mandag 3. september 2018

On the podium: Ryukyu Islands #43 & Japan #Z253-54)

Three stamps shown on one stamp from a strange place with a strange name: Ryukyu Islands. But if you happen to be one of the 1,4 million inhabitants on this island chain, stretching from Japan to Taiwan, you would probably use the Japanese name: Nansei-shoto. Okinawa is the biggest island in the group. It was a ferocious battleground during World War II. After the war the islands came under U.S. administration, which lasted until 1972. The islands were then reverted to Japan. So Ryukyu stamps can only be found from 1948 up until 1972, when the use of regular mainland Japanese stamps took over. Most of the Ryukyu stamps during this post-war period looks like regular Japanese designs; quite pretty, often multi-colored, detailed and in good taste. They look like they have been designed and printed by the same workshops as the regular mainland Japan stamps.
The first official Ryukyu stamp (Scott #1) from 1948 was the magenta-colored 5 sen. It depicts a Cycad tree, probably a Cycas revoluta, or sago palm. There are two printings of the set it belongs to, one from 1948 and one from 1949. I'm not sure which year my scanned copy is from.

The brown 14 sen (#38 1956) comes from a set of kumi odori dance postures, a group dance built around a tale of romance and chivalry from Amawari's rebellion in 1458.

The grey 60 sen air mail (#C13 1957) depicts a heavenly maiden playing a flute. The name of this heavenly maiden is unknown. Heavenly maidens probably don't answer to their names anyway.

Japan #Z253-54 (1998)

To further commemorate the Ryukyu issues, Japan issued this pair in 1998, marking the 50 year anniversary of the first Ryukyu issues. Accompanying the 5 sen magenta this time was the "final issue" from 1972, a 5c blue depicting an antique yushibin, a ceramic bottle from Okinawa.

søndag 2. september 2018

On the podium: Philexafrique (1969)

Philexafrique was a stamp exhibition held in the city of Abidjan in Ivory Coast in February, 1969. A lot of planning must have been going on beforehand, because an omnibus series of stamps on stamps from 14 different African states, all former French colonies or protectorates, was issued in connection with it. They had similar designs and shapes, and rather big formats. Each of the old stamps depicted show some typical scenes, folk custom or industry of each country, so there is quite lot of African history embedded in these 16 stamps, in both the old ones and the new ones.

The independence of many of these African states was a new thing in the 1960's, and the stamps clearly show that the connections to France weren't completely severed. The stamps were all designed and engraved by French stamp artists and printed in Paris.

I must surely be allowed to pick a favourite, and that would be the pair from Niger.

tirsdag 17. juli 2018

On the podium: DDR #723, #B124-B125 (1964)

These designs, issued for DDR's national stamp exhibition of 1964, looks decidedly modern to my eyes. I would even call them before their time. DDR stamps from the late 1950s to the 1970s are often dull, staid and unimpressive. So this SOS set stands out in my opinion. The message on the light green and the blue stamp chosen for inclusion is one of peace and friendship.

Since I'm such big fan of engravings, it feels nice to present Albrecht Dürer (1471 - 1528) on a stamp on stamp issue. Dürer was a great renaissance painter and engraver and this, the 3rd in the set, is a litographed copy of a painting he did in Amsterdam in 1521, called "Portrait of Bernhardt von Reesen".

Strangely and confusingly the inscription on the stamp says that the picture is called "Portrait of a young man" (Bildnis eines jungen Mannes). But that is actually what at least two other Dürer paintings are called today, and not this one. However, one should bear in mind that the title "Portrait of a Young Man" has been given to carloads of "old masters" for the simple reason that we don't know the name of the person on the portrait. And the "von Reesen" identity seems to be unconfirmed. Still, this is a minor stamp mystery. The real painting can be seen in The Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister in Dresden. Here is a full-color copy of it:

Btw: I'm very fond of a woodcut Dürer made of an Indian rhinoceros in 1515, which he based on a second-hand report of an animal he hadn't actually seen. He gave it a small extra horn on the back, scaly legs and some other antediluvian features that makes it look like a rather strange animal, like a cousin of a monster from the Book of Revelation. I have seen that print in many books about natural history in early modern Europe. I'm sure that Dürer thought this was the real animal on which the legend of the unicorn was based.

The iconic rhino woodcut is seen below, together with a miniature sheet issued by Bulgaria in 1979 (not my scan), in connection with a set of 4 stamps with other Dürer engravings. Below it you can see a version from the Maldives which I found in my collection of miscellaneous stamps. Dürer's art can be found on many stamp sets from many different countries. One could even start a special collection of Dürer stamps.

mandag 16. juli 2018

On the podium: Brunei #317-19 (1984)

From a former sultanate to an existing one: Brunei (or Brunei Darussalam - darussalam meaning "abode of peace"). This sultanate, a part of the great island of Borneo, was established as long ago as 1368 (the same year that Tamerlane became the ruler of Samarkand and the Chinese Ming dynasty was established). The current sultan, Hassanal Bolkiah, who is also prime minister, minister of finance and defence and probably much more, has been on the throne since 1967 and is quite well-heeled. His money comes from oil. He's got a big car collection. I don't think he collects stamps, cause modern Brunei stamps are nothing special to look at, even if the sultan's head can be seen on most of them.

These three were issued on occasion of PhilaKorea - Korean World Philatelic Exhibition in Seoul 22-31 October 1984 - and are among Brunei's better ones. They celebrate Brunei's older and better stamps in a good way.

The 50 cent blue shows Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin, the father of the present-day car collector. It is an extremely fine engraving and a top quality print. That's why I give it a special place of honour here. If only all stamps had as much style as this one...

søndag 15. juli 2018

On the podium: Kedah 1912 (Malaysia 2012)

I suspect that the Malaysian stamp designers who found the old Kedah stamps for this set wanted to make it difficult for us SOS collectors to find copies of the stamps depicted. I haven't been able to discover any varieties with that particular dark green color as on the 1 cent stamp, and I can't find a 50c plower-and-oxen with that lilac/mauve frame color either. Not from 1912. They could be from the later 1920s reissues, but 1912 is the year of commemoration. The red-framed 5 dollar (showing the Council Chamber in Alor Star, Kedah's capital) is also impossible to find from the year 1912 on that yellow-toned paper. So I gave up finding exact examples. Instead I present my "incorrect" finds. The 1 dollar will have to substitute for the 5 dollar. Of course, it could be that the printers for the Malaysian stamp office failed to reproduce the colors properly, but the general high quality of the printing makes that rather unlikely.

But what is much more important than the strange color shades: The stamps on these stamps exemplifies some features that make stamp collecting fascinating: A strange country of unknown location (Kedah), strange writing, strange letters, exotic locales and motifs, intricately engraved ornamental frames, pleasing color combinations - all in all, good handicraft way beyond what is necessary for a piece of paper that is just a receipt for postage paid. 

Kedah was one of several minor sultanates on the Malayan peninsula that once was part of the British Malayan states. It doesn't exist anymore as a stamp-issuing country, but has become a part of Malaysia. The same is true of several other sultanates who also issued stamps: Perak, Selangor, Negri Sembilan, Pahang...

The mysterious fascination for these stamps would diminish if there still was a Kedah. Better to have the Kedah stamps as relics from a "lost land".

On the podium: French Southern and Antarctic Territories #258 (1999)

Terres australes et antarctiques françaises, shortened TAAF, is a strange stamp-issuing entity. It consists of some scattered and disputed islands close to or south of Madagascar and some other islands close to the Antarctic, in addition to a slice of Antarctica itself (Adélie Land). Do they really need stamps on these godforsaken islands in remote, icy waters, largely unpopulated and with no post offices in sight? Maybe. Some 50-100 scientists and researchers have been living on different research stations within the TAAF area from the 1950's on. Still, there is no doubt that TAAF stamps are produced largely for collectors. And by issuing TAAF stamps regularly, France can point to a sort of official authority over these islands, always a good thing for a nation that wants to be a player on the world stage. The historical connections are indisputable; several of these islands were first discovered and mapped by French explorers in the 18th and the 19th century. But the dispute about land claims and ownership is not for this blog to decide. I found quite a lot of interesting info on TAAF here and here.

There are lots of beautiful and interesting stamps in the TAAF catalogue well worth collecting. Naturally, most of them look like they come from France. Usual motifs are scenes from the exploration and mapping of the islands - their history, their wildlife, their biodiversity. Birds, penguins, volcanoes, whales, sea lions and other forms of marine life is prevalent. They are popular among collectors. I have been tempted to start collecting TAAF stamps myself, but I find many of the engravings a bit too heavy-handed and industrial and the stamps are far too often too big. Then on to the SOS:

This TAAF SOS sheet set from 1999 gives us quite a lot of information without being overburdened or cluttered and cramped. I'm not at all sure that the conspicuous cancellation marks are real. They seem to send a clear message about ownership - a kind of "case closed" - you can almost hear the metal stamp handle push down on the paper with a loud "thump". But at least the old stamps are given enough space to become the center of attention.

The two Madagascar stamps (the orange and brown portraits) are from 1946 and come from a classic set engraved (or designed) by Jules Douy.  He was a painter and artist who also worked in advertising and as a poster designer. I have seen pretty accomplished paintings by him. He won several prizes for his engravings.

The Charcot stamp (Charcot was a famous Antarctic explorer) was done by Pierre Gandon (1899-1990). He is more famous than Douy. It is rumored that Gandon designed and/or engraved more than 1000 stamps for France and the French colonies. There is even an entry on him in Wikipedia.

The Madagascar overstamped "Terre Adélie - Dumont d'Urville 1840" is by Raoul Serres (1881-1971), another very productive French stamp designer and engraver. He also illustrated books (Flaubert's Trois contes for instance) and designed postcards. So with a little luck, you may one day find a Serres-designed postcard with a Serres-designed stamp on it! Here is a list of stamps by Serres. There is a short entry about Serres here.

And to round off: Dumont d'Urville (the name mentioned on the Adélie stamp) was a great French explorer who discovered Adélie Land in 1840 and named it after his wife. John Dunmore has written a book about him.