Monday, March 31, 2008

Stamp Issuers - Aitutaki

Aitutaki, 1903 (Scott #2)
Overprinted New Zealand Stamp
Aitutaki is a small chain of islands, approximately 7 sq. miles (18.3 sq. km), situated in the Cook Islands, in the Southern Pacific Ocean. The islands form a triangular shape and are surrounded by beautiful trees, sandy beaches, and other tropical features.

Aitutaki was settled by Polynesians most likely around 800 AD. The Polynesian peoples established homes upon the islands and were generally isolated from most of the world.

Captain James Cook spotted several of the islands, which were later named in his honor, in the 1770s. The first European visitor to Aitutaki was Captain William Bligh, of Mutiny on the Bounty fame, who in April 1789 set foot upon the island. Shortly after his visit, his ship, HMS Bounty, was party to the infamous mutiny.

Aitutaki, 1920 (Scott #29)
First Series with "Aitutaki"
Printed on Stamp
In the 1820s, missionaries worked in Aitutaki to bring Christianity to the native peoples, who readily accepted it. The stamps of Aitutaki, especially those of Easter and Christmas, reveal the wide acceptance of Christianity that is still prevalent today.

Cook Islands stamps were the original source of postage on Aitutaki from 1892 to 1903. In 1903, New Zealand overprinted its own stamps with "AITUTAKI" and the local denomination and these were used as Aitutaki stamps. Only overprinted New Zealand stamps were issued until 1920.

In 1920, New Zealand issued a set of stamps for all of the island nations in which they were associated. These were the first stamps issued for Aitutaki that were not overprints from New Zealand.

Starting in 1932, Cook Islands stamps were once again used in Aitutaki as postage. This went on until 1972 when Aitutaki established their own postal service. The first stamps during this time were actually overprinted Cook Islands stamps, but in April 1973 Aitutaki commenced issuing their own stamps.

Aitutaki, 1978 (Scott #162)
Cook's Discovery of
Hawaii, Bicentennial
The stamps of Aitutaki are moderately priced. For example, the first 2 stamps, overprinted New Zealand stamps, catalog for about $6 (USD) each, although subsequent stamps in the early issues escalate up in price. The highest stamp price for a mint stamp is around $55. As a general rule, used stamps of the early issues run higher than mint stamps, since the small island population resulted in few opportunities for postally-used stamps to be found.

Approximately 550 regular stamps are cataloged in the Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue. As far as "back-of-the-book" stamps, around 55 semi-postal stamps, 6 air mail stamps, and 41 official stamps have been cataloged.

Some collectors shun Aitutaki stamps because there is little actual postal use for the stamps. The island has approximately 2000 residents and any number of tourists, but it is apparent that most stamps are sold to tourists and collectors. The post office uses these stamp sales to bring in much-needed revenue for the islands.

Previous Stamp Issuer Topics:

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Spotlight - New Zealand Penny Universal Page

New Zealand Penny Universal

On January 1, 1901, the first day of the 20th century, New Zealand began offering 1 penny postage to almost everywhere in the world. As such, they were one of the first countries to have a universal rate to overseas locations. Not every country acknowledged the penny postage, as close neighbor Australia threatened to return any mail to them posted with just the penny stamp, but many countries did.

New Zealand issued a new stamp just for the occasion. It featured "Zealandia", an iconic figure representing New Zealand, in front of a globe, with a mailboat in the background. This stamp, nicknamed the Penny Universal, was printed from 1901 until 1908, when a revised version was issued.

Mr. R. J. Runciman has created an extensive site detailing New Zealand's Penny Universal stamp. His site shows in great detail all aspects of collecting this stamp.

From the opening page, with its large depiction of the Penny Universal, you are taken to a page showing major printing varieties, including different printing plates and paper variations. Two options exist for watermark variations and other uses of the Penny Universal, such as for Official stamps, or overprinted for nearby islands.

From each of these 15 portals, you go to other pages that identify perforation changes, color variations, plate flaws, plate wear, and a variety of details that the experienced collector will find refreshing. I'm sure I didn't visit them all, but there seem to be hundreds of examples of the stamp on the site.

One of the most fascinating features of this website is the extensive flowchart that helps to define every variation listed on the site. With a series of simple questions, such as "Booklet?" or "Thick or Thin Paper?" one could quickly determine which Penny Universal stamp they are examining. The only negative that I saw was that the flow chart has links in it to detailed pages, but that they are not compatible with the FireFox browser. This is not such a big deal, as the author includes an Adobe PDF document, so you can even study this stamp without a computer.

It is obvious that Mr. Runciman loves to collect and study this stamp. He has created an excellent site that will help to educate both the beginning and the advanced collector.

You can visit his site at:

Would you like to nominate a website for a Stamps of Distinction Website Spotlight? If so, read and follow the instructions on this link.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Trailblazers and Trendsetters on U.S. Stamps

First Man on the Moon
Paul Calle, 1969, Acrylic on Board

The United States' National Postal Museum is dedicated to showcasing postal history of the U.S. They regularly house exhibits detailing some aspect of U.S. philately. One current exhibit is "Trailblazers and Trendsetters: The Art of the Stamp".

The exhibit showcases the artwork that has been used on United States postage. Each piece of art in the exhibit was commissioned by the U.S. Postal Service over a 40-year time frame, from 1967 through 2006. A variety of artistic techniques, such as oil painting, watercolors, photography, and pen and ink drawings, were used in the creation of the artworks. These images are then reduced in size, sometimes by a hundred-fold, to fit on a postage stamp.

United States First Man on the Moon
10-cent Air Mail Stamp, 1969

One painting, by Paul Calle, depicts the first man on the moon, Neil Armstrong. The painting shows Armstrong at the base of the Lunar Lander, his one foot tenuously on the moon's surface.

In 1969, the United States featured the painting on a 10-cent stamp caption "First Man On The Moon". Interestingly, the original painting was done in acrylic, but the stamp shows the fine lines of the engraving process, which slightly alters the appearance of the image.

Be sure to visit the National Postal Museum's online exhibit Trailblazers and Trendsetters: The Art of the Stamp. The website is located at

Friday, March 28, 2008

Bond, James Bond

Great Britain James Bond Stamp
Dr. No

Probably no other character in modern literature is as adventuresome, suave, and smooth-talking, as James Bond. Particularly in movie adaptations, Bond, alias Secret Agent 007, finds intrigue around every corner.

Bond is the creation of British author Ian Fleming. Born in 1908, Fleming grew up in England and became of product of the espionage era in World War II London.

As the second World War was starting to unfold in Europe, Fleming was appointed assistant to the Director of Naval Intelligence of the Royal Navy, a position that undoubtedly enhanced his knowledge of espionage. He was directly involved in several aspects of subterfuge and counter-intelligence. Fleming created the 30AU (30 Assault Unit) which trained its members in how to infiltrate enemy territory and gather intelligence, prior to land invasions by armed British forces.

Great Britain James Bond Stamp
From Russia, With Love

Several years after the war, in 1953, Fleming published his first spy novel, Casino Royale, which introduced the world to James Bond, secret agent 007. By the time Fleming died a short eleven years later, in 1964, Fleming, in just 12 novels and 2 short-story compilations, had single-handled created one of the most enduring characters in literature and cinema history. Fleming's Bond was the foundation for how secret agents were depicted in the public eye for years to come. The expansion of Fleming's books to major motion pictures served to further cement the suave, womanizing character that most recognize as a secret agent.

In honor of Fleming's 100th anniversary of his birth, Royal Mail introduced a six-stamp set depicting James Bond novels. The rectangular stamps shows four book covers for one of six Bond novels. The first book cover(leftmost) is the original, while the remaining three are later releases.

The six-stamp series is denominated in three levels -- 1st (for first class mail), 54 pence and 78 pence. Each denomination appears twice in the set.

These stamps seem destined to be collector's items. They are available in several configurations from Great Britain's Royal Mail.

Not only did Ian Fleming created masterful spy novels, he authored one of the most whimsical children's books of the latter 20th century .... Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Nominate a Philately Site for a Website Spotlight

I love to explore the web looking for new and unique stamp sites, and I'm sure you do too. I am constantly amazed by the diversity of stamp collecting topics that are available. Soon, Stamps of Distinction will begin regularly showcasing philately websites that epitomize the novelty and diversity of the stamp collecting hobby.

If you'd like me to look at a website and spotlight it on Stamps of Distinction, here are a few things to note:

Websites that focus on any and every aspect of philately are welcomed. Does the site focus on Carrier Pigeon mail? Does the site depict postcards that were mailed from steamships? Does the site show stamps postmarked on a specific date? Anything the brings excitement to the hobby will be featured.

Make sure the website is unique and fascinating. My readers are more interested in expanding their knowledge base on fringe topics, such as Left-Handed Composers on Stamps, or Portuguese Man-o-War on Stamps, rather than the generic Wildlife on Stamps, or Famous People on Stamps websites.

The site must be clean and well-organized. I don't have time to wade through 150 Google ads, RSS reader links, thumbnail ads, etc. just to get to the information I'm looking for, and neither do my readers.

Here are the steps to follow in order to nominate a website:

  • Submit the site by adding a comment to this post. I will intercept the comment and keep the pertinent information. I will not publish your comment, but will retain it for my use. (This step keeps spammers in check.)

  • Include your e-mail address. Be sure the e-mail address where you can be reached is in the body of your comment. This is how I will reach you for further information.

  • Include a brief synopsis of the site. This will help me maximize my research time.

  • Be sure to include the top page of the site. Be sure that I have the main address for the website. This address will be used to direct traffic to your site.

Okay, that's all there is. Start submitting!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Terminology - Forever Stamps

United States Forever Stamp

Lately there has been a lot of publicity about so-called Forever stamps. With the United States issuing its first stamp of this type recently, it joins a growing list of countries offering these stamps.

Forever stamps are a type of Non-Denominated postage, which means there is no value listed on the stamp. Instead of a currency value, non-denominated stamps have either a letter, designating a "make-up" rate of an additional value unknown at the time of printing, or a class of mail service, such as first class, printed on them.

Forever stamps fall into the latter category of non-denominated stamps. They (in theory) will pay the postal rate for the delivery of the specified class of mail forever.

You may wonder why postal administrations would want to issue a stamp in which they will have to accept forever. There are several reasons why this type is stamp is offered:

  • The stamps are produced in very high volumes, absorbing some of the setup costs of printing an issue for a limited run.

  • Stamp designs do not have to be changed as often, meaning that the costs typically associated with new stamp creation can be reduced.

  • The postal service saves money by not having to offer "make-up rate" stamps that have to be printed when postal rates go up. These stamps, or similar low-denomination stamps, must be issued so they can be added to existing stamps to make up the new postal rate.

  • The postal service can use the money gained by "front-end sales" and collect interest on it before needing the money for expenses.

Some stamp collectors fear what forever stamps may do to the hobby, because they think that the postal service will issue the one stamp in perpetuity without changing the design or issuing new stamps. It is possible that this will occur; however, definitive stamp designs, such as for forever stamps, will change, if for no other reason than the thwart counterfeiters. Plus, stamp designs often have a political component to them and you can be sure that politicians will get involved and get their pet projects honored with stamps.

In fact, forever stamps may become collectible, if only for their variety. Since print runs of forever stamps will inevitably be large, there may be multiple printers used to fulfill demand. In addition, the stamps will probably be offered for several years at a time, and if the date is on the stamp, each new year provides a different, collectible version. Plus, the stamps will probably be offered as singles, panes, booklets, etc., and come in a variety of forms with various perforations. Eagle-eyed collectors may benefit by examining and noting the differences.

Forever stamps are not new. Great Britain began offering their equivalent, called Non-Value Indicated (NVI), in 1989. These stamps will soon begin their 20th year in existence and have proven to be collectible and very consumer-friendly.

The United States Postal Service offered their entry into forever stamps in May 2007 with a self-adhesive stamp depicting the famous Liberty Bell of Philadelphia, PA. The stamp has a wonderful depiction of the bell, and is as beautiful as it is simplistic. It is captioned "USA FIRST-CLASS FOREVER".

With U.S. postal rates due to go up in May, there are reports that sales of this stamp have skyrocketed, as consumers stockpile the stamp at today's cost.

Previous Terminology Topics:

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Technique - How to Soak Stamps

One popular past-time for the stamp collector is soaking stamps off of envelopes. This makes your stamps take up less area, and is the only way to put stamps in most stamp albums. While you can purchase stamps that have already been removed from paper, the most economical way to collect stamps is to soak them off of your own mail. This entry gives advice on how to soak stamps so that you can add them to your collection.

  1. Make sure that the stamps should be soaked. There are some stamps that must not be soaked. Read my two previous entries entitled When Not to Soak - Part 1 and Part 2, to refresh your memory on the types of stamps that should not be soaked.

  2. Trim loose paper. There is no use soaking entire envelopes as that only serves to take up space in the soaking bowl, and has the potential to dirty the water with ink smudges or grime from the envelope. Instead, trim around the stamp so about one-eighth of an inch (0.3 cm) surrounds the stamp. This gives you enough extra paper to safely handle the stamp, yet it doesn't take up a lot of extra space.

  3. Segregate the stamps by envelope color. Be aware that envelope dyes, particularly red, will wash out while soaking, contaminating nearby stamps. Soak stamps on colored envelopes by themselves, in very small batches, to prevent the dyes from washing out and tinting all of your stamps.

  4. Prepare a bowl of water. Most people will want to use a clean bowl to soak their stamps. I prefer a glass bowl, typically called a casserole dish, which is about 2 inches (5 cm) deep. I put about 1 inch (2.5 cm) of lukewarm water in the bowl. Some people suggest only cold water, but I have found good results in mildly warm water, as this helps to soften the glues, especially on self-adhesive stamps. Some also suggest adding on drop of liquid soap so as to lower the surface tension of the water and helping to clean the stamp. I've found this to be a matter of personal preference, although if you do so, you will want to rinse the soaked stamps before drying them, so as to remove any chemical residues.

  5. Work in small batches. I find that working in small batches, keeps me focused on the task at hand, plus allows me to change the water before it gets too dirty. The water will deteriorate after a batch of stamps have been soaked, so you will often want to replace the water. Having to do so while the bowl is half-filled with stamps, just leads to a mess.

  6. Place the stamps in the water. Some will suggest that you gently put the stamps on top of the water, so that only the backing paper gets wet. This suggestion will work well, but I've found that, with care, you can immerse the stamps below the surface of the water. The only precaution is that when the stamp is immersed, it becomes more delicate to handle, as the wet paper fibers in the stamp can be easily damaged. Other than damaging a few stamps (usually due to rushing the process), I've found that fully immersing the stamp speeds up the process slightly, and tends to wash any surface dirt off of the stamp.

  7. Take your time. There is no way to hurry the time needed to soak stamps. The water has to penetrate the stamp and/or the envelope so that the glue can be softened. Pulling on a stamp prematurely, or trying to do too much in a short time, only leads to frustration and damage to stamps.

  8. Remove the soaked stamps from the water. Once the water has done its magic, the stamp will begin to float off of the paper. You can help it along with a gentle pull with your stamp tongs, but if you are unsuccessful, let it soak longer. The stamp will usually float free by itself, although some self-adhesive stamps are very difficult to soak and may have to be collected on paper.

  9. Dry the stamp. When pulling the stamp out of the soaking bowl, gently shake the stamp, or drag it across the lip of the bowl, so that excess water is removed. Some stamp collectors will then put their stamps on newsprint to dry the excess water. I usually put mine in a special stamp-drying book that has a special material to keep the stamp from sticking. After the stamps start to dry, you can place a book or heavy object on the stamps to press them flat.

  10. Let them dry completely. Do not rush the drying process ... let them dry naturally. If you pull the stamp out and it begins to curl, it is because it was not completely dry. Give the stamps adequate time to dry.

Soaking stamps is fun, even for advanced collectors. It offers some down-time when we can recharge our batteries. Even older, long-time collectors enjoy soaking stamps every once in a while.

Related Entry:

Monday, March 24, 2008

Stamp Issuers - La Aguera

La Aguera, Scott #13
Stamp of Spanish colony Rio de Oro
overprinted with "La Aguera"

La Aguera (alternatively Lagouira or La Gouera) was a small settlement located off of the western tip of Africa near Morroco and Mauritania. Spain claimed it as a colonial territory from 1920 to 1924, using the area as a landing strip for trans-Atlantic flights.

La Aguera has been all but completely abandoned in recent years. The encroaching desert sand has covered many of the buildings and roadways. Only a few native fishermen are in the region now.

In 1920, stamps of the Spanish colony Rio de Oro were overprinted with "La Aguera" and were used as stamps for the region. This first issue of stamps for La Aguera consists of 13 stamps. The highest denominated stamp in this series, a 10-peseta stamp (Scott #13, shown nearby), has a 2006 catalog value of $77.50 in hinged mint, or used condition. It is the most expensive stamp of all stamps issued for La Aguera.

The second issue of stamps, again 13 stamps, occurred two years later, in 1922, when stamps featuring Spanish King Alfonso XIII were issued. Instead of being overprinted, they were captioned "Sahara Occidental La Aguera". The 10-peseta stamp of this set, Scott #26, is shown nearby It is the highest valued stamp in the second series.

La Aguera, Scott #26

A total of 26 stamps were issued for La Aguera during its four year history as a stamp issuing entity. Hinged, mint copies of the whole run of stamps catalog for about $250 (USD), with mint, never hinged sets cataloging at about $375. These prices may sound expensive, but they are a bit deceiving ... the first nine stamps of the 1920 overprinted stamp set catalog for a little over $2 each, while the first nine stamps of the 1922 issue catalog for about $1 each. One can obtain 18 stamps out of the 26 total issued for about $30. It is the few, higher denomination stamps that cause the complete set price to escalate in price.

The Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue (2006 Edition), catalogs postally used versions of the stamps as the same price that the mint stamps. It appears that postally used versions of the stamps are actually quite hard to find. Stamped covers featuring these stamps will command a high premium. The stamps on any covers for this region should be left on cover, so as to maximize the value of your collection.

Previous Stamp Issuer Topics:

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Holy Week - Resurrection and the First Easter

Note: In Christian circles, the week prior to Easter is sometimes called Holy Week or Passion Week. It marks the week in time in which Christians believe Jesus of Nazareth entered into Jerusalem, was executed by crucifixion, and was resurrected from the grave. In honor of this important time in the hearts of Christians everywhere, this week's stamp entries have a direct correlation to that week approximately 2000 years ago.

Following Jesus' crucifixion, there was not enough time to prepare the body for burial, as the Jewish Sabbath day was approaching. Early on the first day of the week, women went to the tomb of Jesus to complete the rushed burial preparations. Jewish custom of the day was to anoint a dead body will oils and spices and carefully wrap the body prior to entombment. Because of Jesus' hasty burial, the preparations had not been completed. These women, one of whom was Mary Magdalene, went to the tomb at daybreak to complete the task required for proper Jewish burial.

According to the New Testament gospels, the women were astounded to find that the tomb had been opened. The guards that had been placed nearby had fallen asleep and the heavy stone that had sealed the tomb had been rolled away. Mary began to weep for fear that Jesus' body had been stolen. She confronts who she thinks is a gardener standing nearby:

14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. 15 "Woman," he said, "why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?" Thinking he was the gardener, she said, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him." 16 Jesus said to her, "Mary." She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, "Rabboni!" (which means Teacher).

18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: "I have seen the Lord!"
- John 20:14-16, 18a
New International Version

For the followers of Jesus, this was the most important moment of their faith; it was the time that Jesus had conquered death and returned to life. It was the point in time in which Jesus became Christ, the Messiah. It was the first Easter.

The resurrection of Jesus remains the focal point for all Christian teaching. Without the resurrection, the Christian faith has little merit according to the Apostle Paul, who, while countering an early apostasy denying the resurrection of the dead, had this to say about the importance of Christ's resurrection:

17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.
- 1 Corinthians 15:17-19
New International Version

Early artwork was fond of Christian themes. Rich patrons would sponsor artwork for this collections and a very common theme was of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.

Piero della Francesca is remembered today as an artist, although he studied mathematics and geometry during the early Renaissance. A blending of his mathematical mind and his artistic mind can be found in his well known work Resurrection. This work has been reprinted many times, once on the nearby stamp of Burundi.

In 1971, the Republic of Burundi, a republic located in Central Africa, issued a set of 6-stamp set (3 regular, 3 air mail) featuring paintings of the Resurrection. The 17-franc air mail stamp is shown. It has been assigned Scott catalog number C144, and has a value of $1.10 (USD) for mint, never hinged condition (Scott, 2006).

The mural depicted on the stamp shows Christ emerging from a horizontal tomb while the guards around him have been overcome by sleep. Christ is clearly the center point of the painting; he emerges carrying the Christian banner. He defiantly has one foot planted on the edge of the tomb, as if to declare that he has conquered it, just like the early explorers would lay claim to the lands that they explored.

Although not fully apparent in the cropped version of the mural depicted on this stamp, on the original mural one can notice the mathematical genius of della Francesca. He has Christ appearing as the apex of a triangle, with its sides angling down from his arms, and the base of the triangle showing the sleeping guards arrayed around the ground. By using this geometric construction, della Francesca focuses the eye toward the center of the painting, which is on the emergent Christ.

While the artwork of the Renaissance and earlier artists is not always true to history, it did serve to educate the population with scenes from Christ's life. There is little doubt that Jesus was not buried in a horizontal tomb, as depicted in this artwork, but that he was buried in a tomb carved from rock, much like a cave, which are prominent in Jewish lands. Also, as noted in other artworks for the time, the clothing is more indicative of the 1500s than the New Testament times.

As a special to our Christian readers, this week's Stamps of Distinction blog entries have detailed some small fragments of the final week of Jesus life (Holy Week) as depicted on stamps. With this entry on Jesus' resurrection and the first Easter, this special emphasis on Holy Week comes to a close.

Previous Holy Week Entries:

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Holy Week - Descent From the Cross

Note: In Christian circles, the week prior to Easter is sometimes called Holy Week or Passion Week. It marks the week in time in which Christians believe Jesus of Nazareth entered into Jerusalem, was executed by crucifixion, and was resurrected from the grave. In honor of this important time in the hearts of Christians everywhere, this week's stamp entries have a direct correlation to that week approximately 2000 years ago.

In the late afternoon on the day of Jesus' crucifixion, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus requested and obtained permission to retrieve his body. They did not want their friend to be demoralized any further and wished to offer him a proper Jewish burial. Because of the lack of time until sundown, and with the Jewish Sabbath day fast approaching, they hurriedly retrieved his body, made very basic funeral preparations, and buried it in a tomb.

Artisans have depicted the retrieval of Jesus' body in many ways. Typically, the act of removing Jesus from the cross of crucifixion has been called the Descent From the Cross in artistic circles.

During the 9th and 10th centuries, artists began to depict the solemn scene for their sponsors. The trend in Western art was for themes of Christianity and artwork depicting the scenes of the last days of Christ were in high demand.

Albrecht Durer, was a German painter who flourished during the late 1400s/early 1500s. In addition to oil painting, he was proficient with watercolor painting, as well as woodblock engravings. His artwork is well-known today.

Rwanda issued a stamp with Durer's Lamentation For Christ painting. The stamp features one of the more well-known paintings of Durer. It shows Jesus after he was brought down from the cross, and was beginning to be enshrouded with burial clothes.

Like other depictions of art from the 1500s, this painting represents the people surrounding Jesus in clothing of the 1500s, as opposed to clothing typical of the New Testament times. The women wear headpieces that are European in design and with multiple layers of colored cloth, which, if even available during those times, would have only been owned by the very wealthy.

Interestingly, the people of this artwork, as well as many works of art of the era, are decided European, and not the olive-skinned Hebrew peoples that would have been around Jesus.

When someone during the 1500s sponsored artwork, their image would frequently appear in the painting, as if they were part of the subject. In the Christianized West, it was common for sponsors to have been portrayed as one of the mourners of Jesus, thus identifying them to be of the Christian faith. It is unknown if any of those depicted in Durer's painting were modeled after his sponsors or friends, but it is likely that the European-looking people were. It would not have been uncommon during that era.

After Jesus was removed from the cross, he was given very quick burial preparations, and then laid in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. The tomb was sealed and the disciples of Jesus went back to their homes to mourn. For the entire Jewish Sabbath day, they contemplated their life without Christ, not understanding that this was not the end, it was just the beginning...

Be sure to read tomorrow's blog entry for the continuation of the story.

Previous Holy Week Entries:

Friday, March 21, 2008

Holy Week - Crucifixion

Note: In Christian circles, the week prior to Easter is sometimes called Holy Week or Passion Week. It marks the week in time in which Christians believe Jesus of Nazareth entered into Jerusalem, was executed by crucifixion, and was resurrected from the grave. In honor of this important time in the hearts of Christians everywhere, this week's stamp entries have a direct correlation to that week approximately 2000 years ago.

Andorra (French Administration), Scott #185
The Scourging of Jesus

According to Biblical accounts contained in the first four books of the New Testament (the Gospels), Jesus was arrested, tried, and executed on Passover. This was the culmination of a week in which he had entered Jerusalem (Triumpal Entry) and observed the Passover meal. During this time, he began to tell his disciples that he was about to leave them and that they were to pick up where he was leaving off.

After having what was to be later known as the Last Supper, Jesus led his disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane. Once there, Jesus begins to fervently pray about the events that were to unfold that next day. As he was finishing, a mob came to arrest Jesus, who had been betrayed by one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot.

Jesus was brought before the Sanhedrin (the Jewish High Court) where it was determined that he should be sent to the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, for execution. Pilate, finding no fault in him and trying to assuage the temper of the mob, reminded the crowd of a pardon that he extended to Jews during their Passover. He gave the crowd the choice between freeing Jesus, or a hardened criminal named Barabbas. The crowd called for Barabbas to be freed, and thus sealed the fate of Jesus.

After a series of scourgings, most-likely an infamous 39 lashes with a cat-of-nine-tail's whip, Jesus was led to a place called Golgotha (Hebrew for Place of the Skull), which in English is known as Calvary, or Mt. Calvary. It is on this hilltop that he was crucified between two thieves.

Andorra (French Administration), Scott #186
Jesus Carrying the Cross

Crucifixion was an torturous way to die. The condemned had his hands and feet nailed to a cross where he would suffer constantly. As the legs began to tire, the condemned person would sag, and with the arms fixed in place, the rib-cage would be compressed, making breaking very difficult. The victim would have to lift their body with their legs (which were agonizingly spiked to the cross) in order to breathe. Unable to breathe freely, fluid would accumulate in the lungs, in effect slowly drowning the victim.

Against this drama, the evening was approaching. In order to hasten the death, Roman soldiers would frequently break the legs of the victims, which would prevent them from lifting their bodies and breathing freely, thus hastening death. Glancing upon Jesus, they realized he had died and did not break his legs. Instead, one of the guards thrust his spear into the chest cavity of Jesus to make sure that he was indeed dead. The wound flowed with blood and water, with the water possibly being the fluid in his lungs that had led to his suffocation.

Two Jewish men, Joseph of Arimathea, a rich man, and Nicodemus, apparently the man who had secretly visited Jesus at an earlier time to ask him what he must do to make it to heaven, claimed the body of Christ. After a very brief funeral preparation, for the Sabbath day was approaching and work was forbidden, they laid him in a tomb and sealed it shut with a large rock, burying Jesus.

Andorra (French Administration), Scott #187
Soldier Thrusting A Spear Into Jesus

In 1968, the Principality of Andorra, a small country nestled in the Pyrenees Mountains separating France and Spain, issued a set of stamps detailing the crucifixion of Christ. The stamps, issued under French administration of the country, show scenes from the crucifixion of Jesus. The first stamp in the set shows the scourging that Jesus went through at the hands of the Roman executioners. The second stamp shows Jesus carrying the cross up to the top of Golgotha. The last stamp in the set shows the Roman guard piercing Jesus's side with a spear. The stamps have been assigned Scott catalog numbers 185 through 187.

The depictions on the stamps from from 16th century frescoes.

After the crucifixion, the followers of Jesus thought that their 3 or so years of study and close relationship with Jesus was for naught. The one that they thought was the Messiah, the one who would lead his people out of the bondage of Rome and be victorious, had just died a horrible death and was buried in a cold, dank tomb.

But the biblical story didn't end there ....

Previous Holy Week Entries:

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Holy Week - The Last Supper

Note: In Christian circles, the week prior to Easter is sometimes called Holy Week or Passion Week. It marks the week in time in which Christians believe Jesus of Nazareth entered into Jerusalem, was executed by crucifixion, and was resurrected from the grave. In honor of this important time in the hearts of Christians everywhere, this week's stamp entries have a direct correlation to that week approximately 2000 years ago.

According to the New Testament, on the final night of Jesus's life he had gathered his followers (disciples) and ate a last meal together. During this evening, he also revealed what was about to befall him. Historically, this his been called The Last Supper.

When Jesus and his disciples had gathered, Jesus began instructing them on the need to be servants. Because sandals were worn in the dry, dusty environment of Jerusalem and Jesus needed to show his disciples that they should serve others, he proceeded to wash their feet.

He also revealed to his followers that his days on earth were numbered and that he would soon be leaving them.

It was also during this evening that Jesus instituted the practice that was to become known as the Eucharist, or Lord's Supper. During this time, Jesus tells the disciples that the bread is symbolic of his body and the wine is symbolic of his blood which was shed for mankind.

In a later passage in the New Testament, the Apostle Paul records the event and its significance to believers:
... the Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, "This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me." In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me." For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.
- 1 Corinthians 11:23b-26
New International Version

Throughout history, artists have tried to capture the poignancy of the disciples' last meal with Jesus. Many artists of the Byzantine and Renaissance eras tried to illustrate that evening for their Christian audience.

For the bicentennial of the Torshavn Cathedral in the Faroe Islands, the Faroese Post issued a set of three stamps celebrating the church's history. The stamp pictured here depicts the altarpiece which contains a painting of The Last Supper. The painting was derived from an earlier work by artist Peter Candid (also known as Peter De Witte). The 500 Øre stamp was engraved by Czeslaw Slania, master engraver, and was issued in 1989. It is assigned Scott #187.

The image in the altarpiece, like the more famous Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci, reveal several liberties that artists took when depicting the events of New Testament times. For example, in the Middle East, it was common for people to recline around a low table. In fact, the biblical accounts reference how one of the disciples was laying against Jesus. Both this image, and da Vinci's, show the participants sitting around a table.

Another feature that is noticed is that the depictions usually show Jesus as the focal point of the table, and with no one sitting opposite of him. While this was done so as to show Jesus as the centerpiece of the artwork, in all likelihood, every spot at the table was occupied.

Also, note that most early depictions of Jesus and his disciples show them in clothes representative of the era of the artwork, not of the New Testament era. Jesus and his disciples probably wore cloaks or tunics during that time.

Regardless of these trivial features, the paintings, frescoes, and murals depicting the Last Supper are all attempts to draw the viewer into the picture and to illustrate the last evening that Jesus was alive on earth.

Previous Holy Week Entries:

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Holy Week - Passover

Note: In Christian circles, the week prior to Easter is sometimes called Holy Week or Passion Week. It marks the week in time in which Christians believe Jesus of Nazareth entered into Jerusalem, was executed by crucifixion, and was resurrected from the grave. In honor of this important time in the hearts of Christians everywhere, this week's stamp entries have a direct correlation to that week approximately 2000 years ago.

As a Jewish man, Jesus of Nazareth was obligated to observe Jewish traditions as part of his heritage, and to a Jewish person, there was no greater tradition than the celebration of Passover (also called Pesach). The story of Passover is the fundamental story of the birth of the Jewish nation.

The story of the Jewish people, also called Hebrews or the Hebrew children, is contained in the Old Testament. From the creation of Man through the life and times of the Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob), the story of the people is contained in the first book of the Bible, Genesis.

Starting with the second book of the Bible, Exodus, the Jewish people have been enslaved by Egyptians. They were forced to labor under the Pharaohs of Egypt. From the midst of this captivity, there arose a man of God who was to lead his people out of slavery and into freedom. That man was Moses.

The early life story of Moses is one of rags to riches and back to rags. He was born to an enslaved Jewish woman who hid him in a basket and placed him in the Nile River, so that one of Pharaoh's daughters would find him and claim him for her own. Raised as a member of the royal family, he quickly rose to prominence. One day, spying an Egyptian mistreating a Hebrew, and knowing the he, himself, was really Hebrew, he flew into a murderous rage, killing the Egyptian. When word of this deed reached the Pharaoh, Moses fled Egypt for the surrounding countryside.

While away from Egypt, God instructed Moses to return to Egypt and free his people from their enslavement. God empowered Moses to do a series of punishing acts, called plagues, to convince Pharaoh to release the Hebrews. After the first nine plagues failed to convince Pharaoh to release the captives, God ordained the tenth, and ultimately final, plague.

God told Moses that all firstborn male children in the land would die on a specific night. The only children that would be spared would be those in houses where the Angel of Death would pass over the residences. God instructed Moses to have each Hebrew family to sacrifice an unblemished, perfect lamb and to spread the blood from the sacrifice around the door frame. When the sign was noticed, the angel would skip that residence (i.e., passover) and leave the firstborn child within alive. As a result, the Hebrews followed God's directive, while the Egyptians, who were unaware of the seriousness of the plague, did not.

After that night of widespread death to the Egyptian firstborn male children, Pharaoh released the Hebrews from their enslavement and let them pass out of the land. This passage out of the land of Egypt is called the Exodus. The Hebrews were free.

In order that the Hebrews would not forget their sojourn in Egypt, God told Moses to instruct his people to always celebrate the Passover. Along with the feast for that night, they were to celebrate the Feast of the Unleavened Bread for seven days.

It was for the celebration of Passover that Jesus traveled to Jerusalem during his final week of life. He entered into the city with his Jewish followers in order to observe the Passover. Later in the week, he would be crucified on a hill just outside the city.

Israel commemorated the Passover with the 3-stamp set of stamps shown here with tabs attached. The stamps were issued in 1972 and were assigned Scott numbers 484-486. The first stamp, denominated 0.18 pound, or 18 agorot (18a), depicts the Exodus out of Egypt. The second stamp which shows the baking of unleavened bread is denominated at 45a. The last stamp in the set represents the Passover meal and is denominated as 95 agorot.

This set of stamps should be easy to find. It is a very low-cost set of stamps. Be sure to collect it with the tabs, as the tabs are highly prized by collectors.

Previous Holy Week Entries:

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Holy Week - The Evangelists - Luke and John

Note: In Christian circles, the week prior to Easter is sometimes called Holy Week or Passion Week. It marks the week in time in which Christians believe Jesus of Nazareth entered into Jerusalem, was executed by crucifixion, and was resurrected from the grave. In honor of this important time in the hearts of Christians everywhere, this week's stamp entries have a direct correlation to that week approximately 2000 years ago.

Yesterday's entry covered the first two Evangelists (bearers of good news) as recorded in the Christian New Testament. Today we will discuss the remaining two Evangelists, Luke and John.

The Gospel of Luke is the third book in the New Testament. The author, which tradition states was Luke, a traveling companion of Paul, is not mentioned by name in the text. The early church fathers seem to recognize it as coming from Luke and take it for granted that he wrote it.

Luke was a companion to Paul and traveled with him on some of his missionary journeys. Luke's occupation has been identified as a physician, and he has been called The Beloved Physician. His gospel is written in a gentle tone.

The Gospel of Luke has several unique characteristics. It is the longest gospel and incorporates closely with Mark (the earliest Gospel) and Matthew (the most "Jewish" gospel). It is the only gospel written in a very orderly fashion and as such is the only one that is explicitly addressed to Theophilus. This name means Lover of God in ancient Greek, and may be a play on words meaning that the book is addressed to all Christians (lovers of God) and not just to one man.

Luke's gospel was written to non-Jewish readers (i.e., Gentiles), and its intended audience may have been the Greco-Roman peoples that surrounded Israel.

The fourth book, the Gospel of John, is the most theologically modern of all of the gospels. It is believed to have been written last, and the writing indicates a richer understanding than the first three gospels. It has been portrayed as the "stream in which children can play, or elephants can swim," due to its deep theology which at the same time is written in such a language that even less theologically-minded readers can comprehend.

Like the other gospels, there is mystery surrounding the author. Since antiquity, the book has been traditionally attributed to John, an apostle (immediate follower) of Jesus. It closely follows the style and grammar of other books of the New Testament attributed to that same John. Inside the gospel, the author seems to be referenced by the phrase "The Disciple Whom Jesus Loved" though it is unclear who it actually was. There have been other suggestions, but the gospel has traditionally been called John's Gospel.

If John the Apostle wrote the gospel, it would have been late in his life. He is known to have been exiled to the island of Patmos, and probably died there around 96 A.D., which would have been about 60 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus.

This gospel is different than the previous three, in that he unveils fewer miracles, which he calls signs, but that these signs are much deeper theologically. The author even cites his limited use of signs by stating

Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.
- John 21:25
New International Version

The two stamps illustrated nearby are part of the four-stamp set issued in 1961 by Switzerland. The set features the traditionally identified writers of the four Gospels -- Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The stamps depicting the authors of the first two gospels were detailed in yesterday's entry.

As noted in yesterday's entry, this stamp set sells for around $30 (USD) at the retail level. The set would make a good addition to any stamp collection, but would be especially nice for collectors who specialize in Christian themes on stamp.

Update: Special thanks to reader Jim who reminded me that the fourth gospel has been traditionally identified as authored by the Disciple John, although there is no Biblical evidence to back that up. While an in-depth, theological divination of the authorship of the gospel is beyond the scope of this stamp blog, I have tried to go back and correct any unintended assertions that were made.

Previous Holy Week Entries:

Monday, March 17, 2008

Holy Week - The Evangelists - Matthew and Mark

Note: In Christian circles, the week prior to Easter is sometimes called Holy Week or Passion Week. It marks the week in time in which Christians believe Jesus of Nazareth entered into Jerusalem, was executed by crucifixion, and was resurrected from the grave. In honor of this important time in the hearts of Christians everywhere, this week's stamp entries have a direct correlation to that week approximately 2000 years ago.

The Christian New Testament is composed of 27 books, broadly divided into biographies (also called The Gospels), deeds of the early Christian church, letters to the first churches, and an apocalyptic vision of the end of time. Today, we turn our attention to the biographers of the life of Jesus Christ.

The first four books of the New Testament portion of the Christian Bible are called Gospels. The word Gospel is derived from the Middle English phrase that literally means "good news," for it is the good news of Jesus Christ. This word actually derived from Latin euangelion (eu meaning good + angelion meaning message). It is from a derivative of this word that we get our word evangelist meaning one who spreads the good news. The four gospel writers are also called The Evangelists.

The gospels contain the life history of Jesus taken from differing vantage points. They detail the early life, teachings, condemnation, execution, and ultimately, the resurrection of Jesus. While there are common elements in all four books, and especially the first three, all four present varying viewpoints of the founder of Christianity.

The first book is called Matthew, and tradition indicates that it was written by one of the first twelve hand-picked followers, or apostles, of Jesus.

Matthew, who is also called Levi, was a tax collector before he met Jesus. In those days, tax collectors were people who won the right to collect taxes for the government, plus any extra that they could get from the tax payer. They were looked down upon in Jewish circles since they typically strong-armed the citizens into paying exorbitant taxes. The position was not one a very popular one.

The Gospel of Matthew serves as a bridge between the Old and New Testament canons and that is probably why it is placed as the first book in the New Testament. Matthew tends to write for Jewish readers and makes the strongest case for Jesus being the Messiah as foretold by Old Testament prophecy. As one reads from the Old Testament into the New Testament, Matthew, with a distinctively Jewishness in his writings, helps to bridge the gap from the nation of Israel looking forward to a Messiah to Jesus being the fulfillment of those prophecies.

The second book of the New Testament is the Gospel of Mark. It has traditionally been dated as the oldest Gospel, possibly being written just 10 to 20 years following the death and resurrection of Jesus. It is the smallest Gospel and is very straight-to-the-point in its narrative. Mark's gospel omits the birth story of Jesus; the book starts with Jesus being baptized by John the Baptizer.

Mark's Gospel has been traditionally understood to have been written by John Mark, an early Christian, although he was not one of the twelve apostles. Based upon internal evidences in the New Testament, it seems that the writer was a relative of Barnabas, and followed him when a dispute broke out between Barnabas and Paul, early leaders of the church. It was during his time with Barnabas that he was thought to have written his Gospel.

In 1961, Switzerland issued a four-stamp set featuring the writers of the four Gospels -- Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The stamps depicting the authors of the first two gospels are illustrated in this entry. Luke and John will be described in tomorrow's entry.

This four-stamp set is a desirable set and commands a premium. The set sells for around $30 (USD) at the retail level. The set would make a good addition to any stamp collection, but would be especially nice for collectors who specialize in Christian themes on stamp.

Previous Holy Week Entries:

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Holy Week - Palm Sunday

Note: In Christian circles, the week prior to Easter is sometimes called Holy Week or Passion Week. It marks the week in time in which Christians believe Jesus of Nazareth entered into Jerusalem, was executed by crucifixion, and was resurrected from the grave. In honor of this important time in the hearts of Christians everywhere, this week's stamp entries have a direct correlation to that week approximately 2000 years ago.

Palm Sunday is the Sunday prior to Easter, in which the Christian Church celebrates Jesus' entry into the city of Jerusalem. Later in the week, He was crucified and on Easter Sunday was resurrected.

According to biblical accounts located in all four Gospels, the first four books of the New Testament, Jesus rode into the town of Jerusalem on the back of a colt. The colt is described as having never been ridden before. Jesus' disciples put cloaks over the colt, apparently to soften the ride for their leader and make it more comfortable for Jesus.

A crowd of people who had gathered waved palm fronds toward Jesus and laid cloaks and palm fronds onto the path before Him. The crowd began singing Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, part of the 118th Psalm.

When the crowds laid palm fronds in his path, it was a way of showing honor to Jesus. It was a common custom of that time in the Middle East for palm fronds to symbolize triumph and honor. This visit to Jerusalem by Jesus has been called the Triumphal Entry, since as he entered into the city, the crowd honored him as a prophet, teacher, and some recognized him as the long-awaited Savior of mankind.

In modern Christian churches, other than recognizing the importance of the day as when Jesus made his triumphant entry into Jerusalem, Protestant churches do not celebrate Palm Sunday in any ritualized way. In contrast, Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches place a high emphasis on their liturgical service for the day. Palm fronds are blessed, and these fronds are to be taken home by parishioners and used to bless and protect the person for the coming year.

In areas where palm trees do not naturally grow, other tree branches are used. Some churches, outside of temperate areas where the trees would grow, use willow branches or olive branches as a substitute for the palm fronds.

Palm Sunday is recognized as the start of Easter Week for most of Christendom. In April, 2002, the Ukrainian postal administration issued a stamp to commemorate Palm Sunday and its importance to Christian believers.

The stamp is denominated as .40 Ukraine Hryvnia (UAH), the unit of currency for that country. The stamps shows two arms holding palm fronds in a circular fashion. Inside the palm fronds is a depiction of a Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Canada Wildlife Stamp - Polar Bear

The Canadian Arctic is home to one of the most beautiful mammals, as well as one of the most deadly, on the face of the earth -- the polar bear.

Polar bears (Ursus maritimus) are the largest meat-eating mammal on the planet. Their diet consists primarily of seals, for which they are expert hunters, although they have been known to feast on other animals including birds, baby walrus, and even other bears.

Polar bears are found in the Arctic and the area in which they live include parts of five countries surrounding the North Pole: Russian, Greenland, United States (Alaska), Norway, and Canada. There are no polar bears in Antarctica.

Polar bears are uniquely adapted to live on land and in sea. Their fur and fat deposits form a thick insulation protecting them from their icy environments. They are excellent swimmers; a few have been seen swimming as far as 50 miles from ice or land.

The fur of a polar bear is hollow, and forms in two layers on the skin, which makes for an excellent layer of insulation from the cold. The skin of the polar bear is actually black, but the hollow hair shafts that make up the fur makes the bear look white.

Because polar bears are a prominent symbol of the region, Canada Post issued a polar stamp as part of their wildlife definitive series. The stamp, like the others in the series, is large in format, and is engraved.

The stamp was engraved by master engraver, Martin Mörck. He is a well-known and well-respected engraver who is rapidly rising to the top of his craft. This is the only stamp that he has done for Canada Post; most of his work is for Scandinavian countries.

Like all stamps of Canada, the stamp is bi-lingual, with the caption Polar Bear appearing in English, and Ours Blanc appearing as its French equivalent.

The stamp is denominated as $2 (CDN), so it can be purchased at a very reasonable price.

Previous Canada Wildlife Stamp Topics:

Friday, March 14, 2008

When Not to Soak - part 2

Yesterday's entry covered reasons why you should not soak a stamp from a cover due to reducing the rarity of the stamp. Today, I will discuss why you should also exercise care in determining stamps to soak off, when the act of soaking will physically harm the stamp.

The dyes used in colored envelopes may bleed onto the stamp if it is soaked. Since many envelope dyes are not color-fast, it is very common to have some of the color transfered onto the stamp during the soaking process. This can be a particularly pesky problem during holidays when colored envelopes are used, such as for the Christmas and St. Valentine's holidays. The red envelopes prevalent during these holidays are notorious for the damage it causes to stamps. If you look at a bulk mixture of Christmas stamps, for example, some of the stamps will have tinges of pink on the stamp where the red dye has bled out and tinted the stamp.

Stamps on colored envelopes may need to be collected on-cover (i.e, collected along with the entire envelope) or at the very least, be carefully trimmed within 1/8th of an inch around the stamp.

Paper composition of the stamp is another caution when soaking stamps. Stamps printed on chalky paper, a paper type that is coated with a chalk-like substance, should not be soaked; the stamps can only be lifted from the cover by wetting the underside of the envelope until the glue dissolves and the stamp lifts free. If you soak stamps printed on chalky paper, they will be damaged. Because of the care that must be exercised in removing these stamps, you are better off to collect them on-paper.

Not only is it a crime, but postal administrations lose money when someone alters a stamp to make it appear to be unused so that it can be re-used. To combat this problem, some early stamps were printed in water-soluble ink. The second that it is soaked, the ink will begin to deteriorate, and thus alert the postal authorities that the stamp had seen previous duty. These types of stamps must never come in contact with water; a collector must either collect the complete envelope or trim the envelope paper down in size so that it can be collected on-paper.

Early stamps are not the only stamps that can be damaged by a soaking; modern-day self-adhesive stamps are getting a reputation for being very difficult to soak off of envelopes. Attempts at soaking these stamps sometimes require such intense effort that the stamp is sometimes reduced to a soggy pulp. Some recent French Marianne stamps, such as the one shown nearby, are notoriously difficult to soak.

The soakability of self-adhesive stamps has become such a matter of concern in the United States that the Board of Directors of the American Philatelic Society recently lobbied the U.S. Postal Service:

On behalf of its 42,000 members, the American Philatelic Society calls upon the United States Postal Service to produce stamps that can be immersed in water, reliably removed from paper intact, and added to collectors’ albums, as U.S. stamps of of the past 160 years traditionally have been collected.

Think twice before you automatically try to soak the stamps off of envelopes. While most stamps of recent years are made with stable ink, on paper that holds up well, and with water-soluble gum, there are stamps that can be damaged by soaking. If in doubt, save it until you know for sure that the stamp will hold up.

Update: Sharp-eyed reader Dominique reminds me that the French stamp that I show in this post, the 3.40 denomination, was not issued as self-adhesive, but others, such as the 2.30 denomination was. Thanks for spot-checking me!

Related Entry:

Thursday, March 13, 2008

When Not to Soak - part 1

Usually, the cheapest way to fill spaces in a stamp album is to collect stamps that have already been used. And the best way to get used stamps is to find them on envelopes (also called covers) that have gone through the mail.

The temptation for budding stamp collectors is to remove the stamp from the cover by soaking it off, and then adding it to their collection. The problem is, some stamps are much more collectible if they are not soaked off the cover they were canceled on. Plus, soaking a stamp can actually damage some stamps.

Today, we will discuss some reasons not to soak a stamp off of an envelope because it would reduce the value of the stamp.

No matter what, an envelope with a canceled stamp on it, is always worth at least as much as the canceled stamp that is on it. The thinking is that someone could always soak the stamp off at a later time. So, logically, the stamp, by itself, will never be worth more than the stamped envelope.

But the opposite statement is not true; sometimes an envelope can be worth much, much more than the stamp on it. One modern day, simplistic example is a First Day Cover.

First Day Covers are stamped envelopes that receive a special cancellation that is dated with the first day that the stamp is available. The cancellation usually has some design or lettering to identify that the cover was canceled on the first day. Because the stamp is a new stamp and highly desirable, the postal administration issuing the stamp tries to just barely touch the stamp, so that the design on the stamp is only minimally obscured.

Soaking the stamp off of a First Day Cover would yield a very "clean" stamp with minimal cancellation, but the stamp then becomes just a normal used stamp -- it loses its special First Day status. The stamp on the original First Day Cover, however, will always yield a premium value, primarily because there are so few of them in relation to the total number of stamps issued.

Another reason not to soak a stamp off a cover, is that the cover itself may bear some special significance that would be lost if it was separated from the stamp. For example, a letter sent from the battlefront during World War II would likely have been reviewed by a military censor to see if it revealed military secrets. The censoring agent typically marked the cover with a rubber stamp stating that the contents were approved by the censor, yielding a highly collectible cover for World War II collectors.

Sometimes scheduled mail deliveries are disrupted by localized catastrophes such as fire inside a mail facility. If mail can be salvaged from the disaster, it will be, and that mail will usually be marked to indicated that it was salvaged. Mail with these markings is quite collectible to a specialist.

Bisected stamps, stamps purposely cut in half as a way to make them worth 1/2 of their intended value, must never, ever be soaked off stamps. Covers with these stamps on them, prove that the stamp was sent through the mail bisected. If the stamp is soaked off of the envelope, there is no way to differentiate it from being a used stamp that was cut in half after the fact. Covers with bisected stamps are very rare and very valuable; stamps cut in half that are not proven to have been used that way, have no value.

These are just a few examples of where soaking a stamp from a cover would destroy the collectibility of the stamp and reduce it from rare to common. Tomorrow's Stamps of Distinction entry will conclude this two-part article with examples of how stamps can actually be harmed by the act of soaking.

Related Topic:

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Terminology - Air Mail Stamps

Air mail is the class of mail that uses air transportation, by request of the consumer, to be delivered. It is not mail that just happened to be transported by an an aircraft at the discretion of the postal service. Typically, air mail requires either a specialized stamp, label, or envelope indicating that the item is to be sent via air mail.

Homing pigeons were probably man's first attempt at using the air to speed up delivery of communications. This was followed by the use of hot air balloons, which had the unpleasant distinction of being at the mercy of the prevailing weather. But air mail really expanded shortly after the invention of the airplane; just a scant eight years after the airplane was invented, Henri Pequet, a Frenchman, delivered over 6000 pieces of mail after flying a distance of about 12 kilometers (about 7.5 miles) in India.

In an effort to create a way to identify that the mail should be sent via the air, Italy and Austria overprinted Special Delivery stamps for air mail service in 1917 and March, 1918, respectively. The United States issued the world's first definitive Air Mail postage stamp in May, 1918. This stamp was to later become immortalized by a printing error on one of the sheets of stamps.

In May, 1918, the United States issued the 24-cent air mail stamp featuring the Curtiss' Flying Jenny airplane. To differentiate this stamp from non-airmail stamps, it was printed in patriotic colors of red, white and blue. The white was achieved by the paper; a red border and frame were printed upon it, and then the red and white sheets were run back through the press to receive a blue airplane. A few sheets were rotated by mistake and resulted in the blue airplane appearing upside down.

Quickly spotting the error after the original purchaser returned for more, a postal clerk withheld the sale of other sheets just like it and notified the postal authorities. All but the original sheet of 100 stamps were destroyed, leaving behind 100 famous "inverted Jenny" stamps. While not the rarest stamp in the world (100 had been sold), it is without a doubt the most recognized stamp rarity by the non-stamp collecting public.

Airplanes weren't the only mechanized way in which mail was delivered. Dirigibles such as Germany's Zeppelins were used to transport mail as well. Special stamps were created by a number of countries to use on dirigible mail.

As more and more advances are made in the field of aeronautics, there have been correspondingly novel attempts to deliver mail. Mail has traveled via missiles and even spacecraft. These methods are used mainly for promotional purposes as they are quite impractical for actual mail delivery.

Most airmail stamps have a theme of flight on them. Sometimes it is an airplane, a zeppelin, or in the case of the Irish airmail stamp shown above, an angel. The stamp depicts Victor, the guardian angel for St. Patrick, symbolized as having wings and carrying the voice of Ireland (Vox Hibernia). This particular stamp shows the angel flying over the Rock of Cashel, a famous landmark in Ireland.

Previous Terminology Topics:

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

1963's Freedom From Hunger Stamps

Hunger has been an issue that mankind has battled forever. Whether caused by localized climate conditions such as drought, or socio-political events such as war, hunger is a surprisingly pervasive and tenacious problem, even in today's age.

The United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) was created to assist in defeating hunger. It was organized just after World War II, in October, 1945, to help address the worldwide famine caused by the war and its aftermath.

In 1956, Dr. Binay Ranjan Sen, an Indian diplomat, was made Director General of the organization. He brought with him his experience in working a sustained famine in Bengal, India, in 1943, which cost the lives of up to 3 million people.

Dr. Sen advocated the FAO's Freedom From Hunger campaign in 1960, stating that half of the world's population was malnourished. After a few years of discussion, the United Nations adopted the campaign, and in 1963 the World Food Congress was held in the United States.

As part of the campaign, 140 postal administrations agreed to promote the Freedom From Hunger campaign in 1963. This combined effort make it one of the largest stamp issuing causes in postal history.

Several of the stamps issued in 1963 for the Freedom From Hunger campaign are illustrated nearby.

In 1963, countries with ties to the United Kingdom, as either former colonies or overseas territories, such as the Falkland Islands, issued their Freedom From Hunger stamps using the same basic design. It features icons of cattle, fish, poultry, and grains in the upper right corner and a view of Queen Elizabeth II in the upper right corner.

Nepal issued their stamp for the Freedom From Hunger campaign using similar iconography. It also features a mechanical tractor, which is indispensable for the cultivation of food grains.

The United States issue features a prominent stylized head of wheat. Along with the Freedom From Hunger caption at the bottom of the stamp, the U.S. highlighted its contributions to the Food For Peace program in which it had been active during the prior 10 years.

The Freedom From Hunger stamp issues are not expensive. Many of them are well under $1 (USD) in mint, never hinged condition. This would make a nice specialty collection for someone willing to collect all of the stamps.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Stamp Issuers - Afghanistan

Afghanistan is a landlocked country located in Asia. It is surrounded by Pakistan, Iran, China, and the former Soviet Republics of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan. Due to its location as the proverbial crossroads of Asia, it has served as an important trading location for the continent.

The first postage stamp of Afghanistan (identified as the Kingdom of Kabul) was issued in 1871. It was created during the reign of the emir, Sher Ali Khan, who had initiated the postal service a few years earlier.

The stamp was square, but the design was circular. It was printed in black ink, and showed a lion's head as the central emblem. The lion's head was symbolic of the reigning emir; Sher means lionin Dari, the language spoken in Afghanistan. Note that early translators (and stamp catalogs) mistakenly interpreted the word as tiger at one time.

Arabic script surrounds the lion's head and details the denomination of the stamp and the year of the Islamic calendar in which it was issued. This first stamp was issued in three denominations.

The early stamps of Afghanistan were canceled by removing a portion of the stamp by either cutting or tearing the stamp. One must take care that stamps canceled in this manner are not discarded as faulty. The stamp shown above is of a canceled version of one of the early stamp issues.

Following the emir's death in 1880, stamps of a similar design were issued but did not include the tiger's head emblem. The stamps still had a circular design, but gone was the symbolism.

The same basic circular design was used until 1891, when the Kingdom of Afghanistan was established. From this point forward, all stamp images were rectangular in layout, but retained the Arabic script.

For the next 36 years, Afghanistan stamps remained in Arabic. Beginning in February, 1927, stamps for Afghanistan began to be labeled "Afghan Post" in English. Shortly thereafter, the French equivalent, "Afghanes Postes" started appearing on stamps.

The 1950s began a period of time wherein numerous stamps began to be printed. Thought to be a money-making scheme, the Afghan Postal Authority even issued stamps well below the minimal amount of postage. Many collectors saw this as an scheme to bilk collectors into spending more money on stamps that were essentially of little postal value.

In the late 80s/early 90s, the country was devastated by civil war, led by Taliban forces. It is at this point where many unofficial stamps were printed and distributed. The Afghanistan postal service has disavowed these stamps. The Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalog lists this statement:

Mavlavi Allahdad Balkhi, President of Post of the Afghanistan Postal Administration, has declared that 'the stamps which have been printed after year 1989 are false stamps.'

It was in the late 2001, early 2002 time-frame that the Taliban government in Afghanistan was overthrown, and the exiled government was restored to power. In May, 2002, the first authorized postage stamp of the restored government was issued. It depicted Ahmad Shah Masoud, a military general instrumental in both defending Afghanistan from Soviet invasion in the 1980s and in leading a resistance movement against the Taliban. This stamp represents an important issue in the restoration of Afghanistan, as Masoud was a national hero.

Afghanistan also issued numerous semi-postal stamps, air post stamps, and postal tax stamps, in addition to small quantities of registration stamps, official stamps, and parcel post stamps.

Most of the regular issue of stamps after 1891 (the onset of rectangular stamps) are affordable, with just a few going for tens of dollars (USD). Prior to that date, though the stamps are fairly expensive, with some stamps retailing for $200 or more. The most expensive regular issue stamp appears to be the 1872 tiger's head stamp on toned wove paper denominated as 1 Rupee Kabuli. This stamp, in used condition, has a catalog value of $1100 (USD).

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