The Stamp Stop: A look at ATM innovation

By Frank Norulak and Jim Noll

The 25 cent flag USPS ATM sheetlet was issued on May 18, 1990, for a six-month test period in Seattle, Wash. But by that point, Equibank of Pittsburgh, Pa., already had 18 months of experience dispensing stamps through its ATMs.

Equibank began its "Stamp Stop" program on Dec. 14, 1988, using nine 25 cent "Flag Over Yosemite" stamps on each carrier. The stamps were sold as one, two, or three carriers in one transaction, or 9, 18, or 27 stamps at a time.

The stamps were sold at face value for the convenience of customers, but the cost of preparing the sheetlets meant that this was done at a loss to the bank. The program continued until January 1991.

stamp stop 1
Front and back of Stamp Stop sheetlet with Equibank a

The carriers holding the stamps were the size of a dollar bill and were printed by a California firm using Equibank information and promotional advertising.

Stamps were affixed to the carriers in three strips of three coil stamps by lightly moistening the left and right edge of each strip of three stamps and affixing them to the sheetlet. This work is believed to have been performed by workers from a charitable group, presumably at minimum wage. The three stamp strips were taken from large rolls.

stamp stop photo

Stamps were originally provided through 45 ATMs with expansion planned to 40 additional machines for a total of 85 ATMs. The three-strip, dollar-sized arrangement was required so that the carriers could travel through the ATM.

The driving rollers feeding the carrier used the spaces between stamp strips to dispense them to customers. The ATMs used were Fujitsu model 6000s equipped with three dispenser cassettes capable of holding up to 3,000 carriers or pieces of currency each.

To date we have identified seven types of carriers. There may be others that are still unknown. The highest control number seen to date is in the 236,000 range.

It was originally reported that Equibank was planning to sell advertising on the carriers, and that Pepsi-Cola was to be the first advertiser. To date, we have not seen any carriers bearing any advertising except that of Equibank itself.

stamp stop omnibus stamps
"Omnibus" 1 cent stamp used to test affixing process

In April 2009 on Ebay, a sale lot appeared that included an all-blue Equibank "Teddy Bear" type sheetlet with nine 1 cent "Omnibus" stamps.

The question raised was why would such a sheetlet be used, for it is very unlikely that Equibank would have wanted to sell one cent stamps.

We have established that these sheetlets were made to test the methods of affixing the coil strips of three to the carriers in order to determine whether the carriers with the stamps affixed could run through the ATM without the stamps coming off the carriers.

The total stamp value on a test sheetlet was 9 cents against $2.25 on an issued-type sheetlet so the test sheetlets could be damaged or discarded without a large monetary loss.

usps atm stamps
Stamp Stop ended with the arrival of USPS-issued sheets

Availability of stamps coupled with dispenser design, printing, affixing of stamps, programming the ATMs and assorted accounting issues led to the demise of the Stamp Stop program.

The Stamp Stop program ran until Jan. 1991 when U.S. Postal Service-issued 29 cent "F" stamp sheetlets replaced the Equibank produced sheetlets. Equibank still sells stamps through its ATMs, but holds a unique, pioneering place in postal history with its innovative Stamp Stop program.

Read more about ATM innovation.

photos: courtesy of Jim Noll

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User Comments – Give us your opinion!
  • John Devine
    Where do you get the stamps from ? Cash Handler ?
  • Suzanne Cluckey
    John, Here is a response from Jim Noll: In the Equibank case back in the 198X/9X time frame they had the stamp sheetlets made for them with the ATM vendor Fujitsu acting as the actual vendor contractor. The USPS coil stamps were purchased in large coil rolls from the Post Office. The ATM's were in the bank branches and loading was handled by bank staff. In today's case if you want to dispense stamps from an ATM sheetlets of 18 Forever stamps are available from the Post Office for face value. The ATM vendor may have to adjust the ATM to insure smooth feeding of the stamps and software would need to be adjusted to handle a per sheetlet transaction price of $.46x18=$8.28 plus what ever fee is added. A new sheetlet of 18 $.46 Forever stamps comes out for the holiday season in mid-October and will be sold in Post Office lobby vending machines. They will picture the Poinsettias. I do not know if any ATM vendor or service group or Cash Handler at this time that would offer stamp service. Jim Noll
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