Stamp collecting can be whatever you want it to be. There’s discovery and beauty, humanity and history—pretty much everything. Share the journey with me and stay in touch.
One of the highpoints of the early morning walks my wife and I take is a stretch of chain link fence that hosts Morning Glories in different shades. The fence bounds part of the scenic school property I mentioned in a previous post about a Horse Chestnut tree. Earlier this summer the crew that tends the grounds cut down the Morning Glories, but thankfully they bounded back.
Wikipedia notes that Morning Glory is the common name for over 1,000 species of flowering plants in the family Convolvulaceae, whose current taxonomy and systematics are in flux. Not in flux, however, are the tributes paid to this beautiful flower on stamps from around the world.
Now it’s late September, and as Summer slips into Autumn, nights and mornings are growing cooler. The photos shown above were taken about three weeks ago, and now the blossoms are turning in on themselves. I’ll miss that abundance of color we saw on Summer mornings.
Some weeks ago I wrote about a Horse Chestnut tree I admired. And in the last few weeks another tree caught my eye.
This summer my wife and I have been buying fruits and vegetables from a farm. It’s the “last farm back,” as the handmade signs nailed to trees on the potholed road indicate. There I was drawn to a large tree with an abundance of small nuts. I asked the farm woman what kind of tree it was. “Pecan.” I was amazed. We’re in Maryland. I think of Pecan Trees (Carya illinoinensis) as being southern, as in Texas, Louisiana, Georgia. Yet here it is.
I thought this discovery would make an interesting post—a followup to the Horse Chestnut story. I looked for images of Pecan Trees on stamps, assuming an easy search since trees are a common stamp topic. “No Pecan Tree!”
I did learn that Pecan Trees are native only to the southern U.S. and Mexico. That limited range likely accounts for “No Pecan Tree” stamps. The Pecan is, however, the state tree of Texas (an interesting story), and a difficult tree to propagate. They’re slow to grow and bear nuts, which can have differing characteristics from differing trees, so grafting from mature trees is an obvious strategy for propagation. This grafting was first accomplished in about 1846 by a slave, Antoine, at the Oak Alley Plantation in Louisiana.
And did you know the pecan isn’t a nut? It’s a member of the hickory genus and is a drupe, a fruit with a single pit surrounded by a husk.
Searching for Pecan Trees on stamps, a few others (trees and stamps) intrigued me. A French Moroccan stamp (above) featured a goat herder. And is that goat attempting to climb a tree in the background? This photograph (Wikimedia) would seem to confirm that possibility.
A leaf-and-nut-shaped stamp from Brazil (left) honors the Cashew Tree of Pirangi, which entered the Guinness Book of World Records 1994. That single tree covers a mere two acres!
And then there was the comforting scene of a teacher and students planting trees in Togo (below). I commend them.
So, a Pecan Tree wasn’t there (on stamps), but unexpectedly there is one near me, though without any nesting goats—at least none that I’ve seen.
Many people, including stamp collectors, find the stamps of the Netherlands a bit too avante-garde, but I’ve always admired how their designers push “the boundaries.” This sheet from 2006 contains five stamps for ordinary mail use within the Netherlands. It would’ve been easier to put multiple copies of the stamp on a sheet side-by-side, and certainly more economical. The Netherlands, however, chose to do more by making a sheet whose title “Beautiful Netherlands” (Mooi Nederland) is composed of perforated letters. And in addition to the playful Eurasian Spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia) with a camera around its neck on each stamp, other images of the wildlife and natural beauty of Vlieland, the subject of the stamp, are attractively presented on the sheet.
Vlieland is an island in the northern Netherlands, one of the West Frisian Islands, lying in the Wadden Sea. It has one major town, Oost-Vlieland and is the second most sparsely populated municipality in the Netherlands. Most of the island is sand dunes, but there are some wooded areas and meadows. More than anything, there is piece and quiet.
“Beautiful Netherlands” is a series that began in 2005 and continues to today. Many of the sheets contain five different stamps as does the sheet below from 2014 which features Ceramics from different areas of the Netherlands: Loosdrecht, Tegelen, Delft, Harlingen and Makkum.
It’s been almost two months since my last post. With the Corona Virus pandemic necessitating staying at home as much as possible, you’d think I’d be posting more. No excuses.
For me, being outside is a good antidote to the claustrophobic feelings that so easily take hold these days. Fortunately, across the street from my home are the playing fields for two schools located side-by-side on a large tract of land that was once an “estate.” The trees there always lift my spirits. There are many beautiful mature species. And I’m fascinated by so many differing characteristics.
My brother occasionally joins me for a walk through these fields, identifing the trees. The one shown here captivated me recently for its sheer grandeur. I wondered what it was. Its leaves looked like those on another tree my brother had identified as a Horse Chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum), however the tree in the photograph had leaves in clusters of seven. The Horse Chestnut my brother had pointed out had clusters of five leaves. Researching Horse Chestnut trees I discovered that they come in both clusters of five and seven leaves, so I believe I’ve now identified this tree.
The spikey outer shell of the horse chestnut looks foreboding. However, the inner brown nut is quite beautiful, but I learned that it’s not for consumption.
I wondered too if the Horse Chestnut was featured on any stamps. It had, and images of some of those stamps are shown here. Monaco issued four stamps, each showing a tree detail in one of the four seasons. I can only conclude that others have found this tree as uplifting as I have. Your thoughts?
On July 6, 1932 the cost to mail a first-class letter increased from 2 to 3 cents. To meet the need for 3-cent stamps the U.S. Post Office issued a purple stamp reproduced from the Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington. It’s incredible to me to think how many copies of this stamp were eventually printed in panes of 100 (25,270,435,500) and as vending booklet panes of 6 (1,301,359,560). That’s over 26 billion—a number I find hard to fathom. 295,730,000 of those stamps were precancels.*
The design was derived from the red 2-cent stamp of the Washington Bicentennial Issue of 12 stamps that were issued on January 1. It was established policy to have our first president appear on stamps paying the first class letter postal rate, which on July 6 changed from 2 to 3 cents.
Shown above are three used copies of the 3-cent Washington that drew my attention because of the essential differences between them. The first stamp (left) bears the traditional wavy cancellation in common use at the time. I suspect there were billions cancelled this way. The second stamp (middle) is precanceled with CHICAGO ILL appearing on two lines with a horizontal black rule above and below the words. Precancels were issued to speed mail processing. The third stamp (right) has the same precancel marking but is also a perfin, a stamp with holes punched through it in a unique design by private business and governmental agencies to discourage theft and misuse. In this case the CC perfin design indicates use by the City of Chicago.
So there you have it, a very, very common stamp but here are three varieties that illustrate unique sides of its personality.
* Griffith, Gary, United States Stamps 1927-32, Linn’s Stamp News, 2001 (Thank you to the American Philatelic Research Library for providing print quantities noted above.)
On August 3, 2018 I wrote about “Beautiful British Bicolors!” These stamps were favorites of mine as a young collector in the 1950s because of their beauty, availability and inexpensive cost. They’re still favorites, but recently sorting through a box of U.S. stamps I came across some damaged, but still beautiful, U.S. bicolors from the Pan-American Exposition set of 1901.
As a boy, most of the U.S. bicolors were beyond my means, and by the time I had some “means,” U.S. stamps were no longer a main collecting focus. But I still appreciate some of the early bicolors like the higher values of 1869 and especially the commemorative series of 1901 promoting the Pan-American Exposition. This set of six stamps featured both exquisite decorative frames and classic black engravings of period transportation.
A ride on the “Empire State” Express (2¢ stamp), a flagship of the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad, would have been a thrill—engine smoke and all. It initially ran between New York City and Buffalo, and later its route lengthened to Cleveland. In its early days it was the first train with a schedule speed of over 52mph.
I’d love to hop up on the raised driver’s bench of the electric car (4¢ stamp). I wonder how fast it could travel—probably not fast at all, especially considering the roads of the time. This particular car was passing in front of the Capitol, and I think it would be fantastic to experience Washington at that time.
The 10¢ Fast Ocean Navigation stamp features the steamship St. Paul, a trans-Atlantic ocean liner, with smoke billowing from its twin funnels. The cloud-like cancel at the top center of the stamp seems like even more billowing smoke, but not so. The ship was launched in 1895, but was chartered for U.S. Navy service in 1898, and it again saw military service during World War I. But I wonder what it would have been like to cross the Atlantic in one of its initial voyages as a luxury liner.
To be clear, I collect predominantly cancelled stamps. Since my first “stamp” experience: my Mom giving me at age 4 or 5 the envelopes from incoming mail and letting me cut the stamps off (primarly 3¢Jeffersons) and paste them in rows on cardboard (think “busy work”), I’ve been attracted to used stamps vs. mint. To each his own, of course, but that extra cancel layer for me can add immeasurabley to the visual appeal of a stamp, not to mention the fact that stamps were made to be used. (Call me a purist…or crazy.)
Rooting through a box of used U.S. stamps, the cancellations on the three stamps shown here called out to me. The purple Iowa Territory Centennial issue of 1938 is cancelled with the classic numbered shoe-print killer. One look makes it clear why this cancel is called a killer. The barred elliptical mark cancel was invented by John Goldsborough of Philadelphia, and his device, first used in 1875, became the most widely used in the U.S. It’s actually one part of a duplex cancel with part of the circle defining the other portion of the cancel seen on the left side of the stamp. That circle contained the name of the post office where the stamp was cancelled as well as the date. The information is too light to see clearly here, but for me the visual appeal is the powerful black shoe-print killer overlaying the deep purple stamp.
The second stamp that drew may attention was the green 1951 Centennial of the Settlement of Nevada stamp. The cancel doesn’t have the visual appeal of the Iowa Centennial stamp, but the slogan is spot-on appropriate for the scene that includes forested mountains in a rugged western landscape: “Remember Only you can PREVENT FOREST FIRES.” That slogan was adopted by the Smokey Bear campaign in 1947 and continued more than five decades.
Finally, there’s the 2¢postage due stamp from the 1984-95 Bureau of Engraving and Printing series. The strong PHILADELPHIA PA precancel overlaying the rich intricate claret design is for me a thing of beauty. Though the stamp is nicked along the top edge, it’s the visual power of the stamp/cancel combination I find so satisfying.
Your thoughts about cancellations and philatley?
The Corona Virus is affecting us all: the crushing loss of death, the agony of illness, the anguish of unemployment, the frustrations of confinement, the fear of the unknown.
It would seem ludicrous that postage stamps could be the antidote, but I’ve written previously about their uplifting power (February 5, 2019, December 13, 2018).
The prescription I’m benefiting from now is a regimen of children’s art on stamps. Children are far less tethered to cares of life than those of us who have lived the years. Children live their dreams–in color, in joy, in exuberance, in faith and belief, and in knowing.
There’s no dosage that comes with my prescription. Today I’m sharing five portions from China (five from a set of eight stamps). They’re from 2000 and have no effectiveness expiration date. They are, however, “Best used today…and regularly in the future.” The children were charged with imaging the coming millennium. Their visions are awash in color and vitality.
So, try this medication and report on effectiveness.
From early in 1921 to late in 1923 Germany experienced one of the worst periods of inflation in history. For example, to mail a postcard locally at the beginning of 1921 the postage required was 30 pfennig. In December of 1923 the cost to mail that same postcard was 16 billion marks.
During this period of inflation, rates often changed more quickly than stamps could be produced to meet the new requirements. Confusion was rampant, and stamps whose face value had become too low to be of any practical use became waste (or later were included in inexpensive packets sold to new collectors worldwide).
I “rescued” the stamps shown above from the trash at my local stamp club. Years of neglect enabled changes in humidity to curl these stamps into worthless rods, but I found them visually striking. Their most unusual state reminded me of those inexpensive stamp packets from my youth, and more importantly of a period of extreme hardship in Germany.
The graphic variety of large numerals on stamps has also always fascinated me. The combination of the repeated numeral “5” and the column numerals (9, 2, 3, 4) from the stamp sheets shown in the close-up creates a striking visual for me.
Alois Senefelder (1771-1834) invented the lithography printing process which today accounts for most of the world’s printing output. Senefelder was a German playwright and actor who could not afford to have a play he had written published, and so he conducted experiments in the hope of finding an inexpensive printing process that would enable him to self-publish. His experiments led to his using smooth limestone and an acid-resistant greasy marker that allowed him to etch an image into the flat stone surface. The stone could then be inked, and paper pressed against the stone would receive the printed image. He refined his discovery and eventually started a publishing firm.
With most of the world’s postage stamps now being printed using the lithographic process, it’s surprising Senefelder only appears on three. Compare that with Gutenberg who has been honored by numerous stamps.
My favorite Senefelder stamp was issued by Austria in 1998 to commemorate the bicentennial of the discovery of lithography. The stamp features a litho stone on which Senefelder’s likeness has been etched, and the stone is being hand-inked with a roller. This reminds me of my days as an art student when I was fortunate to have been able to experience the stone lithography process.
The other two Senefelder stamps honor him with reference to the press he developed to utilize the lithography process. In 1991, Czechoslovakia issued a stamp with Senefelder’s portrait accompanied by a label showing Senefelder’s schematic for his press. In 1972, Germany issued a stamp featuring the Senefelder press to mark the 175th anniversary of the invention of the lithography process.
In the past few years, I’ve found Senefelder in two interesting places, my hometown of Baltimore and in Mexico City. While walking in the old part of Mexico City I noticed two busts high on the façade of a building. Even from afar I could identify Gutenberg, and with the help of my camera’s zoom I saw that the other bust was that of Senefelder. Obviously this building at one time had been occupied by a lithographic printer.
Back in Baltimore, the buildings once occupied by the lithographic printing firm of A. Hoen & Company are being repurposed into a multi-use complex composed of social entrepreneurs, non-profits, service providers and researchers. I recall decades ago visiting the Hoen firm and seeing numerous old broken litho stones at the edges of the parking lot. The firm had long since converted to printing with metal litho plates.
The firm, founded in 1835, occupied the site from 1902-1981 and was one of the world’s most prolific lithographic printers. It specialized in high-quality sophisticated work, including maps influential in settling the west and establishing national boundaries, e.g., maps for the joint commission determining the boundary between the United States and Canada. Above the entrance to the main Hoen building are symbols relating to Senefelder and the lithography process as well as the Latin words, “Saxa Loquuntur.” (The Stones Speak).