March 30, 2012

Dear Diary

Saturday March 24: They're back! The chiffchaffs are back!


Springtime is a wonderful time for any (amateur) birder, with all of those birdies that went away in the winter coming back: the chiffchaff, the barn swallow, you name it, they're all returning to lighten up our spring and summer.

Barn swallow (with house martins in the background)

Hearing that first chiffchaff of spring reminded me of an idea I once had of starting a bird diary. Noting down significant bird events in my life and illustrating them with bird stamps. I thought of this plan after I had had a very successful year with a lot of firsts: my first ever crested tit and my first ever bearded tit.

Bearded tit

I saw a glimpse of the latter while visiting an RSPB reserve in East Anglia. Beautiful little creature. We don't have them where we are so that was an extra thrill. We have no avocets here either and there were plenty of those around as well, in East Anglia. I'd seen those before but it's always a gorgeous bird to observe.


For the crested tit I had to go even further afield. Again, we don't have them here, but I believe you do find them up in the Scottish Highlands. However, I happened upon one while holidaying in the southwest of Germany, near Kell-am-See (on my almost daily walk to the post office. No points for guessing what I was doing there!). It was just sitting there in a tree, looking all wonderful. It's funny how you always remember things like that.

Crested tit

Needless to say, though, nothing ever came of that diary plan but I still believe it would be a great way of displaying a bird collection. And it gives you a limitation if you need one, for you only need to collect birds that have had an impact on your life. 


And so I would now include the chiffchaff and also the stonechat, a long-time favourite. The past three winters have wreaked havoc among the local population of stonechats, up to a point where they were nearly completely wiped out. So it was great to hear and see a male chatting on a gorse bush the other day: a hopeful sign that they may be on the way up again.


Still no sign of the skylark though, I'm sorry to say. We used to have them when we first moved here, back in 2003, but they've since disappeared and have never come back again. Did hear a meadow pipit though, on that same walk we encountered the stonechat. Similar to the skylark in that they rise up and float down again, but easy to tell apart for the skylark's song is varied whereas that of the pipit is repetitive.

Meadow pipit

So you see, just give it a bit of thought and you'd come up with plenty of stories for your bird diary and therefore for an unusual and interesting philatelic bird display!

See yous later

PS: We now also have a Bird collecting thread on our forum, so why not flock together there and start your own bird diary!

March 23, 2012

The Arabian Gulf

Last week I showed you some stamps I got from a friend of mine. Well, he also gave me a carrier bag full of commercial covers from the 1980s. His family used to own the Verduyn Bros Confectionery Works, and this was mail sent to them.

Normally I wouldn't have looked twice at it, but as it happened I had just read the feature on modern postal history of the Arabian Gulf in this month's Stamp Magazine. I had already noticed that there were covers literally from all over the world, so I went and painstakingly sorted them all. And to my surprise I found there were quite a few from the Arabian Gulf! Not so much from the era the feature was dealing with, which is the 1960s and 1970s, but still, I thought it might be interesting enough to show some of them to you.

First up are the United Arab Emirates. This is a nice registered cover from 1986. Most covers in the lot were cancelled with a single circular machine cancel from Dubai, so this Deira cover is probably a bit more unusual. Note the bilingual registration label.

There was also a registered cover from Kuwait, from 1976, which I liked. Again we have a registration label in both English and Arabic, but also an Express Delivery label in the two languages. The stamps are cancelled with a special oval registered handstamp.

Yet another registered cover comes from the Sultanate of Oman. Again we have an oval postmark, though I'm not sure whether that's a special registered postmark. However, all other Oman covers in the lot are cancelled with more regular circular postmarks, either single (machine cancel) or double (handstamp) ringed, so the oval one may well be for registered post only. Pity about the damaged stamps, though!

The final cover is one that does get a mention in the feature in Stamp Magazine, in that the author, Alastair Gunn, tells us to look out for commercial Bahrain covers with commemoratives on. Most covers will bear the usual Sheikh definitives, so the commemorative stamp covers will be extra desirable. This proved to be correct, for there were loads of Bahrain covers in the lot, and only two had commemorative stamps on. The one I'm showing here, from 1984, bears a 1983 stamp marking the Opening of Madinat Hamad New Town.

I must admit I had never thought I'd have so much fun sorting out these covers! Just goes to show, I suppose, that the more knowledge you gain, the more interesting all these different components of philately become!

See yous later

PS: We now also have a forum thread dedicated to collecting the Arabian Gulf States. Why not have a look and show us your items from that area?!

March 16, 2012

The Ball is Round

Have you read the latest Stamp Magazine yet? With its feature on comic strips? It's a great feature which will trigger quite a few nostalgic moments for most of us! No wonder that so many countries have issued comic strip stamps. It's a very appealing subject, so you can't go wrong!

My latest addition to my comic strips stamps came along in a job lot of Dutch stamps which a good friend passed on to me on my recent trip to Holland. The lot included a sheet of FC Knudde stamps. 

Little tap back, Jack!
Though some catalogues state that this stamp was issued to mark the World Cup Football Championships in France, its actual purpose was to mark the 25th anniversary of the FC Knudde comic strip in 1998. If I tell you that FC Knudde translates as Rubbish FC, you know enough, I suppose! The immensely popular comic strip focuses on the ups (very few) and downs (way too many) of this football club. Great stuff, and easily one of the best football stamps ever issued in the Netherlands.

Most of those are usually rather orange and rather boring. The absolute bottom of the pit (in my humble opinion of course!) was reached in 1979, when a stamp was issued to mark the centenary of organised football in the Netherlands. I still don't know what that weird arm is doing there but it spoils an otherwise non-too-interesting stamp even more!

The first Dutch football stamp dates from way back in 1928! That's quite early, I would think, so may it be among the first in the world? I had quick browse on the net and, according to the footballphilately website, it is the first in the world! Uruguay beat them to it, by issuing a Football Victory set in 1924, but those stamps did not depict anything to do with football, so that one doesn't count!

The 1928 Olympic Games were held in Amsterdam, and a set of eight sporting stamps was issued to mark the event. The 3c depicts a footballer.

My favourite Dutch football stamp is one which many of you will probably find rather unimaginative, but it has left an indelible impression on my philatelic memory. It was issued in 1974 to celebrate the World Cup Football Championships in West Germany.

I like its simplicity, its balanced design and its effectiveness, though I'm not sure what the meaning is of that multi-coloured bar. Apparently, the stamp was overprinted in anticipation of a Dutch win, but needless to say these never saw the light of day, although stamps with fake overprints did surface on the philatelic market!

See yous later.

PS: we now have a forum thread on this subject too!

March 09, 2012

Russian Rapture

One of the members of my local society gave me the opportunity to ransack his Russia duplicates stockbook (Hi Jim!). And although I'm quite amazed how often I've already had to attach the label 'Russia' to my posts here, my collection of that vast country is really almost non-existent. So I was quite chuffed and managed to find loads of stamps that I didn't have yet.

What surprised me was that so many of the early Soviet Union stamps still have that old Imperial feel to them. Stamps you wouldn't associate with a communist country at all. It would almost seem as if the satellite countries tried harder to be communist in their stamp design than the mother country itself! Take for example this beautiful stamp from 1925.

Okay, it depicts Lenin, but the stamp design is very regal, and made more so by being recess-printed. Not a single hammer or sickle in sight. Or what about this beauty then?

It was issued in 1935 to mark the Third International Congress of Persian Art and Archaeology in Leningrad. Again not a stamp you'd associate with the Soviet Union. Pity there were only used copies in the book, so I'm just showing you this here and then I'll put it back because I only collect mint.

Definite highlight was the series of War Orders and Medals, which started in 1943. It started off modestly enough, with just two stamps, recess-printed and designed by A. Mandrusov. Many more sets were added to the series from 1944 to 1953. And they were larger too, with some sets consisting of 15 stamps. They all had the same basic design with different medals or orders in the centre.

A second type, introduced in 1944, was smaller in size, printed in letterpress, and also available as imperforate stamps. Other than that they worked on the same principle: same frame, different types of orders and medals shown on each stamp.

Left: 1943 recess-printed stamp depicting the Order of the Great Patriotic War. Centre: Letterpress version of 1946 depicting the Distinguished Service Medal. Right: The Order of the Red Banner of Labour from the final set.

They were all issued in dark, muted colours, giving them a slightly solemn feel, and they look absolutely stunning when arranged nicely on a page.

As a nice finale (though later normal sets were added) there was this one stamp issued on 20 August 1945, to mark Victory Day in Europe, which was 9 May 1945 for Eastern Europe. A stamp from the 1945 set, depicting the Order of Victory, was reissued with an appropriate overprint.

It just goes to show that there are hidden gems in each country's stamp catalogue, which is why it is so great to be an all-world collector!

See yous later!

March 02, 2012

Abdullah, Ruler of Jordan

A couple of weeks ago I made a tentative start to reform my troublesome Peacemaking collection. Chucking out all non-stamp items was a start, and so I formed the Aland Islands part of it. But while doing so I wondered whether it might be nice to just use contemporary stamps, rather than anything that goes with the theme. So that's what I tried to do while reorganising my items with reference to Abdullah, Ruler of Jordan.

Abdullah plays a part in Margaret MacMillan's book Peacemaking mainly because of his brother Faisel. Faisel was more in the limelight because of his dealings with Lawrence of Arabia and his later kingship of Iraq. But while Faisel was placed on the Iraqi throne, his brother Abdullah was given the second prize, if you like, of the new state of Transjordan. All this, of course, against a backdrop of an Arab revolt, after it turned out that all promises made to them by the Western powers during World War One, were fast evaporating, leaving them with hardly anything.

So, to appease the Arabs, Faisel got Iraq and Abdullah Transjordan. This development left its mark on the Transjordan stamp catalogue, for a set of overprinted stamps was issued in December 1922 to mark Abdullah being made Emir of Transjordan in 1921. The overprint reads 'Arab Government of the East, April 1921'. 

This arrangement was made official at a congress in San Remo, Italy, where Transjordan's independence was arranged. Due to unrelated matters, it took years to finalise all congress details, so the independent Transjordan emirate was only officially established in 1923. That development, too, was marked with an overprinted set, which, unfortunately, proves incredibly hard to find. All I have is the picture below, which is an illustration on a 1998 miniature sheet to mark the 75th anniversary of that Emirate. I know that's cheating a bit, as it's not a contemporary item, so I won't include it in the collection, but I thought I'd at least show you a pic of the stamps I'll hopefuly one day be able to add. This overprint reads 'Arab Government of the East. Commemoration of Independence, 25 May 1923'.

Now, Abdullah did not have much of a reputation among Westerners at the time. Many thought him lazy and idle. So everyone was very surprised to find that he proved a very effective ruler.

Abdullah first appeared on stamps as Emir on this 1927 Transjordan definitive set

Abdullah's final definitive set of 1952

It turned out that when the whole Hashemite dynasty started to crumble, his was the only kingdom that survived, and still survives. It is Abdullah's great-grandson who is now king of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Abdullah II Bin Al-Hussein was crowned in 1999, and his coronation was marked with several sets.

The line of these successful Hashemites was shown in a 2003 issue, of which I'm here showing the four generations, from Abdullah to his great-grandson.

I must say, looking back at what I've just shown, I'm quite pleased with this, and I think it works well. Hope you're enjoying it too! Next time I'll show Konrad Adenauer.

See yous later!
I wrote and scheduled this blog post some time ago, and have since been to Stampex, where, to my utter delight, I managed to find a few values of the missing Transjordan set. So, rather than rewriting the above post, I thought I'd better add a postcscript and show you the real thing. Enjoy!