To infinity and beyond. That must have been how it seemed (way) last century as the Disney Company had deals in place and postage stamps flowed seeming unendingly from places like Dominica and Guyana. But as the 21st century dawned, Disney was ready for a whole new world.
It was as if the prince suddenly found the right foot for the shoe he held. It was a switcheroo as worthy as a freaky Friday. You almost need to be a computer wearing tennis shoes to understand how this happened. It was a whole new world in Disney philately, prompting new products from big stamp-issuing nations, like the United States and France. At the same time, a change and adaptation in technology created a new product – personalized postage – where Disney found a secondary market.
First, a little look at big-time stamp production.
The number of Disney stamps released since the beginning of the 21st century has been reduced to a trickle in comparison to the deluge that ended the last century. Between 1979 and 1999, Grenada issued the most sets of Disney stamps with 33. Other prolific countries and their outputs include Gambia (27 sets), Dominica (23), Maldives (21), Guyana (18) and Turks and Caicos (12). Remember, those are multistamp sets, which means hundreds of individual stamps were issued.
Interestingly enough, the countries that issued few, if any, Disney stamps before 2000 are now at the forefront of Disney philately.
Before 2000, the United States had issued two Disney stamps – the 1968 6-cent Walt Disney memorial and the 32-cent Snow White stamp as part of the 1930s Stamps of the Century issued in 1998. Since 2000, the U.S. has led the way with 11 sets (65 stamps) of Disney and Pixar stamps, which includes Jim Henson and the Muppets of 2005 and this year’s Go Beyond (Buzz Lightyear) set of five.
Elsewhere, Japan has issued eight sets and there have been four each from China, Italy and Poland, while France issued three. Others issuing authorized Disney stamps in recent years include Australia, Austria, Belgium, Israel, Netherlands, Singapore and Thailand, though several are personalized stamps and therefore are not listed in the major stamp catalogs.
Personalized stamps are not usually listed as they are sold at well over face value and they are printed in limited numbers. These are two of the criteria that the Scott catalog uses to determine if a stamp is listed, even when such stamps can be used as postage in the country or origin. Although the stamps can be and are used as legitimate postage, for the most part they are marketed to collectors.
The reasons for the change from regular to personalized postage are primarily financial ones as the Disney Company was not making enough money from licensing the stamps, according to reporting from Ken Lawrence.
Until the end of 1996, the U.S.-based Inter-Governmental Philatelic Corporation was the North American distributor of Disney stamps. Beginning in 1979 with the International Year of the Child sets, IGPC guided the progress of the Disney topic.
That all changed abruptly when Disney did not renew IGPC’s license to sell Disney stamps wholesale in North America. As of January 1, 1997, the company continued to have some say in design and production but not distribution. It seems that IGPC was given until June 30, 1998, to dispose of its Disney stamps.
Disney had apparently made a deal with MBI, Inc. (a marketing company for licensed merchandise) for the sale of the stamps under the auspices of The Postal Commemorative Society (later PCS Stamps) and/or The Danbury Mint, two divisions of MBI. MBI was not a stamp dealer in the true sense but promoters of philatelic material that sold stamps in splashy promotions for well in excess of face value. Unfortunately, it appears that Disney liked that idea because it received more exposure than through its deal with IGPC. Most people buying through MBI were not stamp collectors, but Disneyana collectors.
Australia was the first to introduce personalized postage wherein stamps are printed and, for the cost of postage plus a fee, an image and/or text of the purchaser’s choosing could be placed beside or onto the stamp.
In 2003, Belgium and Japan were the first to recognize the potential of using licensed Disney images on personalized stamps. This article looks at personalized stamps issued by a postal administration and authorized by the Disney Company.
Figure 1. Three types of personalized postage stamps. From left: Stamp and label format; frame stamp format; indicia format.
Personalized stamps vary from country to country but there are three basic kinds (Figure 1). The first is the stamp and label format in which a standard issue postage stamp is printed next to a blank label, separated by a perforation. The blank label can have a customer’s image or a licensed image printed on it. In the second type, the stamp has a pre-printed frame and the image is printed as part of the stamp. The third is a one-piece meter stamp format with an image next to the indicia.
The concept of personalized stamps was first introduced by Australia Post in March 1999 during Australia ’99 World Stamp Expo in Melbourne. A camera was set up near the Australia Post booth, where customers could have their picture taken and added to the tab next to a stamp. The stamp in this case was the 45-cent Polly Woodside stamp (Scott 1729), released as part of the Sailing Ships of Australia stamp issue and available as a “Personalised Stamp” in a sheetlet of 20 (Figure 2).
Figure 2. The ship Polly Woodside on the world’s first personalized stamp.
Once a collector’s photo was added in place of the logo or instead of the wording, the stamp and label could be used as postage. These personalized stamps were initially only offered at the show in sheets of 20 but were later available online.
In December of the same year, Australia issued stamps with preprinted images – including a koala and a Christmas ornament – on the tabs of a set of six greetings stamps (Scott 1773-1778) or with blank tabs made available online for collectors to submit their own images.
The first Disney-related stamps consisted of postage stamps interspaced with tabs or labels featuring Disney characters, introduced in 2004. They were called Souvenir Stamp Sheets, were generally large in size, and had additional scenes in the borders around the stamps. Another version, called Stamp Packs, were smaller and came with a decorative folder to hold the stamps.
The first of what would eventually be 64 Disney-themed sheets and stamp packs to date, was issued on June 16, 2004, and featured a folder containing a sheet of 10 stamps with images of Mickey Mouse in the tabs (Figure 3). Issued to “Celebrate Mickey: 75 Years of Fun,” each tab shows Mickey at a different time of his film career next to a 2003 Balloons and Streamers stamp (Scott 625).
Figure 3. The first Disney Australian stamp pack.
From then to date, as the Disney Company expanded, the tabs also featured characters or scenes from Pixar, Star Wars and the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Due to lack of space, all the personalized sheets and stamp packs will not be described, listed or illustrated here; just enough to show the evolution of the personalized stamps. A complete list of Disney personalized stamps, including images of each, can be found in the Handbook of Disney of Stamps – Part 3, available from the Disneyana on Stamps Society (see sidebar at the bottom of this article).
Figure 4. A Belgian Duostamps packet featuring Winnie the Pooh labels with a Belgian post emblem stamp (Scott 2011).
Belgium’s Duostamps are unique in the world of personalized stamps. The first Disney Duostamps were issued in 2003, with Belgium probably the first country to recognize that inserting Disney tabs on personalized stamps was a viable sales concept. Printed in sheets of 15, early Duostamps were only available in stamp and tab format, with the early sheets featuring different scenes on each tab. The first pane was issued in 2003 and featured Winnie the Pooh. Later, Duostamps were also available in strips of five in cellophane packets (Figure 4) and eventually the sheets of 15 were only available through special order from the Central Office in Masmechelen. The easiest way to determine the chronology of Duostamps releases is to check the issue date of the Belgian stamps to the right of the tab.
Belgium ceased issuing Disney duostamps in 2013. By that time, more than 30 different booklets of five different duostamps were issued. Other subjects to appear on duostamps include Elvis, Tintin, Garfield, Ice Age, Peanuts, Warner Bros cartoons, Harry Potter, Thorgal, Smurfs, WWF and Super Mario.
Beginning in 2015, France’s La Poste began to capitalize on the hugely popular Star Wars franchise, owned by Disney since 2012 when it purchased Lucasfilm. Scenes from the first Star Wars film released by Disney, Star Wars: The Force Awakens appeared in a set of 15 personalized stamps (Figure 5). Only seven of these are considered Disney stamps by many collectors as the other eight are from Star Wars films before the acquisition by Disney. In addition, a booklet with a single self-adhesive Star Wars: Le Réveil de la Force (The Force Awakens) title shot stamp was issued to advertise the release of the film.
Figure 5. A Star Wars: The Force Awakens personalized stamp from France’s La Poste.
In 2017 with the release of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, France continued its Star Wars series, when La Poste issued personalized stamps with characters and objects from Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Star Wars: Le Réveil de la Force). There were 24 different domestic rate postage stamps. The designs were available both pre-printed and print to order. In addition, a sheetlet in the shape of droid BB8, with four self-adhesive stamps in different designs, was issued on November 9, 2017.
In 2018, France began a salute to Mickey Mouse’s 90th anniversary with a set of stamps showing Mickey in various parts of France (Scott 5458-5469a).
As if that was not enough, La Poste issued 45 different personalized stamps, as noted on the La Poste website, some of which were used several times for different designs. The French “My Stamps” (Mon Timbre en Ligne) were different from other personalized stamps in that the buyer could select the image they wanted from numerous options. They could also select the denomination and print the stamps themselves on plain paper or Avery labels, with a maximum of 120 stamps per order. Each stamp was provided with a security number to prevent forgery.
With most personalized stamps (such as Belgian Duostamps or Japanese frame stamps), the buyer did not have a choice of designs. In France, however, many designs were available but not necessarily used. Some designs were used more than others, and some may not have been used at all (Figure 6).
With the release of the ninth film in the Star Wars trilogies, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, another set of Star Wars personalized stamps was made available at the end of 2019 for a limited time. There are 21 known different domestic rate postage stamps with scenes and starships from the film.
Figure 6. A typical Mickey 90th birthday indicia stamp from France.
The Israel Philatelic Service initiated the My Stamp project in 2003. The public was encouraged to order sheets of official Israeli stamps, with each official stamp bearing an attached personalized image.
Beginning in 2009 and continuing almost uninterrupted until 2016, Israel Post issued an annual My Stamp personalized sheet with a Disney theme. The first was a sheet of 12 stamps (Scott 1774) with tabs commemorating the Disney Channel in Israel with Disney characters in four tabs for Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Miley Cyrus as Hannah Montana in four tabs and the Jonas Brothers from Jonas in four tabs (Figure 7).
Figure 7. Stars of the Disney Channel are shown on Israel’s first Disney My Stamp sheet.
The majority of the following My Stamp Disney sheets had the same Heart stamp as the first. Israeli My Stamps sheets include many subjects both religious and secular, including famous women, art, religious holidays, flora and fauna.
The Japanese Frame stamps have been issued in greater numbers than any other personalized stamps. To date, the Disney sheets alone have surpassed 100 items. The first Disney designs came out in December 2003 and featured a sheet of 10 characters from The Incredibles (Figure 8). In the early sheets the Disney designs were not part of the stamps (Scott 2874B and 2874C) but rather attached as labels.
Figure 8. Japanese frame stamps of 2003 feature characters from The Incredibles.
The second issue was in 2004. The stamps, (Scott 2914K and 2914L), were issued on December 15. According to the Scott catalog, the “stamps and labels are separated by a fine line of rouletting. Die cut perforated 12½. Labels could be personalized . . . printed in sheets containing five of each stamp and 10 labels that sold for 1000 yen.” The Disney designs were again not part of the stamps but rather attached as labels. The stamps were denominated 80 yen and ranged from Mickey Mouse to movies Finding Nemo (Figure 9) and Pirates of the Caribbean.
Figure 9. An early Japanese personalized sheet depicting characters from Finding Nemo.
Beginning in 2006, the personalized sheets were issued with the Disney designs as part of the stamps. The stamps were issued in September and were printed in self-adhesive sheets of 10; the image portion could be personalized (Scott 2963K).
The 2007 personalized stamps were available in both 50 yen (Scott 3010A-3010E) and 80 yen (Scott 3010F-3010J) denominations and came in a variety of colors, including blue, green, red, purple and black. They were printed in sheets of 10, two of each color. Most of the sheets paid tribute to Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea and were sold in the theme parks. The next sheet issued for personalized stamps had a plain frame around a Disney design with a denomination of 52 yen. These were issued in folders and included postcards as well as the stamps.
The next design was denominated 82 yen and has a golden stamp on the right side (Scott 4005K) with only five stamps instead of the previous 10 and a 2017 Star Wars: The Last Jedi theme. The stamp and label are separated with a roulette cut. The 2018 sheet for Mickey Mouse’s 90th anniversary has 10 stamps and then 10 more individual stamps with other designs that are housed in individual pockets.
Holland issued generic vignettes in a set of personalized stamps in 2008 (Scott 1300-1302). These stamps, printed in sheets of 10 (frames only without the center design) could be personalized for an additional fee. The stamp borders used were from Scott 1301 and 1374.
Netherlands issued what it calls Donald Duck Postbox (Figure 10) in 2009. This consisted of a personalized sheetlet of three different Donald stamps (Scott 1301).
From 2010 to 2011, TNT Post and the Dutch Donald Duck magazine came together to issued a unique Donald Duck stamp to celebrate the comics magazine, which published its first Dutch issue on October 25, 1952, and has published a circulation of 975 million copies since then. Along with a printing of 225,000 Donald Duck postage stamps, a special anniversary issue of Donald Duck magazine also was part of the celebration.
The complete series is a total of 36 different stamps, but only the first stamp is an official stamp issued by the Dutch post. The other 35 stamps are private issues from the Donald Duck comic book publisher and were issued in sheetlets of 10 stamps. They were not available at any post office but apparently could be purchased online from NLPost.
Figure 10. The first in a series of Donald Duck stamps from Netherlands.
With the success of the Donald Duck comic book series the Dutch post office decided to continue exploiting the idea and began issuing a new series of Donald Duck stamps (Figure 11) one for each of the 12 provinces of Holland. These are to commemorate the 60th anniversary of Donald Duck comics in the Netherlands. These used the border of Scott 1402. Unlike the first series, which were released in sheetlets of 10, the provincial series has only three local rate stamps per sheet. The first one is from Friesland and included the sheetlet and three matching postcards.
Netherlands does not appear to be stringent in allowing licensed images on its personalized stamps as evidenced by the cover (Figure 12) with The Beatles and the Flintstones. Two of the Disney stamps have Disney copyright symbols while the others have no copyright noted and are probably unauthorized
Figure 11. A provincial sheet of Donald Duck stamps from the Netherlands.
Figure 12. A selection of topics on personalized stamps on a cover from the Netherlands.
Of further interest to Disney philatelists are the postage stamps Zazzle made available, authorized by Disney and available online with the permission of the United States Postal Service. The stamps were all displayed on the Zazzle.com website but ceased to be available in June 2018.
A complete listing of Zazzle stamps is beyond the scope of this article as while thousands of different designs were available it is not known how many, if any, of each design were actually printed (Figure 13).
Figure 13. The Uncle Scrooge Zazzle stamp.
PhotoStamps are produced by Stamps.com, an approved licensed vendor of the USPS similar in concept to Zazzle but not as prolific in producing its own designs. Unlike most PhotoStamps that anyone can order personalized, there are two sheets containing only five stamps instead of the usual 20. Possibly they were specially ordered as Disney theme park merchandise to sell at parks. The stamps are die-cut and self-adhesive with simulated perforations on the right side and straight die cuts on the other three sides which is a standard format for PhotoStamps (Figure 14).
Figure 14. A PhotoStamps salute to Walt Disney World.
This is a very condensed history of Disney personalized stamps. Most of the information was extracted from the websites of the countries covered. A comprehensive listing of personalized stamps with a Disney motif including hundreds of images is available in the Disneyana on Stamps Society’s Handbook of Disney On Stamps – Part 3. Visit the Disneyana on Stamps Society website (https://disnemation.wixsite.com/doss) for more information.
Disney on Stamps, Handbook 162, American Topical Association.
Lawrence, Ken. “Disney Takes Charge,” Virtual Stamp Club, c. 1998-1999. www.virtualstampclub.com/lawrence2.html.
Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue (Sidney, OH: Amos Publishing).
William Silvester is a retired printer and active freelance author. He has been collecting stamps for most of his life with varying degrees of intensity. When the first Disney stamps were issued he began a 40-year obsession with gathering as many of the stamps, related philatelic material and information as possible. As the amount of information grew he began writing articles for various philatelic and historical magazines in Canada, the U.S. and Great Britain, as well as online. Next came his Handbook of Disney Philately along with a newsletter, Disnematio, which in time morphed into the Handbook of Disney on Stamps published by ATA and expanded by the Disneyana on Stamps Society. Bill also collects numerous other topics, worldwide to 1970 and writes the New World Issues column for The American Philatelist. He presently resides in Calgary, Alberta, Canada and can be reached at email@example.com for Disney related questions.
Figure A. The cover of the Handbook of Disney on Stamps.
Disneyana on Stamps Society is a certified study unit of the American Topical Association and an affiliate member of the American Philatelic Society. DoSS has more than 260 members from all over the world and publishes the quarterly journal/newsletter, Disnemation.
In addition, there is the Handbook of Disney on Stamps (Figure A) published by and available from the American Topical Association. It includes all authorized Disney stamps up to 2012 in two parts and available from ATA on CD. The Handbook of Disney on Stamps – Parts 3 and 4 are only available from the Disneyana society and include virtually everything else known about Disneyana on stamps to date. The four parts of the handbook total almost 1,000 pages. Check out the website at https://disnemation.wixsite.com/doss for more information, then consider joining; membership is free.
For Further Learning - Recommendations from the APRL research staff
Disneyana on Stamps Society. Disnemation (Disneyana on Stamps Society, 2014-2016). [JOURNAL Disnemation]
Domfil. Catalogo de Sellos Tematicos Disney [Thematic stamp catalogue – Disney] (Barcelona, Spain: DOMFIL Catalogos Tematicos Internacionales, 2000). [HE6183 .D612 D668c 2000]
Silvester, William. Handbook of Disney on Stamps (American Topical Association, 2012). [HE6183 .A1 A512a no.162]
Silvester, William. Handbook of Disney Philately (Montreal: Wonderful World of Stamps, 1992). [HE6183 .D612 S587h 1992]
The Walt Disney Company. The Official Catalog of Disney Stamps (n.l.: The Walt Disney Company, 1988). [IP40664]