The First Blockchain Stamp in the World and What it Means
In June 2019, Austrian Post started selling the world’s first blockchain stamp. The so-called Crypto stamps have been published with 150,000 of such stamps placed in circulation. The stamps have a nominal value of 6.90 € which is (was) also the official selling price.
Though the stamps are normal postage stamps, each stamp also has a digital counterpart. This digital counterpart of the physical stamp can be in five colours, each with a different degree of uniqueness: Red (1,500 pieces), Yellow (10,000 pieces), Blue (20,000 pieces), Green (40,000 pieces) and Black (78,500 pieces).
The colour of the digital counterpart to the physical stamp can be determined through the information printed on the stamp via a special section of the Austrian Post’s website (https://crypto.post.at/). In order to do this, one must either scan an individual QR code located on each stamp or enter the individual code visibly printed on each stamp on the Post website.
It is also interesting that the first edition of Crypto stamps contains a limited number of items that cannot be purchased in normal retail stores or the online shop of Austrian Post. Instead, 500 crypto stamps are sold exclusively via the Austrian Post OnChain shop, which is based on a relatively innovative technology (namely smart contracts within the Ethereum blockchain). The first 401 Crypto stamps could be purchased in the OnChain-Shop (https://crypto.post.at/onchainshop) at a sales price of 6.90 €. However, the last 99 Crypto stamps of the OnChain shop will be sold according to a different price model by the Austrian Post. Their selling price increases by 8% after each sale.
In purely mathematical terms, this would mean that the last stamp of the OnChain shop would change hands for a retail price of 13.012,99 €.
Buyers of the normal version of Crypto stamps (i.e. stamps that can be purchased in retail stores or in the normal online shop) will receive a stamp with two scratch fields. Behind these scratch fields are individual access data to a digital wallet within the Ethereum block chain.
This wallet can be used with special browsers (e.g. Firefox and Chrome, after the browser plugin “Metamask” has been installed). If you just want to have a look into your wallet, you can enter the printed address on https://crypto.post.at/wallet. An unused wallet contains a small amount of the crypto currency ether (0.00166 ETH), which has a value of approximately € 0,35. The wallet also contains an individual token, which forms the technical basis for the digital counterpart. If you want to get a deeper look, you can enter the address on https://etherscan.io/.
A closer look at this token reveals that it has a unique ID. Since the digital wallet and the token exist within the Ethereum blockchain, the entire life of the token can be publicly viewed. It is therefore possible to trace when the digital image was created by the Post Office, when the digital image was sold by the buyers of the stamp or when the Post Office sold the digital stamp in the OnChain shop. At this point, it must be noted that the sale of the physical stamp is not shown here.
If you take a closer look at the token IDs in the blockchain, you can see that 150,000 tokens were created. These have token IDs from 0 to 149,999. A closer search within the blockchain and in the crypto area of the post office reveals the following interesting findings:
The first Crypto stamp
The tokens with the ID 0–149,499 are assigned to stamps that are sold in the traditional way — i.e. via an online shop or in retail stores. The digital image of the first crypto stamp (token number 0) reveals that it is a digital stamp of the colour green and that the physical stamp has the code ‘3s3cZd’ printed on it.
The first Crypto stamp sold — OnChain
If one goes even deeper, one can see that the crypto stamps with the token IDs 149,500 to 149,999 are sold in Austrian Post’s OnChain shop — i.e. exclusively via a smart contract within the Ethereum blockchain.
The first stamp sold in the OnChain shop (i.e. the first Blockchain stamp sold exclusively via a Blockchain application) has the token ID 149,500.
The subsequent sales reveal a peculiarity as the second sale in the OnChain-Shop was not of the stamp with the token ID 149.501, but that with the token ID 149.999. From that sale onwards, only tokens with the token ID counting continuously downwards were sold. In addition to the first stamp sold, the stamps with the Token IDs 149,999 to 149,600 were sold in the OnChain-Shop for a sales price of € 6.90 equivalent. Upon reaching the Token-ID 149,599 there was a price increase of 8%. Theoretically, it is expected that the stamp with the token ID 149.501 would therefore be sold at a price of 13.012,99 €.
The source code of the Smart Contract of the OnChain shop shows that even this price could still be a “bargain”. This is because a growth rate of 10 % was originally planned there. This small difference would have led in the end to a price of 78.583 €. Shortly before the sale of the last 100 stamps started, however, Austrian Post instructed the Smart Contract to make an increase of “only” 8% (see here).
After the purchase in the OnChain shop, buyers can instruct the dispatch of the physical stamp. The shipping address is also transmitted via the blockchain, because the shipping address is encrypted and stored in the blockchain.
The special feature is that only the owner of the digital wallet in which the token is stored has the right to determine the shipping address. This applies even if the token changes wallet before sending the shipping address.
What the physical counterpart of the virtual stamp will look like and whether it will differ from the non-limited edition is not known at present, as no copy has yet been dispatched. The imprint of the address of a digital wallet would not be necessary in any case, since the OnChain purchase already presupposes that.
The sale of tokenized stamps
When selling tokenized stamps there are a few things to consider. In principle, the digital token and the physical stamp can be sold separately: If the physical stamp changes hands, the token does not follow automatically. And vice versa, the stamp does not follow the sale of the token.
However, there is one exception: If the crypto stamp has been purchased from the Austrian Post`s OnChain shop and the shipping address for the physical stamp has not yet been transmitted, it is sufficient to sell only the respective token via the blockchain. This is because as long as the shipping address is not stored in the blockchain, only the owner of the digital wallet containing the token can enter the shipping address. This means that the physical stamp can change hands by only trading the digital token (as long as the post office is obliged to deliver and there is no statute of limitations).
[Edit: The Austrian Post stated on request that they assume to store the physical counterparts to the stamps purchased in the onchain store forever (for the duration of the company’s existence)].
Another circumstance which could jeopardize the value of the stamps relates to its digital image and metadata (e.g. the color of the stamp) which are not stored decentrally within the blockchain, but centrally in a database of the post office. If this database is changed or deleted, the integrity or availability of the metainformation is lost. However, this could be prevented if this information were to be stored decentrally, for example in the InterPlanetary File System.
[Edit: Meanwhile the Austrian Post has decentralised the colour information. Anyone can use “getColor” at https://etherscan.io/address/colors.cryptostamp.eth#readContract. Each color is assigned a number: Black = 0, Green = 1, Blue = 2, Yellow = 3, Red = 4]
The Crypto stamp project of the Austrian Post, which was initiated in cooperation with the Austrian Capacity Blockchain Solutions GmbH, is remarkable. On the one hand, two collection areas (stamps and cryptocollectibles) are skilfully linked together. On the other hand, the OnChain-Shop of the Austrian Post shows how the future of webshops could look like in Web3 and which advantages the tokenization of physical collection objects can have.
Note: The author of this article also owns Crypto stamps from the OnChain sale.
[Edit: Here is a picture of the scratched onchain stamp: