July 27, 2012

Sumo Wrestling

Has sumo wrestling ever been an Olympic sport? I don't suppose so, but seeing the level of unusual and visual impact of the sport, it would look good in any games or at least in an opening ceremony! After all, Japan’s national sport is as ceremonial as any other, and with roots going further back than most other sports, though they may not stretch as far back as the ancient Olympic Games, they more than deserve another moment in the spotlight.

That’s what the Japanese postal authorities must have thought as well in 1978, when they embarked on a five set series depicting original Japanese art, such as drawings and woodblock prints, of sumo wrestlers.

Sumo wrestling has been around for centuries, with first mentions of the sport dating back to the 8th century, when the sport was a religious pre-harvest event. It grew and grew until it became the huge thing which it still is today. It is quite a ceremonial sport and this is reflected in the subjects chosen for the stamps.

The ceremonies and traditions even start before the matches themselves start! Of old, the wrestlers lived on one side of the river, with the Eko Temple compound where the matches were held situated on the other side of the river. Crossing the river, over the Ryogoku Bridge, became a traditional event which is depicted on these se-tenant stamps.

Once in the compound, the whole event gets on the way with the ceremonial entering of the ring in which the match will take place. This is depicted on these se-tenant stamps, with the wrestler on the right being the grand champion Raigoro Hidenoyama.

There are various divisions within sumo wrestling, with the top layer consisting of wrestlers being designated as either ‘east’ or ‘west’, ‘east’ being a notch higher than ‘west’. On this se-tenant pair we see the special ring-entering ceremony performed by an east and west wrestler. 

The late 18th century is usually seen as the Golden Age of sumo wrestling. Famous wrestlers from that time are seen on the following stamp. They are Tameemon Raiden on the left and Shimanosuke Jinmaku on the right. In the background stands referee Shonosuke Kimura. 

Although we usually think of big bulky men playing the sport, it is played by kids as well. The following stamp depicts a painting of the Kaido wrestler Daidozan Bungoro, who was only seven years old! Kaido wrestlers were often young boys with exceptionally large bodies. Daidozan Bungoro weighed 70 kilos when he was 7!

It’s not just the wrestlers that have to grapple with ceremonial duties, the referee as well has his own part to play and look to sport, although his attire has been watered down through the ages. On this stamp we see him in traditional warrior dress, complete with sword. By the way, the sumo wrestler on the right stamp is Midorinosuke Onomatsu, who became a grand champion in 1828.

In 1572, the winner of a tournament was presented with a bow and he allegedly danced with joy, which led to the ceremony that each tournament winner has to perform this bow dance. Nowadays, however, special dancing wrestlers perform this ceremony, rather than the winner himself.

Now wouldn’t all this make the most perfect Olympic ceremony?
See yous later

July 20, 2012


In July 1887, so that's 125 years ago this month, Ludwig Lazarus Zamenhof published his book on a new language which he hoped would unite the world: Esperanto. The idea was to create a universal second language, which would transcend political and other barriers, thereby smoothing over or avoiding misunderstandings between people. Like returning to the days before the building of the Tower of Babel, when everyone still shared the same language.

Zamenhof grew up in a multi-cultural, multi-language environment in the Russian Empire where he saw that categorising people with regard to such things as race, religion and language was only creating division and hatred. A born idealist, he vowed to come up with a solution which would unite people once more and give them the tools to work towards a world of peace.

It took him ten years to develop the language and his results were penned down in his book 'Unua Libro'. The idea of this language was picked up swiftly and in 1905 there were so many followers that a worldwide congress could be held in Paris. Since then, many countries all over the world have organised congresses, which were usually promoted with stamp issues.

You may have detected a certain green theme by now. Well done! You see, during that 1905 Congress, an Esperanto flag was adopted, consisting of a green star on a white field, a so-called canton, in a green field. The colour green, and the star, have since been potent symbols of the Esperanto movement, and as such have often been used by stamp designers.

One of the earliest Esperanto stamp issues is probably that of the Soviet Union. They issued two stamps in July 1926, to mark the Sixth International Proletarian Esperanto Congress, held in Leningrad.

Top marks should go to Yugoslavia, who issued what must be the most expensive Esperanto stamp. In 1953, they issued two stamps to mark the 38th Esperanto Congress, in Zagreb. The postage value is a fairly common stamp, but the airmail value commands a three figure sum nowadays. That is probably because of its very high face value of 300 dinar and its small print run. Only 20,000 stamps were printed, compared to 300,000 for the postage value.

This stamp has to share the limelight, though, with its companion issued by the Yugoslav Military Government in Trieste. It is basically the same issue as that of Yugoslavia, but in different colours and with the overprint 'STT Vujna'. Here, too, it is the airmail stamp which commands the highest price of the set, being on a par with the Yugoslavian stamp.

1987 postcard from Hungarian Esperanto Chess Club

All in all there is plenty of scope for an interesting collecting on the Esperanto theme, with not just stamps, but plenty of cinderella and commemorative covers to be found as well.

See yous later

As a result of the many comments on this blog post, there is now a dedicated forum thread here on collecting Esperanto on  stamps. Hope you'll have a look and join in with your own items!

July 13, 2012

The Scientists' Tale

I've said it before and I'll say it again: I absolutely love the GB Millennium stamps! Especially the 1999 series which was divided into twelve tales, each highlighting a different aspect of the Millennium. And with the recent discovery by a scientist from Edinburgh University of the Higgs boson particle, yet another mind-boggling breakthrough in science, what better excuse to have another look at one of those Millennium sets: that of the Scientists' Tale?!

As with all the Millennium sets, there are four stamps in each set. This particular one starts off with the 19p stamp depicting molecular structures. The design is by Mark Curtis and focuses on DNA decoding. Simply put, the discovery of DNA (Deoxyribonucleic acid) led to the discovery of genes which in its turn led to the possibilities to modify them, which could be applied to cure diseases. This DNA was discovered in 1869 by a small group of British scientists.

The 26p depicts a Galapagos Finch and a bird fossil. It pays tribute to Darwin's Survival of the Fittest idea, which is part of his Theory of Evolution. This idea should not be described as 'only the strongest will survive' but as 'only those that are able to reproduce themselves will survive'. Scientists nowadays prefer to speak of 'natural selection' rather than survival of the fittest. The design is by Ray Harris Ching.

On the 44p we see an electrical generator, paying homage to Michael Faraday's work on electricity. The design, by Colin Gray, shows the Faraday Disk rotating to convert mechanical energy to electrical energy.

The final stamp of the set, the 64p, is a photograph of Saturn, made by the Hubble Telescope. The stamp is a tribute to Sir Isaac Newton and the development of astronomical telescopes. Newton is well-known for his work on light and spectrum which led to the development of his 'reflecting telescope'.

Although for sheer beauty of design alone these stamps should win you over, it is possible to go a bit further and add a few more niceties to your collection. Two of the stamps were also included in a prestige booklet called 'World Changers'. 

In that booklet there is a pane dedicated to Darwin and a pane dedicated to Faraday. 

Both panes include various momentous events in the scientists' lives, which add a lot of interest to the theme of the set.

And finally, the 64p was used again for a miniature sheet issued to mark the solar eclipse of 11 August 1999.

So you see, collecting commemoratives can sometimes be just as much fun as collecting definitives!

See yous later

July 06, 2012

Austria's Art Museums

I gave the new Art Museums definitives of Austria a wide berth initially, because they didn’t really appeal to me.

Compared to the beauties the country used to issue, these looked rather dull and uninspiring to me. But as so often, I was proven wrong, for when I read about them in a recent magazine of the Austrian Philatelic Society, they sounded interesting enough to warrant a closer look. The thing is that even though the set was only introduced in May of last year, we've already had a number of changes which makes it an interesting set to collect.

A larger reprint version on the left and a smaller original version on the right

First of all, the stamps have changed in size, becoming slightly larger. I've only seen this on the self-adhesive coil stamps so far, so I'm not sure whether the self-adhesive booklets will change in size as well. So far, any new booklets I have seen were of the same size as the original ones. I'm also not sure whether the only ordinary sheet stamp, the 5c, has undergone any changes. I'm not even sure whether that value is still for sale, to be honest.

Another change which so far I've only seen on the coil stamps is the inclusion of a security print. Slightly similar to what we have on the Machins now, but on these stamps the print consists of the Austrian Post logo: a posthorn followed by the word Post.

The original version on the left and the reprint with the architect's name included on the right.

The design itself is also undergoing changes. With all this modern architecture being showcased, it is only fair to include the name of the architect in the design, especially since the public tended to think that the name Prohaska, which appears on the stamps, is the name of the architect. Rainer Prohaska, however, is the designer of the stamps!

Talking about the design: for some reason (it has not been explained yet why) each design includes the morse code for the letter K: dash dot dash. You'd never notice it, but once you know it's easy to spot. Found it on the 62c yet?

So within a year we've already seen so many changes and reprints that this turns out to be a great set to try and find all the varieties of. And as it's a definitive set, you may be able to find loads of them in kiloware, giving you a better chance of finding all the different stamps. I should think that that more than makes up for its slightly dull design. Though I must admit it does grow on you!

See yous later