Connecting the world through post © UNPA

The UNPA: a history
Going back to the origins of this famous postal authority
1 Jun 2024

Back in 1947, the idea for the United Nations to issue its own stamps was brought about by Argentina. The wheels were in motion by 20 November 1947, whereby the General Assembly passed a resolution that meant the Secretary-General was asked to investigate the creation of a UN postal service further.

At the time, José Arce, Ambassador from Argentina, was President of the United Nations General Assembly during the Second Special Session- between 16 April 1948 and 21 September 1948. José Arce was a philatelist- a collector and appreciator of stamps and thought the introduction of UN stamps would increase the revenue and international authority and presence of the UN. The Secretary-General at the time, Trygve Lie, was in support of José Arce’s idea and put forward the proposal, which was eventually accepted.

As a result of a long process, the United Nations Postal Administration (UNPA) was created on 16 November 1950 and the Secretary-General was asked to formally appoint a committee to design the first postal stamp. After this was formed, the first stamps were issued on 24 October 1951 (coincidentally the sixth anniversary of the date the UN was founded). The agreement was made that UN stamps could be issued in US denominations at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City.

Due to the international nature of the UN, it issues stamps in three different currencies and is the only postal authority to do so. It is also the only non-governmental organization in the world that can issue postal stamps.

Following the success of the UNPA in New York, the Geneva branch of the UNPA opened at the Palais des Nations on 4 October 1969. The Austrian headquarters in Vienna opened in 1979, meaning that there are now three UNPA hubs around the world.

The prevalence of the UN stamp has been championed for spreading the important messages that the UN stands for. They have been known as ‘Messengers of Peace,’ significant for their collectability and powerful designs.

UN stamps have become an iconic symbol of the way that citizens can connect with the global community and the work that the UN does. Particularly for philatelists, who have reveled in the special versions of the stamps that the UNPA has released. It has been reported that 85% of sales for the stamps are purchased by collectors. There is a high demand for the stamps, helping to drive and diversify stamp sales through increasing revenue. This demand can be seen in the fact that when the UNPA released a stamp design from the New York and Geneva offices to celebrate the UN’s 25th anniversary, they were completely sold out in 10 weeks. The respective mailing authorities (United States Postal Service (USPS), Swiss Post and Austrian Post) are reimbursed by the UN if its stamps are used for mailing purposes.

When the first stamp was designed by the committee appointed by the Secretary-General, it was decided that it should represent the ideals of ‘peace, justice, respect, human rights, tolerance and solidarity.’ The very first stamp was entitled ‘Peoples of the World’ and represented the UN emblem as the sun, beaming down on a group of people looking up to it with hope from the ground.

United Nations air mail stamps sheet © Karen Horton, Flickr

The UN stamps issue six to eight new commemorative themes throughout the year, all available to purchase through mail, via 

stamp dealer or from the UN offices in New York, Geneva and Vienna. The stamps are only valid when mailed out from respective UNPA offices, meaning USD denomination can only be used for mailing from UNHQ in NY, CHF from UNOG in Geneva, and EUR from UNOV in Vienna.

The last issue released was on 26 April 2024, where the UNPA released 12 new stamps to continue its Endangered Species stamp series, showing support for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), for which the UNPA has issued stamps over the past 30 years. Other previous commemorative stamps released by the UNPA include those for World Ocean Day and World Mental Health Day. The UNPA’s Flag Series, which started in 1980 to pay homage to the Member States of the United Nations, continued in March 2024 with the release of a sheet of 16 stamps featuring four new flags. These flags include Lebanon (as the cedar tree trunk on the flag changed from brown to green), San Marino (incorporating the standardized coat of arms), Yemen (new flag as of 1990) and the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (updated with an eighth star that was added in 2006 to represent the historic Guayana Province).

To celebrate the turn of the Chinese Lunar Calendar, UNPA issued a special event stamp sheet and postcard to recognise the ‘Year of the Dragon,’ which began on 10 February 2024 and will end on 28 January 2025. The denominated stamps are decorated with a dragon and the UN symbol, designed by Tiger Pan from China.

The UNPA has adapted to the diverse and multicultural nature of the global community, reflected both in the staff membership and of the visitors to the UN. Its postal system feels apt considering the omnipresence of the UN, whilst the stamps seek to represent the wide-reaching work and significant messages of peace, hope and commitment to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. 

* Mollie Fraser-Andrews is Editorial Coordinator for UN Today.
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