Although general, all-purpose greetings stamps have been around for many years, the Netherlands deserves the credit for pioneering the use of distinctive stamps to frank announcements of new-born babies. Back in 1997 it introduced an 80c stamp showing a stork carrying a bundle. Still on sale, as an adjunct to the definitive series, the 'New Baby' stamp is also used by people sending congratulations to the proud parents. France has taken this a step further with pairs of stamps in pink or blue shades with announcements signigifying 'it's a girl' or 'it's a boy'. A second pair of baby stamps was released in February, the pictorial first day postmark appropriately showing a stork in flight with the baby bundle in its beak.
In 1999 Holland also pioneered the bereavement stamp. On this occasion none of the conventional symbols associated with death were regarded as suitable. Instead the stamp has no motif other than a diagonal band of lighter colour flanked by deeper and deeper shades of grey-blue. The result is very distinctive and the appearance of this stamp on a cover would indicate a death announcement or a condolence card. Now Belgium has followed suit with an undenominated stamp showing a sunset scene. Words are unnecessary, and it is hoped that the image of a dark sky streaked with red will be sufficient to make mourning mail distinctive from now on.