[OS X TeX] Cryptographic Postage Indicia

Jonathan Fine jfine2358 at gmail.com
Mon Jan 1 19:17:54 CET 2024

Happy New Year!

In a puzzle recently I came across the strange word INDICIA. It provides a
fascinating thread in the long intertwined history of print and mail
delivery, and belongs to the subject of philately.

In the old days of the last century indicia was a marking (but not an
adhesive stamp) that shows that postage has been prepaid. The commercial
pioneer of this was Pitney Bowes, whose postage meter machines were
authorised by the US Postal Service in 1920.

TeX comes into the story via a Carnegie Mellon Computer Science Technical
Report on 1996, whose title is Cryptographic Postage
Indicia. This document was created using TeX and dvips.

This report enabled a big change. Postage stamps and banknotes used to be
printed by security printers, and to high quality, to reduce forgery and
other fraud. All objects were identical, except for banknote serial
numbers. Today you can pay for postage electronically, and print the
valuable indicia of prepayment yourself!

And today in the UK almost all of the postage stamps have a barcode as the
indicia, and each stamp has a different barcode. It's that, and optical
scanners, that provide protection against forgery and other fraud. Not just
security printing.

For those of you who are 'stamp collectors', take a look at the Royal Mail
Technical page. Its documents read like computing specifications, which
indeed they are.

Here's one of the more human documents. It's about Cashmere knitwear! And
also warm and cold customers!

Well, that is I hope an interesting story arising from the strange word

with kind regards

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