Swiss Post has broken with tradition and has for the first time allowed a foreigner to design one of its stamps. The result – a cow – may be a little provocative.
But the postal authorities won't mind if the cows drawn by French comics artist Patrice Killoffer do cause a little stir in the philatelic world because it will probably be good for business.
Swiss Post's idea was to show Switzerland through the eyes of foreign artists as part of a four-year campaign.
The stamps designed by Killoffer are his views and visions of Switzerland over the four seasons. An artist from Britain will be commissioned for next year's series.
"I think the idea was to break out of tradition and see what would happen, to get a different view of the country and to have a little fun with it," Elsa Baxter, head of stamps and philately at Swiss Post told swissinfo.
The postal authorities say the campaign is their way of contributing to the mindset of a "cosmopolitan, tolerant and multicultural Switzerland".
Baxter is well aware that the cliché of the cow and Switzerland might not go down too well with everyone.
"I think there will be some controversy. Maybe the traditional collectors might not be too enthralled but controversy isn't always all that bad, we find. At least people will talk about our stamps.
"You have to keep stamps alive and sometimes you have to provoke a bit for people to notice them. I don't think there's a middle way. Some people will find them great and others will find them terrible," she said.
Killoffer has explained there are several reasons why he chose the cow to offer his views on Switzerland.
"Several years ago, a cow brought me good luck. When I was still an unknown cartoonist, I used cows as an illustration which did a lot to make me well known," he said in an interview with Swiss Post's collectors' magazine, Focus on Stamps.
"From then on cows were my bread and butter for quite a long period. What's more cows provide the raw material for cheese, something I really love".
And finally Killoffer remembers a trip to Switzerland where the first sight that met his eyes was an "incredibly green meadow with countless cows all over it, like daisies in spring".
This is the first time that he has designed a stamp for commercial use.
"The biggest challenge was the size, because you've got to represent the subject simply, intelligibly and clearly on a small area, just as you have to do in comics."
At Swiss Post, Baxter is preparing for a mixed reaction to the introduction of the stamp from May 9.
"If anything is in the media and a little controversial and stirs up a little bit, it seems that that cannot hurt us, even though we might have a few complaints," she said.
Last month Swiss Post launched another novelty - WebStamp Private. This is a way to allow you to create your own postage stamps online (see link on right).
True to the slogan "Click – print – send", it is possible to prints stamps on a computer around the clock.
And perhaps the most creative element is that any photo or graphic element can be placed next to the actual franking mark.
swissinfo, Robert Brookes
The philately unit of Swiss Post has about 200,000 customers and up to 85,000 subscribers.
It sells stamps by written orders or via the internet and offers a telephone advice service.
It had revenues of about SFr41 million ($33.2 million) and made a net profit of around SFr14 million in 2005.
At the age of 25 artist Patrice Killoffer began drawing for comics on a professional basis and attended courses at the Paris School of Applied Arts.
His witty drawings have brought him work with French newspapers including Le Monde, Libération and L'Equipe.
In 2002 he was nominated for the Best Album prize at the Angoulême Comics Festival.
He published a book of drawings last year called Six Hundred and Seventy-Six Apparitions of Killoffer with the British Typocrat Press.
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