February 22, 2013

Bertha von Suttner

This week's new Jane Austen stamps prompted me to see if I could find some of my favourite female authors on stamps. I was bitterly disappointed! Why is there no Iris Murdoch stamp, either here in Britain or in Ireland? And, even worse, probably, why hasn't France honoured Simone de Beauvoir yet??? Is my taste in female authors - limited though it may be - so extravagant that my heroines don't deserve philatelic recognition?

Just as well then that I got a little encouragement in the form of the suggestion to check out the Famous German women set, as it would undoubtedly include an author or two. So I did and it does! Let me introduce you to Baroness Bertha von Suttner!

Bertha von Suttner was in many ways the opposite of Jane Austen. In Jeff Dugdale's excellent feature on Jane Austen, in the March 2013 issue of Stamp Magazine, he states that it is remarkable how the turbulent times Austen lived in were never mirrored in her books. For Baroness Von Suttner, the turbulent world was the sole reason for her writing, and her work is basically one large political comment on the world she lived in. 

Bertha von Suttner was what is known as a radical pacifist, which at the time meant that she involved herself in organisational pacifism. She has become famous for writing her book Die Waffen nieder! (Lay down your arms!) which was praised by the likes of Leo Tolstoy. She later edited an international pacifist journal, which was named after her book.

Early on in her pacifist 'career', she worked as a secretary to Alfred Nobel for a short while, and stayed in touch with him throughout his life. It is often thought she played a major part in Nobel's decision to include a Peace Prize in his will. Fittingly, she herself was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1905.

Though included in the German set, Von Suttner was actually Austrian and in her home country she founded a national pacifist organisation in 1891. She may therefore also be found on a number of Austrian stamps.

As a philatelic aside: the Bertha von Suttner stamp from that German definitive set stands out for more reasons than just an interesting biography. Together with the 300pf value it is the only stamp which has been available in both large sheets of 100 and subsequent smaller sheetlets of 10. Though the actual stamp remains the same, marginal copies can be collected which show the difference: those of the larger sheets having blank margins, whereas the sheetlet version has a multi-line frame printed on the margins. 

Marginal block from a sheet of 100
Complete sheetlet of 10
So, even if organised pacifism isn't your thing, it's still worthwhile checking out your Suttner stamps!

See yous later

PS: Want to know more about Bertha von Suttner? Visit this gorgeous website in honour of her.

February 15, 2013


I've always had a soft spot for heraldry on stamps. I don't know why, it's probably to do with conjuring up images of a gloriously chivalrous past, with kings and knights and other mighty folk roaming the countryside! Heraldry in itself is mightily interesting and to have it depicted on stamps means hours and hours of research if you're trying to build up a good thematic collection. To be honest with you, I wouldn't know where to start, because my knowledge of heraldry is almost non-existent, but it still never fails to intrigue me.

I even remember picking up some heraldic stamps while on holiday here in Britain, way back in 1987. It was a time when I wasn't collecting stamps at all, but I remember seeing these at Edinburgh Castle I think it was, and I liked them so much that I bought a set.

The set is the 1987 issue to mark the 300th anniversary of the Revival of the Order of the Thistle. Four gorgeous stamps, designed by Jefferey Matthews. At the time I naturally didn't know that if there's one name synonymous with British heraldic stamps, it's that of Jeffery Matthews. But I suppose it's a testimony to his design talent that he is able to lure the general public into buying commemorative stamps!

I have since added his 1984 set, marking the 500th anniversary of the College of Arms, to my elite list of heraldic favourites, even though (or is it because of?) they are quite similar, design-wise.

And of course it was also Jeffery Matthews who designed the 1997 Queen's Beasts issue, with the beasts holding up various Coats of Arms. Not just one of my favourite heraldic stamps, but possibly my most favourite British commemorative set ever.

Stepping away from Matthews and Britain for a bit, I would probably also like to thoroughly research the many Andorran Coat of Arms stamps, because they show many a muddled-up version of their Arms. Andorra is a perfect case of split identity, being governed by both a French and a Spanish Co-Prince, and this translates into its Arms as well, with usually more than one official version doing the rounds.

So here we have the Spanish version of the Arms. Why? Well, the French version used to be topped by a crown, whereas the Spanish version didn't have a crown on top. Funny then that it should appear on a French Andorran stamp! But there's more. The French Co-Prince is represented by the three pales (that's those vertical bars), and the Spanish Co-Prince by the Mitre & Crozier. Now, two official versions of the Arms existed, one with mitre and crozier in one quarter, and the other with them in two quarters, as seen on this stamp. So, this version has two quarters representing the Spanish Co-Prince and only one representing the French Co-Prince. Again, why would the French opt for this pro-Spanish version?

Are you thoroughly confused yet? Good, because it gets worse. Have a look at this stamp:

Looks alright to you? Still no crown, but at least the mitre and crosier now share one quarter so that's the honours more evenly spread. But look at those cows! They're facing to the right, which apparently is a heraldic faux-pas. And they are French cows as well (representing the region of Bearn) so you would expect the French to get this right!

Is it any wonder, then, that in 1969 all these versions were invalidated and replaced with one single official Coat of Arms? Huge sigh of relief and finally some consistency in the heraldic definitives!

See yous later!

PS: We also have Heraldry on Stamps thread on our website's forum, which you can find by clicking here.

February 08, 2013

Moscow Metro

When Royal Mail issued its London Underground stamps earlier this month, I thought it might be a good idea to see how other similar underground systems had been philatelically represented. So I went onto eBay, expecting to be overwhelmed with Parisian metro stamps, depicting their beautiful art nouveau entrances. To my surprise, however, there was none of that, and instead I found heaps and heaps of Russian metro stamps!

The Russian metro in Moscow was built in 1935, as a gift from the communist authorities to the proletarians. The opening was marked with a commemorative stamp set of four values, which now commands a high price.

It had taken some four years to build the first bit, a single line, from Okhotny Ryad to Smolenskaya. The Soviet painter Eugene Lanceray captured the excavation of the Metro Tunnel on a painting, which was later, in 1975, depicted on a Soviet stamp.

The metro was soon extended, though, and in 1938 another stamp set was issued, marking the extension and depicting various stations. 

Kievskaya Station

The eventual extensions are shown clearly on this miniature sheet from 2005, to mark the 70th anniversary of the Moscow Metro. The top stamp shows the first single line of 1935, and the bottom stamp the current situation, in a pattern which resembles the so familiar layout of the London Underground.

The 75th anniversary of the Moscow Metro, in 2012, was a good opportunity for a number of African countries to issue near-identical miniature sheets. One can have the usual reservations with regard to subject and country of issue, but actually, these are quite good, for they highlight the many bronze statues which you'll find in the stations. Very communist in nature and I'm not sure I'd have liked seeing that group of partisans looming in the dark. Doctor Zhivago associations!

So far, most issues shown here are not that remarkable. The first Moscow Metro stamps, as were most Russian stamps of the time, are rather dull in colour, with their dark greys, browns and violets. Again, it is the African sheets which hint at the reason why the Moscow Metro is so special. The general idea behind the metro was to create a glorifying monument of the radiant future which the Stalin regime was delivering.

The stations are therefore a pure delight, almost tsarist in beauty and radiance and magnificence, with their high pillars and enormous chandeliers. A true architectural tour de force! There is only one stamp issue which properly reflects this grandeur, and that is the Russian set from 1952, depicting several of the stations. Enjoy!

Belorussia Koltsevaya
Botanical Gardens
Komsomolskaya Koltsevaya

See yous later

February 01, 2013

Machin Competition - The Result!

So there we have it, after a fortnight of counting and recounting, we finally have the results in of our Machin competition!

This was the question:

In how many, and which, colours do we know the 1st class Machin?

The correct answer is NINE ! Here they all are:

1) In 1989, the first ever 1st class stamp was issued, in the colour black. This colour would also be used in 1999 for two of the three large format 1st class Machins.

2) In 1990, the colour of the 1st class Machin was changed to flame, also known as bright orange-red.

3) In 1997, to mark the Queen's Golden Wedding, the colour of the 1st class Machin changed to gold.

4) We've already mentioned the large format 1st class Machins of 1999. The third of that trio was printed in white and light grey.

5) In 2000, as part of the Millennium celebrations, the 1st class Machin was revamped and issued in brownish olive, against a white background.

6) That same year, the 1st class Machin of the 1840 anniversary type, was issued in a prestige booklet, being printed in black and cream.

7) The slightly odd one out, but included in the Deegam handbook, is a 1st class Machin printed in silver. this is probably an error of iriodin ink used, and again probably stems from a 2002 prestige booklet.

8) 2012, the year of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, saw the introduction of a diamond blue 1st class Machin.

9) From early 2013, Royal Mail Red is the new colour for the 1st class Machins.

It was a tough one, I know, but judging by the entries it was possible to get it right. And so we have two winners of a flawed booklet each. They are Ian and Daniel!

I've actually been given three booklets by Roy from the Machin Mania website, who so kindly offered to sponsor this competition. It is the same booklet but without any flaws. As a consolation prize, this booklet has been awarded to Jeroen!

Congratulations to all!

See yous later