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Stamp-N-Sniff

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Not just for grade-school sticker books any more! A new stamp now available from the USPS features illustrations of popsicles and smells like ’em, too. This newly-released “forever” stamp comes in 10 different designs including fruits, bright colors, sprinkles, stripes, and swirls. But only one smell!

(Which is probably good, since any sticker-collecting kid can tell you the grossness that happens when you keep the wrong smells of stickers on facing pages. Ew.)

USPS "Frozen Treats" Forever stamp. Photo: Beth Voigt

The stamps feature the artwork of Margaret Berg, an art-director-turned-illustrator originally from South Africa and currently working in Santa Monica, CA. I wasn’t able to find any information on who developed the scratch-n-sniff scent, though!

Smell-O-Gram!

The stamp’s scratchable smell is generally fruity, perhaps with a bit of implied creaminess to it. It’s not really any one fruit, but more of a light fruit-punch mixture. If I had to describe it, it would probably be closest to how I remember a Bomb Pop/Firecracker smells – you know, the red, white, and blue one advertised on the side of just about every ice cream truck even if they don’t actually have ’em. Or maybe the blue ice pops… you know, the ones in the plastic tubes that cut the edges of your mouth if you weren’t careful. (And don’t try to tell me that was supposed to be “blue raspberrry” or whatever… we both know what a raspberry tastes like, and that ain’t it.)

six Fla-Vor-Ice popsicles arranged in a fan shape on a weathered wooden surface. The popsicles are in pink, red, purple, blue, green, and orange.

Fla-Vor-Ice by Harrington kyle. Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

So basically, whoever developed this scent did a pretty good job of evoking “popsicle” on a stamp without tying it to any one kind of popsicle. Good job, science!

Speaking of science, though, how do scratch and sniff stickers actually… y’know… work? Those stickers hold their scent for ages, so it’s gotta be pretty special.

The Smell of Science

So what do you think of microencapsulation? Whether you think it’s particularly special or not, that’s how scratch and sniff stickers work. In this case, microencapsulation basically takes the chemicals that make smells and encapsulate them in teensy tiny balls of plastic or gelatin. We’re talking a few microns in size. When you scratch the sticker (or in this case, the stamp), those tiny balls burst and release the scent. They’ll last quite a long time, which is how your childhood sticker book is still scratch-and-sniff-able.

This technique was actually first developed to make carbonless copy paper. That’s where you write on one sheet of paper, which then transfers your writing to the sheet below. (Like “checks” that people used to use for currency in the Ancient Times Long Ago.) The top sheet of paper is coated with microcapsules of colorless ink, which mixes with a developer chemical on the bottom sheet to reproduce writing, typing, or even sharp creases. Anything that put enough pressure on the top sheet of paper to release the contents of the microcapsules and transfer it to the bottom sheet would make a mark.

An organic chemist at 3M named Gale Matson was the one we have to thank for our scratchy-sniffy stamps, the one who came up with the microencapsulation process. Then 3M tried to find other uses for the technology, and suddenly magazine racks around the world became pungent with pull-apart samples of perfume and cologne.

’80s Nostalgia as a Stamp

The round scratch and sniff stickers many people are most familiar with originate with a company called Creative Teaching Press (CTP), marketed to teachers as classroom rewards for students. Other companies quickly followed suit, including the creatively-named Mello Smello. While it looks like CTP is just making regular stickers now, Mello Smello still has scratch and sniff stickers available on Amazon. Yay!

If you’d like to send some scratch and sniff stamps to your favorite penpal (or just make writing your congresspersons a bit more enjoyable), you’ll want to pick some up soon since they’re only going to be available for a limited time. While you’re browsing, you can also check out their other great offerings (the thermoreactive eclipse stamps are pretty great) or propose your own idea for a new stamp. Wait, what?

Yep, anyone can make a stamp suggestion! The Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee evaluates and approves “written suggestions for stamp subjects that help portray the diversity of the American experience for a worldwide audience.” You can also submit your portfolio to be considered as a stamp artist or designer.

There is, of course, a set of criteria that must be met and they do not accept unsolicited stamp designs, but we could be buying your stamp in a few years if you make your proposal now.

Popcorn and Dino-Mite, let’s make ’em happen!

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