UN stamps have cultural and historical significance © UNPA

Illuminating global issues through the UNPA 
Chief of the United Nations Postal Administration, Thanawat Amnajanan, states the significance of the UN stamp
1 Jun 2024

The United Nations Postal Administration (UNPA) follows and captures the work and achievements of the United Nations and its agencies and features them on postage stamps. United Nations stamps are considered as chronological markers of the organization’s efforts to address the world’s dominant challenges.

Chief of UNPA, Thanawat Amnajanan, has overseen the UNPA since January 2015. He joined the United Nations in February 2004 and has taken on many roles and responsibilities within the organization. His main responsibilities are, in his words, to “lead and manage the activities of the UNPA, ensuring the section delivers its mandate. This is to promote the activities and achievements of the United Nations and its specialized agencies through the medium of postage stamps.”

The Chief of UNPA sets out the strategies, policies and procedures related to UNPA; establishes the yearly programme of issues, which the UN Stamp Advisory Committee has reviewed and approved; ensures that substantive work schedules are carried out in a timely manner and outputs produced by the UNPA maintain high-quality standards, following the relevant mandates. 

Over time, UNPA has had to adapt to suit the era of digitalization and electronic services. 

This has naturally influenced the postal service, as Thanawat Amnajanan states: “The use of UN stamps to send letters have declined over the years in all three UN offices. However, UN stamps are still highly sought after for their beauty, messages, history, and nostalgic appeal.”

He adds that: “In the world of rapid digitization and electronic services, people increasingly value the beauty and effort taken to send handwritten letters and postcards with postage stamps on them. The act of writing and receiving letters can bridge the divide and bring people together in a meaningful way. It is a reminder of our shared humanity and the importance of connecting with others on a personal level.”

Thanawat Amnajanan informs us that “as technology advances, UNPA adapts to enhance the look and appeal of United Nations stamps as well as to improve the services it provides to customers. United Nations stamps come in various sizes, shapes, and formats and to that end, UNPA utilizes modern printing techniques such as lithography, hexachrome, special inks, offset with foil and holograms. They use fluorescent ink for security features, like banknotes, to prevent forgery, tampering and counterfeiting. It offers both ‘personalized’ and ‘customized’ stamp products to individuals, UN offices, UN agencies and other organizations. UNPA has issued ‘interactive’ stamps whereby special applications or QR quotes are incorporated and used to project sounds and display multimedia content for viewing. 

With the help of the UN Office of Information, Communication and Technology (OICT), UNPA has also developed and issued two series of ‘UN Crypto Stamps,’ which are the new generation of United Nations stamps with both physical and digital twins that are connected to a blockchain. These UN Crypto Stamps can be collected and traded physically as well as digitally. The UNPA website provides more information on these crypto stamps. UNPA is currently working on a new sales system and e-commerce website and exploring the possibility of offering ‘print-on-demand’ UN stamp-themed merchandise soon.”

Perhaps one of the most surprising facts about UNPA is that they have an office in China, despite the country not having a huge UN presence. Thanawat Amnajanan said the main reason for this is that “China is one of the largest and most important philatelic markets in the world. In order to better promote and expand the sale of United Nations stamps, develop important dealership and sale agents’ networks, as well as improve services to UNPA’s customers in China, a liaison office with one person based at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) office in Beijing was established in April 2016. The Chinese market is unique and requires knowledge of the key players, consumer preferences, market structure and sale channels, social media and influencers, relationship building and Chinese language skills to be successful.”

United Nations stamps are known for their iconic designs based on themes selected by the Stamp Advisory Committee (SAC). Thanawat Amnajanan reveals that “the primary function of the SAC is to review and approve subjects which should be included in the UNPA programme of issues and their designs. The selection of programmes may be made from proposals submitted by UN offices, including UNPA, member states, organizations, and individual persons.”

The Committee is chaired by the Director of the Division of Administration (DOA), with member representatives from UNPA New York, UNPA Europe, Department of Global Communications (DGC) and Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs (DPPA). Representatives from other Departments may be invited by the SAC Chair when s/he deems it beneficial to the Committee’s deliberations. Members of the Committee may appoint alternate representatives if the need arises. The Committee is occasionally assisted in its work by external advisors, such as the United Nations Philatelic Society and specialists in the fields of art and philately from outside the United Nations.

A UN Crypto Stamp, issued in 2022 © UNPA

The SAC is also responsible for deciding the themes of the stamps based on the input of the UNPA offices, Heads of UN offices and specialized agencies. Although UNPA are open to suggestions from anyone internally or externally to the organization, individual staff members can suggest and submit themes for UN stamps to UNPA as well.

Thanawat Amnajanan asserts that the themes/subjects proposed should be appropriate for use and issuance as a UN stamp in accordance with the following principles.

They should be:

a. suited to the character, purpose and aims of the United Nations and its specialized agencies;

b. informative about the activities of the UN;

c. unlikely to offend religious or other sensibilities, and not politically controversial;

d. distinctive, artistic, and attractive for postage and philatelic purposes.

Since the UNPA was founded, they have released many collections. Where are these all kept? Thanawat Amnajanan reveals that “samples of all the UN stamps and products that have been released by UNPA were submitted to and maintained by Archives and Records Management Section (ARMS). They are not accessible to the public as the United Nations does not have the space, facility, and resources required to properly display and manage such accessibility for philatelic products.

However, there are several companies that have recorded and published images and information of all UN stamps that have been issued in stamp catalogs. These are Michel, Scott, Stanley Gibbons and others. The Universal Postal Union (UPU) also provides images and information of UN stamps issued since 2002 online, through the World Number System (WNS), which is a worldwide numbering system for postage stamps (

So, what does the future of the UNPA look like?

Its Chief, Thanawat Amnajanan, insists that “UNPA will continue to capture the work and achievements of the organization and beautifully feature them on UN stamps. UN stamps are chronological markers of the organization’s efforts to address the world’s challenges. They will continue to be the postage ambassadors of the UN and spread important messages to people of the world in a unique way.

UNPA is currently researching and exploring various areas to see how a small piece of postage stamp could offer more utility rather than just being a label for paid postage. With new technology, postage stamps could be used for tracking and capturing the path and duration it takes for a mail to be delivered to its destination. They can also be used for recording and playing messages and multimedia content, enabling the owner and/or recipient of the stamp to authenticate ownership, sending or responding to messages, participating in surveys, playing games and collecting donations. UNPA hopes to further incorporate new technologies and enhance the features of UN Crypto Stamps and other new types of postage stamps to be issued in the coming years.

In addition, UNPA plans to expand its offering to include UN stamp-themed merchandise. Hopefully, in 10 years we will be offering a full range of beautiful and high-quality products and gift items online in addition to postage stamps. UNPA is also working on upgrading its e-commerce website and improving its customer experience. We hope the new website will be more user-friendly, engage and interact with our customers better, and present UNPA stamps and other products more attractively than the existing one.” 

* Prisca Chaoui is the Editor-in-chief of UN Today.
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