December 28, 2012

Post and Go

When I look back at 2012, there's one philatelic moment that stands out more than any other and that's my discovery of the Post and Go stamps. I'm normally not that quick (or keen, for that matter) to jump on these modern philatelic bandwagons, but I must admit that I'm thoroughly hooked on the world of PAGs. 

It all started so innocently when I offered to go to the Edinburgh kiosks to give an update on known usage information which is recorded by keen PAG collectors. What I liked immediately was the fact that I wouldn't know exactly what would come out of the kiosk. Plain Machin stamps? Birdies? Sheep? I loved the lottery element of it all. It reminded me of the good old days when we had booklet vending machines in many post offices. I was always buying one or two, hoping to one day get that one with the large phosphor shift. Back to 2012, and it turned out 'my' kiosk was fitted with cattle PAGs, which was the most recent design at the time. 

It didn't take me long to get hooked. Would I be able to get all the designs? And what about all those codes at the bottom? Another great thing about these PAGs: there are so many levels of collecting them. You could opt for just the general designs, try and get all the designs with all the denominations, and even go further and try and get samples from each and every kiosk in the land, for each one has its own number which is printed onto the stamp.

Kiosk 005349, situated in York
Then, of course, there are the errors and varieties, such as too large fonts or PAGS which have no information printed on them whatsoever. Stories of people yanking at them when they come out of the machines, hoping to create varieties in that way. It's all too good to be true!

'Worldwide' and bottom codes in too large a font, and weight limitation missing.
Unfortunately, it IS all too good to be true, for, as is discussed in this month's Stamp Magazine as well, it seems that Royal Mail may well be sniffing money, because the true PAG is in danger of being replaced with collectors items. Special, limited overprints, year codes, all the trimmings which have infiltrated regular philately as well. You may like them, but they are blatantly aimed at collectors rather than the public.

One way to avoid this, and I'm a big fan of that, is to only get the PAGs from proper kiosks in proper post offices, and forget about the fancy collectors items. That way, you can collect that which is truly available to the public, and which is truly (well, more or less so) produced for use on one's mail, rather than to be put in one's PAG album. 

But having said that, you would then miss getting items such as the one below. It is a presentation pack PAG, and you can see that because of the A9GB12 code, with 9 being September, GB being the country of production (try and get the NL version for packs that were made in Holland!) and 12 being 2012. Not sure anymore what the A stands for, but I believe it's for the A kiosks, though someone will undoubtedly fill me in on this one!

So, whatever route you decide to go down on, be assured that it's a great addition to the philatelic world and I for one am glad I've embraced it with open arms!

See yous later

PS: While we're nostalgically looking back at 2012, why not vote for the Best GB stamp of 2012 in our poll? You have until the 11th of January to do so, so get voting!

December 21, 2012

Stained Glass

I was intrigued to find the following British aerogramme which was issued in 1970:

I like its design and find that the stained glass theme choice suits Christmas very well. Here's a closer look at the actual stamp image. It depicts a stained glass angel in East Harling, Norfolk, and makes for a gorgeous stamp, I think.

I was intrigued because the design choice had nothing to do with the regular Christmas stamp issue of that same year. The regular stamps depicted Nativity scenes from the Psalter of Robert De Lisle. You see, it was not until 1971 that the regular Christmas stamps depicted stained glass from various churches. The 1970 aerogramme must have been very popular for the 1971 stamps not only take the same theme but reflect the aerogramme design in all other ways as well. Here is the 2.5p showing the Dream of the Wise Men, from a stained glass window of Canterbury Cathedral.

Royal Mail repeated the stained glass Christmas stamps theme a couple of times, most recently in 2009, with the 1st large value of the set depicting Madonna and Child from a stained glass window in Ormesby, Norfolk.

Germany, too, has a firm tradition of using stained glass windows on their Christmas stamps. In the 1970s, they issued a number of miniature sheets, with the stained glass stamp in an ornamental frame.

1977 Christmas miniature sheet, depicting a king presenting gifts, from a stained glass window in Cologne.

In 1978 they went all modern with their miniature sheet. Presumably trying to highlight parts of a window pane, the complete design makes it look like the babe is floating on a flying carpet. Not the most successful of designs, I don't think.

Stained glass window from Munich

Luckily, they have since reverted to more traditional ways, such as this 1995 Christmas stamp with a Nativity scene from Augsburg Cathedral.

I was pleased to see that Canada once again issued stained glass Christmas stamps this year. Could this be the start of a long-running series? I surely do hope so! Last year's stamp, showing stained glass from the cathedral in Kingston, is among my favourites. I like it because of its traditional stained glass background. For me, the symmetrical ornamental backgrounds of stained glass windows offer even more visual pleasure than the main scenes depicted. But that's probably just my disorderly mind needing comforting!

So keep it up, Canada, and may many other countries see the stained glass light, for I think it one of the most beautifully fitting ways to mark Christmas on stamps. Have a good one!

See yous later

PS: Here's a little encore for you: The Madonna and Child Epiphany Window from Washington Cathedral.

December 14, 2012

Type "Blanc" de France

Sometimes I'm a little fed up messing about in philately on a restrictive budget and I want to go out and play with the big boys. Have a collection with a huge WOW factor. So I was getting overly excited when this big auction house came up with a sale based on a single French set: the 'Blanc' issues of 1900. I spent night after night browsing the luxurious catalogue and in the end just couldn't resist it. I threw all caution in the wind and placed a bid on four items. Being successful on 'only' three, I then went further and managed to obtain two unsold lots. And it all arrived yesterday, and I'm SOOOO chuffed!

The Blanc stamps, named after their designer Paul Joseph Blanc, are an allegory of France, and include the Goddess of Freedom with phrygian cap, holding scales of justice, and cherubs kissing (apparently representing Fraternity). It's a busy design, but a true French classic.

The first item I got was actually a mistake, due to my running headlong into a territory I'm unfamiliar with. For it turns out to be a proof printing of the 1c grey to be used for postal stationery (newspaper wrappers) rather than stamps. So I'll probably put it on eBay or Delcampe or a similar site as I'm a stamps-only man.

I was happier with my second lot: a block of 35 1c grey stamps, with loads of extra information.

For example, in the bottom margin, we find the printing date (13 December), the number of the printing press (13) and the type of paper (GC, for Grande Consommation, or Bulk Use, if you like).

Furher up we find the so-called millésime. This number, 6 on this sheet, denotes the year of printing. In this case 1916. They are usually collected in gutter pairs, but it's so much nicer to have them in a large block like this!

What's even more impressive is that this sheet consists of type 1a stamps, with only one copy being type 1b.

For this we have to look at the white line to the left of AISE. On type 1a this gets thinner, whereas on type 1b it remains of an even thickness. On the image above the left-hand stamp (which is to the right of the arrow on the big sheet) is type 1a and the right-hand stamp 1b.

And if all that wasn't enough, I also got an imperf copy with millésime 4,

and a copy of the 1c grey-black with complete offset on the back.

I also managed to get two dated-corner blocks of the 2c claret. The first one, dated 6 June 1928, shows coloured spots in the value tablet.

The second block, dated 13 May 1930, has a large spot in the 2 of the top right-hand stamp. This is a constant variety for all printings of May 1930.

So there you have it. Me being a big boy for 15 minutes. Now I'll go back into my cage, lick my wounds, and live on bread and water until well into the New Year...

See yous later

December 07, 2012

Now you see it...

Don't worry, just one more Dutch item and then I'll move on to bigger (and better?) things. But I really couldn't resist showing you my other sheetlet as well, which I took home with me after my recent trip to good old Dutchland. It's the 2012 issue for 'Stamp Day'.

For some time, these anual Stamp Day issues have focused on previous Dutch definitives, usually showing rather unusual items, such as colour proofs and the like. This sheet shows proof printings of the Juliana En face series which was introduced in 1949, it being Juliana's first definitive set after she became queen in 1948. And it is an important addition to that set, because it highlights interesting developments in the design.

Just a little test: look at the basic design of the stamp (this is the Netherlands Antilles version but it's similar to the Dutch version).

And now look at a later version (1979 to be precise) of that same design. 

You see any major design difference yet? Check the 2012 stamp once more and try again. 

No? Okay, I'll tell you. Juliana was a reluctant queen and hated all pomp and circumstance that went with her role. So when she saw the designs for 'her' new stamp, she baulked and insisted that the diadem be removed. And so it was. But the recess-printed high values had already been engraved and the 1 guilder value had already been printed! That went into the waste paper basket but there was no time to start a new engraving, so they tried to hide the diadem as best they could.

Now the proof version on the 2012 sheetlet still includes the diadem, but the final version of 1949 looked something like this:

As you can see, the diadem has been covered up and changed into hair but the head does seem sort of 'dented'. Not ideal, but it was the best they could do at such short notice.

Other differences, also highlighted on the 2012 stamp, are that the lettering changed from outlined to solid, and the value was changed from words to numbers, to comply with UPU regulations.

And that 1979 Antilles stamp? Well, that is a mystery yet to be solved. In 1979, to mark the forthcoming change on the Dutch throne (Juliana's daughter Beatrix would take over as queen in 1980), the Antilles reissued some old Juliana stamps, and for some reason, no-one yet knows how or why, they ended up using the unadopted version with the diadem still included!

See yous later

PS: Want to read more? Try and get hold of the April 2008 issue of Stamp Magazine, for this was actually the very first feature I ever wrote for the mag!

November 30, 2012

Repeat Performance

I've just returned from my occasional trip to the Netherlands, with my bags filled with new Dutch philatelic goodies. I'll be showing some of these over the next few blogs, starting off with a miniature sheet which I got from a very dear friend of mine (Hi Pim!).

It's the 2012 version of the annual 'Child Welfare' issue. On the six different stamps we find the three daughters of the Dutch heir to the throne, Prince Willem-Alexander. Top left on the sheet we find Amalia, the eldest and, if all goes according to plan, the future Queen of the Netherlands. She was born in 2003 and until now the only one from her siblings to be honoured with a stamp issue.

Royal stamp issues are less common in the Netherlands, compared to for example here in Britain, so this latest miniature sheet was welcomed widely by both the general public and the brotherhood of stamp collectors. It is extra special because the photographs of the three princesses have been made by their father, the Crown Prince himself, a fact which is mentioned in the top right corner of the sheet.

Even more special is the fact that the whole issue harks back to the 1972 Child Welfare issue.

Again we have a miniature sheet with children, all boys this time, of a future Dutch monarch. On this particular sheet we see the boys of the current Dutch monarch, Queen Beatrix, with the top row portraying the same Willem-Alexander who photographed his girls for the 2012 miniature sheet. And this 1972 issue, too, was photographed by the children's father, the late husband of Beatrix, Prince Claus.

In those days, the annual issue consisted of normal sheet stamps and a miniature sheet, with the top value of the issue only available in sheets. It is also the only value which portrayed all three boys together.

Going back a bit further in time, we come across another similar issue, from 1946. Here we have the 'Princesses' charity issue, portraying the (then) three girls of Queen Juliana, with among those the future Queen Beatrix. A set of six stamps in three designs. Daughter number four was born in 1947, so she missed out on this occasion.

The first time an heir to the Dutch throne appeared on a stamp was in 1934, when two stamps were issued with a surcharge for the National Crisis Fund, of which Princess Juliana (for it is her we're talking about) was the founder.

It's great to be able to chart the Royal Family in stamp issues, at the same time noting how stamp design and production changes, and with that the perception of the Royal Family and how it likes to be portrayed.

See yous later

November 23, 2012

Scottish Inventions

Fresh into our second year and we have another request to fulfill! "How about Scottish inventions on stamps?" Luckily, I'm a member of the Alba Stamp Group, for those who collect anything Scottish, and they published a great book called 'Scots and Philately' some years ago, so it didn't take me long to find a couple of Scottish inventors. And famous ones at that.

I suppose the most famous one will be Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone, and the bel in decibel.  He was born in Edinburgh in 1847. The book contains pages and pages of Bell stamps, though most will probably only feature a telephone rather than the man himself.

One highly interesting inclusion, however, would be the 1980 US stamp marking the birth centenary of Helen Keller. You see, Bell was Professor of Vocal Physiology at Boston University where he specialised in the treatment of deaf mutes. Helen Keller's mother turned to him for help. He subsequently played an instrumental part in the little girl's triumph over her disabilities.

Next up we have another well-known invention, but do you recognise his name? He is John Logie Baird, and I must admit it didn't ring a bell at all when I first saw it. But this man, born in Helensburgh in 1888, is held chiefly responsible for the invention of television! Naturally, many inventors and engineers have played a part in the eventual television as we know it, but Baird was prominent among them and the first to be able to transmit a moving televison image. As with Bell, there are loads of stamps fitting this theme, but most will be depicting actual televisions. In 2007, Great Britain issued a John Logie Baird stamp as part of their 'World of Invention' set, so I presume he is more famous than I would have thought.

Another invention of an article we're so used to nowadays is the invention of the hypodermic syringe by Alexander Wood. The Edinburgh physiscian, born in 1817, is thought to have been inspired by the sting of bees.

Unfortunately for him, the needle has partly become synonymous with drug taking, and it is therefore highly ironic that the first person to die of injecting a drug overdose was Wood's wife, who had been  enjoying her morphine injections a tad too much.

Often, it is the more obscure entries that make thematic collecting interesting, as it throws light on links you'd never thought were there. Here, for example, we have a stamp of a water-distillation plant in Aruba, on a 1959 Netherlands Antilles stamp.

This stamp is linked to James Weir, born in Airdrie in 1843. He basically invented the process of desalinating water, providing much-needed drinkable freshwater. He was also founder of J&G Weir of Cathcart, and that firm installed the Aruba plant on the stamp!

So next time you drink a glass of tapwater, while waiting in an endless call centre queue, while your kids crank up the volume of the TV way too loud, just remember to blame the Scots!

See yous later

November 16, 2012

One Year Old

Funny how time flies. But it's true, the Stamp Magazine Blog celebrates its first anniversary! 

It feels like so much longer since we first started, and yet on the other hand I can't believe I've already written 52 blog posts. And all thanks to you, my dear and faithful readers! It's always a bit of a gamble whether other people will like what you do, even though I had (very infrequently) written my own blog before I embarked on this one. But it seems the blog does hit a note with you all, which is great.

So I'm glad to say we seem to be doing alright! The statistics show 19,821 page views up to now,  which is some 1600 per month, so that is absolutely fantastic. Obviously, most come in through the Stamp Magazine website, but very high on the list of referring sites is Ian's Norvic Philatelics blog, so great to have you all here as well.

As far as the audience is concerned; again, I suppose it's obvious that most readers are situated in the UK. In second place we get loads of visitors from the other side of the pond, from the United States, with the Netherlands coming third. That may have something to do with the background of yours truly, so I should also really mention Canada, which comes just after that. Great to see, too, that maybe slightly more unlikely countries manage to enter the top 10 as well, with Ukraine on the number 10 spot being one of those. I don't think I've ever much featured Ukraine on the blog so remind me that I will make it up to you!

I always like keeping track on which posts are more popular than others. Apart from the very first 'Welcome' post, which I suppose is one many sites direct to automatically, it is the 'Canadian Beauties' post of 6 January which has come out on top. 

In second place we have the 'Esperanto' post of 20 July, which literally raced up the ladder,

and in third place we have the 'Europa' post of 8 June. 

All big hitters and popular subjects, but here, too, we see a few entries which may be a bit more surprising, such as the 'Abdullah, Ruler of Jordan' post of 2 March which takes up the ninth position.

Anyway, it's all good fun, these statistics, and I'm very glad that the blog will enter its second year in a healthy state. So here's to another successful year!

See yous later

November 09, 2012

Diamond Diadem

I've just visited a friend of mine who collects Royal Jewellery, and seeing her collection brought back memories of my own erstwhile collection on the Diamond Diadem. It is also known as the George IV State Diadem, made in 1820 for his coronation. Being a Machin fan it is easy to guess why I quite liked this particular bit of royal jewellery.

The diadem is of course mainly known because of the Machin and Wilding portraits of Queen Elizabeth. In fact, you'd be pretty hard-pressed to find any other examples of the diadem on stamps. But thanks to this year's Diamond Jubilee, it would be possible to enlarge the collection quite a bit. First of all, we have two new British stamps with the diadem on, both part of the miniature sheet which was issued in February.

The two stamps show part of old banknotes with the Queen's portrait on.

Of the other jubilee stamps, I am quite fond of this Australian stamp, which shows an utterly charming portrait of a young queen.

To prove that Elizabeth can still be just as charming today, Canada issued my other favourite Commonwealth jubilee stamp. Again, a wonderful portrait of the Queen.

It's not just Elizabeth who has worn the diamond diadem, though. Victoria, too, used to wear it, and her inclusion in the recent Kings and Queens series makes for a perfect addition to our theme.

She did of course appear on a 1987 GB stamp as well, wearing her diadem, and could one maybe even venture a guess and say she's wearing it on all her contemporary British stamps? I'm not sure, though it could well be, for in those days the diadem was often portrayed looking like anything but the real thing. On the famous Chalon portrait for example, Victoria also wears the diadem and there, too, it doesn't look that much like the real diadem. You see, the real thing only has four crosses and four 'floral bunches' (consisting of roses, thistles and shamrock), and on the Chalon portrait you can already see six of those eight features whilst only seeing the front bit of the diadem, so that just doesn't add up.

I seem to remember that there are also stamps of Queen Mary (and maybe even Queen Alexandra?) wearing the diadem, but couldn't find any. I'm sure, though, that there's some staunch royalist collector out there who can enlighten me!

See yous later