Animals of Niger

Niger, officially the Republic of Niger, is the largest landlocked country in West Africa, with a population of over 25 million. The country is 80% desert, with population centers in the  South and West.

At the 1885 Berlin conference colonial powers divided Africa into spheres of influence. France gained control of the area roughly equivalent to present day Mali and Niger. Independence for Niger was achieved in 1960 and it became the Republique du Niger with French continuing as the official language.

Niger suffers from droughts and limited arable areas. It is among the world’s poorest countries. The economy centers on subsistence crops, livestock, and some of the world’s largest uranium deposits.

I have always liked finely engraved stamps, and the 1959-1960 Niger stamps feature beautiful wildlife engravings with birds and animals produced in two different  color versions. Illustrated here are three of my favorite pairs: Crested Cranes, Saddle-billed Storks, and Ostriches. I find the engraving and coloring extraordinary.

My next post examines designers/engravers of these stamps.

It’s been two years…

How can it be two years since my last post? I can’t exactly explain. I’ve frequently felt overwhelmed and at other times fatigued. Can you identify?

But philatelically I have experienced some highs:
1. The purchase of a collection of British Presentation Packs which are produced for every special stamp issue. I admire British stamp design (for the most part), and these Packs give detailed information about the issues and their designers. They’re beautiful.

2. I received the “Outstanding Volunteer” award for 2023 from the American Topical Association—truly an honor.

3. I continued as Editor of Philateli-Graphics, the quarterly journal of the Graphics Philately Association.

4. And I continued to operate my HipStamp store (stampsite) which requires considerable time–scanning stamps, providing descriptive information, etc. How long I can keep this going I do not know.

My hope is to get back to somewhat regular posts. I’m eyeing a set of stamps from Niger as my next post.


Barely three weeks ago on January 14, 2022, a huge eruption on Hunga-Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai, an uninhabited volcanic island, and submarine volcano and accompanying tsunami of the Tongan archipelago in the southern Pacific Ocean, began. The eruption climaxed powerfully the next day. Hunga Tonga is 40 miles north of Tongatapu, Tonga’s main island, which suffered enormous devastation.

Located in Oceania, Tonga is an archipelago in the South Pacific Ocean, directly south of Samoa and about two-thirds of the way from Hawaii to New Zealand. It consists of 169 islands, 36 of them inhabited, and cover a 500-mile-long north–south line.

The volcanic eruption and accompanying tsunami severed an undersea fiber-optic cable and communications are still limited. Crops and water supplies were contaminated with volcanic ash. Buildings, vehicles (including precious farm equipment) and boats connecting Tonga’s remote islands to its mainland were damaged or destroyed. Amazingly the death toll seems to be limited to five.

Most banks and money-transfer services were forced offline. This crippled aneconomy characterized by a heavy dependence on remittances from the more than half of the country’s population who live abroad. These remittances to Tonga are the equivalent of 37 percent of the gross domestic product, the highest figure of any nation in the world.

Tonga is home to some 106,000 people, but more than double that number liveoverseas, mainly in the U.S., New Zealand, and Australia. Over 70% of the Tongan inhabitants live on its main island, Tongatapu. Although an increasing number of Tongans have moved into the only urban and commercial center, Nukuʻalofa, the nation’s capital.

While reports of the disaster have largely vanished from the news, tens of thousands of Tongans in the diaspora are dealing with the supply chain crisis in their ongoing efforts to help their people in the homeland.

Philatelicly, Tonga was one of the originators of shaped stamps, which were largely derided as gimmicks when first issued in the early 1960s. Today, more collectors value these early groundbreaking stamps. Shown at the beginning of this post is a philatelic souvenir cover with the complete set of the 1963 Gold Coin issue commemorating the first gold coinage of Polynesia. The stamps show the head of Queen Salote Tupou III as well as the Queen standing, which are the obverse sides of the koula coins, and the reverse side showing the coat of arms. Shown below is a registered letter from the Vava’u island group in Tonga to the capital of Nuku’alofa featuring pineapple-shape stamps of 1978. Also shown is a cover from Tonga to the U.S. marked “Return to Sender” (quite a round trip) partially franked with a five-sided stamp, also issued in 1978, featuring King Taufa’ahau IV.

A Young Boy’s Letter to His Father (Canada)

Sometimes it’s what’s inside an old envelope that means more than the stamps and other markings on the  outside. Inside this registered letter to Albert Grant is a letter from his young son, Arthur W. Grant, that  was a true labor of love as the hand-drawn lines, careful printing and dots between each word indicate.  Arthur is writing to his father from the town of Bridgeville. His father is working in the iron mines in the region.

Santa Claus and Christmas are on young Arthur’s mind, as well as a mouth organ and necktie. But it seems that more than anything, Arthur wants to know if his Father will be home for Christmas. The little boy  pencils numerous “X’s” to indicate love and kisses for his Father.

What a sweet letter, as well as being visually “alive” with Arthur’s handiwork.

Stamp Overboard! (Morocco)

Writing and addressing a postcard home left insufficient space for the stamps on hand. The top half of an unfortunate commemorative was attached to the bottom edge of the card. The bottom half was left dangling!

One would expect that journeying from Morocco to the U.S. the dangling stamp would have been at least partially lost “Overboard.” Not so, even though the stamp was bent and cancelled on the picture side of the card. How in the world did that stamp hang on and survive an Atlantic crossing!

I’d say its miraculous journey was a one-in-a-million experience…but I’d be wrong. See the second postcard below, which employed the same stamp arrangement, though the commemorative here was cancelled where it adhered to the card—and not bent.


A Unique Father/Son Achievement in U.S. Postage Stamp Art (USA)

One of the most challenging—and beautiful—achievements in U.S. postage stamp artwork is  the “50 State Bird and Flower” stamps issued in 1982. The imagery is exquisite, with each stamp deftly composed and different from every other. Each bird/flower combination has a  naturalness of appearance that seems inevitable. And each is beautifully silhouetted with white space.

What makes these stamps unusual is that they were the first U.S. stamps created by a Father and Son artist team: Arthur (1917-1990) and Alan (1950- ) Singer.

There were creative challenges. Each stamp had to be distinctly different, not to mention visually appealing, and yet several states had the same state bird. For example, the Cardinal would appear on seven stamps, and the Western Meadowlark on six. As for state flowers, the Apple Blossom and Magnolia appear twice and the violet three times. And yet looking at the sheet of 50 stamps, those multiple renderings of bird or flower aren’t noticed because each presentation is unique.

Father and son were up to the challenge. Arthur was a noted avian illustrator having published Birds of the World and Guide to the Birds of North America. In his words, “There are many illustrators who are only concerned about portraying birds—or other animals—accurately. While this is, of course, very important, I try to make my work artistically good as well as accurate.”

It was Arthur’s practice to begin work in the early morning in his Jericho, New York, studio and continue to late at night. Father and son worked together on separate drawing tables. Arthur would position the bird on his art board and indicate to son Alan the approximate position of the flower. Alan would then sketch the flower art on the board. Father and son first made rough sketches of their subjects and then proceeded to greater detail, at times using pastels for color. When they deemed their sketches satisfactory, the drawings were transferred to art board in paint. The process was smooth, with each artist achieving his vision.

Those final paintings were five to seven times the size of a stamp. The artwork required intense focus, and stamina as well, to achieve the graceful lines, minute detail, and vibrant color that would reproduce well at stamp size.

The result: 50 beautiful and engaging miniature works of art—a high point in U.S. postage stamp creativity.

In the Spring of 1982, Charles Kuralt happened into a post office to buy some stamps and emerged with a sheet of the State Birds and Flowers stamps which in turn led to a segment on CBS News Sunday Morning expounding on the work of the Father and Son artists. Take a look at this unique artistic achievement:

Holhwein’s Adler Typewriter (Czech Republic)

Typewriters, whose hayday has passed, interest me. I like the process of using a machine to create something—in this case a tangible document. And “Typewriters on Stamps” is a collecting topic that I know one philatelic friend pursues with passion.

The typewriter advertising postcard shown here was illustrated by Ludwig Hohlwein, a leading and influential German graphic designer in the first half of the 20th century. The woman’s image shows his flair for progressive fashion illustration which he utilized on behalf of a number of clients. I don’t know anything about the typewriter other than what is printed below the illustration abaout the manufacturer: ADLERWERKE VORM. HEINRICH KLEYER A.D. FRANKFURT.

The message on the reverse side of the card refers to Herr Ludwig Thoma, the owner of a typewriter retailer located in Karlovy Vary, Czechoslovakia. The card was sent in February 1928 from Karlovy Vary to Pisek, also in Czecholovakia, and is correctly franked at the postcard rate with a 50 Haléřů stamp featuring Tomáš Masaryk, the Czechoslovak politician, statesman, sociologist and philosopher (Sc117).


The Four Seasons in Antarctica! (Ross Dependency)

Heat-activated imagery on stamps, once unique, has been seen frequently in recent years. On 7 October 2020, Ross Dependency issued a set of four stamps using this printing technique to present a unique visual approach to the four seasons. Since Scott Base is a New Zealand research facility on Ross Island in the Antarctic, you might wonder about what would appear on a set of four stamps themed “Seasons on Scott Base.” The fact that the stamps have to be heat activated to reveal the underlying imagery only adds to the mystery, but the real thrill for me was seeing the photographic imagery.

The photographs were taken by Jonny Harrison, an electrician on the base. The visual representation of each  season is stunning:
$1.40 – Aurora Australis (Southern Lights)
$2.70 – Spring Sunrise
$3.50 – Summer Sunset
$4.00 – Autumn Scene

(This article originally appeared in the July 2021 issue of Philateli-Graphics.)

Birdhouses on Stamps? (Denmark, Great Britain)

About four weeks ago on a sunny day I photographed my favorite neighborhood birdhouse (“The Hippie Camper”) with its swirling paint job and back end which has come unattached at the base. I’m thinking birds live here no more. The following week the snow came. Birds probably still didn’t seek shelter here, but who knows?

I got to thinking about birdhouses on stamps. Were there any? I explored a bit and found two (Denmark and Great Britain). That’s a small number compared to the many,  many birdhouses in my neighborhood, but it’s a start. Perhaps you know of more and can let me know.

And how about stamps on birdhouses?





Morning Glories (Australia, Hungary, Pitcairn Islands, Tuvalu, USA)

  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.