World Post Day is celebrated each year on October 9, the anniversary of the establishment of the Universal Postal Union in 1874 in the Swiss Capital, Bern. The event was declared by the 1969 Universal Postal Congress in Tokyo to bring awareness to postal services’ roles in the everyday lives of people and businesses, as well as contributions to global social and economic development. As a result, the UPU’s member countries are encouraged to organize their own national activities to celebrate the event, including everything from the introduction or promotion of new postal products and services, to the organization of open days at post offices, mail centers and postal museums.
International Letter Writing Week, spanning the one-week period that includes October 9, was established at the 14th Universal Postal Union Congress held in Ottawa, Ontario, in 1957 with the aim of contributing to world peace by encouraging cultural exchanges among the people of the world through letter writing. The Congress adopted recommendation C 13/1957 to this effect:
“The Fourteenth Congress of the Universal Postal Union urges all member countries of the Union to consider the possibility of making the week in which 9 October falls International Letter Writing Week. It expressed the formal opinion that the United Nations and specialized agencies, whose aims and objects coincide with those to be achieved by the said International Week, should assist effectively in introducing it.“
The 15th UPU Congress held in Vienna in 1964 added the supplementary recommendation C 5/1964:
“In view of the importance of International Letter-writing week and of the success it meets with, it is suggested that all member countries of the Union should choose the same day as the first day of the week in question, namely, the Sunday beginning the week in which 9 October falls.”
In Thailand and Japan. International Letter Writing Week is a highly-active event while the UPU focuses more on the International Letter-Writing Competition for Young People (established 1969) and World Post Day. The theme for the 2016 competition is “Write a letter to your 45-year-old self.”
The Universal Postal Union also sponsors semi-annual posters promoting World Post Day. According to the UPU’s webpage for the 2016 event:
“The UPU helps facilitate awareness with its World Post Day by designing and distributing posters for display across the globe. In 2016, the UPU launched a new poster for the 2016–2018 period. Although World Post Day is not guided by a particular theme, the UPU’s latest poster design embodies the UPU’s three strategic pillars: innovation, integration and inclusion.
“Just as Posts innovate to remain relevant in the changing communication landscape, the UPU has chosen innovative designs for the new World Post Day poster. Using Pantone colour inks specially layered onto high-quality Swiss–made paper to produce the blue and gold design, the physical elements of the poster represent innovation unto themselves.
“The emblem’s design represents the two remaining pillars, integration and inclusion. The crisscrossed arms and layered colours act to show the integration of knowledge and processes, enabling seamless and affordable services for all. The intertwined design was inspired by the Celtic knot, which itself has Persian roots. Finally, the clasped hands represent how the Post connects and includes people around the world.
“More than 80 Posts have ordered some 70,000 posters in seven available languages: English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic, Russian and Chinese.
“In addition to the three-year poster campaign, UPU Director General Bishar A. Hussein also releases an annual message to celebrate the event. The Director General’s 2016 World Post Day message will be released shortly.“
Prior to the establishment of the Universal Postal Union in 1874, each country had to prepare a separate postal treaty with other nations it wished to carry international mail to or from. In some cases, senders would have to calculate postage for each leg of a journey, and potentially find mail forwarders in a third country if there was no direct delivery.
To simplify the complexity of this system, the United States called for an International Postal Congress in 1863. This led Heinrich von Stephan, Royal Prussian and later German Minister for Posts, to found the General Postal Union as a result of the Treaty of Bern signed on October 9, 1874. Four years later, the name was changed to Universal Postal Union.
The UPU established that:
- There should be a uniform flat rate to mail a letter anywhere in the world.
- Postal authorities should give equal treatment to foreign and domestic mail.
- Each country should retain all money it has collected for international postage.
One of the most important results of the UPU Treaty was that it ceased to be necessary, as it often had been previously, to affix the stamps of any country through which one’s letter or package would pass in transit. The UPU provides that stamps of member nations are accepted for the entire international route. Toward the end of the nineteenth century, the UPU issued rules concerning stamp design, intended to ensure maximum efficiency in handling international mail. One rule specified that stamp values be given in numerals (denominations spelled out in letters not being universally comprehensible); another, that member nations all use the same colors on their stamps issued for post cards (green), normal letters (red) and international mail (blue), a system that remained in use for several decades.
After the foundation of the United Nations, the UPU became a specialized agency of the UN in 1948. In 1969, the UPU introduced a new system of payment where fees were payable between countries according to the difference in the total weight of mail between them. These fees were called terminal dues. Ultimately, this new system was fairer when traffic was heavier in one direction than the other. As a matter of example, in 2012, terminal dues for transit from China to the United States was 0.635 SDR/kg, or about 1 USD/kg.
As this affected the cost of the delivery of periodicals, the UPU devised a new “threshold” system, which it implemented in 1991. The system sets separate letter and periodical rates for countries which receive at least 150 tonnes of mail annually. For countries with less mail, the original flat rate is still maintained. The United States has negotiated a separate terminal dues formula with thirteen European countries that includes a rate per piece plus a rate per kilogram; it has a similar arrangement with Canada. The UPU also operates the system of International Reply Coupons and addresses concerns with Extraterritorial Offices of Exchange.
UPU Congresses are held every four years and delegates often receive special philatelic albums produced by member countries covering the period since the previous Congress. On January 1, 2002, the UPU in conjunction with the World Association for the Development of Philately launched the WADP Numbering System (WNS). The WNS goals are to give stamp buyers and collectors a stamp catalogue of all official issues and to fight illegal stamps printed without the postal administrations’ consent. Since 2002, some developing countries succeeded to reduce their philatelic program and officially denounce illegal stamps via the UPU. The WNS number comprises the ISO 3166 Alpha-2 country code (2 letters), a serial number (3 figures) and the year of issue (2 figures), i.e. a total of 8 characters including a dot.
The WDS website displays entries for 160 countries and emitting postal entities, with over 25,000 registered stamps since 2002. Many of them have images, which generally remain copyrighted by the issuing country, but the UPU and WADP permit them to be downloaded.
Many countries issue stamps each year marking World Post Day. Thailand tends to release an annual set (usually four stamps) marking International Letter Writing Week. Scott #490 is the 50 satang lowest value in the set issued on October 8, 1967, marking that year’s event (running October 6-12). Described as dark blue & multicolored, the stamp was printed using the photogravure process. It features a globe, the UPU dove, four people of different races, and two letters (front and back).