United Nations Postal Administration
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The United Nations Postal Administration (UNPA) is the postal agency of the United Nations. It issues postage stamps and postal stationery, denominated in United States dollars for the United Nations offices in New York, in Swiss francs for the offices in Geneva and in euros (formerly schillings) for the offices in Vienna. Postage rates charged are identical to those of the host nation.
Usage and limitation
Only United Nations stamps in the appropriate currency may be used at a given United Nations office. In practice, however, most UN agencies use meters, and the stamps are most often used by tourists and collectors. Since the stamps may not be used outside the UN offices, they may be purchased in bulk on the secondary market as discount postage at well below face value.
On September 4, 2007, the UNPA posted on its Web page new rules limiting the mailings it will accept. Express mail and Priority Mail are no longer available to the public, and mailings from the public are limited to 100 pieces. The UNPA stated that the reason for this is that it was not established to provide all postal services, and that its primary function was to issue stamps for philatelic purposes.
The idea for the UN to issue stamps originated in 1947 with José Arce the ambassador from Argentina and president of the United Nations General Assembly, who was himself a philatelist. (The League of Nations had used overprinted Swiss stamps.) The UNPA came into existence by agreement with the U.S. in 1951, soon after the UN moved into its headquarters in Manhattan. Prior to that, the UN used the facilities of the United States Post Office Department.
Ordinarily, mail must be taken to the UN offices and franked with the appropriate UN stamps. From time to time, though, by agreement with the United States Postal Service, the UNPA maintains a temporary office elsewhere, usually at stamp shows or special events.
First stamps and collectivity
The UNPA issued its first stamps for the New York offices in 1951. There was intense collector interest in the early issues, and a million stamps or more were sold of many of the early commemoratives. The scarcest item from this period, although still quite affordable, is the UN 10th anniversary souvenir sheet, Scott #38, of which 250,000 were printed. A precancel of the first 1½-cent stamp that was used on a number of mass mailings has been extensively forged.
By 1957, the UNPA's commemoratives regularly sold out, though they might take several months to do so. Faced with this success, officials increased print runs from the usual million stamps to as many as five million. Surprisingly, sales increased tremendously, and sales of each commemorative stamp remained in the 1.5 to 3 million range through the 1970s.
In 1968, the UNPA made an agreement with Swiss postal authorities, and on 4 October 1969 began to issue stamps in franc denominations for use at the Geneva offices. A 1979 agreement with Austria led to similar stamps for Vienna.
There was a resurgence of interest in UN stamps in the 1970s, which may have peaked with the almost immediate sellout of the panes of 20 issued for the UNPA's 25th anniversary—three of the four denominations sold out on the date of issue (8 October 1976); the fourth sold out within two and a half months. A similar issue, in 1979, for the International Year of the Child sold out on the day of issue. The story made the front page of The New York Times. In 1980, the first of an annual series depicting members' national flags sold nearly 3.5 million of each individual stamp.
In 1981, interest began to diminish after controversy erupted concerning the UNPA's issuance of stamps for the "Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People". The proposal for issuance, and the issuance itself, was extensively and critically covered by The New York Times and by Linn's Stamp News. The fifteen cent denomination became the first UNPA stamp since 1954 to sell fewer than a million copies when more than a million were printed. By 1983, many more stamps were selling fewer than a million copies, though sales of Vienna stamps remained strong. In 1986, the souvenir sheet for the World Federation of United Nations Associations became the first issue to sell fewer than a half-million copies where at least that many were printed in UNPA history.
Reviving collector interest
In an effort to increase sales, the UNPA used a combination of smaller printings of stamp issuances, aggressive marketing, and having famous artists create stamp designs. Still, stamp sales have never recovered to previous levels and today print runs are on the order of 400,000 stamps. Due to these lower printing quantities, the stamps from the late 1990s and 2000s are harder to find on the discount postage market. Although it is rare, some issues have sold out. The most notable of regularly issued UN stamps is the 2005 General Assembly 60th Anniversary Souvenir Sheet, of the one dollar denomination, which is currently being sold by stamp dealers for more than 10 times its original face value.
In 2003, the UN Postal Administration began issuing "personalized" sheets for New York. These sheets have ten or twenty stamps and a large decorative border, with a tab to the right of each stamp. Visitors to the UN Building in New York can go to a kiosk where a personal picture can be printed onto a sheet with blank tabs. Most "personalized" sheets are produced for stamp shows and specific UN events with related designs already printed on the tabs. Truly personalized sheets rarely reach the secondary market.
The UN Post Offices in Geneva and Vienna began offering this type of sheet in 2009. Two sheets were produced in 2007 and two in 2008 denominated in Euros. The editors of the Scott Catalog question whether they were ever actually sold at the UN Post Office in Vienna, a primary criterion for recognizing them as a legitimate postal issue. The Scott Catalog lists them as footnotes without assigned catalog numbers.
The UNPA continues to issue stamps, including personalized stamps. It is responsible also for sorting and delivery of mail to the offices under its jurisdiction.
Archive sale controversy
A recent controversy concerns the 2003 purchase by one organization of the UNPA's entire postal archive, including original artwork and artist's proofs. Apparently this was to raise money for the UNPA, and it may have netted the organization about $2.5 million. However, there have been serious allegations that improper procedures approving the sale were followed. Also, resale of items at several times their initial values have apparently occurred, thus raising more questions about the entire matter. As of 2006 the issue remains under internal UN investigation.
- Conway, Herbert. 25 years of philatelic highlights. New York: United Nations Postal Administration, 1976, 59p.
- Gaines, Arleigh. United Nations Philately. New York: R.& D. Publications, 1980-1997, 3 vols.
- Goody, Ramon. A study of the first United Nations regular and airmail postage stamps, 1951-1966. Chelmsford: The Author, 1978, 120p.
- Kelen, Emery. Stamps tell the story of the United Nations. New York: Meredith Press, 1968, 95p.
- Michel UNO-Spezial-Katalog 2012. München: Schwaneberger Verlag, 2011 ISBN 978-3-87858-059-1, 544p.
- Patrick Douglas and Mary. The postage stamps and postal history of the United Nations. Toronto: Ryerson Press, 1955, 174p.