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.
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.
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:
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).
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.)
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?
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.)