Two years ago this month I wrote about my “Mighty Tiny” record player that plays 2.25-inch plastic “records” that each contain an average of 20 seconds of music. The Mighty Tiny record catalog included 40 original titles spanning such genres as country, jazz, Hawaiian, African, Mexican, Arabian, and even German polkas. The Mighty Tiny was billed as the “world’s smallest record player”, but in reality, it was a plastic toy designed for children and the “records” were proprietary to the toy record player. The stylus resembled a short chrome nail and the mono sound quality was inferior, but props to inventor Don Poynter for getting kids interested in music and records at an early age.
Honey, I Shrunk The Records
Small records weren’t limited to toys. In 2004, Bandai in Japan released the MYOJO, a tiny record player that played real 3” records called 8-ban because they were 8 cm in diameter. Turntable maker Crosley introduced a mini turntable of its own in the US for Record Store Day 2019. Like the MYOJO, the RSD3 also plays 3” records, of which there’s a catalog of about 40 titles. Other RSD3 model variants have been produced such as the see-through version and the Anthrax (the heavy metal band, not the deadly bacteria)-branded version. I own the portable suitcase version of the RSD3 called the “Mini Cruiser”. I don’t consider this an audiophile format, I just like it because it’s unique and fun.
The world’s shortest record (confirmed by the Guinness Book of Records) can be attributed to metal label Earache Records in the UK. The company released a 5” 45 RPM record (catalog # MOSH460LP) in 2013 that contained 13 tracks and 83 seconds of music. The shortest track was 1.9 seconds while the longest “song” timed out at 13.5 seconds. Considering the music was all grindcore by bands like Lawnmower Deth [sic], Wormrot, Insect Warfare, and Napalm Death, it’s just as well. That said, the 300 pressings on red vinyl sold out almost immediately.
Let’s Talk Talking Stamps
Perhaps most bizarre of all, and the main focus of this article, was a set of small records designed to serve as postage stamps. Yes, you read correctly. The government of Bhutan’s “talking stamps” series was issued in 1972. You peeled the backing off of them and stuck them to an envelope just like any postage stamp, except these weren’t just any stamps. They were official postage stamps that were records, or records that were postage stamps, depending on your point of view. The country of Bhutan released a set of 7 different stamps of varying colors and values that were small records you could actually play on a standard record player!
Two of the stamps (or records), the purple and yellow, were larger than the rest, measuring almost 4” in diameter, presumably for use on small packages or larger envelopes that required more postage. The other 5 talking stamps were quite a bit smaller, measuring only 2 11/16” in diameter, yet could still play on a conventional turntable at 33 1/3 RPM like their larger brethren. The recorded content cleverly promoted Bhutan through song and words, and since the government reportedly sold 300,000 of them, promote the country they did. The beautiful Kingdom of Bhutan, in case you’re wondering, is sandwiched in between China and India along the eastern Himalayas.
These talking stamps appear to be miniature versions of flexi discs, meaning their quality is far from hi-fi. However, since the various mono recordings consisted of spoken word, traditional folk songs, and the country’s national anthem, you weren’t likely to play them during a party. Still, it was a novel idea, and the colorful stamps have become quite collectible over the decades, fetching hundreds of dollars for a complete, “unhinged” (unused) set. My talking stamp is a beautiful, deep purple color and was never used. I’m unable to play it since my turntable is not currently set up, but there are YouTube videos of people playing them if you’re curious.
Burt Kerr Todd
The talking stamp idea was the brainchild of American entrepreneur Burt Kerr Todd, whom the Bhutan government had hired to run its new Stamp Agency created to raise revenue for the Kingdom. Todd had zero experience with stamps but he had powerful connections along with a track record of helping other countries raise money.
Before he came up with his talking stamp idea, Todd’s initial Bhutan stamps included some made from silk, some using 3D images (produced in Japan), some made from thin steel foil, some with a raised relief, and some infused with scent! I’m not so sure about those ideas, but with the revival of vinyl, our USPS should seriously consider selling their own version of the talking stamp since the organization is in dire need of cash. Hollywood celebrities and musicians could read messages promoting the USA. Famous comedians could tell jokes (only clean jokes, of course). Composers could craft brief, exclusive instrumentals. To generate even more revenue, the Postal Service could sell ads to record on some of the stamps, like a Progressive commercial with Flo, or Sam Adams’ “Your Cousin From Boston”. The possibilities are endless and both stamp and record collectors alike would snap them up. Now, if the talking stamps could also get letters delivered in 1-2 days, they’d really be a big hit!
Trivia (from AmusigPlanet.com): “In 2008, Bhutan Post released CD-ROM postage stamps, another world first, as part of Bhutan’s commemoration of the 100th anniversary of its monarchy. The small-format disc contains video documentaries of events from Bhutan’s history: the anniversary of the monarchy, the coronation of the Fifth King, and the signing of the new Constitution.”