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The Businessman Who Introduced Talking Stamps of Bhutan

04 Feb 2019  Mon

When Bhutan was in need of some financial help in the 1950s, they asked the World Bank for a loan of $10 million. However, their request was turned down. One of the World Bank officials advised them to sell postage stamps for generating national income. The small independent city-state of Monaco had already succeeded in selling stamps to make money. In fact, Monaco’s Prince Rainier III called these stamps “the best ambassador of a country.” Bhutan was inspired by Monaco’s success story and established the Bhutan Stamp Agency in 1962. An American entrepreneur named Burt Kerr Todd was asked to take charge of the Agency.

Todd was a true explorer and became friends with Bhutan’s future queen, Ashi Kesang Choden-Dorfi at Oxford University. He was the son of a rich steel and banking businessman in Pittsburgh and also was the first American to visit Bhutan. Besides being a wonderful salesman, Todd had several worthy connections worldwide, including Sultan of Brunei, prime minister of Mauritius etc. He introduced many profitable schemes in various small countries. For example, he promoted rum production in Fiji and had asked maharajas to sell their Rolls-Royces to international buyers.

Todd had no idea about the international stamp market and started by issuing generic postage stamps for Bhutan featuring yaks and monasteries. He later started innovating by introducing silk stamps, steel stamps, 3D stamps, scented stamps and stamps depicting the Yeti. He also introduced the world’s first talking stamps in 1972. A set of seven colourful stamps were released which were considered to be the world’s smallest vinyl records. Apart from playing the role of normal postage stamps, these talking stamps can also be placed on a turntable to play a Bhutanese folk song, Bhutan’s national anthem, or a short narration about life in the Land of Dragons.

3,00,000 stamps were released. Initially, philatelists from all over the world criticised the idea for being too showy. But these perceptions changed over the years and today a set of original talking stamps from Bhutan has a market value of almost $400. Todd continued to implement new ideas for issuing unusual stamps in the later years.

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Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

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