August 31, 2012

The Paralympic Games

Here we go again! The Great British Summer of Sport is never-ending. Having only just recovered from the Olympic Games, we are now in full flow with the Paralympic Games. So this a great moment to pause for a while and see what's on offer with regard to proper Paralympic stamps.

It's obvious that Britain has given this subject a bit of thought, so we'll leave those for what it is, after all, they're more than adequately reported on at the Stamp Magazine website. No, I propose to see what other countries have come up with this year. I was going to apologise for just showing a random selection, but after having browsed the internet for a whole morning I can only come up with a meagerly four issues! Blimey.

Finland, for example, honoured its Paralympic athletes with a miniature sheet with two stamps, portraying gold medallist Leo-Pekka TĂ€hti and medal hopeful Saana-Maria Sinisalo. The sheet margins include some more Paralympic athletes. It's nice and colourful but slightly predictable.

But at least it's better than what the United Nations came up with. They designed a large set of stamps and miniature sheets, all very much alike, and in the same drabby colours. Not that interesting, I don't think.

I prefer this Slovakian stamp, depicting an athlete and the London Eye. It's an interesting design because it seems as if the London Eye is the shadow of the wheelchair. Nice play on images going on here. Funny how all the whiteness and the red value makes you think it's a Monaco stamp!

But my all time favourite is the Portuguese issue, shown here on the left, with the Olympic stamp on the right. A perfect pair. Moving slightly away from the obligatory athlete, it is more artistic but still evokes a sense of sporting action, because of all the curvy lines. Splendid!

Like I said, I had expected many more issues to choose from. Are there any other? I don't think so but I hope you can prove me wrong!

See yous later

August 24, 2012

Miniature stamps

Some weeks ago we featured miniature sheets, but this week we take the concept a bit further by featuring miniature stamps! They were introduced in the United States of America in 1978, when a tiny stamp depicting an Indian Head Penny coin was issued. If I'm not mistaken the idea behind it was to economise on paper.

I was reminded of these when I got a booklet with miniature wildlife stamps in, issued in 1981. I was struck by the beauty of the engravings so I thought I'd show some of them here to you. The two I like best are those of the puma

and of the common seal.

The engravings, by T.R. Hipschen and A. Saavedra are wonderfully well, done, I think. The glistening cuteness of the seal is remarkable and the way the puma holds his jaws open, with the tongue and the whiskers, and those eyes! So lifelike, it's uncanny.

The puma stamp is now by far my favourite miniature stamp of the US, having conquered the top spot from the 1980 windmills booklet stamps, which held that position for years and years, being also very fine engravings, by K. Kipperman and A. Saavedra.

As you can see, the majority of them are really well produced, but the public at large never warmed to the tiny stamps, which is probably why they were discontinued in the end.

And tiny though these are - they measure 17mm x 20mm, the US miniature stamps cannot claim to be the tiniest stamps in the world. That accolade goes to the 1863 issue of Bolivar: a set of three stamps, each measuring a mere 8mm x 9.55mm!

But to be honest, it may be a thing of wonder, but it's hardly a thing of beauty. So let's at least give the US the satisfaction for having enriched our stamp albums with the most beautiful miniature stamps!

See yous later

PS: Want to see more? We have just started a special forum thread on these American miniature stamps, so click here to have a look!

August 17, 2012


Here we are, still reeling from all that sporting extravaganza, and with a heap of Gold Medal Stamps on our table. Maybe feeling still a bit hangover? Not sure what to do next? Well, it's simple: just keep on going.

Of course you can collect the Paralympic gold medal stamps that have just been announced, or you could expand the collection you now already have by having a look at the individual sports you have managed to amass on your stamps. Take cycling for example: good for a couple of gold medal stamps, featuring sporting heroes such as Sir Chris Hoy and Bradley Wiggins, therefore a popular sport to start with.

So, let's have a look at what we can do. Starting off with the first British stamps to depict cycling: we have to go back to 1970 for that, to the stamp issue marking the ninth British Commonwealth Games, held in Edinburgh. Three stamps were issued, depicting three types of sport and the top value shows cyclists in motion.

In 1978, a set was issued to mark two centenaries: that of the Cyclists' Touring Club and that of the British Cycling Federation. The 9p value is interesting because it shows what bicycles used to look like in ye olde days, depicting as it does a penny-farthing and a 1884 safety bicycle. 

Not afraid to go off the beaten (cycle) track a bit? Good, then why not include one of the Millennium stamps, issued in May 2000? It promotes the Cycle Network Artworks.

One of my personal favourites is another Commonwealth Games stamp, issued in 2002. I like the elongated form of the stamp, giving the whole thing an idea of speed.

Of course, you don't have to stay in Britain to add cycle stamps to your collection. France would be an obvious next step, with Bradley Wiggins being the ideal link between the two countries, having just won this year's Tour de France. This sheet from 2003 is ideal as it marks the centenary of the Tour de France and the design includes an array of top cyclists.

Now all you have to do is work your way through all the sports depicted on the Gold Medal Stamps and you'll have a collection that many a stamp club member will be envious of!

See yous later

PS: Need some more tips? We have a special forum thread with all sorts of possibilities for collecting Olympic sports.

August 10, 2012

Olympic Games

I must admit that until recently I was rather dreading the prospect of this flood of GB issues marking the Olympic Games. In despair I sometimes found solace in the one and only Olympic series I really liked: the 1896 set from Athens, the first set to mark the modern Games.

Note that the right-hand stamp does not have the designer's name at the bottom!
A great set on its own and with loads of possibilities to collect covers as well. But you do need a wallet filled to the brim, if you want to get anywhere, which is probably why I never went beyond the one item which you can see here.

Anyways, back to 2012. The months of hyped-up frenzy and the pre-Games stamp issues did not much to alter my feelings of dread, I'm afraid. But things started to change when Royal Mail issued their Olympic definitives at the beginning of this year. I actually liked them. A lot!

Although very much a fan of Machins, I was almost disappointed that the Olympic definitives were so soon replaced with the Golden Jubilee definitives.

Then the Games began and although the start was postponed a bit, before we knew it, Royal Mail was going all out, as promised, with their Gold Medal Stamps. And they've proved to be a big hit! The whole country seems to be on the look-out for them! Queues in post offices, special counters being opened, just like in the old days when special issues were few and far between.

And the possibilities for a varied collection are just as great as they were in 1896, only a lot cheaper. First of all there's the challenge of trying to get all the different Gold Medal Stamps. Then, what about collecting them from the various printers that were employed?! We're already starting to see differences between all those printings. I bet you'll be busy for quite a while if you want to track down all the different sheets that are around. but then, that's the fun of collecting.

Printed in Swindon
And it must be said that Royal Mail has done a great job in bringing the stamps to the general public. Us collectors are used to all this but the huge amount of high-profile national coverage, in papers and on mainstream television, means that everybody knows about the stamps, even the athletes themselves! The whole Gold Medal Stamp thing is made even more public and fun through Royal Mail's Gold Postbox campaign, which is receiving just as much publicity as the stamps are. A perfect way to promote everything to do with our great hobby.
Gold post box for Steven Burke (cycling - track - men's team pursuit) in Colne, Lancashire
All in all, many people have had a glimpse of the fantastic world of stamp collecting. No more images of stuffy, tweed-clad old chums, sitting in dimly-lit rooms, looking at grubby old bits of paper through their thumb-marked magnifying glasses. No, stamp collecting is fun, modern, part of our everyday world. And that's great. 

So, if you happen to be one of those who are newly introduced to this great phenomenon of stamps: do stay with us for we are having this much fun all year round!

See yous later

PS: Next Friday we'll be taking a look at Cycling on Stamps. So do tune in again next week.

August 03, 2012

Miniature sheets

I was plowing through a pile of East German miniature sheets the other day, not expecting anything much of interest, to be honest, but I was pleasantly surprised! After having sorted them and put them in my stockbooks, I realised that there were quite a few nice ones among them. Especially those tiny ones with just the one stamp included were quite smartly done.

I think they were mainly prevalent in the 1970s and 1980s though I have a few later ones and there may well be earlier ones too. Some are very East German in nature, such as the one shown above. It marks the 30th anniversary of the German-Soviet Friendship Society, in 1977, and the design has the obligatory flags and symbols and predominance of the colour red which we all associate with that period and that part of the world.

Others, like this slightly more recent one from 1979, are just very much German in nature. This sheet was part of an issue to promote the National Stamp Exhibition in Dresden. It reminds me very much of the Tourist definitives that were introduced in West Germany and Berlin in the 1980s, though these were designed by others. The designer of this particular sheet, Joachim Riess, went on to design stamps for a united Germany as well, that way spreading his specific design style all over the German catalogues.

Quite a few of these small miniature sheets were dedicated to the great and good of Germany. Beethoven, for example, was honoured with a miniature sheet in 1970 to mark his birth bicentenary. The design is still a bit bland, but the fact that it is recess-printed makes up for that.

Later miniature sheets managed to utilise the space around the stamp better, to add to the thematic importance of them. In 1982, for example, on the miniature sheet for the centenary of Dr Robert Koch's discovery of the tuberculosis bacillus, we not only find the doctor on the stamp itself but the medical journal in which he writes about the discovery depicted on the sheet, thereby enhancing the whole thing no end.

As East German stamp design became less 'Eastern-Bloc-ish', its miniature sheets went along on the ride, and this one from 1986, marking the upcoming 750th anniversary of Berlin, is a good example, I think. Although I must admit I prefer them in landscape format. But this one is printed in recess, of course, which immediately gives it a classy feel, and the design shows off the architecture in a grand way, with loads of empty spaces and the more modern buildings receding into the background.

So it was great to find that once again, even in the most unexpected places within the world of philately, there's something interesting to discover!

See yous later