The Belgian national stamp printing company, bpost, celebrated its 150th birthday last Saturday, May 18th. To mark the occasion, the Federal Minister in charge of the post, Philippe De Backer, was received by bpost CEO, Koen Van Gerven, for a special behind-the-scenes tour of the place where Belgian postage stamps have been printed since 1869. Bpost now prints more than 300 million stamps a year.
Belgian postage stamps have actually existed since 1849. The first ones – the famous ‘epaulettes of His Majesty King Leopold I’ – used to be printed near the Gare du Nord in Brussels. However, around 1865, as letter correspondence became more and more popular, the Régie des Postes was forced to increase the quantity of stamps in circulation. It did this both by switching to rotogravure printing – which made printing significantly faster and cheaper – and by moving to a larger printing house in Mechelen. Indeed, today bpost’s printing works are now so productive that it produces postage stamps for several other countries (Luxembourg, Portugal, Gibraltar and Guernsey).
Today, innovative high-tech stamp printing techniques are used in conjunction with those of the ‘old school’. Contemporarily produced stamps now include a variety of ‘vintage’ postage stamps, stamps incorporating special 3D effects, and custom-made, personalised stamps. (In 2019, the latter type of order increased by 30% relative to last year, according to bpost.)
For its 150th anniversary, the printing press will be publishing a special stamp: one alluding to and inspired by the very first postage stamps printed and finalised at the Mechelen printing press all those years ago.
The site currently has about fifty employees and 35 stamp production and finishing machines.