You’ll Be Able to Scratch and Sniff Stamps. Finally.
Posted May 23, 2018 3:05 p.m. EDT
Remember “scratch and sniff,” the bygone technology behind fragrant children’s stickers and magazine inserts?
It has lingered in the nation’s memory for a half-century. Like an insistent odor, some might say. Now, the U.S. Postal Service is granting it an essential American honor: a Forever stamp.
Next month, the agency will introduce a set of seasonally themed odoriferous scratch-and-sniff stamps, its first ever.
The 10 stamps will feature watercolor illustrations of Popsicles meant to evoke “a sense of summer nostalgia,” the artist who drew them, Magrikie Berg, said.
Berg, who is from South Africa and based in Santa Monica, California, created the designs in 2015 at the request of an art director with the Postal Service. (Yes, of course the Postal Service has art directors.)
“The year I worked on the stamps actually coincided with the year I became an American citizen,” the artist said, “which made the project all the more meaningful.”
Her whimsical illustrations were released on Monday, but the Postal Service plans to withhold descriptions of the accompanying scents until the unveiling on June 20 in Austin, Texas.
So many questions will have to wait. Will applying postmarks accidentally release the smells? Will our mail end up stinking like fruit? Is it wrong to scratch and sniff them yourself before sending a letter? What if it’s just a rent check? Are the stamps safe to eat? (Do not eat them.)
The stamps owe their existence to a scientific race of five decades ago. In the 1960s, researchers at two companies, 3M and NCR Corporation, were pursuing better ways to trap ink in microscopic pockets on paper, for use in carbon copies and cash register receipts. The process they developed, “microencapsulation,” also worked with scented oils, which could rupture under the pressure of, say, a scratch.
The technique was used in children’s books and to market toiletries for years, but it experienced something of an awakening in the early 1980s. The eccentric Baltimore filmmaker John Waters famously incorporated it into his 1981 movie “Polyester,” a social satire about a middle-class woman tormented by, among other things, a sensitive sense of smell.
The film featured a gimmick called “Odorama,” in which scratch-and-sniff cards featuring 10 scents — sneakers, skunk and flatulence among them — were distributed to viewers to smell throughout the movie.
That same year, Giorgio, a Beverly Hills women’s boutique, introduced a perfume that it marketed with a $6 million advertising campaign that included scratch-and-sniff strips inserted in magazines and attached to envelopes.
By 1988, the perfume was generating more than $100 million a year in sales, The Times reported, with Fred Hayman, then-president of Giorgio, crediting the success in part to the scratch-and-sniff campaign.
“Scent strips mean we don’t have to worry about bringing the customer to the perfume counter,” he told Forbes magazine in 1986.
Since then, scratch-and-sniff technology has been used in a variety of products, including children’s books, album covers, video game discs and, now, stamps.