June 28, 2013

The Fajas of the Azores

I must admit that last year's Europa theme, 'Visit...', passed me by without me ever noticing it. Before writing this, I even had to check and see whether Britain issued any stamps at all on the subject. I'm glad to say they did though, as part of their A to Z series. Makes sense, but the fact that I had to go look for it does imply it hasn't really lived up to its theme..

All that changed, however, the moment I received a letter from my Portuguese stamp friend Paulo who had spent his holidays on the Azores. It not only contained a rather nice picture postcard and had the latest Azores stamps on cover, but it also included a prestige booklet with the 2012 Europa stamps in. And I was hooked immediately!

The theme of the booklet and stamps was the so-called Fajas of the Azores, which you'll find on the island of Sao Jorge. That is a volcanic island rising out of the sea with incredibly steep cliffs. The many eruptions and landslides have created very small flat lands in between the coast and the sea, and these are called the Fajas.

They were cultivated by the inhabitants though many have since been deserted as well. As you can see from the pages of the booklet, they are incredibly atmospheric places.

The official Europa stamp depicts the ferry that will get you there and unfortunately this is the only boring stamp of the package, though I'm sure ship collectors would heartily disagree with me!

Fortunately for me, though, the Azores postal authorites have made up for that by including a page which shows the stamp broken up in its four printing colours. It still amazes me, the idea that these four colours together are able to create a multicolour image. If I didn't know better I'd call it magic!

I know the 'Best Europa Stamp' competition for 2012 has long closed and I seem to remember the Azores not winning but for me they absolutely are the best of the crop! If a simple booklet such as this can make me look up all the information on its subject and even make me long to go there and see this beautiful land with my own eyes, then it's clear that the designers have managed to convey the concept of 'Come and visit...' down to a t!

See yous later

June 21, 2013

The best stamp ever seen

Last week Royal Mail tweeted the following question: what is the best stamp you’ve ever seen? We’ve since featured this question on our forum as well, and I’ve been lying awake for nights on end trying to come up with the best answer. But I’m flummoxed. Probably because it’s hard to define the word ‘best’.

Are we talking most recognisable, even outwith the philatelic brotherhood? Surely something like the French Sower stamp would then be a candidate.

Or its militant neighbour Germania.

Or, if only because of its long shelf life, the Norwegian posthorn.

Are we talking most beautiful? If so, I can come up with a completely different set of ideas: the British Seahorses, featured in this month’s Stamp Magazine, would be high up on such a list. 

Being patriotic for a bit, I would also like to include the Wilhelmina high values of the early 1900s.

'Best' could also be defined a being ‘the most spectacular’, as in expensive and rare. On our forum, the Swedish treskilling yellow was mentioned, which would indeed be a good candidate. 

I think I would rather opt for the Inverted Jenny, which is rare, well-known and visually stunning. Although that would be cheating a bit, for I’ve never actually seen one.

If I refrain from cheating for a minute, I think I would go for the Blue Mauritius, which I got a chance to admire in The Hague in the Netherlands, after the Dutch Postal Museum managed to obtain a copy which they proudly displayed for a while. I believe it's now gathering dust in the vaults...

Opting for truly iconic, I believe there is only option and that is to go for the Penny Black. Too often taken for granted, and yet it is a stunning stamp.

You see, it’s quite a hopeless case. But having said all this, my choice would be for a stamp, which is iconic in design, instantly recognised by millions of people, interesting for stamp collectors in that it offers so many varieties, design and production changes, and mostly affordable to collect. Yes, you will have guessed it by now: it’s got to be the Machin! And boy, have I seen those….  


See yous later

PS: Do let us know what you would consider the best stamp you've ever seen, either here or on our forum!

June 14, 2013

Roland Garros

I had just finished watching the exhilarating tennis match between Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic at Roland Garros when our postman brought news from France. A non-philatelic friend of ours who lives in the Morvan always sends me any stamp clippings she can find. Isn’t it amazing that in the heart of rural France, in a local weekly, which basically only concerns itself with produce at the neighbours’ farm and who’s dating who, there is a page full of philatelic news every three months? And this time it advertised the issue of a new stamp in September, commemorating Roland Garros. Some coincidence!

Now, I love Roland Garros and regard it as by far the finest of the four Grand Slams, but that’s probably because it is the only one I’ve ever actually been to.

That was back in the 1990s, when I could enjoy seeing the likes of Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario and Mary Pierce play. Unbeknown to us, it happened to be the tournament at the end of which French hero Henri Leconte said goodbye to his career. Climbing up the umpire’s chair after he had played his final match he said goodbye to his fans, and we were there to witness it!

We also saw Steffi Graf doing a signing session, but as it was in an enclosed part, and seemed to be for school kids only, we didn’t dare join the queue. But every time Steffi crosses my mind, I think of the above stamp, even though it isn't really her being depicted. It's not even meant to be anyone really, just a generic tennis player. And what's more, I think it’s a more of a him than a her anyway.

This year, Roland Garros was dominated by the return of previously injured Nadal and the upcoming Frenchman Tsonga. Everybody thought this might be his year, but it was not to be. Sounds familiar? Our own Andy Murray could not even be there this year, what with him suffering from back injury.

But anyway, back to the 2013 Roland Garros stamp. It has nothing to do with stamps, as you can see, but with aviation. Roland Garros’ claim to fame is that he was the first pilot to fly non-stop over the Mediterranean Sea, from the south of France to Tunisia. He did this in 1913 and the centenary of this feat is commemorated later this year with a special airmail stamp.

So what did Garros have to do with the tennis tournament? Well, he was an avid tennis player in the time when France was enjoying the success of the ‘Four Musketeers’, a quartet of rather successful French tennis players. To defend their Davis Cup title on home ground, in 1928, France wanted a proper showcase stadium. The tennis centre in Paris where Garros had always played offered its land to France as a possible site for this new stadium. The only proviso attached to the sale was that the new stadium had to be named after the centre’s most famous member: Roland Garros!

See yous later

June 07, 2013

European Single Market

The great thing about an all-world collection is that you don’t necessarily have to stick to country collecting, or at least storing your stamps by country. When I wrote my previous blog on the stamp centenary issues, I suddenly got this idea to take it a bit further and sort my collection by year rather than by country. That way, you get a lovely flow in your collection from old to new and the history of the world (and that of printing!) passes you by at the same time, so it still feels like a proper collection rather than just stamps having been put together willy-nilly. Major events in the world get grouped together rather than being spread around among I don’t know how many countries.

The advent of the European Union, for example, is a very good illustration of this point. The European Single Market was agreed upon in 1992, and the twelve member countries all issued a stamp to commemorate this event. When collecting by year, you could file all twelve of them together under 1992, giving the issues, all existing of a single stamp, much more emphasis than they would get in a regular country collection.

All designs are based on the yellow European stars but it’s good to see that this image has been incorporated in many different ways. Look at this Irish stamp for example. It places the European stars in the sky above a typically Irish landmark of a dolmen, thereby symbolising both unity and individuality at the same time.

The British stamp, designed by none other than David Hockney, to me feels like Britain being the only European star with sea borders all around. It’s kind of odd but iconic as well, so I’d still give it the thumbs up.

I’m less certain about the Danish design, however. Described as ‘Abstract’ in the catalogues - now there’s an understatement if ever you saw one – I’m not sure what to make of it at all. The Scandinavian catalogue does not make it any clearer, by merely stating this is an abstract with ‘star teeth’. Oh well.

Very much more ordinary, and less original, is the Spanish stamp, but I like it because it is on a small, definitive-size format, which somehow always appeals to me. And at least it mentions the year (1993) in which the European Union would become operative, with all the other stamps mentioning the year (1992) in which the decision was made.

Italy got over-excited and not only issued a single stamp like all the other member countries, but followed that up with a whole sheetlet of different stamps for each of the twelve members.

A bit over the top perhaps but as a unifying philatelic symbol it is okay, so we'll allow it. Especially since it has the added advantage of having the national flags and the words ‘Welcome Europe’ in the respective languages all included in the design which otherwise features a Europe constructed from a building block set. So at least we can spend a pleasant (half?) hour trying to figure all of them out!

See yous later