jorge Cuyugan, the current PSCS president, would head down PHLPost to buy the newest issues from the post office’s stamp shop. He is well known for his collection of Rizaliana stamps, and has actually completed all stamps depicting the national hero from collections dating as early as 1906.

Rizal, he said, is the first Filipino to be featured in Philippine stamps during the American occupation, and that he was one of only two Filipinos who appeared in stamps issued abroad (the other being President Ramon Magsaysay). He authored the stamp collector’s book, Let’s Collect Philippine Rizalian Stamps.

Dr. Ymerson Tan, another collector and a friend of Cuyugan, has a complete collection of the Queen Isabella II stamps — the first stamps issued when the Philippines opened its own postal service during Spanish times. He would also visit the post office regularly to purchase new issues, and he shared how he would get some of the rarest pieces – like a Year of the Monkey stamp that didn’t have the word ‘Monkey’ in it.

Josie Cura, president of FSCS, would regularly set up a table at the PHLPost lobby, where they would sell old and rare stamps, as well as an indexed calendar of stamp issues for serious and beginning collectors.

“We welcome anyone who is interested with stamp collecting,” she said. “There is no fee to pay, they can go here anytime and ask us how they can join. We usually hold meetings where we trade or auction really collectible stamps.”


Government support

Stamp collecting or philately is strongly supported by the PHLPost. It has a division dedicated to philately, located at the third floor of the 200-year old building; it is in charge of designing new stamps, creating a stamp calendar, and organizing events to promote postal culture and keep it relevant in today’s digital world.

“The digital age has greatly affected postal service,” said Asst.  Postmaster General for Marketing and Management Support Services Luis Carlos. “As an independent government corporation, we try to find ways to generate revenue and to fund our day-to-day operations. However, fewer and fewer people are now using postal service, thus we lost P1 billion because of the digital age.”

The loss is understandable. Whereas people used to send letters and cards via post before, people now send them via e-mail or SMS. Carlos shared that they were greatly affected during three important occasions to Filipinos: Christmas, Valentine’s and birthdays.

Despite this setback, the relevance of stamps and stamp collecting is seen by PHLPost as an opportunity to introduce it as a hobby to the new generation.

“These stamps are the calling cards of this country,” Carlos stated. “It reflects a country’s identity, history and culture, so it is here to stay. We just need to market it properly especially to millennials.”


Modern approach

Part of the PHLPost’s plans to keep philately alive is to come up with interesting, collectible designs for stamps that they can market to the younger generation. Using new machines, they have issued modernized stamps that have created a buzz among local philatelists.

“What technology has taken away from the post, technology is actually bringing back. It’s just a matter of execution. We’ve used technology to come up with new stamp designs that the younger crowd could appreciate,” Carlos said.

One example is the 21k Gold Ink, 3D embossed Sto. Nino image stamps which is the first 21k gold ink, three-dimensional embossed souvenir sheet featuring the 450th year anniversary of the search of the image of the Sto. Nino de Cebu. The stamps are classified as a commemorative issues with a denomination of P10 (one design). Only 400,000 pieces were printed by Amstar Company, Inc.


Another stamp design that the younger generation could relate to was the one featuring Miss Universe 2017 Pia Alonzo-Wurtzbach. Aside from Pia, the commemorative stamps also featured Gloria Diaz and Margie Moran.  All three beauty queens are part of the PHLPost Living Legends roster, along with the first Miss World from the Philippines Meagan Young and Filipino world boxing champion Manny Pacquiao.


More than a hobby

Many of the new stamp designs commemorate important occasions in recent years.  Stamp collecting is a serious hobby that encourages collectors to be creative – they have to pick a theme that points them to the direction of their collection.  It is not just getting any stamp on one’s hands.

Rodin Teodoro, a stamp designer with over 30 designs under his wing, shares the importance of stamps in our culture. “When I design, I try to keep it simple but classy because stamps are a way of showing the the world our history and culture.”

Choosing a stamp design involves the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP), and the recognized philately societies in the country.

Aside from the new designs, PHLPost is also encouraging foreign stamp collectors to acquire Philippine stamps for their own collection via online orders.

“Most of our stamps are being bought by local collectors. Foreigners find it hard to acquire our stamps. Before, if you’re abroad, it required regional clearing or standing order. But technology is now breaking borders and now we’re coming up with an e-commerce portal to sell Philippine stamps. Suddenly we have 190 countries who are interested in our stamps. They can just order online and we’ll send it to them by mail. This will not cover all our losses but it will help, and it can help keep the philately industry alive,” Carlos explained.

Another idea that the PHLPost hopes to see into fruition are selfie stamps. Using an app, individuals can use images they have taken with their smartphones and transform them into personalized stamps.

“Using their phones, they can simply take a selfie and send it to our server which will design their own stamps. Once the design is approved, they can pay online and we send it to them via mail,” said Carlos. “We’re trying to come up with new concepts for philately and posts so we can reach a wider audience.”


Promoting mail culture

Aside from the new designs (PHLPost will be coming up with tourism-related commemorative stamps soon), they are organizing events to help promote the mail culture. Late this year, they will be launching the ASEAN Invitational Philatelic Exhibit on Nov. 4-6 at the SMX Convention Center.

ASEANPex is a showcase of stamps and other philatelic products from the 10 ASEAN countries featuring each country’s beauty and biodiversity. The exhibit will also feature current issuances, as well as rare and collector’s item stamps. It will have on display 200-frame exhibit of rare and winning stamp collection, as well as rare showcase of living stamp personalities who have been featured in recent stamp designs.