July 26, 2013

General Allenby

I’m not the best of thematic collectors, I appreciate that, and I have very much a love/hate relationship with it. I find that it is sometimes incredibly difficult to match philatelic items with what I have in my mind, with how I want my story to develop. Do others tweak the story to match their philatelic items? That would be much easier, I suppose, but there’s no way I can do that with my Peacemaking collection.

For those of you who haven't heard me go on about that; I'm working on this collection on the aftermath of World War One, and am doing so based on a book by Margaret MacMillan called Peacemakers. Basically what I'm doing is trying to illustrate her story with philatelic material, and I take her index as my guidance. Still working through the letter A, you can see the results for entries such as the Aland Islands or Abdullah, Ruler of Jordan if you click on the Peacemaking label at the end of this blog or on the panel on the right.

And so you may find me struggling big time whilst trying to get together a worthwhile entry on General Edmund Allenby. As far as I could find out there were no stamps depicting him. Never a good start.

It’s not that Allenby plays such a vital role in my story. He flits in and out a bit, to be honest. He is mainly part of the power struggle between the British and the French in the Middle East, during the latter part of the 1910s.

Luckily for me, I have long ago decided that, for this collection at least, postcards are philatelic items too, and so I was rather happy to find this postcard dealing with Allenby sweeping the Turks out of Jerusalem at the end of 1917. The French weren’t too happy with that and feared that the ‘Protestant Peril’ would be taking over the Holy Land.

Allenby on the other hand warned the Peacemakers in 1919 that a French occupation would enrage the Arabs. He said so after having been summoned to Paris from Damascus. While there, postcards were made of a number of prominent military leaders, with Allenby being one of them. I know, yet another postcard, but at least this one has a proper Army Post Office postmark, which is not part of the original design or card.

The British were very much taken with Allenby’s military victories and his stance against the French. So much so that he was included in the ‘Lord Roberts Memorial Book’ of cinderellas. They were, however, less taken with his stance against British policies in Egypt. In 1919, the British had clamped down hard on the Egyptian independence leader Zaghlul which had led to serious riots and violence. Allenby was despatched to prevent the British from losing Egypt altogether, but much to the surprise of the occupying authorities, Allenby stated that the only way to even begin to restore order was to free the nationalist leaders!

Allenby had shown similar intelligence in Palestine, where he had set up a military administration in 1917. To appease all parties, he had ordered that all official documents should be translated into both Hebrew and Arabic. This (folded) court summons of the mid-1920s shows that this practice endured. And it’s got a nice Palestinian revenue stamp on as well, if you like that sort of thing.

So in the end I was actually rather pleased with what I had been able to find and moved on to the next subject with a little less trepidation!

See yous later

July 19, 2013

Souvenir Sheets

When you look too often at those glossy, top-end auction catalogues, you run the risk of feeling sorry for yourself that you’ll never be able to actually own some of these items. I feel this particularly strongly when gaping at all those beautiful essays and proofs, many of which are unique and so expensive. Just as well then that the Powers That Be have invented a solution for me and those similarly afflicted: the souvenir sheet!

This London 1980 souvenir sheet for example is ideal in showing the evolution of the Machin head. There were, after all, three main stages in the development of the head. The first stage was a bas-relief of the Queen wearing a tiara and with her neckline softened by a corsage. The second stage saw the tiara replaced with the diadem and saw the corsage removed, leaving just a cut neckline. This version can be seen on the miniature sheet. It was actually the Queen herself who, having seen the essays, asked for the corsage to be reinstated. It duly was and that’s how she ended up on our stamps.

This souvenir sheet for Thematica 2002 highlights another development in the long and fascinating Machin history and shows two ways in which the Machin design could be altered. Although many more essays exist, even with different portraits of the Queen, in the end it was decided that the existing design was too good to be tweaked.

It’s not just all about Machins though. The Thematica 2003 sheet shows essays by Jeffery Matthews for his 1978 Coronation set.

It’s not all about Jeffery Matthews either, though you would be forgiven for thinking so, as here he is again on this 2009 sheet for Midpex.

London 2010 Postcard

I haven’t seen any recent ones for years and it seems that they have been replaced with postcards showing essays. I know Stampex issue one for each and every show and there were several available at the London 2010 show, but it somehow does not feel the same. I would gladly include a souvenir sheet in my collection, but would think twice before I added a postcard, instead leaving those in a postcard book I have.

Maybe we can start a pressure group and demand the return of the souvenir sheet at stamp shows. I’d sign a petition straightaway. Or better still, let's ask for a souvenir sheet with essays and other artwork for each and every issue! Now wouldn't that be absolutely fantastic?!

See yous later

July 12, 2013

Albania's Eagle

Albania’s role in my Peacemaking collection was dealt with in the July issue of Stamp Magazine. It told the story of Albania’s first years of independence, how it was occupied by so many different countries during World War I, with Italy and Greece being the main two, and how, after the war, the Peace Congress had to find a solution for the country. An Italian mandate? Carving up the country and dividing it between Greece, Italy and Serbia? Eventually Albania survived as an independent nation, with its borders almost exactly as determined in 1913 when the country first became officially recognised as a nation.

As it happens, 1913 was also the year in which Albania started issuing stamps, but their first attempt was when Albanian independence was proclaimed, in November 1912. Those stamps however, could not be issued because the heraldic symbols were wrong. The design included an eagle, which is fine, but Albania’s eagle is a two-headed beast, and the stamps showed just the one head.

I love the story how Albania got its eagle. You can read the full story here, but basically it goes like this: youth saves eagle chick from being bitten by snake. Parent eagle promises the youth strength matching his own. Youth goes on to slay many villains, with the now fully grown eagle chick being his guardian angel. Youth becomes known as 'Son of the Eagle' and his kingdom will be called 'Land of the Eagles', or Shqipëria. 

A Gheg from the north (left) and a Tosk from the south (right)

No wonder the eagle is Albania’s national symbol, with the two heads representing the south and the north of the country.

The centenary of the country’s independence was marked last year with commemorative issues marking the revolution and the proclamation of independence. The majority of stamps features the usual flag waving and groups of revolutionaries, but there is one stamp which is rather remarkably different and more original. It is a stylised version of the eagle and it is so powerful in its simplicity that I would like to proclaim it the most beautiful stamp of 2012!

See yous later

July 05, 2013

Penny Black Perils

In 1990, the Soviet Union marked the 150th anniversary of the first stamp in the world, the Penny Black, quite lavishly with a large array of philatelic items. On 15 February of that year, a stamp set of three values was issued. They all included an illustration of the Penny Black alongside a variety of designs.

The 10k depicted a posthorn, a paddle-steamer (probably a mail-carrying one?) and various flowers.

The flowers become more obviously some of the regional symbols of Great Britain on the 20k value, with at least the thistle and possibly a rose being discernable.

The 35k includes the logo of the Stamp World London '90 international stamp exhibition.

Al these stamps were available in regular counter sheets of 50 but the 20k also came in sheetlets of eight, which again included the exhibition's logo.

Better still, the set was augmented with a miniature sheet, which included a stamp designed along the same lines as those in the stamp set and some more (postal) illustrations with this time a distinct British feel to them, recess-printed in the margin.

Finally, a special commemorative postal card was issued as well, again obviously incorporating the Penny Black, this time supported by two Lions Rampant, and with some additional London landmarks on the left, including the shield of the City of London. One cannot really blame the Soviets for this, of course, but the exhibition was held in Alexandra Palace, which is not in the City of London.

So far what we have here is a great addition to any Penny Black Anniversary collection, or a collection of Stamp World items. But there is more. There is a twist to the story which would not look amiss in Stamp Magazine's monthly 'Strange but True' column!

The thing is that each and every Penny Black illustrated on these items has a different set of corner letters. At first sight, this just seems to be an original way of symbolising the many corner letter combinations that may be found on the original stamp. However, the Russian postal authorities discovered to their horror and dismay that the designer of all this, Vladimir Koval, had actually used his own initials on the 35k, his wife's initials (NK) on the 10k and those of his married daughter (TP) on the 20k.

Now, the Union may have been on the brink of coming crashing down, but such public display of self-glorification was still very much an offence at the time and the authorities hastened to reprint two of the values with different corner letters, and that's how we also ended up with 20k stamps with the letters TF and a 30k value having AH as corner letters!

See yous later