May 31, 2013

Stamp Centenary

I had to buy me some Turkey the other day and was quite excited to do so. Turkey is one of those countries which hardly ever features in philatelic writings, giving it an aura of mystery, of unchartered territory. When my stamps arrived, I must admit I was rather disappointed because the majority of the stamps were rather unimaginative. Maybe that's why not much is written about Turkey in philately.

But there was one set which was less 'Balkany' and more individual, and that was the 1940 stamp centenary set. It immediately reminded me of the time when I wanted to start a collection on all 1940 stamp centenary items. It would start, of course, with the stamp which gave rise to this event itself.

It's my only used stamp in my collection, but I justify that because I believe every (world-wide) collector should have a copy of it, yet I'm not prepared to fork out I don't know how much on a mint copy. I know the stamp often gets dismissed as being 'ten a penny' and not rare at all, but it is iconic because it is the very first one.

The collection should also, rather obviously, include the 1940 centenary set issued by Britain, what with Stamp No. 1 being a British stamp. But you'll be amazed to find how many other countries, and not just in the British Empire either, took the opportunity to mark this milestone and issue their own centenary stamps. Some feature the Penny Black, others feature the nation's own stamps, and some, like this Turkish set, just have a more general postal theme.

The set starts off with the 3 kurus grey-green value depicting mail carriers on horseback. They often used Arabian horses, which were intelligent enough to learn to ride at a saddle gait. I love the fact that they're all armed. It must have been a dangerous job in those days!

The 6 kurus rose-red is my favourite stamp in the set. It depicts postmen from 1840 and 1940. That on its own is interesting enough but in this particular case it also shows how Turkey evolved from the Muslim Ottoman Empire to the secular Republic of Turkey, all thanks to their President, Kemal Ataturk.

The 10 kurus deep blue has a similar theme, depicting sea mail in the 1840s and the 1940s. Though not half as striking as the previous stamp, I do like the design solution of including the old-fashioned paddle-steamer as a circular inset.

The final stamp in the set, the 12 kurus bistre-brown, shows the General Post Office in Istanbul. A relatively standard design, though nicely dated because of the vehicles included.

All in all I think this is quite a nice set to have, so I'm rather pleased with my Turkish outing after all.

See yous later

May 24, 2013

Alexander, Prince of Yugoslavia

Right, with my crisis being over, it is high time I did some more work on my Peacemaking collection. I’ve already shown you bits of the Aland Islands, Abdullah of Jordan and Konrad Adenauer. You will have guessed the logic behind my choice of topics by now: I’m working down the alphabetical index of the book I'm using as a basis for my collection. Next up is actually Albania, but seeing that this will hopefully appear in the July 2013 issue of Stamp Magazine, I’ll skip that one for now and move on to Alexander, Prince of Yugoslavia.

Here we have him in all his glory. I like to include a contemporary portrait postcard of any persons popping up in the index and am quite fond of this enigmatic one. Alexander plays a part in the story around the time of the foundation of Yugoslavia, just after the Great War. At that time his father Petar was still King of Serbia.

From the 'Lord Roberts Memorial Book'

However, Petar was old and some say senile so Prince Alexander served as a regent to the country. This situation is reflected in the country’s definitives of the time, with both royals being portrayed.

Alexander proclaimed the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, as Yugoslavia was originally known, on 1 December 1918. The name highlighted the problems with which the young country had to grapple from the start: most Serbs saw the new country simply as an enlargement of their own kingdom, whereas the other peoples in the deal had rather seen the name Yugoslavia being adopted, which translated as the Union of Slavs. The first definitives for the whole kingdom proudly portrayed Alexander, with the high values bearing a portrait of his father Petar.

In 1921 Alexander took an oath of allegiance to the constitution. The Serbs by that time were really running the whole country, so the country’s name stayed, although the official title changed from Kraljevstvo to Kraljevina in the written constitution. That new name was therefore included in the revamped new definitives which were issued in 1923.

Petar had passed away by then so the new stamps portray Alexander as King rather than Prince Regent.

See yous later

May 17, 2013


I don't think I've suffered much (yet?) from any mid-life crisis but I do have a serious bout of mid-philately crisis at the moment! It all came about when this item fell on my doormat the other day:

Nice enough, I hear you think, this variety of imperf bottom edge. And it is, and I was very keen to bid on it and happy when I was successful. But now it is just one of the thirteen 10c items I own and when making the album page for it I suddenly wondered what the attraction of it was. Why on earth go hunting for so many items linked to just the one stamp? Why not save all that money and spend it on different stamps? Instead of getting a full set of these imperf proofs:

I could have been the proud owner of Switzerland SG1. Because, really, wouldn't it be much nicer to have a varied collection of all sorts of stamps rather than a super specialised collection based on a few?
Be honest, which of the two images attracts your eye? This one, where you need to be told what you're looking at 'cause they're both the same:

or this one where you can look at various stamps?

My great philatelic friend who used to work in the printing industry always argues against collecting errors and varieties anyway, dismissing most of it as printers' waste which should never have left the printing house and which therefore should not have a place in anyone's collection. He is still known for his great collections so he can't be all wrong.

And so I was worrying away the days and then I suddenly noticed that a similar topic is being discussed in this month's Soapbox in Stamp Magazine. Talking about coincidence! The author, Edward Vincent, advocates each specialist should have a general world collection on the side as well, albeit mainly as a vehicle to inspire future specialist collections.

I would take it one step further and argue it might be best to have a general world collection as a means in itself. Wouldn't it be fantastic to do away with all our specialist items and go for those old, classic items which seem out of reach, but only are so because we're constantly spending our budgets on varieties, errors and such stuff?

I know the philatelic world needs specialists, but wouldn't it be fair to say that most of us are mainly just messing about, and not really contributing anything really relevant to the 'philatelic book of knowledge'? I know I feel that way about my collecting habits. Indeed, I would probably not be writing this or anything at all if it hadn't been for my general all-world collection.

It's a huge step if you've been so used to concentrating on narrowing down your interests, but it might be a very rewarding and liberating move to go back to the roots of philately and actually start collecting stamps again, just like we all used to do when we were kids. I'm not sure if I'm really ready yet to take the plunge, but I'm sorely tempted!

What about you?

See yous later

May 10, 2013


One of my favourite sets of India are the King George V definitives. I love their imperial feel, the beautiful frames and the portrait as well. The high values, in particular, are rather pleasing to the eye. I’ve already been gushing over them in a full-length feature in Stamp Magazine (June 2010), but they haven’t lost any of their appeal to me yet.

I was therefore very happy to see so many gorgeous items from that set coming up for sale in a future auction. Although mainly, if not completely, out of financial reach for me, one is allowed to dream, and dreaming is what I have been doing of them lately. Take a look at this beauty, for example.

Not for India the well-known and often-used stamp portraits of King George V. No, the jewel in the imperial crown was to have its own tailor-made portrait and this composite photographic essay was part of the attempts to find the right size for it. Eventually a larger-sized head was chosen. This 'Head No. 4' is shown in this second essay, which is part of series trying out various frames.

The high values, too, needed a bit of forethought. Here’s an example of how the concept of various Indian landmarks might be incorporated into the frame. This composite type shows Vijay Stambha or the Victory Tower in Chittorgarh Fort on the left of the King and the Qutub Minar in Delhi on the right.

I must admit I’m glad they eventually opted for the elephant design, which, together with an improved medallion for the King, makes for a stunning stamp.

It’s great to see, too, that even the elephant design was tweaked. Note how the position of the right elephant’s trunk changed from slightly up to slightly down on the die proof of the final frame. It’s amazing that details like that are brooded over!

There are many more George V items in the auction but there was one other lot which immediately grabbed my attention. It is from a later, post-colonial period. In 1957 a set was issued which had the Map of India for its design.

To be honest, it took me years to finally realise it was a map, rather than a bit of root ginger, which it really resembles, I think. But anyway, the set never had any high values, and when rupee value stamps were needed, the Indian postal authorities reverted to those issued earlier in the 1950s. But apparently there had been plans for a high value accompaniment to the map series, as becomes clear from these essays.

Aren’t they gorgeous? Does anyone know why these were never issued? I think they’re quite splendid and they would have been such an asset to this set. In fact, I wish they had gone for this design for the whole set as it seems a much more upmarket design, although the existing stamp has its own innocuous, unobtrusive charm.

(pictures courtesy of Spink)

See yous later

May 03, 2013

Coronation Stamps

This Tuesday saw the end of an era in Dutch history: for more than a century the Dutch throne had been occupied by queens, but on 30 April Queen Beatrix abdicated to make way for her son, Willem-Alexander. Another break with tradition is the issue of so-called ‘Coronation’ stamps – Dutch monarchs do not actually get crowned – which do not feature the portrait of the new monarch.
The Coronation stamps, issued on 1 May, only feature the new king’s initials WA. A very modern and original design, which reiterates the country’s reputation for issuing modern - and slightly wacky - stamps. The colour scheme is symbolic, of course. The Netherlands 1 value includes the Dutch tricolour of red, white and blue. The Netherlands 2 value sees the red being swapped for green. 
This is to symbolise the former prince’s association with environmental issues. Water management was the specific topic in which Willem-Alexander specialised when he took on official public duties, so the blue could remain to symbolise water. As usual, the stamps will serve as provisional definitives as well, until the issue of proper definitives later this year.

That was also the case with the coronation stamps for Beatrix (now princess again), who became queen in 1980. Her stamps made use of a very personal portrait, which was a representation of Beatrix as the ‘princess with the smile’, which was how she was known. The photograph was taken by her husband Prince Claus. The church in Amsterdam where the inauguration ceremony took place was also depicted and the stamp colours again included the Dutch tricolour and orange for the House of Orange.

Queen Juliana, who acceded to the throne in 1948, did not have any specific coronation stamps. At that time, the Dutch postal authorities mainly hoped to have a new definitive set ready when she would become queen. Unfortunately, the eventual design proved rather unsuitable for the traditional small-format definitive stamps, so a final-hour decision was made to just issue two large format stamps for the most common postal rates and start working on a new definitive set. The two stamps have therefore become known as Coronation stamps, even though they’re technically not.

That was also the case for the coronation stamp issued for Queen Wilhelmina in 1898, which is also the first of its kind issued in the Netherlands. Wilhelmina became queen in 1890 but as she was only ten years old at the time, her mother Emma took on the role as queen-regent. It would, however, be Wilhelmina whose portrait would grace the nation’s definitives. The forthcoming inauguration was the perfect moment for the postal authorities to replace the portrait of that young queen with one of a more adult version. One would think there was plenty of time to prepare such a set but there were so many hitches in the design phase that when ‘The Day’ drew near, only one value was more or less ready to be issued. Again, this stamp, which was basically just a definitive, would enter history as the Coronation stamp.

See yous later