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.
In the late 19th century, stamp use was often indicated with a manuscript cancel, especially on revenue stamps. The cancel was applied with a nibbed pen and ink. Today, the script cancel is making a comeback. We’ve all received mail cancelled by the hand of zealous postal workers. The nibbed pen is gone, often replaced with a broad-tipped black permanent marker. These cancels have been the subject of numerous complaints in the philatelic press, because they deface beautiful stamps and at times are even an insult to properly cancelled mail items. More than once, however, I’ve considered starting a specialized collection of these cancels. But then I think, “To what end?”
A favorite of mine is the First Day Cover displayed here, thoughtfully prepared by a philatelic friend using the “World of Literature” stamp from Great Britain’s Millennium Collection set of 1999–The Artists’ Tale. You can guess my reaction when I found this letter in the mailbox: “!#..!*#” But the cover also intrigues me. This could be the centerpiece of my contemporary manuscript cancel exhibit. This particular script cancellation is well-considered and undoubtedly from a practiced hand. Note how many of the lines mimic the angles of the book illustrated on the stamp. Also note how many lines crisscross. (Crosshatched cancels were common in ‘old’ days.) The energy and overall positioning of the script on the stamp is also appealing. Finally, what a marvelous sequence of juxtapositions: delicately articulated postal cancel and frenetic script cancel; quill pen from days of yore and ballpoint pen scribbling today; postal cancel ‘kissing’ the stamp’s bottom edge, and script cancel smothering entire stamp; two postal workers displaying quite different approaches to the same task.
Why do I collect stamps? The images! Many collectors want to delve into the meaning behind those images—to explore. I do that too, but oftentimes it’s simply the imagery that excites and satisfies me.
I always look closely at stamps featuring houses and trees. Why? I’m just interested in the amazing variety of structures people build for themselves.
And trees—they don’t entice like flowers, but the simplicity of their appearance—trunk, branches, leaves—has more affinity for me. And maybe it’s their size too. Maybe it’s because I climbed so many as a boy and could hide in the cover of their leaves—watching all from above. And maybe too it’s because we children could play with our little cars and soldiers and cowboys in the raised roots of the fat old oaks behind our house.
Perhaps I’m a topical collector. I haven’t organized a collection of either houses or trees, but when I’m ready, my first stop will be the American Topical Association. There I’ll find others who share my interests, as well as the ATA’s comprehensive topical stamp checklists.
Let me know what your favorite stamps are that picture houses and trees.
For five years many nations have been marking the 100th anniversary of the years of WWI with postage stamps. We’ve forgotten most of those issues, just as that war is a thing of history to us—with no personal meaning. Today’s mass murders trouble us greatly, as they should, and yet WWI accounted for some 15 to 19 million military and civilian deaths—averaging more than 10,000 a day. And like all war, it didn’t have to be.
Those WWI commemorative stamps generally feature photographs of military personnel and monuments, but a few affected me.
In 2017 Great Britain issued a set of six WWI commemoratives. The four above spoke to me. The shattered red poppy told of peace shattered by war. Private Lemuel Thomas’ life-saving Bible was for me an ironic image. How many millions on both sides of this tragic conflict professed true faith in the Bible? The tombstones in Belgium, at stamp size anonymous, whisper wasted lives. And Isaac Rosenberg’s poetic words from Dead Man’s Dumpof 1918, “Earth has waited for them, All the time of their growth,” testify to the human tragedy. (Rosenberg, an Orthodox Jew from Gloucestershire, was killed in 1918 after returning from a night patrol near Fampoux, France, most likely be a sniper.)
This year Slovenia issued a visually haunting interpretation of that endless field of tombstones. The ethereal shape created by the varying light and dark crosses are a mist of millions of lives lost…most now forgotten.
this year Poland, whose designers are known for graphic directness, presents us
with the choice that faced nations 100 years ago: flowers or explosives. That
choice continues to face us. Too often the decision is disastrous.
Ireland’s literary approach to Armistice Day is twice strong. Canadian physician Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae’s 1915 poem is familiar to many of us, and is always worth a reflective read: In Flanders fields the poppies blow Between the crosses, row on row, That mark our place: and in the sky The larks, still bravely singing, fly Scarce heard amid the guns below.
Finally, from Thomas Kettle’s 1916 poemTo My Daughter Betty, the Gift of God: Died not for flag, nor King, Nor Emperor, But for a dream, Born in a herdsman’s shed, And for the secret Scripture of the poor. Kettle, a Member of Parliament, joined the Irish Volunteers in 1913 and died in 1916 on the Western Front.
Consider these stamps. Click the links above and read these poems in their entirety. Tell me what you think…and feel.
Canada’s Third International Philatelic Exhibition, CAPEX ’87, was held from June 13 to 21 in Toronto. In conjunction with CAPEX, Great Britain issued an Exhibition Card with the 31p and 34p Flowers stamps of 1987 affixed and cancelled 13 June 1987 at Edinburgh Philatelic Bureau, with CAPEX 87 cachet at foot. The stamps, two from a set of four, feature the exquisite photography of Alfred Lammer. The Card was printed by Debden Security Print in two color intaglio and two color lithography.
This Exhibition Card with its intricate patterning, extraordinary engraving and beautiful stamps can be purchased for a pittance, and yet it’s one of the most beautiful objects in my collection!
This website is about enjoying stamps and sharing that enjoyment. Though hats really aren’t my thing, these 2001 British stamps featuring contemporary hat design amazed me when I first saw them. And I’m still amazed. So…”Hats Off to Stamps!” I’ll be featuring other stamps that amaze, intrigue or mystify me on this website.
What stamp/s or aspect of collecting do you enjoy? Let me know. Comments to posts are welcome. Do you have any questions about stamps or stamp collecting? Ask.