ICAO and the United Nations Postal Administration


It is recalled that the UN officially came into existence on 24 October 1945, upon ratification of the Charter by China, France, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and the United States, and by a majority of signatories. Soon after the creation of the United Nations in 1945, informal discussions began concerning the establishment of a United Nations Postal Authority.



The United Nations Postal Administration (UNPA) is the postal agency of the United Nations (UN). The idea of the UN for issuing its own stamps was first proposed in 1947 by the Delegation of Argentina to the UN; President of the United Nations General Assembly, the Argentinian UN diplomat, Jose Arce, was himself a philatelist and had held senior positions in the first years of UN history. In October 1947, the Administrative Committee on Coordination, composed of the UN Secretary-General and the executive heads of the specialized agencies of the United Nations, discussed the implications for the specialized agencies of the proposal which had been made to the General Assembly regarding the possible establishment of a UN postal service.


Further to that, Resolution 454(V) was adopted unanimously on 16 November 1950 by the 4th General Assembly of the United Nations, which requested the Secretary General to proceed with the necessary arrangements for the establishment of the United Nations Postal Administration (UNPA) as at 1 January 1951. Stamps emerged with UN themes and appearance, and philatelists found many possibilities of specialization. A special feature appeared on the first stamps: on the sheet margins was a marginal inscription (MI), with a UN emblem, the year, and sometimes, with the stamp topic.


First stamp issued by the UNPA

24 October 1951

Peoples of the World

The postal agreement between the UN and the Post Office Department of the United States, where the UN Headquarters were located, was signed on 28 March 1951, so that the UN could start issuing postage stamps for its own use; it stipulated that the stamps be denominated in United States currency and used only at UN Headquarters. The UN postal service was inaugurated on 24 October 1951, i.e. on United Nations Day. The first UN stamps went on sale on that day which made philatelic history; they were an immediate success as they were sold out within days.


Prior to October 1951, the UN used the facilities of the United States Post Office Department. On 20 August 1946, the US Post Office opened an office in Great Neck, responsible for the first UN offices in Lake Success. On 23 September 1946, the Dater Circle was changed in Lake Success (NY) branch. The United Nations Philately began at that time.


Austria – 24 August 1979

Opening of the Vienna International Center

In 1952, after the UNPA had been established, the matter of postal arrangements with the specialized agencies was taken up again with Administrative Committee on Coordination. The UN offered to issue commemorative stamps with designs depicting the aims and activities of the specialized agencies; this offer was accepted. The Committee noted that some agencies were considering the possibility of setting up their own postal administrations or had made special arrangements with the Government of the country hosting the agency.


The view of making common or joint arrangements in regard to postal matters and facilities was transmitted to the 13th Congress of the Universal Postal Union held at Brussels in 1952. The Congress expressed its general agreement with the suggestion that the UN should act on behalf of the specialized agencies in any further activities.


Similar postal agreements were reached with the Swiss and Austrian postal authorities. On 11 December 1968, an agreement between the United Nations and the Swiss Postal Telephone and Telegraph Enterprise enabled the Geneva office of the UNPA to issue the first UN stamps in Swiss francs on 4 October 1969. An agreement with the Austrian government on 28 June 1979 enabled the Vienna Office of UNPA to issue the first UN stamps in Austrian schillings on 24 August 1979; on that date, the UN issued a set of 6 stamps to commemorate the opening of the International Center in Vienna.


Never before or since has any post office been of international rather than national character. UN stamps and stationery were to be designed and manufactured by people of many different nationalities and sold throughout the world, not as the postal currency of one nation, but as that of all nations. In 1952, the United Nations Postal Administration was accorded membership in the Universal Postal Union (UPU), thereby receiving international approval of its unique character.


With the founding of the UNPA, a truly unique institution was born because the UN was, and still is, the only organization in the world, which, although neither a country nor a territory, is permitted to issue postage stamps and have a worldwide coverage. The UNPA also became the only postal authority that issues stamps in three different currencies, namely United States dollars, Swiss francs, and Austrian schillings (now Euros).


Since its inception, the UNPA has always operated with a dual mandate: first, to disseminate information on the activities and achievements of the UN and its family of organizations through the medium of postage stamps, and second, to generate revenue for the UN. Human rights, the environment, endangered species and peace are all subjects of universal concern to the peoples of the world. They are also subjects which the UNPA has promoted on its stamps. Because United Nations stamps reflect the work of the world Organization, the stamps extend beyond the boundaries of philately to draw attention to significant world problems and to serve as a reminder of the UN’s commitment to its goals.


One particular case of stamp issuing authority is the Ordre de Malte, which started to issue stamps on 15 November 1966, first in the specific Order's monetary unit (the currency of the Sovereign Order of Malta is the scudo, divided into 12 tari and 240 grani) and in Euros since 1 January 2005; its mail can be addressed only to a limited number of countries. Its stamps are not recognized by the Universal Postal Union (UPU).


Design submitted by Hubert Woyty-Wimmer

As the UN anticipated issuing postage stamps with designs illustrating or symbolizing the aims or activities of the various Specialized Agencies, Member States of the UN were requested to submit names of outstanding stamp designers and artists who would be willing to participate in a competition for designs. Hence, 185 artists were invited on 10 July 1952 to an international design competition. Among the 67 suggestions received from 32 countries, the design submitted by Hubert Woyty-Wimmer of the printer Thomas de la Rue, United Kingdom, was selected and found suitable to depict ICAO’s activities through a stamp. On 10 February 1953, ICAO was requested to provide comments on the above design before the UN would give its final approval. More information on this issue can be found at the following link: The 10th anniversary of ICAO commemorated by the United Nations. In its early years, the UNPA awarded stamps printing contracts for an entire year; Waterlow and Sons was selected for the year 1955, when the ICAO issue was printed.


As regards the UN issue of 1978 related to ICAO’s safety in the air (12 June 1978), artist’s drawings were solicited by the UN and some of the proposed (but not selected) designs are depicted at the following link: United Nations - ICAO Safety in the Air.


In the ICAO collection, two stamp issues commemorated in 1976 the 25th anniversary of the UNPA:

1.     Comoros, and

2.    Burundi.

More information on these two issues can be found at the following links: Comoros and Burundi.


Since its inception, the UNPA has always operated with a dual mandate: first, to disseminate information on the activities and achievements of the UN (Funds, Programmes and related Organizations) and its Specialized Agencies through the medium of postage stamps, and second, to generate revenue for the UN. Since the first issues in 1951, millions of United Nations postage stamps have delivered mail to all corners of the world, where they have carried messages of hope and good will into cities and hamlets alike. The stamps represent the themes basic to the organization's goals: world peace, universal brotherhood, international cooperation, environmental preservation, economic development and social progress. Thus, they help in their small but important way to publicize the work of the United Nations and to express the common aspirations of people everywhere.



23 September 1946 - Lake Success UN Post Office Opening. Thermographed covers.

Smart Craft Official cachets.

When the United Nations moved in August 1946 to a building that during World War II had been a Sperry Gyroscope Co. plant located at Lake Success, New York, postal service was provided by the Great Neck Post Office. On 23 September 1946, the Lake Success branch of the Great Neck Post Office (known as the “UN Post Office”) opened; it provided a full range of postal services.



Covers sent from UN New York to ICAO. Lake Success UN Post Office metered stamps.


Postal Stationery - Air Postal Envelope sent from the UNPA in New York to ICAO.

Postmark dated 28 April 1965. Slogan commemorating the 20th anniversary of ICAO.


Cover sent from UNPA Geneva to ICAO Public Information Office. Postmarked on 2 June 1967.


Service cover sent (through the pouch) from the UNDP Project in Indonesia to the Director of the Technical Assistance Bureau at ICAO. Slogan: STAMPS FOR PEACE, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the UN postal service. Postmark dated 28 March 1972.



Poster designed by Maxime Verrette showing the various postal items released by the UNPA in relation to ICAO, with an excerpt from the Preamble to the United Nations Charter.

The original picture was framed and offered by Albert Pelsser to ICAO in October 2003; from left to right: Albert Pelsser, Taïeb Chérif, Secretary General, A.P. Singh, Director, Bureau of Administration and Services.


24 August 1979 - First Day Cover commemorating the opening of the Vienna International Center, Donaupark.


24 August 1979 - Official First Day Cover with the complete stamp issue.

Opening of the Vienna International Center, Donaupark.