October is National Stamp Collecting Month, and there are perhaps no more collectible stamps than the ones out of the small Asian country of Bhutan.
In fact, that was kind of the point.
Bhutan needed a way to make money to build modern necessities like roads and hospitals, but when it applied to the World Bank for a $10 million loan around 1960, it was rejected.
Someone suggested that Bhutan do what other small countries had done to raise revenue: produce a series of stamps to catch the eyes and the wallets of stamp collectors.
To set up the new Bhutan Stamp Agency, the country turned to Burt Todd, a well-off American entrepreneur who had become friends with Bhutan’s princess in college.
After a few false starts, Todd concluded the best way to sell lots of stamps was to fill them with surprises.
The first big success came in 1967, with a 3-D stamp showing astronauts and spacecraft.
The irony was that most people in Bhutan probably hadn’t seen any astronauts or spacecraft; the country didn’t establish TV service until 1999.
Nonetheless, the stamp innovations continued.
They printed stamps on silk and on metal.
Some were bas-relief stamps.
Others were scented.
Maybe the most famous of all were the so-called “talking stamps,” little one-sided vinyl records that could be mounted on paper or cardboard and then played on phonographs.
These and the other stamps were big hits among collectors, and they were a way to spread the word about Bhutan to the rest of the world.
If you didn’t know that Bhutan was near India or China, or what the country’s music sounded like, a talking stamp could fill in those blanks for you.
And all of them were real, functional stamps that could be attached to letters or packages.
When North Korea issued what some claimed to be the first CD-ROM stamp, Bhutan said, no, because it didn’t have any adhesive backing.
They said their CD-ROM did, and so that stamp was first.
It’s Earth Science Week
In 1980, W.D. Ian Rolfe released a collection of the strangest responses to questions on geology tests.
One them read, quote: “Dust is mud with the juice squeezed out.”
Little Ambassadors of the Country (Works That Work)
“Coal Is Decayed Vegetarians” (Futility Closet)