October 26, 2012

Pre-printed albums

Lately, our forum has been buzzing with talk of pre-printed albums. Which is a good thing for they often get a bad press, but seeing that there are still so many different producers making them, there must be a market for them, which means that there are loads of us out there who enjoy old-fashioned country collecting, filling gaps!

I got all excited again and dug out my two remaining preprinted albums. I used to have more, of course. Like so many others, I started out in the 1970s with my preprinted album of the Netherlands. That was later replaced by an album for the Netherlands & Overseas Territories (for grown-ups!). All these somehow disappeared when my interest in stamps waned for a bit.

Firmly back in my philatelic seat, I purchased a pre-printed album for Great Britain, three big volumes of them. These, too, have since disappeared, for when I moved to Britain and joined my local philatelic society, I was introduced to printing one's own album pages. Wow! A whole new world of possibilities opened up, but that mainly led to me getting bogged down in wanting too much and having too many possibilities and changing my mind too often. I think that I must have designed and printed and subsequently thrown away more than 1000 album pages since!

One of our forum members, Corbin, managed to formulate it very precisely: "If it was left to me, I would be forever rearranging my stamps so they were in whatever order I thought was best for a given day/week/month." My thoughts exactly!

All this came at exactly the right time, for I was at a loss (again), after having embarked on my umpteenth attempt to make pages, how to proceed. Digging out my two preprinted albums, I rediscovered the pleasure of having a very structured way of collecting presented to you. And it's not just about filling gaps of a basic collection.
The level of specialisation in some albums belies popular criticism

Okay, it may not give you the explicit possibility of putting in a collection whatever you want, although inserting blank pages might help a bit, but these albums are anything but basic. Looking at my Australia album, for example, I start off with eight pages for Kangaroo stamps, followed by another eight for George V stamps. And they're not just filled with the usual varieties of value, colour and watermarks. No, they also include shades such as pale blue and pale milky blue, and they distinguish between different types of paper such as very thin, or rough & unsurfaced. Now how specialised would you like it to be?

I'm even fonder of my other album, because that is an oldie. It's a back-of the-book preprinted album for Czechoslovakia, dating from the late 1920s, which I received after having bid upon a lot of stamps in an auction. It was so beautifully produced that I couldn't chuck it, and decided to try and fill it. Again, it is highly specialised, and it even allows for non-conformist items by having blank pages with only a title at the top. The fact that it is in Czech makes it even more exotic and special.

Special 'DIY' page for colour proofs

I know there are beautifully produced vintage albums around of the Victorian period, complete with clasps and little keys and what have you, and my dream is to find one of those and fill it. Wouldn't that be absolutely wonderful? A vintage album of vintage stamps!

Anyway, the end result of all this is that I'm all happy again. I'll still keep my main collection on my homemade pages, but everything else will from now on go in preprinted albums. Ideal for mentally slightly disturbed collectors like me. And at the same time I'm rediscovering the fun of collecting!

So if you have any old spare ones lying around.....

See yous later

October 19, 2012

Space Science

Aren't they beautiful, the Space Science stamps that were issued this week? What a relief to have stamps with such remarkable images! There is something magical about the colourful beauty of space, especially because it's a world you don't normally get to see for yourself. If you look up at the sky, you normally only see a dark dome with silvery stars.

Another great thing is that there is a complete world behind these images. A world of science, exploration, history and natural magic. For us stamp collectors this means an ideal set to expand on, to build a thematic collection around, to research our catalogues, which are just as magical and colourful. My two favourite stamps from the set are the ones depicting Venus and Titan, probably because they are similar in design, which makes them work well together.

I had a little browse through my albums and found another Venus stamp, issued in 1975 by the United States. It shows the Mariner 10, a robotic space probe which was sent to Mercury and Venus to investigate both planets. This unmanned spacecraft was the first to clearly prove the existence of the extensive cloud cover of the planet. This cloud cover is also the main theme of the newly issued British stamp.

Venus is also known for the so-called 'Transit of Venus', an event whereby Venus passses in front of the sun. James Cook was among a couple of explorers who set out to record this transit, and that feat is remembered on a Norfolk Island stamp of 1969.

You're too late to start looking out for this magical event, though, for it was in June of this year that this century's final Transit of Venus took place.

From blue to green we go to Titan, the largest moon of Saturn. The Huygens probe mentioned on the stamp is named after Christiaan Huygens, the Dutchman who discovered Titan in 1655.

For that he is of course honoured on Dutch stamps, such as this one from 1928. That, however, is only a child welfare issue with various 'celebrities' included. Huygens got more specific recognition on the 2009 Europa issue, based on the theme of astronomy.

On this particular stamp we see Huygens' lens through which he actually discovered the first of Saturn's moons. It's hard to see on a scan (as it is on the stamp itself), but just inside the ring of the lens you should find a quote by the Roman poet Ovid: Admovere oculis distnatia sidera nostris, which means something like 'they (being they who study stars) have brought those faraway stars closer to us'. You should also be able to find the date February 3, 1655, which is the date of the final polishing of the lens. These two are not just design gimmicks, you'll actually find them on the lens itself, as you can see here.

Saturn itself, in the meantime, is of course known for those wonderful icy rings around it, which have been captured on this stamp by yet another satellite. A beautiful image.

So there you have it, I only spent one morning on the subject and have already unearthed some great gems!

See yous later

October 12, 2012

Here be dragons

It's always great to see people enthuse about their specific collecting interests, no matter how bizarre or detailed. And sometimes they inspire you to have a look too. That's how I suddenly found myself looking at dragons on stamps, thanks to a newcomer on the blogblock! I was wondering what would be on offer if you don't go down the obvious route of Year of the Dragon stamps.

For many dragon stamps we have to enter the world of myths and legends, and thankfully there are plenty of stamp issues on that theme. Browsing through my stockbooks, my first dragon stamp I came across was this one from Austria:

The Dragon of Klagenfurt usually only ate virgins but he couldn't resist the fat bull which was a trap laid by some very daring men who then managed to slay the dragon, and it was they who then founded the city of Klagenfurt on that spot.

There are dragons in Greek Mythology as well. The greek Demi-God Triptolemus had a brother. When Demeter came to make this little just-born brother immortal, something went wrong and the babe died in a roaring fire. To make it up to Triptolemus, Demeter gave him the art of agriculture and a chariot drawn by two dragons with which he could spread his agriculture all over the world.

In British Mythology we of course have Smaug, from Tolkien's The Hobbit. He was one of the last Dragons of Middle Earth, who had guarded his enormous treasure for centuries. The Hobbit, however, discovered the dragon's one and only weak spot and was therefore instrumental in the eventual downfall of the dragon.

But to be fair, it is probably St. George's Dragon which must take first place in a British Dragon  collection. It graces that most wonderful of British stamp, the 1929 PUC pound stamp.

The theme of St. George slaying the dragon is one that is surprisingly widespread. Here's a similar stamp from Belgium.

And of course, continuing the theme of a few weeks ago, we can't do British Dragons without paying attention to Wales!

I quite like this one, from the Queen's Beasts set of 1998. Apparently, the red dragon, Y Ddraig Goch, was the battle standard for such mythological leaders as King Arthur, and slowly evolved into Wales' national symbol.

Oh go on then, I said I wouldn't, but I quite like this one.

One of the few stamps that actually scan better when placed against a white background. Makes you notice the lacework of the actual stamp much better.

See yous later

October 05, 2012

Portugal's joint issues

I like it when people suggest topics for me to write about. Cue Paulo from Portugal, whom we've met before (see here), and who wrote me an email suggesting I'd write about the Portuguese joint issues. So I went and had a look and was quite pleasantly surprised. Joint issues are of course nothing new and they're issued by an awful lot of countries, with the most diverse of subjects.

But what I like about the Portuguese ones is that they link the issues to the countries they have friendly diplomatic ties with. A bit like those communist 'friendship' stamps you used to get but then less communist in nature and design. It feels a very natural and effective theme for such issues and by throwing in a bit of educational and historical value as well, you have a successful concept which can be built upon for years to come. So let's have a look at a few recent ones.

In 2010, Portugal honoured their diplomatic relations with Romania with a joint issue depicting ceramics. Portugal is of course well-known for its tiles, and apparently, Romanian ceramics are quite famous as well, so this is a good subject for the stamps. Diplomatic relations between the two Latin countries has always been good, and date back to the 15th century.

That same year, the Portuguese embarked on another joint venture, this time with Japan. They had landed there in the 16th century and since then established a long-lasting influence, introducing items such as glasses, wine and watches. Japan later closed its doors to the world but after it reopened those in the 19th century, Portugal was among the first six countries in the world with which Japan signed diplomatic and trade treaties. This was in 1860, and the joint stamp issue was to mark the 150th anniversary of those 'modern' diplomatic relations.

On to 2011 and we see more ships on the joint issue with South Korea, to mark the 50th anniversary of their diplomatic relations. Designwise a 'proper' joint issue, if you like, with on the one stamp an iconic battle ship from Korea, the 'Turtle Ship' which could fire from four sides,

and on the other a Portuguese 'Nau' ship which could carry loads more cargo than previous Portuguese ships and was therefore used for their most famous trade journeys around the world. A very pleasing design for both stamps, I think.

For my final set, Portugal went kinda overboard, if you pardon the pun, by making it a joint issue of four stamps, two se-tenant pairs. The main theme of the images is that in 1487, Portugal finally managed to safely navigate the African Cape Bojador, which many at that time still regarded as the end of the world, making it possible to venture out to faraway places.

I'd say this is Portugal at their best: throughout their stamp catalogues it is their naval past which makes for the most interesting issues, and many of these recent joint issues are worthy additions to the theme.

See yous later