The Curious Tale of Bhutan's Playable Record Postage Stamps
January 1, 2016 9:55 PM   Subscribe

"For decades, the stamps were dismissed by the philatelic establishment as tacky novelties and were, correspondingly, as cheap as chips."

Bhutan’s talking stamps were the invention of the American adventurer Burt Todd, who was born into a wealthy Pittsburgh steel-producing dynasty in 1924. Appropriately, this was the same year F. Scott Fitzgerald completed The Great Gatsby, for the globe-trotting, airplane-piloting, big game-hunting Todd resembled the novel’s protagonist. Todd’s many other quixotic ventures included setting up a rum-making distillery for the government of Fiji, and buying the Rolls-Royces belonging to Indian maharajas who had been impoverished by the loss of British subsidies when the country gained independence, reselling them on the international classic-car market.

Listen here: The Bhutanese national anthem

And here: A brief textbook introduction, in English, to Bhutan


Postage Stamps and the postal history of Bhutan
: via Wikipedia

Postage Stamps from Bhutan That Double as Playable Vinyl Records: via Open Culture
posted by nightrecordings (13 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
 
I cannot believe these were so undervalued. I mean, 10 seconds of reading and all I can think is I Must Have A Set Of Those. How utterly wonderful.
posted by DangerIsMyMiddleName at 10:14 PM on January 1, 2016 [8 favorites]


eponysterical
posted by ardgedee at 10:49 PM on January 1, 2016 [1 favorite]


One of my most treasured possessions as a kid was a copy of the MAD Magazine with the 'flexitone' record between the pages I could pull out and play on my kiddie turntable... the song: Alfred E. Neuman's "It's A Gas" (a halfway-decent rock-n-roll instrumental punctuated by the belching vocals of MAD's mascot). I would've loved to grow up in Bhutan in the days of the 'talking stamps".
posted by oneswellfoop at 11:12 PM on January 1, 2016 [1 favorite]


I cannot believe these were so undervalued. I mean, 10 seconds of reading and all I can think is I Must Have A Set Of Those. How utterly wonderful.

While I agree with your sentiments, there was indeed a time back in the age of records, when flexi discs were considered by many to be simply cheap promotional throwaways. Collecting them in the 70's seemed about as worthwhile as collecting every promotional CD-ROM that came in a magazine in the 90's.
posted by fairmettle at 2:35 AM on January 2, 2016 [4 favorites]


Collecting them in the 70's seemed about as worthwhile as collecting every promotional CD-ROM that came in a magazine in the 90's.

And they laughed at my AOL promo disc collection.
posted by loquacious at 6:04 AM on January 2, 2016 [4 favorites]


As a kid, one of my favorite possessions was a set Bhutan stamps made with lenticular printing for a 3D hologram effect and showing some with neat ceremonial masks, pictured here.
posted by exogenous at 6:17 AM on January 2, 2016 [2 favorites]


So cool! Thanks for posting this.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:54 AM on January 2, 2016


"That Bhutan stamp just sold for $500!"

"Wow! Is that a record?"

"Yes. Also, it's the most expensive Bhutan stamp ever."
posted by Devonian at 1:26 PM on January 2, 2016 [8 favorites]


And they laughed at my AOL promo disc collection.

Further tangential collecting derail. because I can't stop thinking about it for most of the day today at work.

I did actually have an AOL promo disk/disc collection dating back to the original 3.5" floppy disks. And you totally should laugh at me for me for it.

They sometimes came in cool tins and packages, and the disks were useful as free rewritable floppies. For a brief few years basically no adept end user to buy blank floppies, and when a lowly frontline tech pulled a boot or system install prep disk out of their tool box chances are it was a re-written AOL disk, just out of spite.

AOL probably helped crash the floppy disk market and put the final nails in the coffin, really.

At one point - up until just before The Flood - I had dozens and dozens of unique AOL discs. Holographic disks. Foil disks. Disks in weird tins and boxes and other packaging gimmicks, and stuff I'm totally forgetting because I decided that I should.

And then The Flood happened, and you could barely shop for anything short of black market drugs without getting an AOL install CD shoved in your hand, shopping bag or simply surrounded by stacks of them at any given checkout register.

I'm fully convinced in hindsight that at one point, if only briefly - you couldn't conduct a retail transaction or piece of common business without being offered an AOL installation CD, with ever-increasing ridiculous numbers of free minutues/hours. Somewhere, someone had one stapled to their newborn child's birth certificate when they were discharged from the hospital. There were international arms dealer sales shows where they sold nothing because they were too busy trying to offer each other free AOL discs. At one point for only a few hours or days every single CD press in every plant in the world was stamping nothing but AOL installation CDs, not even Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon.

Around this time I stopped even trying to collect them just started politely asking permission and then taking double-handfuls of free CDs and then immediately depositing them in the nearest trash can, the more visible the better.

In retrospect I'm wondering if this was just encouraging them via false metrics, but my logic at the time was that I'd rather have all of that polycarbonate sequestered in landfills than thrown around on the street than being broken into smaller pieces at large in the environment, and I wasn't morally opposed to simply costing AOL money for spamming basically everything, everywhere, the eternal September gone meatspace.

A few times I simply took the entire display or box of free CDs and put the whole assembly right in the trash when one clerk said "Sure, take all of them. I don't care." I never had anyone complain. It was more like "thanks for giving me my counter back. I hate those f'ing things."

At some point I just threw out the entire collection. I started questioning why I was even offering AOL the mental calories, with all the inherent brand recognition it implies even if it's all negative - much less hauling the physical crap around. I didn't think it would ever really be worth anything. I was mainly doing it ironically to annoy people nerdier than me. And even if it was useful to a museum or something, why would I support AOL in any way at all?

Collecting is weird.
posted by loquacious at 4:13 PM on January 2, 2016 [5 favorites]


Really neat article. Thanks.
posted by jonmc at 5:08 PM on January 2, 2016


OOOooo. Good one!

I like records, and exotic stamps. So (in case you didn't know about them), check out the beautiful diamond and triangle stamps of Tana Tuva.

(Trivial aside: Richard Feynmann had a fetish for the place.)
posted by Twang at 7:30 PM on January 2, 2016 [1 favorite]


"For decades, the stamps were dismissed by the philatelic establishment as tacky novelties and were, correspondingly, as cheap as chips."

Because that's how they roll. And yet, the next generation of stamp retailers - who have their own special 'collections' - will be happy to sell folders of them to you at Stamp Conventions at a low, low 25 percent of book. Cuz the Inverted Jenny was once junk too, but they aren't the ones who decide what things are worth. he he
posted by Twang at 7:41 PM on January 2, 2016


Bhutan is also the home of my other favourite stamp in the world: 2014's "Art and Happiness" - maybe the first stamp in the world considered NSFW. Phaluses are important images in Bhutan - but the world has a large need for "dick stamps" which is currently going largely un-met. (The habit of referring to a penis as a "magic flaming thunderbolt of wisdom" should also be commended, I think).
posted by rongorongo at 12:57 AM on January 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


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