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Postage Stamps And Their Alternatives In The 21st Century

12/9/2013 7:56:43 AM | by Ian Wright

Postal Service

Wondering how a piece of 19th century technology is getting updated for the 21st century? Well Ian Wright from FrankingMachineGuide.com explains what you can expect to see in the years ahead. However, first he takes a look back.


What are postage stamps?

A postage stamp is a small piece of paper that is affixed to an envelope, parcel or postcard that indicates that postage has been paid for. To send anything by post you'll need to include one or an alternative (listed below).

Stamps come in different denominations depending on the weight, destination and class of mail being sent. A post card being sent domestically will cost far less than a large package being sent half way around the world. Yet for both you will need a stamp or an equivalent.


When did stamps begin?

The very first modern postage stamp was the penny black which originated in England in 1840. Prior to that time the receiver, not the sender would have to pay for any mail. This all changed with the modern postage stamp.

Mail could be sent anywhere with the UK at a fixed price of 1 penny. This vastly simplified the sending and receiving of mail which in turn meant a vast increase in the volume of mail sent worldwide.

However, sending lots of mail can get rather expensive, even if you're only paying a few cents each time. It can also be inconvenient if you run out of stamps, especially if the post office is closed.

It's for that reason that stamp alternatives are now available in the 21st century.


Franking Machines and Postage Meters

Perhaps the oldest alternative to the stamp is the postage meter or franking machine. Dating back to the late 19th century they aimed to simplify the process of sending vast volumes of mail. Instead of a stamp these machines will affix a frank to your letter or parcel.

You can think of a frank as a printed stamp, with some countries allowing you add personalised slogans and messages to them for branding purposes. These days all postage meters have moved from being mechanical machines to digital ones. This makes tampering more difficult and adds additional features.

These machines make sending large volumes of mail much faster, and in some countries, much cheaper as well. For example in the UK, you can up to 34% on each and every letter sent in this fashion. However, the savings in most other countries are 10% or less.



Stamps.com is a uniquely American product authorized by the United States Postal Service that allows anyone to print off stamps using nothing more than their home computer and a printer.

The service differs from a franking machine insofar as you don't have to buy any additional equipment to use it, unlike a franking machine. The downside of course is that you're limited to how quickly your printer works. For small businesses that send relatively small volumes of mail this can be a great solution.



E-Stamps are very similar to Stamps.com, except they come from the postal service itself rather than a third party company. For example, the UK's royal Mail allows people to print of postage online, without any software downloads required.

Expect this type of service to become more popular as we move into the 21st century.

So while a trip to the post office is often required for the first mile or last mile of sending or receiving post, alternatives are slowly creeping in. Whether or not they make sense for your business will depend on the type and volume of your mail.

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