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Opinion: Will postage stamps ever lose their relevance to the design world?

This week, assistant editor Maisie Skidmore ponders the design eminence of stamps, and how dull the communication world might be without them. Are you an avid collector? Do you hate the sight of that mini Queen’s head every time you go to the post office? We want to hear all about it in the comment section below!

All too often, stamp collectors are banded together with trainspotters and birdwatchers in that group of fanatics whose every spare moment is devoted to sticking, organising, and other distinctly “uncool” activities. It’s a hobby that isn’t generally given the kind of respect it truly deserves – a fact which is bemoaned in secret by those in the design world.

In fact, no small number of graphic design-lovers are fascinated by them. They’re often equally prone to coo about, say, an archive of stamps from the Dutch Postal Service, or an exhibition cataloguing the development of styles over the course of a century, as they are a trendy new magazine.

That’s because even in a world where emailing has long overtaken snail-mail, and where franking machines render the images on stamps more or less invisible, it’s easy to feel patriotic about the prospect of sticking one of Paul Smith’s Olympic stamps, or one bearing a Scout to a letter before popping it in the post.

Stamps are as much the markers of the age in which they are designed as, say, money is, and as such, they often bear the echo of trends which characterise that era. Which is possibly why these new Finnish stamps, bearing the lovingly drawn posteriors and seedy looking expressions of Tom of Finland’s characters, we received with such enthusiasm yesterday.

The illustrations of the much-loved Finnish homosexual “Tom of Finland”, created by Touko Laaksonen, are decadent in their sexuality, and utterly unashamed of it, languishing happily in luscious lips, naked muscles and bulging biceps. They represent an openness and a joyous love of sex which, happily, belongs well and truly in the 21st Century.

Stamps might be seen by masses as the underdog of the design world, but secretly they’ve achieved an undeniable power in their endurance, their omnipresence and their collectibility. Without them, we’d be consigned to a life of emails, phone-calls and text messages, where minor alterations in the Mail icon on your toolbar are about as exciting as it gets. And you’re unlikely ever to see Tom of Finland’s naked antics on there.