Friday, February 29, 2008

Stamp Collecting Tools - Stamp Tongs

Stamp tongs are probably the most basic tool of stamp collecting. They are essential for protecting your stamp collecting from a variety of ills.

Of all collectibles, stamps are probably the most fragile. As stamps age, the chemicals in the paper and printing inks can make the stamp especially brittle. Tongs are the only way to handle stamps safely.

Stamp tongs resemble tweezers, but they differ in one significant feature ... the blades (tips) of the tongs are smooth. Never, ever use tweezers to handle stamps -- they are simply too destructive. Tongs are manufactured so that there are no rough spots or imperfections that would cause them to "bite" into the stamp.

Tongs also save your stamps from dirt and oils from your hands. Even if you wash your hands thoroughly before handling stamps, it is impossible to remove all of the oils from your fingers. Plus any moisture on your fingers is detrimental to the gum side of a stamp. Tongs provide a way to handle stamps without physically touching the stamp.

Stamp tongs are usually made of metal, such as stainless steel or nickel, although plastic tongs are available in beginner's stamp collecting kits. Gold plated tongs are available for those who might have metal allergies, since gold is non-reactive to almost everything.

Stamp tongs come with different blade types. A pointed tip is helpful to pick up stamps from flat surfaces such as a table, but is more likely to cause a crease from the point. Rounded tips help to grasp a stamp and minimize danger that might arise from a pointed tip, but their width may increase the risk of causing damaged perforations. The bottom line, though, is that user preference is the best indicator of whether a specific tong works or doesn't work.

As with any tool, proper maintenance is the key to safely handling your stamps. Examine your tongs from time to time to make sure that there are no imperfections to the tips, especially on the inside faces where the tongs meet together. If you discover a problem, discard them at once; do not risk picking up that rare, inverted Jenny stamp with a tool that costs around $10 (USD).

Also, never use tongs as tweezers. Plucking out eyebrow hairs or pulling splinters will only serve to damage the tips, and at the very least transfer body oils to the next stamp you pick up.

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Thursday, February 28, 2008

Nobel Prize Winner - Linus Pauling

Linus C. Pauling was a prolific American chemist, two-time Nobel Prizewinner, and peace activist. He was a forerunner in the study of quantum chemistry and molecular biology.

Pauling was born in Oregon, on the west coast of America, on February 28, 1901. At a young age he had a thirst for knowledge and loved to read. A childhood friend's chemical laboratory led to his lifelong interest in chemistry.

After graduation from Oregon State University with a chemical engineering degree, and later with a Ph. D. in physical chemistry and mathematical physics from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), he began his career in chemistry. He was awarded a assistant professorship, and soon thereafter, a full professorship at Caltech. During those five years, he published about 50 scientific papers. By 1932, he introduced the concept of electronegativity as related to chemical bonding.

His work in chemical bonding led to his 1954 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

Shortly after World War II he began taking a stance in nuclear activism. He realized the impact of nuclear proliferation and widespread radioactive fallout dangers and in 1958 presented the United Nations with a petition calling for the end of nuclear weapon testing. It was due to this action that the U.S. and the Soviet Union signed the Partial Test Ban Treaty in 1963. On the day the treat went into force, Pauling was busy accepting his second Nobel Prize, this time for Peace.

Pauling holds the unique distinction of winning two Nobel prizes in two separate fields of study. Madame Curie also won two Nobel prizes, but they were both in Chemistry. Ironically, both winners won both of their prizes eight years apart -- Curie in 1903 and 1911; Pauling in 1954 and 1962.

On March 6, 2008, the U.S. Postal Service will issue a four-stamp series entitled American Scientists. Featured on the stamps are theoretical physicist John Bardeen, co-inventor of the transistor; biochemist Gerty Cori, researcher on how cells metabolize food; astronomer Edwin Hubble, researcher into our universe; and Pauling.

Pauling's stamp features a background dotted with red-blood cells. One of Pauling's key findings was that sickle cell anemia was caused by a abnormal form of hemoglobin in red blood cells. This was a key finding that helped identify sickle cell anemia as a molecular disease.

Late in life, Pauling advocated the controversial advice that mega-doses of vitamin C and other vitamins and minerals would prevent disease and lead to healthier lives. Most scientists have labeled this as medical quackery and a majority of studies have disproved this theory. Regardless of the veracity of this claim, no one can deny that Linus Pauling is one of the greatest chemical scientists of all time.

Updated from reader's comments, March 1, 2008

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Terminology - Commemorative Stamps

It's not difficult to give a definition of a commemorative stamp -- it is a stamp that honors a person, place, event, or an anniversary. What is difficult is to determine when the first commemorative stamp was issued. It's all in the definition.

The United States offered a 15-cent stamp honoring president Abraham Lincoln in 1866, the year following his tragic death by an assassin's bullet. The stamp did not have any special markings on it to indicate it was a commemorative stamp, although it certainly was intended to memorialize the fallen president.

Similarly, Great Britain issued the Jubilee set in 1887 to honor Queen Victoria's 50th year as the reigning monarch. But while the intentions were to commemorate the event, the stamps themselves are part of the regular issue of stamps.

The first stamp to clearly identify an actual anniversary are stamps issued by the Australian State of New South Wales to honor the 100th anniversary of its establishment. The stamps are inscribed with the phrase One Hundred Years, which is enough to solidify their position as the world's first commemorative stamps.

Because of their nature of honoring a specific event or anniversary, commemorative stamps are typically available only for a short period of time. They generally have small press runs, because of their limited time-frame of availability. In addition, usually they are only printed once -- once the supply is exhausted, they are seldom printed additional times.

The limited availability of commemorative stamps, plus the fact that they honor a person, place or event is enough to make commemorative stamps popular among collectors. Some countries even go so far as to print commemorative after commemorative as a way of generating revenue in their cash-poor nation. Collectors need to purchase these stamps in order to fill up their albums, plus, their commemorative nature reduce the likelihood that they will be used, so the postal authorities benefit from selling a stamp that will rarely be used.

This proliferation of commemorative stamps led to collector outrage in the early days of the hobby. In 1895, the Society for the Suppression of Speculative Stamps was formed as a means of protesting the ever-increasing cost of obtaining stamp issues. (The society disbanded after having difficulty coming up with a platform and the impossibility of getting it enforced)

Today, most collectors prefer commemorative stamps. Usually the stamps are rarer, more attractive, and more desirable to the general public than the workhorse definitive stamps that the postal authorities use.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Stamp Issuers - Aden

Aden is a port city located in present day Yemen in the Middle East. It is home to almost 600,000 people and has been occupied since antiquity. Local legend even goes so far as to say that Aden is a transliteration of the Biblical word Eden, the birthplace of the human race.

Aden sits on the Arabian Sea and is near the mouth the Red Sea. It's location has made it a vital seaport for the region. Its ancient harbor has an interesting geological history; it lies inside a huge crater formed by an extinct volcano.

A Very Brief Synopsis of Aden History:

In 1839, the British captured Aden in an effort to stop piracy of British ships in the region. It was placed under British rule as the Aden Settlement and ruled as part of British India. In 1937, Aden became a British Crown colony. It remained as a colony until 1963, when Aden joined the Federation of South Arabia as the State of Aden. In 1967, the Federation joined with the Protectorate of South Arabia to became South Yemen, which in 1990 joined with North Yemen to form what is now known as the country of Yemen.

Stamps of Aden:

From a standpoint of Aden as a stamp entity, we are primarily interested in the stamps issued between its status as a British colony and protectorate (1937) until it became South Yemen (1967). Prior to 1937, stamps from British India were used in the area and those bearing Aden postal marks are known to have been used in Aden.

The first stamps of Aden, issued in 1937, bore an image of a dhow, a sailing vessel in common use in the area. Due to Aden's history as a seaport, dhows are featured on many of their stamps.

Beginning with the second issue of stamps, almost all of the rest of the issues bear the likeness of the reigning British monarch, due to it being a colony of Great Britain. The monarch's image is small, usually taking up one of the upper corners of the stamp.

It is this use of the monarch's image that caused some irritation with the leaders of two of the states included in the Aden Protectorate -- the Kathiri State of Seiyun and the Quaiti State of Shihr and Mukalla (later, the Quaiti State in Hadhramaut). Beginning in 1942, those states issued stamps with the image of the current sultan on them. Some of these stamps feature frontal portraits of the sultan; others relegate the sultan to an upper corner of the stamp, just as the British monarch had been.

In 1951, the currency on stamps changed from Indian rupees to East African shillings. That year saw a number of the earlier stamps surcharged with the new currency values.

In 1965, the last stamps of Aden were issued. They were two different denominations of a stamp bearing the image of a minaret, a tower attached to a mosque that is used to call people to prayer. The original version of the minaret stamps were issued in 1953; a collector must check the watermarks to differentiate between the two versions.

Almost all Aden stamps are engraved, revealing a richness common to stamps of the British Commonwealth at that time. A few were issued in more than one color; mainly those of higher denominations.

Checking for watermarks is necessary for the stamps issued in 1964 and 1965 to differentiate them from prior issues.

All in all, the stamps of Aden form a popular group of stamps to collect. Many of them have values in catalogs under $1 (USD) with quite a few stamps with minimum values ($0.20 in the U.S.). The most expensive stamps, valued up to $400 (USD) are found in the high values in the 1937 dhow issue. A collector could easily collect all but these highest values on a very modest budget.

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Monday, February 25, 2008

Beneficial Bugs?


Even the mere mention of the word bugs some people. But insects, as bothersome as they sometimes are, form a crucial part of the balance of life on earth. Without them, we would not survive very long.

Insects form a critical part in the pollination of plant life. Some insects fly from flower to flower retrieving the sweet nectar in its bloom. Along the way, it picks up and moves pollen from one plant to another, causing the plant to begin its reproductive cycle. Without insects to transmit pollen, the plant would have to rely upon the wind or larger animals, both of which are unpredictable. By producing the nectar, the flower is virtually guaranteed to get a visit from an insect.

Insects produce products that we use on a daily basis. Honey is a prime example of one of the benefits that honey bees produce. Bees also produce another valuable product - wax. Beeswax has been used for years to create candles, giving mankind the ability to see into the darkness. Shellac is made from the secretions of the lac insect. It is a natural polymer and is a component used for wood finishing, and surprisingly, manufacturing foodstuffs that need a shiny, edible coating, such as candy. And don't forget silk for clothing; it comes from the silkworm, an insect noted for its silk-bearing cocoon.

Not only do insects provide items for human use, they are also food for many larger animals. While generally considered taboo by most agricultural societies, insects provide tremendous amounts of proteins and are often a big part of the diet of some aboriginal cultures.

Thus insects are not just harmful or pesky creatures, but they also serve to benefit us.

In October, 2007, Canada Post issued a 5-stamp issue showing beneficial insects of Canada. The insects depicted are the convergent lady beetle (ladybug), the golden-eyed lacewing, the Northern bumblebee, the Canada darner, and the cecropia moth. This is a low-valued definitive set and can be purchased from Canada Post for a low price.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Stamp Hinges And Their Proper Use

You have probably used stamp hinges from your earliest stamp collecting days. These lowly devices are indispensable to the collector, yet some collectors know very little about the hinges and a few are not sure of their proper use.

Stamp hinges are small strips of paper, usually glassine, a smooth, semi-transparent paper, having an adhesive on one side. In the early days of philately, collectors had to sometimes cut the hinges to the correct width, and then fold them over to use them. The hinge would allow a user to mount the stamps to album pages with a minimal disturbance to the stamp, and still allow a collector to lift the stamp off the page and look at the back side of the stamp for glue condition, pencil markings, etc.

Modern hinges now come pre-cut to the ideal size and pre-folded so that they are ready to use. The pre-folded stamps have about 30% of the hinge folded over so that you have a short side and a long side. The short side is used to stick the hinge to the stamp; the long side is used to mount the stamp to the album page.

Because the hinge sticks to the stamp by the use of a moistened adhesive, any gum on the back of a stamp is often disturbed by the hinge. Due to the rarity of early stamps having undisturbed gum, using a hinge on such a stamp can greatly reduce its value. Collectors are advised not to use stamp hinges if the gum on the stamp is unblemished or just very lightly damaged. If the gum is very disturbed, or if it stamp has no gum, it is usually safe and economical to use hinges.

Collectors love to upgrade the stamps they have in their albums, causing a need to remove stamps that are already hinged to an album page. The best hinges are called peelable, meaning that they can be peeled off the stamp or album page with minimal problems. If they are not peelable, or if the glue adheres too tightly to the stamp, attempts to remove it will very likely damage the stamp. In this case, it is better to leave a portion of the hinge in place (a hinge remnant) than to thin out the paper by pulling fibers off of the back of the stamp.

To properly use a hinge, the collector should always use stamp tongs to pick up a hinge by the long side and then lightly moisten the glue on the short side. The short side is now placed on the back of the stamp very near the top center. Next, grasp the stamp with the tongs and moisten as little of the long side as possible. You need to moisten just enough glue to adhere it to the album page, but the least amount used is better, especially if you have to move the stamp later. Then position the stamp on the album page and press slightly. At this point, some collectors prefer to lift the stamp high enough off the page to cause part of the hinge to lift off the page, so that later on the hinged stamp can be lifted and flipped up so that the back can be inspected.

There is one thing to be careful of with stamp hinges -- if you inadvertently hinge the stamp in the wrong spot, you must be extremely careful to not try to move the stamp until the hinge is thoroughly dry. If you move it before the adhesive on the hinge is dry, you risk damaging the stamp, as the peelable qualities of a stamp hinge seem to only work when the glue is dry.

Always use quality hinges from a reputable manufacturer. Why risk your stamp collection just to save a few dollars?

Oh, and never, never, never use cellophane tape (such as the "Scotch Tape" brand) as a substitute for a stamp hinge. The tape adhesive is too strong and will yellow with age and ruin the stamp. I have heard that lighter fluid can remove cellophane tape glue, but the use of such a strong chemical will be a topic for a later blog entry.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Raising the Flag On Iwo Jima

Possibly the most famous photograph of World War II, and possibly of all time, was Joe Rosenthal's masterpiece, Raising the Flag On Iwo Jima. It depicts 6 American men (5 Marines, 1 Navy Corpsman) struggling to lift the flag atop Mount Suribachi on February 23, 1945, signaling the high-water mark of one of the fiercest battles of World War II in the Pacific.

Due to its proximity to Japan, the island of Iwo Jima was used as a Japanese early warning station to help prevent Allied-led surprise attacks on the mainland. It is situated near the halfway point between Japan and the Mariana Islands, a staging point for American long-range bombers. Any planned attack on Japan from the Pacific would almost inevitably be spotted by Japanese installations on Iwo Jima.

As America tightened the net on Japanese forces, Iwo Jima became a ripe target. If the U.S. could take and hold Iwo Jima, they would gain a foothold for launching further attacks. Thus the battle for Iwo Jima became a critical point in the battles of the Pacific.

On February 19, 1945, U.S. forces began fierce bombardment of key positions on Iwo Jima, as a means to soften Japanese resistance. After a lull in fight, American Marines landed on the island and were barely able to withstand the Japanese onslaught. The heavily reinforced Japanese inflicted high casualties upon the landing Americans. One hundred thousand men fought on an island with a total areas of 7.5 square miles.

Mount Suribachi is the highest point on Iwo Jima. Capturing the mountain, and its strategic birds-eye view of the island would go a long way toward ending the battle. On February 23, U.S. forces took control of the mountain and raised a small flag on top of it which was hardly visible from the islands beaches. Later that day, a larger flag was lifted in the second flag-raising on the mountain. It was this flag-raising that was immortalized by the photograph by Joe Rosenthal.

The photo was an immediate success. It was awarded the 1945 Pulitzer Prize in Photography, the only photo to win in the same year that it was taken. It also became the subject of a 1945 U.S. stamp commemorating the event. It was an extremely popular stamp issue and holds the distinction of being one of the few U.S. stamps to depict living individuals. The U.S. Postal Service currently waits a minimum of five years after a person's death (one year for U.S. Presidents) before using their image on a stamp, although this rule has sometimes been overlooked, such as one the Heroes of 9/11 stamp issued in 2001, pictured at right.

Of the six men raising the flag, only three made it home alive -- Ira Hayes, Rene Gagnon, and John Bradley. Two of the men, Mike Strank and Harlon Block, died within hours of each other less than a week after the famous photo was taken. Franklin Sousley, the last one to die on Iwo Jima, died three weeks later.

Rosenthal's photo was later used as the basis for the United States Marine Corps Memorial statue at the Arlington National Cemetery.

For further information, visit

Friday, February 22, 2008

Pneumatic Mail Service

Speedy, door-to-door delivery -- that was the goal when many large cities in Europe, and a few in the U.S., began implementing pneumatic mail service in the late 1890s and early 1900s. While it never quite got to the door-to-door part, it was used for postal branch-to-postal branch transfer of mail.

Pneumatic mail service is when air is used to propel or, in the case of vacuum-driven systems, to pull mail through a series of airtight tubes. The tubes were similar, although a bit more primitive, to those you might see in banks that have drive-up windows, or in large factories and warehouses where paperwork must move from two distant points.

Mail or small packages were put into cylinders which fit snuggly into a network of pipes, almost always underground. Air or vacuum pressure would cause the cylinder to move through the tube from a location with high pressure to one with a lower pressure as it tried to equalize. At the remote location, a postal worker would remove the cylinder from the pneumatic tube, open it and remove the mailed items, and then process them by hand for the rest of their journey.

Although maybe not apparent to today's world of instant communications, PDF documents, and faxes, pneumatic mail offered the only real hope of quickly moving a letter through the mail at the turn of the century. The idea was simple ... install pneumatic tubes and route mail and small packages throughout the system.

The tubes were used in many large European cities such as Paris, Berlin, Munich, and Rome. In America, at least four cities had pneumatic tubes as part of the mail delivery infrastructure: New York, Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Boston. New York's tube service was in operation until the 1950s.

As one might imagine, the tubes were expensive to install. While they offered the benefit of moving mail to neighboring sub-stations quickly, the expense of laying and maintaining pipe made the system impractical except for anything other than high traffic areas. The once-futuristic dream of having door-to-door pneumatic mail delivery quickly faded once the cost of implementation was factored.

Surprisingly, a variation of the pneumatic mail system remained in use until as recently as 2002 in Prague, Czech Republic, and it was closed only due to flooding. It is unclear if the tube system will be restored to operation.

Italy is the only country to issue stamps to pay for mail delivery via their pneumatic tube system. This stamp, issued in 1945, is but one example of the 23 stamps (including varieties) issued between 1913 and 1966 by Italy. It features a portrait of Galileo and the phrase Posta Pneumatica as well as its denomination.

More detail about pneumatic mail, especially as adopted in America, can be found at the National Postal Museum.

Update: Special thanks to readers Blair and Pierre, who have noted that several countries, namely France, Germany, and Austria, offered postal stationery that was explicitly labeled for use with pneumatic postal service. While not technically stamps, the stationery was created solely for pneumatic mail. Thanks, readers!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Duncan Edwards - Football Superstar

On February 21, 1958, fifty years ago, the world lost what would have probably been one of the greatest football (soccer) players ever. In a life cut short by tragedy, Duncan Edwards, had only started to begin to fulfill his potential as one of the premiere players of his time.

Duncan Edwards was born on Oct 1, 1936 in the town of Dudley, in England. He excelled at football, even at a young age, when he picked up the notice of a Manchester United scout. It was only a few years later, at the age of 16 1/2 that he became the youngest player to play in the top division. On his 17th birthday, October 1953, he was signed by Manchester United.

By early 1958, he had made 175 league appearances and was fast becoming a well-known legend to sports fans of that day. His game play was remarkable as he helped England in the 1958 World Cup qualifying campaign.

On February 6, 1958, tragedy struck the sports world. On that snowy day, after a refueling stop in Munich, the plane carrying the team made a third attempt to take off. Unable to completely lift off the ground, the plane crashed, killing 7 players and 14 other passengers. Agains all odds, Duncan Edwards survived the initial crash.

Rushed to the hospital with broken legs, ribs, and damaged kidneys, the doctors initially thought that Edwards would recover, but that his football playing days were over. Sadly, after 15 days of valiant fighting, the injuries to his kidneys proved to be more deadly than thought, and Duncan Edwards died.

Many sports historians believe that if the crash had not occurred, Duncan Edwards would have gone on to a tremendous career and worldwide fame as one of the best football players ever.

Great Britain issued a 5-stamp series in 1996 called Football Legends. Duncan Edwards is immortalized on one of the stamps in the series, as seen here. The entire series is very affordable, with a cost of about $5 (USD) on most auction sites.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Snakes On A ... Stamp?

One of the most common fears that humans have is the fear of snakes. In fact, if you suffer from this fear, called Ophidiophobia, you are probably squirming just reading this blog entry.

Snakes are a branch of reptiles of the suborder Serpentes. They are meat-eaters, which may play into some of the fear that humans have of the animals. But rest assured, snakes do not normally attack humans unless startled or provoked. Deaths from a snake bite is uncommon.

There are about 2800 species of snakes and they live on every continent except Antarctica. Of these species, only about 13% of considered venomous.

In Judeo-Christian cultures, the snake symbolizes Satan, the force of evil. From the very first book in the Bible, Genesis, the serpent is seen as the tempter of Adam and Eve. Even in the last book of the Bible, The Revelation, Satan is called "that serpent of old." Thus it is easy to see why snakes are maligned in Western societies.

Rod of AsclepiusSome ancient cultures, such as the Egyptians and the Greecians, and modern cultures, such as the Indians, actually revere snakes. The Greeks saw the snake as an agent of healing in their mythology; you can still see this today whenever you see the "Rod of Asclepius" whereby a snake is intertwined around a staff. This imagery is frequently seen in medical iconography.

In 2003, the United States Postal Service issued a 5-stamp set of Reptiles and Amphibians of the U.S, displayed here. From top to bottom, it includes the Scarlet Kingsnake, the Blue-Spotted Salamander, the Reticulate Collared Lizard, the Ornate Chorus Frog, and the Ornate Box Turtle, all of which are native to the United states.

If you can get over your fear and phobia of snakes, this is a wonderful issue to collect. Just be careful to whom you show them to!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Stamp Issuers - Abu Dhabi

The Emirate of Abu Dhabi is one of the seven emirates that currently comprise the United Arab Emirates or UAE as is commonly abbreviated. An emirate is a land or region ruled by an emir (prince, governor) and predominately refers to a land in the Middle East. It is more accurate to spell the term as amir, which is close to the original Arabic term, but it has been anglicized as emir.

Abu Dhabi, the largest of the seven emirates by both population and land area, adjoins the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Sultanate of Oman. It straddles both the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman.

Historically, Great Britain had substantial influence in the petroleum industry in Abu Dhabi and administered the first postage stamps of the region, with were simply overprinted British stamps. After the British withdrew their stamps on March 30, 1964, Abu Dhabi began issuing its own stamps. This marks the starting point of the brief era of Abu Dhabi issued stamps.

Abu Dhabi issued a total of 83 stamps (as identified by the Scott International Postage Stamp catalogs) until they and five other emirates joined to form the United Arab Emirates in 1972. The seventh emirate joined shortly thereafter. By January 1, 1973, the UAE, assumed full duties of issuing postal stamps for the entire federation, thus ending the era of Abu Dhabi stamps.

Many of the stamps issued by Abu Dhabi focused on the emir, although falcons were featured on many issues. The falcon is used for hunting in Arab lands, and remains an important cultural symbol for the area. The stamp displayed, issued in late 1968 pictures Sheikh Zayed and a falcon, along with progress being made in the emirate.

It is not hard to collect the entire set of Abu Dhabi stamps, but be prepared; the stamps are relatively expensive. The first set of 11 stamps runs about $50, the next three, about $40, and so on.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Terminology - Definitive Stamps

When collecting stamps, it is important to know the various types of stamps that are produced. The most common stamp of all is called a definitive stamp.

In it's simplest definition, a definitive stamp is a stamp that is issued to serve as a handy, all-purpose stamp, and is produced for an extended period of time (weeks, months or in many cases, years). They are almost always part of a series of stamps, called a definitive series, where a wide range of denominations are issued. The entire series may be issued at one time, or they may be issued over a span of years.

Most definitive series of stamps concentrate on a specific person or office (such as a president, monarch, or prime minister) or a specific theme (such as flags, buildings, or occupations).

Most definitive series will be denominated in such a way that any combination of postal rates can be met. Think of them as the work-horse of the postal administrations.

In contrast to definitive stamps are commemorative stamps. These stamps are used to commemorate important events such as celebrated accomplishments or birth or death anniversaries of famous people. Usually, they are on sale for a short period of time, and once the supply of stamps is exhausted, they are no longer printed. As is self-evident, commemorative stamps typically command a higher price than the same denomination definitive stamps, simply due to the rarity of the commemorative.

Because of their long lifespan, collectors may find that there are several versions of a single denomination definitive stamps that can be collected. One of the most popular definitive stamp series is the United Kingdom's Machin stamps using a sculpted bust of Queen Elizabeth II and designed by Arnold Machin. There are an untold number of colors, printing methods, paper, and denominations for the entire series. The example shows two stamps from the Machin series.

Because they are issued in high quantities, the postal authorities want to maximize their profits. Typically this is done by issuing the stamps in a small size, so as to reduce the cost of paper. Some collectors refer to definitive stamps as small stamps; this however is not accurate, as some definitive stamps can be as large or larger than commemorative stamps. The two Machin stamps shown above are definitive stamps issued in the same series and vary greatly in size.

Many collectors focus on commemorative stamps because they are often rarer and have better, more intricate designs. However, it is also fun to try to collect every stamp issued in a definitive series, and most are very affordable.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

VW Beetle

On February 17, 1972, the iconic Volkswagen Beetle surpassed Henry Ford's Model T as the most-produced automobile of all time. While there had been a few changes to the car throughout the 30+ years of production, the basic body styling remained unchanged. While almost everyone calls the car a Beetle or a Bug, technically it was not known by that name until the 1968 model came out. Prior to that, it was simply known as the Type 1.

The Volkswagen, with its characteristic rounded top, was designed by Ferdinand Porsche, a name synonymous with elite cars. The Volkswagen, however, was created to be anything but elite; its name is German for "people's car" and was intended as a low-priced, dependable car for the masses. To this end, the Volkswagen was a rousing success.

The car originated in the 1930s in Nazi Germany. It is known that Adolf Hitler was the chief motivational force behind the Volkswagen Beetle, as he had promised them to the masses as part of his rise to power. While World War II forced major production declines for civilian versions, military versions that were produced. It was after World War II that the Volkswagen Beetle began to rise in popularity.

The rise in popularity of the Beetle was phenomenal. By the late 1960s, millions of the cars had been sold with only small changes to the basic chassis.

The success of the Volkswagen Beetle began to decline by the early 1970s. Newer automobiles simply offered more features, increased reliability, and with Japanese imports, a more economical price-tag. By 1978, production had shifted away from Europe and into Brazil and Mexico, where they remained popular and affordable to produce for a number of years. Mexico had the distinction of producing the last Volkswagen Beetle in 2003. It was the 21,529,464th Beetle produced and was immediately sent to the Volkswagen Museum in Germany.

The Caribbean island country of Nevis (pronounced nee-vis) is well-known for the topical stamps that they produce. In 1984 they produced a set of classic car stamps, on which the Volkswagen Beetle was honored. These stamps can be found on your favorite auction website for an affordable price.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

You Can Learn A Lot From A Dummy

Edgar Bergen, whose birthday is celebrated on February 16th, spent most of his whole life working with dummies, ventriloquist dummies that is. And even though Edgar wasn't the best ventriloquist to ply his trade, for years, his audience never, ever saw him move his lips when his various sidekicks spoke.

Edgar Bergen was born in 1903 in Chicago, Illinois. He taught himself ventriloquism from a pamphlet and in his early teens commissioned a Chicago woodcarver to create a ventriloquist's dummy's head. The dummy, who was to be known as Charlie McCarthy, became one of the most-beloved sidekicks in the early days of American broadcasting. Although initially dressed in street clothes, Charlie became an icon when he was fitted with a tuxedo, top hat and monocle. His wisecracking routine with the more placid Edgar Bergen became a national phenomenon.

The most incredulous fact regarding the team of Bergen and McCarthy is that for almost 20 years, from 1937 to 1956, they entertained people on the radio! As strange as it might seem today for a ventriloquist to work his trade on the radio, listeners tuned into The Edgar Bergen/Charlie McCarthy Show in droves, making it one of the top radio programs for years. The show was so popular, it was ultimately inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 1990.

Bergen created other characters for his ventriloquist act, such as the dim-witted Mortimer Snerd and the man-crazy Effie Klinker, but none had the appeal of Charlie McCarthy. In 1938, Bergen was presented an honorary Academy Award ("Oscar") for Charlie McCarthy; with a bit of creative flair, the Academy presented him with an Oscar that was made entirely of wood.

Charlie McCarthy became so famous that each week fan mail would arrive addressed to him. Also, his and Bergen's handprints were left at Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.

Sadly, on the day that Edgar Bergen died of kidney disease in 1978, Charlie McCarthy, in effect, died also; without the master's voice, he has never spoken since.

In 1991, the U.S. Postal Service introduced a 5-stamp set of famous American comedians drawn by renowned caricaturist Al Hirschfeld. Besides Bergen & McCarthy, the set contained stamps of Stan Laurel & Oliver Hardy, Jack Benny, Fanny Brice, and Bud Abbott & Lou Costello. The Bergen & McCarthy stamp is shown above. These stamps are available in a lovely strip of 5, or a pane of 10, on most auction sites.

Friday, February 15, 2008

O Canada!

It is hard to believe that a country could change its flag and adopt a completely new design without first having undergone a revolution, major political turmoil, or the assimilation of a new state or territory. But that is exactly what happened in Canada on February 15th, 1965.

First, some background. The maple leaf has been a symbol of Canada since the 1700s. It still remains a popular symbol of national pride; the 11-pointed maple leaf can be found on historical and current stamps, coins, and advertisements, as well as flags.

The modern Canadian flag, nicknamed the "Maple Leaf" flag, is readily identified by most people as the national flag of Canada. It was adopted by the Canadian House of Commons and Senate in December, 1964. After being approved by Queen Elizabeth II, February 15th, 1965 was set as the date in which it became the official flag of Canada.

Prior to this date, the Union Flag ("Union Jack"), and several variants, flew over Canada. The Union Jack flag, a symbol of the United Kingdom, remains an official flag and must be used on certain holidays and on certain monuments. But the Maple Leaf flag has been the official flag since 1965.

The Canadian Post Office produced this stamp to honor the selection of the new flag. The stamp was issued in 1965.

There is a whole branch of philately related to collecting flags on stamps called vexillophilately, meaning the study of stamps with flags or banners. If you would like more information, be sure to visit which has major listings for stamps bearing flags.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

St. Valentine's Day - Special Messages

This St. Valentine's Day, Royal Mail (United Kingdom) offers a special booklet of stamps. Inside the booklet are 4 definitive 1st class stamps, 2 Love 1st class stamps, and 2 message stickers. Typically, the message stickers would be used with the Love stamps to make an additional statement to the intended.

The 4 definitive stamps are the stamps with the image of Queen Elizabeth II, commonly referred to as Machin stamps. Arnold Machin created the effigy of the queen that has been used on United Kingdom definitives since 1966. There are hundreds of Machin stamp issues and probably thousands of unique varieties if one includes the type of paper used, method of creating the stamp, perforations, etc. While most are very common, a few of the Machin stamps are considerably rare and costly.

The 2 Love stamps are festive creations useful for adorning St. Valentine's Day cards and letters. Adjacent to the stamps are two labels that can be used on the letter (but are not valid as postage). One is the easily understood "Be My Valentine" phrase; the other is the cryptic "S.W.A.L.K." abbreviation. The abbreviation stands for "Sealed With A Loving Kiss".

The booklet went on sale at the Royal Mail website on 15 January 2008.

This entry concludes the Stamp of Distinction focus on St. Valentine's Day.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

St. Valentine's Day - Chocolate Kisses

Chocolate, chocolate, and more chocolate ... the favorite St. Valentine's Day candy for millions of people. Besides its sweet taste and mild stimulating effects on the body, chocolate is also widely believed to elevate moods and lifts spirits, thus ensuring its place in St. Valentine's Day lore.

In 2007, the U.S. Postal Service introduced the Love and Kisses stamp featuring a Hershey's Kiss candy, honoring the centennial of this popular candy. Even though the stamp is currently one year old, it can still be purchased from the USPS Postal Store.

Milton Hershey founded the company that bears his name in 1894. Thirteen years later, the Hershey Company began producing foil-wrapped chocolate Kisses and have been continuously producing them except for a short period when World War II rationing in the 1940s prevented their production. Hershey Kisses are sold by the millions and are available almost everywhere.

Besides the shiny foil wrapper, a distinguishing characteristic of Hershey Kisses is the tiny paper strip that extends out of the top of the candy. This item is used to differentiate a genuine Hershey's Kiss from competitors; it is called a plume and was trademarked in the mid 1920s.

There is some controversy about how the candy got its name. One school of thought says that the Kiss gets its name from the unique way that the chocolate machinery "kisses" the conveyor belt and leaves a small portion of tear-drop shaped chocolate behind. The other school of thought, and the most likely, is that the word kiss has long been used to identify small bits of candy and Hershey adopted the name.

However it got its name, one thing is certain -- chocolate kisses are a favorite treat for millions of people.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

St. Valentine's Day - Sweethearts

Everyone seems to have a sweet tooth when it comes to St. Valentine's Day candy. Chocolates, cinnamon hearts, fancy truffles -- these are just a few of the varieties of sweets that we give to our loved one. Along with a mixture of fine candy, probably everyone has tasted the candy called Sweethearts Conversation Hearts.

This staple of St. Valentine's Day is a product of the New England Confectionery Company. The candy hearts, as we know them today, began a little over 100 years ago. Similar candies had been produced for 40 years prior, but the candies took their present form in 1902.

The distinctive feature of Sweethearts is the short and sometimes pithy sayings that are embossed on the candy. Traditional sayings such as "Be Mine" or "Kiss Me" have been staples of the candy since their inception. In 1990, additional, more contemporary sayings such as "Fax Me" or "E-mail Me" have been used. The company uses customer input to determine new sayings to use. You can even order the candies with your own message on them; provided that you order a full production run ... about 1 million candies!

The U.S. Post Office issued a 37-cent stamp featuring Sweetheart candies in January 2004. It was the perfect stamp to use to send St. Valentine's Day wishes.

Trivia: In case you think that Sweetheart candies have a familiar taste, they do. The New England Confectionery Company, abbreviated NECCO, makes the world famous NECCO wafers using the exact same recipe.

Monday, February 11, 2008

St. Valentine's Day - Fashionable Stamps

St. Valentine's Day is associated with greeting cards, chocolates, teddy bears, and perfumes given to the one you love. It is only fitting that the French and their long-time association with romance, would let fashion designers design stamps for St. Valentine's Day.

The French post office has recently issued stamps in a variety of shapes. For a number of years, they have issued St. Valentine's Day stamps in a square block that is perforated so that it can be rendered into a heart-shaped stamp.

Starting about 7 years ago, France allowed fashion designers and their firms to create the stamp design. Many famous designers have been active in the yearly issues ... names such as Yves Saint-Laurent, Christian Lacroix, and Chanel.

In 2007, France offered this heart-shaped stamp designed by Givenchy, a well-known French design firm with ties to Hollywood. The actress Audrey Hepburn wore Givenchy designed clothes, and the family of U.S. President John F. Kennedy were patrons of Givenchy.

The heart-shaped stamps offer French citizens a fun way to send Valentine's cards to their loved ones.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

St. Valentine's Day - Going to the Birds

There has been a lot of legend associated with St. Valentine's Day. Even the precise saint being honored is not be known with any surety. However, by the Middle Ages, the date of February 14th was being celebrated as St. Valentine's Day.

One of the earliest documented references to St. Valentine's Day was regarding the pairing of birds in Geoffrey Chaucer's Parliament of Fowls. In it he states:

For this was on seynt Valentynes day,
Whan every foul cometh ther to chese his make

which, when translated to modern English, yields:
For this was on Saint Valentine's day,
When every bird comes there to choose his mate.

Due to the early date of the narrative, and the fact that no earlier record of this legend has been discovered, Chaucer may have invented the belief that birds began to pair up on St. Valentine's Day, but passed it off as historical thought. Rather the story is true or not, it was a somewhat common belief during the Middle Ages that St. Valentine's Day was the day in which birds began their courtship rituals and began to pair up and produce offspring.

Because of this history (or pseudo-history), birds have been frequently associated with St. Valentine's Day. Likewise, birds also appear on many stamps of St. Valentine's Day.

While not a St. Valentine's Day issue, Denmark produced a beautiful souvenir sheet consisting of two bird stamps in February 1999. The two stamps, depicted here, are stylized images created by artist Sonia Brandes using a technique called psaligraphy, or "the art of cutting".

The souvenir sheet can be easily found through your favorite stamp auction site for a small price. It will be a colorful addition to your stamp collection.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

St. Valentine - Truth or Legend?

Saint Valentine's Day, popularly celebrated in the West on February 14th, was named after St. Valentine (or Valentinus, in Latin). This day, popular with romantic couples, is mired in mythology, and in fact, may not even be authentically named.

The Catholic Encyclopedia acknowledges that there were three martyrs named St. Valentine. Which one has been historically associated with February 14th is still in question and will probably never be resolved. One was a priest of Rome and another was a bishop in Italy. Both of these men were buried in Italy. A third St. Valentine was martyred in Africa; nothing else is known about him and extremely little is known of the other two.

But where history ends, legend begins. According to the legend of St. Valentine's day as recorded on the Norway Post's website

St. Valentine was thrown into prison and condemned to death in 270 AD because he would not deny his God. While he was in prison, he gave lessons to the jailer’s blind daughter, Julia, and taught her about God. One day while Valentine and Julia were praying together, a light appeared in the cell. “I can see, I can see!” Julia cried, while Valentine fell to his knees and thanked God. Before he was executed, Valentine wrote a letter to Julia declaring his love for her. On the day after his execution, 14 February, Julia planted an almond tree on Valentine’s grave.

Yesterday (Feb. 8, 2008) Norway issued a pair of St. Valentine's day stamps. The Norway-delivery stamp is shown in this entry. The European-delivery stamp, and ordering information, can be found here.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Fractional Postage in the United States

In April 1925, the United States Post Office changed the third-class mail rate to 1½ cents. In order to meet the demand for this new rate, a 1½ cent stamp honoring the recently deceased president Warren Harding was quickly rushed out. One month later, a ½ cent stamp honoring patriot Nathan Hale was issued so that it could be combined with existing 1 cent stamps to reach the third-class mail rate. This was the first time that the United States had to deal with fractional postage.

In 1925, there was no ½ cent denomination of coinage in the U.S., nor has their been since. To purchase the stamps, one had to buy an even number of fractional denominated stamps, in order to round the purchase up to a whole cent. For example, a customer could buy two ½ cent stamps for a penny; or a 1½ cent stamp plus a ½ cent stamp for two pennies, and so on. You could not buy just one stamp without someone losing money.

Another problem with fractional postage deals with postage due stamps. Because the third class rate changed from 1 cent to 1½ cent, any third class mail posted with only a 1 cent stamp was shorting the Post Office ½ cent in revenue. The postal carrier would have to charge the customer ½ cent to meet the postage due. The lack of a ½ cent coin compounded this problem since the customer could not pay the postage due outright. The postal carried would collect one cent, and then give the customer a ½ cent postage stamp in change.

The ½ cent stamps never paid the full postage for anything ... they always had to be used with other stamps to make up a postal rate.

Interestingly, fractional postage stayed around for over 30 years; the last fractional stamp issue in the U.S. was the ½ cent Benjamin Franklin stamp released in 1955.

Because of their long lifespan, and the fact that they were made in high quantities, most fractional stamps can be purchased for extremely low cost.

The Father of Science Fiction

Today, February 8th, 2008, marks the 180th anniversary of the birth of French author Jules Verne. Verne is considered the father of science fiction and wrote many fantastical tales, some of which were technologically impossible in his day and age and have only been possible in the 20th century.

Verne did not start out as a science fiction author; he first co-authored musical texts (librettos) for operettas. He spent several of his early years writing for musicals and theaters and the occasional travel text. It was during this time that his father discovered that he favored writing over his other studies and cut off his financial backing.

Verne, who relished writing, rubbed elbows with several well-known and influential authors including Alexander Dumas and Victor Hugo. From them, he was able to receive advice on how to be a better author. It was around this time that he began to focus on tales of a more fantastical nature.

Verne wrote many books that are considered to be classics of the science fiction genre. These include Journey to the Center of the Earth, From the Earth to the Moon, and probably his best known story 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

In 1955, France honored the 50th anniversary of his death by issuing a stamp honoring one of their greatest authors. This stamp is readily available and can be obtained for a small price. Additional stamp offerings can be found at Zvi Har'El's excellent site Jules Verne Stamps.

Trivia: It is a common misperception that the title 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea refers to the depth of the submarine's travels under the surface of the ocean. In fact, it refers to the distance traveled under the surface; 20,000 leagues is the equivalent of 2-1/2 times around the circumference of the earth.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

The Bisected Stamp of the Faroe Islands

During World War I, Denmark raised the price of postage to 7 øre (the unit of currency in Denmark is the krone, which is subdivided into 100 units called øre). The Faroe Islands, an autonomous province of Denmark, likewise had to honor the new postage rate. Due to the ongoing war, shipments to the Faroe Islands was iffy at best, and the postal authorities in Denmark could not get new 7 øre stamps to the islands in time for the January 1, 1919 postal increase. After quickly running out of 2 øre and 1 øre stamps that were being sold with the plentiful 5 øre stamp, the postmaster of the Faroe Islands had to resort to a tactic of bisecting 4 øre stamps to yield two 2 øre stamps.

Bisecting stamps is the process where a stamp is cut in half, almost always diagonally, so as to yield 2 stamps of half of the original stamp's value. The process was not very common in the early days of stamp use, and is unheard of in today's era. Note that the bisected stamp must appear on mail with an intact cancellation that ties the stamp to the envelope in order for the stamp to be considered an authentic bisect stamp. This is because it would be too easy to fraudulently manufacture a bisected stamp by taking a used stamp and cutting it in half.

The Faroe Islands issued the bisected 4 øre stamps for a period of about 11 days, from January 3 until about January 14th, when the postmaster was granted permission to surcharge the plentiful 5 øre stamps with a 2 øre surcharge. The bisected stamps remained as valid postage until January 31st of that year. Because of their limited time span and the fact that they must exist on posted mail, examples of the bisected stamp from the Faroe Islands command high premiums.

In 1979 the Faroe Islands honored the 60th anniversary of its brief use of bisected stamps by issuing this stamp depicting a bisected 4 øre stamp as part of its 1979 Europa issue. The second stamp in the set shows an example of the surcharged 5 øre stamp. Both stamps were engraved by Czeslaw Slania.

I have a few sets of these stamps available for trade, should you wish to expand your collection.

Canadian Wildlife Stamp - Grizzly Bear

Recently, I highlighted the $1 (CDN) Loon stamp which is part of the Canadian Wildlife definitive stamp series. Another equally beautiful stamp in the series is the $8 (CDN) Grizzly Bear stamp.

Grizzlies live primarily in Canada, Alaska, and the western upper-tier states of the U.S. They live a more or less solitary life. They are massive animals, attaining a weight of up to 1500 lbs. What is surprising about them is that they can move in bursts of up to 35 miles per hour.

Although grizzlies are often thought of as fish-eaters, especially salmon swimming upstream to spawn, they are, in fact, omnivores; they will eat plants and roots. as well as meat. Grizzlies have also been known to eat large mammals such as moose and elk.

This large stamp was the highest denominated stamp issued by Canada. It features a detailed engraving of a grizzly bear with lithographed colorations. The superb engraving hides several anti-counterfeiting details, including a blockish engraving of the figure '8' in the bears right rear leg.

They are available for about $8 (US) plus shipping on most auction sites.

Previous Canada Wildlife Stamp Topic:

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Jamestown Triangular Stamp

In May 2007, the U.S. Postal Service introduced a triangular stamp honoring the quadricentennial, or four-hundred year anniversary, of the founding of Jamestown by English colonists. The settlement at Jamestown predated the more famous Plymouth Colony by thirteen years, yet many people incorrectly believe that the Pilgrims of Plymouth were the first settlers in America.

The stamp depicts the 1949 painting Susan Constant, Godspeed and Discovery by Griffith Baily Coale. The title refers to the names of the three ships that made the arduous 5-month journey from England under the leadership of Capt. Christopher Newport.

The United States Postal Service has issued triangular stamps only one other time -- for the Pacific '97 International Stamp Show. This set was composed of two triangular stamps, a red one depicting a stagecoach and a blue stamp showing a tall ship.

There is some anecdotal evidence that the Jamestown stamp issue may appreciate in value. The USPS sold out of the stamp sheet of 20 41-cent stamps quickly, and the $8.20 face value sheet is already selling for about $10 plus shipping on auction sites. Not bad for a stamp that was only issued 6 months ago (at the time of this writing).

Canada Wildlife Stamp - Loon

Ever heard the expression "He's as crazy as a loon?" It derives from the wailing, haunting cry of the waterbird known as a loon, which might vaguely remind someone of an insane person's maniacal howlings.

The loon is a magnificent, duck-like bird. When mature, its markings produce a sharply delineated black-and-white plumage, with the head and neck being gray in some species. The beak of the loon is sharp and dagger-like. It grows to the size of a small goose.

Loons, which are most prevalent in the northern half of North American and Europe, rarely come out to dry land and when they do they are notoriously awkward when walking. They prefer the water where they are very adept at swimming and diving. Loons have been known to dive over 200 ft and stay submerged for more than a minute.

In 1998, Canada Post introduced the $1 (CDN) Loon stamp as part of its Canadian Wildlife definitive series. It is a large stamp and is beautiful in appearance, with wonderful coloration. It is a must-have stamp, if for no other reason than its graceful artful and simplistic design.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Organization - Scandinavian Collector's Club

The term Scandinavia has historically referred to the kingdoms of Denmark, Norway and Sweden, but you will also find countries with cultural and historical similarities, such as Finland, Greenland, and Iceland included. For a stamp collector, colonies once ruled by these countries, such as the Danish West Indies, may also be considered Scandinavian.

If you are a collector who focuses on any of these countries, I heartily recommend joining the Scandinavian Collector's Club (SCC). This organization was founded in 1935 and has a rich history of educating collectors in all things Scandinavian.

While there are many benefits to membership in the SCC, there are two that are very popular with members. The first is the award-winning publication THE POSTHORN, published in 1943 with excellent information about Scandinavian collecting.

The second benefit of the SCC is its fantastic stamp circuits. I believe I have purchased stamps for my collection from every circuit that arrives in my mail. The deals found in the circuit books are excellent; one gets the feeling that some of the sellers purposely sell their stamps at a very fair price just to help their fellow collectors expand their collections.

Membership in the SCC costs only $25 per year and it is money well spent. More information can be found at

Monday, February 4, 2008

This Place Has Gone to the Dogs

Sweden post issued a set of Four-Legged Friends stamps on January 24th, 2008. The entire set consists of 4 stamps honoring man's best friend, the dog.

The issue shows from left to right, a Lagotto Romagnolo, a Saluki, a Pug, and a Great Dane. While I am familiar with three of the dogs listed, it was the Lagotto Romagnolo that was new to me. A quick Google search later and I have found some interesting tidbits about this dog.

The Lagotto Romagnolo is a breed of dog originating in a Romagna, a sub-region of Italy. It is a hunting dog, particularly one used for retrieving fowl from water. In fact, it's name, Lagotto Romagnolo, means "water dog from Romagna."

Its coat is thick and woolly, much like a poodle's. Coloration usually consists of variations of brown, rust, off-white, and white. They are energetic and love to work.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

An Uncommon Moth

Mention the word butterfly and most people will think of beautiful creatures that flutter around during the spring and summer. However, mention the word moth and most people will conjure up images of dull-looking, night-time insects that flit around light bulbs and do damage to crops. While they are distinct types of insects, they are in the same order, Lepidoptera.

The Salt and Pepper Moth (Utetheisa pulchelloides) blurs the distinction between butterflies and moths; it has many characteristics more common to a butterfly than a moth. The insect is colorful, active during the day, and is not believed to harm crops. Its colors are orange and black spots on its fore wings. The rear wings are more typical moth coloration of a dull creamy white, with tinges of black around the edges.

The Pitcairn Islands, made famous as the final stop for the mutineers of the British ship Bounty, released two colorful stamps of the Salt and Pepper Moth in 2007. A die-cut miniature sheet comprised of the two stamps in the outline of the moth was issued at the same time. The stamps are available from August 2007 for a period of 2 years. Both the individual stamps and the miniature sheet can be purchased from

Update: It seems that the Pitcairn Postal authority requires a minimum order of $50 (New Zealand) for credit card purchases. If there is enough demand, I might try to put together a group order for anyone wanting them.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

How Much Ground Can a Groundhog Hog?

In the United States, February 2nd is celebrated as Groundhog Day. According to legends that sprung from old European celebrations of Candlemas Day, if a groundhog awakes from his hibernating slumber and sees his shadow, 6 more weeks of wintry weather will follow.

Groundhogs, also known as woodchucks, are members of the marmot family. The adults range in size from a foot and a half to 2 feet in length, not counting their tail that can average an additional 9 inches in length. Their diet of plants and their large burrows, raise the hackles of most farmers.

On June 13, 1987, the US Postal Service released a pane of stamps commemorating wildlife of North America. It is a beautiful pane of 50 stamps with a variety of animals depicted. Here is the woodchuck ("groundhog") 22-cent stamp from that series.

And in case your wondering, the title of this entry was derived from a popular US tongue-twister -- "How much wood can a woodchuck chuck, if a woodchuck could chuck wood."

Friday, February 1, 2008

A Faroese Beauty

The Faroe Islands are a group of 18 small islands clustered together in the North Atlantic about equidistant between Iceland and Norway. Visited in the 6th century by Irish settlers who brought sheep to the islands, the natural ecology of the land has helped the the sheep to thrive. In fact, sheep outnumber people in the Faroe Islands, which, incidentally, translates to "Sheep Islands."

In 1979, prolific stamp engraver Czeslaw Slania created a masterful stamp depicting the Faroese Ram. The artistic detail of the stoic looking sheep is simply mesmerizing with its rich detail and the engraver's brilliant use of shading.

The ram does not look flat in appearance, but looks three dimensional. In particular, notice how Slania engraved the left corkscrew-shaped horn to make it appear to lift off the page. By using and excluding the use of engraved lines, the engraver creates dark and light areas.

Every collector should try to obtain a copy of this stamp (Scott #42), which can be obtained for about $5.00 USD on popular auction sites like eBay or StampWants.