The Philately Unit of Pos Malaysia

15 August 2018

An insider tour to the workings of the philately unit of Pos Malaysia, where stamps are designed, produced and sent out to post offices and collectors all over the world.

Flanked by the Kuala Lumpur station, Dayabumi building and Central Market, Pos Malaysia’s headquarters is an integral part in the city’s distinctive skyline. The building houses Pos Malaysia’s postal operations, a retail area, and – tucked away in the back – a tiny Stamps Gallery which also doubles as the office for the Stamps & Philately Unit.

“In a year, we release at least 18 types of postal releases. Here’s our first release for the year – Working Dogs of Malaysia,” says Diyana Lean Abdullah, head of the Stamps & Philately Unit. She points to a series of stamps each featuring an intricately hand drawn dog. Every year, the unit will release stamp designs according to the Chinese zodiac.

In conjunction with the Year of the Dog, Pos Malaysia released a series of stamps to commemorate the country’s working canines

“For this particular series we featured search and rescue dogs, dogs for the sight-impaired, sniffer dogs and more,” she says.

For something barely larger than a thumbnail, stamps have taken on a larger meaning in a country’s history and how it’s represented internationally. “Stamps affect how people perceive the nation. You can say that stamps are also a record of our culture, values and natural resources. It lets other people know that Malaysia wujud.”

Diyana Lean Abdullah, head of the Stamps and Philately Unit at Pos Malaysia

The Stamps Team
To learn about the work of the Stamps & Philately Unit is to first learn about the types of stamps produced. There are four main types: Definitive Stamps are the common ones purchased for general letter-sending, Revenue Stamps are adhesive labels used for tax purposes on items such as tobacco, alcohol and medicine, Commemorative Stamps are released to celebrate important national and international events, and finally, Thematic Stamps are based on pre-determined themes. The latter makes up a bulk of the unit’s workload, and is perhaps the most interesting to work on.

A unique stamp featuring nyonya kebaya embroidery, based on an award-winning kebaya. This stamp won fourth place in the Vienna International Philatelic Exhibition Awards Grand Prix in 2013

Much like an editorial operation, the Stamps & Philately Unit curates, edits and plans thematic stamps that will be issued. In determining themes, the team consults local collectors for feedback and suggestions. There will even be a stamp design committee set up for each confirmed theme, comprising of representatives from the unit, Pos Malaysia’s Communications team, Philatelic Society Malaysia and the Federation of Inter-Asian Philately.

The stamp design committee will then work closely with artists and experts such as historians and archivists for advice. For example, Jabatan Bomba Unit K9 was  involved for the Working Dogs series, and for various destination-themed stamps, the team works with local tourism boards.

Diyana explains, “We will not issue stamps that are not endorsed by experts. Stamps are mini ambassadors of a country, hence we cannot afford to make mistakes.”

Stamps also play an educational role. Here, a stamp series themed on Malaysian batik showcases wood blocks and intricate metal blocks used in batik printing

However, Diyana is grateful for Malaysia’s immense diversity, which means they’ll almost never run out of things to feature. Some of the stamps available in Pos Malaysia’s retail store range from traditional delicacies for local ethnic groups to P. Ramlee, traditional calligraphy techniques, batik wood printing blocks, Straits Settlements, local flora and fauna, and more.

Malaysian stamps are also known for hand drawn art. “We very rarely use photography or graphic design. There’s more value in hand drawn art, with stories and heart behind it,” says Diyana.

A stamp featuring the legendary P. Ramlee

A stamps series based on the rivers of Malaysia

“For some other countries, they don’t have much to feature, so they might resort to releasing stamps about Star Wars or Michael Jackson. For us, we’ll always produce stamps only if it’s related to our local heritage,” she adds. “Stamps are not only meant to be pretty, but they should be as educational as possible.”

Staying Relevant
The Stamps & Philately Unit works to be ahead of the curve to keep their releases interesting. Advanced stamp-making technology has even allowed the unit to up the novelty factor.

“Now, we have scented stamps – Hong Kong made stamps that smell of siu yuk, you can even print stamps on silk. Some countries made stamps out of gold and diamonds, and even Brazil made stamps out of football leather to commemorate a sporting event,” says Diyana, showing us a collection of kaffir lime-scented stamps by Pos Malaysia.

A gold-plated version of the nyonya kebaya stamp is priced at RM50 – the most expensive stamp in Pos Malaysia’s inventory

These thematic stamps may be collectibles, but except for a RM50 gold-plated stamp in the unit’s inventory, most thematic stamps are priced below RM10. This is why stamp collecting is such an enduring practice – it’s one of the cheaper hobbies out there.

“Stamp collecting is not expensive. It’s an accessible hobby. Regardless of [age], it can be done by anyone,” says Diyana. To encourage interest in the younger generation, the unit also organises events in schools and holds stamp collection championships. “During exhibitions, parents will also give their children some pocket money to buy stamps for their collection. It’s very encouraging.”

Keeping Up With The Stamps Craze
In an age when snail mail isn’t as widespread as before, demand for stamps are still high – amongst collectors.

“Do people buy these stamps? Of course they do!” says Diyana. “Release days are an occasion. Whenever there’s a release – you can check out the dates online – it’ll be like a H&M and Alexander Wang collaboration sale. Collectors take leave, people queue up at all our 700 post offices all over the country.”

For example, the commemorative stamps issued when Prince William and Kate Middleton visited Malaysia in 2012 were quickly snapped up by collectors. Diyana recalls that later on eBay, they sold for RM300 or more.

The Pos Malaysia stamps gallery includes some framed stamps on display, such as this piece featuring Perak’s post office, released in 2010.

To cater to the strong demands from the stamp collecting community, Pos Malaysia has a Service Order Debit Unit (SODA) where collectors can purchase newly released stamps online and have them delivered. SODA currently has 15,000 active members – somewhat a ballpark figure for the number of stamp collectors in the country.

Apart from SODA, Pos Malaysia has also introduced other initiatives such as stamps customisation services, school programmes to raise awareness on philately, and organising exhibitions with the Philatelic Society of Malaysia.

Malaysian stamps are known for featuring only hand drawn art

Founded in 1947, the Philatelic Society has 450 members and holds regular meetups twice a week: meetings at their Sentul clubhouse on Tuesdays and informal gatherings at Amcorp Mall on Saturdays. The society has been vital in promoting philately in Malaysia through stamp auctions, stamp fairs, and even a World Stamp exhibition in 2014.

“I have learnt so much from the strong stamp collectors community here,” says Diyana on Pos Malaysia’s close relationship with the society. “They are always willing to share their wealth of knowledge and give us feedback.”

Address: Pos Malaysia Headquarters, Dayabumi Complex, 50670 Kuala Lumpur (03 2267 2001).

By Jamie Quah
Photos by Teoh Eng Hooi

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