A range of Tom of Finland stamps has launched in Finland to commemorate the “proud homoeroticism” of the influential gay artist, and has been the best selling in the country’s history.

Itella, the Finnish postal service earlier this year announced that it was to launch the line of stamps featuring the art of Tom of Finland, who inspired the look of Freddie Mercury and the Village People.

After the stamps went on sale on Monday, the service reported that it had received pre-orders from 178 countries, and that the range of stamps were the best selling in Finland’s postal service’s history.

The most orders came from Sweden, the US, the UK and France.

“We haven’t seen this kind of interest before in Posti’s history and we probably won’t again soon,” said Posti’s development chief Markku Penttinen.

“Our starting point was to get Touko Laaksonen’s artwork in our stamps. We know that he was very well-known globally. Of course the subject matter is also topical and much discussed. This equation has worked better than we anticipated,” he continued.

Stamps featuring the iconic designs also hold pride of place in the newly opened postal museum in Tampere.

After being released for pre-order early due to the “unprecedented” international demand, the Itella Posti website selling the stamps went down.

A petition was launched, however, demanding the cancellation of a collection of Finnish stamps featuring the homoerotic art.

The artist, whose real name is Touko Laaksonen, remains an influential figure in the gay art scene.

One of the most successful Finnish film directors, Dome Karukoski, announced last year that he will direct an authorised biopic about Tom of Finland.

The film marks the first time the Tom of Finland Foundation has approved a motion picture about the artist, who has been called the “most influential creator of gay pornographic images.”