Advancing the Value of Ethnography

Postal Poetry: The Significance of Stamps


Cite this article:

2015 Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference Proceedings, ISSN 1559-8918.

Postage stamps, quickly receding in usage as we tweet our voices around the world, have for nearly 200 years been key enablers of a system that links humans by physical messages. But beyond their role as facilitators of communication, stamps themselves carry messages embedded in their usage and imagery. Functionally, stamps signify that appropriate payment has been made for the service of transporting a letter. Symbolically, stamps express meaning for a variety of actors. The agencies who create stamps can use the visual canvas they provide to promote national values through domestic achievements and significant events and people. Individuals who use them may focus on the beauty of a stamp and the intimacy they believe a personally chosen stamp implies to the recipient. The recipients who do notice stamps and other marks on the mail may be noticing something unintended by the sender, such as the class of mail, which signifies the letter’s importance, or lack thereof. Stamps can carry personal meaning too, as connectors to one’s own past and as objects collected by a loved one and passed down as heirlooms.

Alexandra Mack is a Research Fellow in Pitney Bowes’s Strategic Technology and Innovation Center. Her work is focused on developing ideas for new products, services, and technologies based on a deep understanding of work practice.