Did China really release a scratch 'n' sniff pig stamp?
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What, no fortune cookie?
The Morning File has been sitting on this story for days, because we can't quite believe it. Still, we don't want to be accused of suppressing the news, and, besides, you might have heard it already from news outlets that have no journalistic controls, such as the Internet. Here it is: China's postal service, in honor of the Year of the Pig, which begins Feb. 18, has released a special edition stamp. So far so good. But a number of scarcely reliable sources have reported that it's a scratch 'n' sniff stamp that smells like -- listen to this -- sweet and sour pork.
Here's where we come down after vetting the story: It smells. No question the Chinese have scratch-'n'-sniff technology. But a sweet and sour pork stamp? You're talking about a run-of-the-mill dish found in mall food courts everywhere. You're talking about a couple of highly competitive smells co-existing on one stamp. Now, if it were a moo shu pork scratch 'n' sniff stamp, we'd have no problem with the story, although getting the pancakes in there would present a challenge.
How we got the story
This is as good an occasion as any to give you young journalists out there a behind-the-scenes view of how a professional works. Several days ago, we turned on the computer, checked the wacky news Web sites and saw the story about the Year of the Pig stamps. We'll name names here -- metro.co.uk, ananova.com and several other titans of journalism.
The stamps feature a cutesy sow and her suckling piglets. A scratch and a sniff reveal what those cute pigs would smell like slow roasted and then covered in sugar, rice vinegar and monosodium glutamate, these outfits reported. Oh, and the glue on the stamps tastes like sweet and sour pork, too. Smelling a rat (by the way, next year is the Year of the Rat -- Yum!), we picked up the phone. China, however, could not be reached for comment. In fact, a number of phone calls went unreturned, so our job was done. But if this story is true, it raises important questions: Are we taking China too seriously? Is China a country or a take-out joint? Are chopsticks included?
One thing is sure: We'll be hearing more about this story, and you can count on us to stay on top of it. Back to you, readers, and if anyone is going to China -- New Year begins Feb. 18 -- please pick up some stamps for us. And don't forget the duck sauce.
Scratch n' sniff postage: a history
This would not be a postal first, and we're pinning this whole item on the stamp-collecting section of fortunecity.com. It traces scratch 'n' sniff postage to 1973, when little Bhutan, from out of nowhere, issued a stamp that smelled like a rose. Fast-forward to 1999 when the fun-loving Brazilians produced a stamp that smelled like burnt wood to raise fire prevention awareness.
But, without doubt, the greatest year in scratch 'n' sniff postal history was 2001. Hong Kong's featured tea. Switzerland, of course, did chocolate. And Great Britain let loose with a stamp that smelled of eucalyptus. Later, those hopeless romantics in Australia released one featuring a red rose for Valentine's cards, and Russia put out several that smelled like fruit, unaware that the Soviets had actually invented the scratch 'n' sniff stamp in the Lenin years.
Britain's big stamp act
The eucalyptus was one of six interactive stamps issued by the U.K. for the 2001 Nobel Prizes. It represented medicine. A second stamp, the first to include a hologram, carried the image of a molecule, representing the physics prize. The third stamp, which celebrated chemistry, pictured a carbon atom. The stamp for literature contained the entire text of a 32-line T.S. Eliot poem. (Does this sound less credible than the sweet and sour pork stamp?) The Peace prize had an embossed image of a dove carrying an olive branch. And the economic science stamp featured the Penny Black -- the world's first postage stamp -- and the process used to produce it in 1840, when a scratch 'n' sniff stamp was no more than a pipedream.
Made to odor
From the The Globe and Mail (Canada), Oct. 6, 2001:
"Inhalation is the sincerest form of philately. Scratching the new British postage stamp honoring the Nobel Prize for medicine will release the scent of eucalyptus, which may be particularly thrilling for those koalas on your Christmas-card list.
"The Royal Mail has other Nobel-commemorative stunts up its sleeve, including a hologram stamp to honor physics and the image of a dove and olive branch to honor peace. The literature stamp offers a T. S. Eliot poem, 'The Addressing of Cats,' shrunk to such a degree that each letter is 20 times smaller than a grain of sand. Will the musical 'Cats' retaliate with a song about the addressing of envelopes?
"But we keep circling back to the scratch-and-sniff stamp, and wondering why, of all the scents associated with medicine, the British authorities chose eucalyptus. Perhaps the researchers assigned to test the chloroform stamps were late in reporting back."
First Published January 12, 2007 12:00 am