Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Braille Stamps

Canada, 2008
Stamp with Braille Embossing
Louis Braille invented the alphabet that bears his name starting in 1821. Remarkably, he was just 15 years old when he completed his task in 1824. The alphabet consists of a collection of raised dots which the visually impaired can feel with their fingertips. The alphabet has proven to be a great success and has helped millions of people to be able to read where they couldn't have before.

On April 21, 2008, Canada Post issued its first Braille stamp. The stamp commemorates the centenary of the Montreal Association for the Blind and features a yellow Labrador retriever guide-dog, a breed commonly used to help the blind. Fittingly, the denomination of 52 cents is printed in large type and is embossed in the stamp using the Braille alphabet as an aid for the visually impaired.

The stamp is not the first stamp with Braille "dots" in existence, although it is the first one issued in North America. The distinction of the country issuing the first stamp with Braille lettering belongs to Brazil, which in 1974 issued a stamp with raised dots to commemorate the 5th World Council for the Welfare of the Blind that was held in Sao Paulo.

Several other countries have issued stamps with Braille embossing in the intervening years. Denmark, for example, issued one in 1990 entitled "Frederica, a Town For All" that had Braille lettering.

In 2001, Israel issued a stamp recognizing the centenary of its Institute for the Blind. The background of the stamp was in black, symbolizing how the world is dark to those without sight. It featured the raised dots of Braille which were brightly colored.

These stamps, while helpful to the sight-impaired, are difficult to collect for philatelists. The raised dots of the Braille alphabet are easily damaged, since they are nothing more than impressions on the stamp paper. Mint stamps must be handled cautiously, as they can be easily "de-embossed" if pressed against other objects. Used stamps are virtually impossible to find with the raised lettering in good condition, as the letter handling equipment will compress the raised dots, rendering them flat.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Stamp Issuers - Alexandretta

Alexandretta, 1938 (Scott #7)
Overprinted Syrian stamp
One of the shortest-lived issuers of stamps was for the sanjak of Alexandretta. This province of Turkey (sanjak is a type of Turkish district) issued stamps for less than one full year.

The province is located near the present day border of Turkey and Syria. The ownership of the area is disputed between the two countries.

In 1920, French-controlled Syria was awarded the sanjak of Alexandretta, shortly after the demise of the Ottoman Empire. Turkey, in 1936, complained to the League of Nations that the freedoms of the minority Turks in the region were being infringed. In 1937, the League brokered an arrangement between France (which was mandated power in Syria) and Turkey to give the sanjak autonomy.

Stamps for the sanjak of Alexandretta were issued in 1938. All of the stamps issued were actually overprinted Syrian stamps; there are no stamps of Alexandretta where the name is actually printed as part of the design of the stamp.

On Sept 2, 1938, the assembly proclaimed the sanjak of Alexandretta as the Republic of Hatay, and Alexandretta stamps were no longer created. Shortly thereafter, in 1939, France transferred the sanjak to Turkey. Since that time, Syria has continued claims to the area.

All of the stamps of Alexandretta have a high catalog value premium for mint, never hinged stamps. The values quoted for mint stamps are for the hinged variety. Never hinged stamps will sell for 2 or 3 times these amounts.

The first regular issue stamp series consists of 12 stamps with a Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalog value of about $32 US for either mint hinged, or used. It was followed by the second (and only other) regular issue stamp set memorializing the death of Kemal Ataturk, President of Turkey. The second set catalogs for about $135 for the 5 stamps that make up this issue.

Alexandretta also has 8 air post stamps (valued at approximately $35) and 6 postage due stamps (valued just over $32). The 31 stamps that make up the entire issue of stamps for Alexandretta, catalog for about $235.

With careful planning, you can probably purchase all of the stamps of Alexandretta for about $180, if you search the internet and stamp auction sites. On a per stamp basis, that seems costly ... the stamps of Alexandretta average around $6 per stamp. For mint, never hinged stamps, you would pay about 3 times that amount, based on catalog values.

Previous Stamp Issuer Topics:

Monday, April 28, 2008

Spotlight - Junior Philatelists On The Internet

Junior Philatelists On The Internet

Recently, while researching for a specific stamp topic on the internet, I stumbled upon the Junior Philatelists On The Internet website. It didn't take me long to realize that this is website is loaded with helpful topics and nice features. It is obvious that the owner of the site, Gayland Bird, has a lot of information to share.

One of the goals of the site is to bring young people into the hobby of philately. Having started with worldwide stamps over 50 years ago, and then narrowing down to more specific collecting, website owner Bird has put together a site that can help both beginner and the more advanced collector.

For a few technical details, the site was started around 1999, according to Bird. He tries to post a new entry weekly, or as he comes up with new topics.

From the main screen, there are numerous links to information. Starting as basic as offering stamps to beginners for $1 (US) and postage, and advancing through topics such as mourning stamps and revenue stamps, each link goes to a separate page with detailed information.

An excellent series of "How-to" articles appears in the left sidebar. Topics include soaking stamps, buying an album, mounting stamps, and about 25 more. These are must-reads for the beginner.

Bird also has detailed information about TASCO Booklets. These booklets were distributed by Tatham Stamp Company of Springfield, Massachusetts starting around 1928. The small booklets would cover a topic of interest to stamp collectors in detail. For example, one topic was the one and two cent issues of 1890 to 1898. Another was postage stamps of the Confederate states. These booklets are fascinating and I highly recommend that every collector go to the site and view these historical and nostalgic documents.

Overall the site is a good one for collectors. The only minor issue that I have found, and it really is minor, is that the topics could be arranged in a more orderly fashion -- there is a bit of disorganization to the front pages. The site has a lot of information that beginners might miss, especially in this "instant information" age. However, someone who likes to browse will find themselves busy for quite a while.

For attaining their stated goal of trying to help beginners get in to stamp collecting, Junior Philatelists On The Internet is awarded this week's Stamps of Distinction Website Spotlight.

Be sure to visit them 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, April 26, 2008

What Do Taxes Have to Do With Philately?

The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines the term philately, pronounced fil-at'-uh-lee), as "the collection and study of postage and imprinted stamps." This definition is much richer than the common description stamp collecting, since philately represents more than just stamps; it includes postcards, postmarks, covers, and all areas related to postage and the delivery of postal items.

So how did the term come about?

In 1864, French collector Georges Herpin, writing in the November 15, 1864, publication Le Collectionneur de Timbres-poste ("The Collector of Postage Stamps") suggested the French word philatelie, which has been anglicized as philately. The word caught on and has become the standardized term.

How did Herpin come up with the word? It was based on three Greek root words, philo, a, and telos.

The Greek root philos refers to platonic love. We see this root used in words like audiophile (lover of sound) or Francophile (lover of France).

The second Greek root word is represented by the prefix a, which means not. For example, the word atheist means one who is not a theist (i.e., an atheist is not a believer in God).

The final Greek root word, telos means tax or charge. Our common word toll, which is synonymous with a levied tax, derives from a variation of this root.

Taken together, the three Greek roots mean one who loves things that are not taxed. So how did this come to represent our hobby? Originally, letters were sent through the mail and the postage was paid by the recipient, which was loosely parallel to a tax. With the use of stamps, the letters arrived "tax free", so to speak, so Herpin coined the French term philatelie to represent the love for the untaxed things.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Argentina's Stunning Polar Year Stamp

Click on image to expand the image

The years 2007 through 2009 were declared as the fourth International Polar Year (IPY), a time of vigorous scientific study of the polar regions. The first IPY was held in 1882-1883, and the second was held 50 years later in 1932-1933. In 1957-1958, the International Geophysical Year was held, which expanded upon the IPY's goals. The 125th anniversary of the first IPY was in 2007, when the fourth IPY was started.

There have been many countries honoring the 2007 International Polar Year with commemorative stamps and miniature sheets. Many of those stamps recognize the Arctic regions, but Argentina has produced a beautiful souvenir sheet recognizing Antarctica and their claimed land.

Argentina has claimed a triangular segment of Antarctica from 25° West and 74° West and extending to 60° South latitude. Parts of this area is counter-claimed by Chile and the United Kingdom. At present, there are no efforts underway to settle or enforce the claims.

This Argentine souvenir sheet offers a beautiful map of the Antarctic continent. The sheet contains one triangular stamp, highlighting the segment of Antarctica that Argentina claims, and a triangular label that is not valid for postage. The stamp is denominated as 4 Argentinian pesos ($4 ARS) which is equivalent to about $1.25 in U.S. dollars.

This souvenir sheet is a must-have for cartophilatelists, those who collect maps on stamps.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Special Delivery Stamps in the United States

United States, 1885 (Scott #E1)
"Running Messenger" Special Delivery Stamp
Special Delivery stamps were used to expedite the delivery of a letter once it arrived at the destination post office. The first stamp ever issued for this service was in the United States in 1885.

On March 3, 1885, the United States Post Office authorized special delivery service, in which letters were quickly sent to their destination. In many places, special couriers were hired to deliver the special delivery mail as quickly as possible.

The first Special Delivery stamp was issued later in 1885. The 10-cent stamp was used to pay for the cost of delivering the message as soon as it arrived at a select group of post offices, as not every post office was capable of handling the additional service.

The stamp featured the image of a "Running Messenger" hurriedly carrying a letter to its destination. The stamp was used as a surcharge on top of the standard postal delivery rate; a user would apply both regular postage and also the special delivery stamp.

The New York Times described the new service this way:

Commencing to-morrow, persons wishing to have letters delivered at once in this city may do so by affixing to the letter, in addition to the regular rate of postage, a special delivery stamp, which costs 10 cents. Such letters sent to cities and towns having free delivery service or any city and town containing a population of 4,000 or over will also be delivered by special messengers immediately on arrival at the office. These special deliveries will be made between 7 AM and 12 midnight.
- The New York Times, Sept 30, 1885

The day earlier, the Times indicated that not everyone was pleased with the concept of Special Delivery service:

At the meeting of the Ministerial Union of Philadelphia and vicinity to-day the Rev. T.A. Fernley, from the Committee on the Sabbath, called attention to the special delivery system which goes into effect Oct. 1, and which requires letters to be delivered on Sundays as well as other days ... which contemplates the violation of the Sunday law, which secures to every man the right of the seventh day of rest....
- The New York Times, Sept 29, 1885

A resultant complaints had little, if any effect, and special delivery of mail went into effect. The following year, in 1886, the level of service was expanded to all post offices in the United States that offered free delivery.

Many other countries offered special delivery stamps, but the U.S. was very prolific, offering 23 Special Delivery stamps throughout its history.

In June of 1997, Special Delivery service was ended in the United States. The US Postal Service shifted its focus to Priority Mail and Express Mail, services that expedite delivery of mail.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Are No. 1 Stamps Affordable? An Examination

Aden, 1937 (Scott #1)
First stamp for Aden
There are specialized collectors who try to collect all of the first issued stamps for every country in the world. These collectors are sometimes called "No. 1 Collectors" because most stamp catalogs number the first issued stamp of a country as number 1. Thus collecting the first stamps issued would make you a No. 1 collector.

In some of my research for stamp issuing countries, I've noticed that most no. 1 stamps are inexpensive. Thus it is possible for the average collector to branch out and collect many number 1 stamps of the world on a modest budget. Some countries will clearly be out of the range of affordability, but a surprising number are within reach. Some no. 1 stamps are so prevalent they are priced as a common stamp.

I thought it would be interesting to look at the number 1 stamps, according to the Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalog (2006 version). I will use the first ten stamp issuing countries that I have researched. Note that only 9 stamp issuers have been published as I write this; number 10, Alexandretta, will be published next week, but the research has been completed.

The table below shows each stamp issuer, the Scott Number of the first stamp issued, the year of issue, and the mint and used Scott 2006 catalog prices for that first stamp.

First Stamp
Year of Issue
Abu Dhabi
Aden, Kathiri State of Seiyun
Aden, Quaiti State of Shihr and Mukalla
Afars and Issas
Aquera, La

There are several things to notice about this list. First, all prices are in US dollars, the currency indicated by the Scott catalog.

Afars and Issas, 1967 (Scott #310)
First stamp for Afars and Issas,
but not a No. 1
Second, two countries do not start with a stamp listed as number 1. The French Territory of Afars and Issas was created in 1967; prior to that it was known as French Somaliland and stamps were issued under that name, so the first Afars and Issas stamp is number 310. Also, Afghanistan does not have a no. 1 stamp indicated by Scott. This is usually because an earlier stamp was identified as no. 1, but was later found to have not been a true postal issue with widespread dissemination.

As you can see, the first stamp for 8 out of the 10 countries can be had in mint condition for $4.50 or less. Only two countries in the list, Afghanistan and Albania, have expensive mint no. 1 stamps.

If you consider used stamps, then the situation gets even better, as Afghanistan's first recognized stamp catalogs in used condition for $25.00. Nine out of the 10 countries listed are in the very affordable range.

Only the stamps of Albania are prohibitively expensive. It is important to note that it is not solely age that dictates the catalog price, since Aitutaki's first stamp is 10 years older and over 100 times cheaper! Clearly supply and demand is what is driving the catalog prices for the no. 1 stamps.

Why would the first stamps of a country be so inexpensive, as 80% of the ones in this list are? I can think of two reasons. The first is that the stamps would typically have a low denomination, since stamp catalogs tend to order a multiple stamp issue by denomination, whether the lower denomination stamp was actually printed first or not.

The second reason might be that the postal authority prints the first set of stamps for a country in high numbers. Most of the countries on this list had a political event (independence, for example) that led to the issuing of new stamps. It is possible that the first design was used to print a large quantity of stamps, either on the first printing, or by virtue of reprinting the same design for an extended period of time. Plus, coupled with the fact that collectors might buy an inordinate amount of a new issue (especially after the 1950s or so) that the postal service issues a higher quantity than what might be needed. In any case, these actions would serve to "flood" the market with stamps, dampening demand.

What is clear is that it is possible for a collector to start a collection of no. 1 stamps of the world and achieve a high degree of completion. I doubt that these statistics will hold up (80% affordability for mint, 90% for used) as more countries are examined, but it does seem at least possible to create a nice collection of no. 1 stamp issues.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

What is the Universal Postal Union?

As you advance in the stamp collecting hobby, you will probably run across the organization called the Universal Postal Union, usually abbreviated UPU. What is this organization and what is its purpose?

The UPU was founded in 1874 to help coordinate international postal service. Prior to its founding, each country would have to establish treaties with countries to set postal rates and to dictate the terms of delivery. Seeing that this was increasingly becoming too untenable, the General Postal Union was founded by Heinrich von Stephan of Germany. Four years later, the name was changed to the Universal Postal Union, which has been used ever since.

The UPU stays out of domestic postal issues; it only serves to address international postal concerns.

The most notable accomplishment of the Universal Postal Union was to permit postal fees for international mail to be paid with postage from the originating country. Prior to this, postage would have to be applied for every country in which the item passed. Now, only the sending country gets the postal fees and any imbalances are reconciled at a later time based on the total weight of international mail entering and leaving a country. This step greatly popularized and enhanced the use of international mail.

The UPU also manages the International Reply Coupon (IRC) system. These coupons are treated like currency, although the receiving country will pay out the value in stamps. This is done so that a person in one country can effectively send postage so that the recipient in another country can reply using their native postage.

Romania, 2004
Stamp featuring UPU emblem
Because of its close ties with the postal community, many stamps have been issued in commemoration of the UPU. The UPU emblem, shown above, can be occasionally seen on commemorative stamps when the UPU is being honored. The emblem is a depiction of the earth encircled by 5 messengers exchanging mail. The 5 messengers symbolize the 5 continental land masses of the earth (Europe and Asia being combined). The symbol was adopted from the bronze and granite statue created by French sculptor René de Saint-Marceaux.

Of special interest to stamp collectors is the World Association for the Development of Philately (WADP), a UPU-sponsored forum for philatelic groups. One of its main goals is to transmit information about unauthorized stamp issues to the world's postal authorities and consumers. To this end, it has created the WADP Numbering Systems (WNS) which, since 2002, attempts to identify and number valid stamps that have been issued by postal member nations. The internet address for the WNS is, which is a helpful site to browse when searching for modern issues. Because it has only been in existence for a few years, the database of stamps is small, but it will continue to collect and post new issues.

The UPU is headquartered in Berne, Switzerland and currently serves 191 member nations. Following the creation of the United Nations, the UPU was established as a agency of that body.

Now whenever you see the UPU symbol on some of your stamps, you will know a little about the background of this organization.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Stamp Issuers - Albania

Albania Overprint
Two-headed Eagle
Albania is a country located adjacent to Greece, Montenegro, Macedonia, and Kosovo, and across the Adriatic Sea from the heel of the boot of Italy. Its location has made it a prime spot for invasion and both World Wars have figured prominently in its history.

Initially, the land of Albania was once part of the Ottoman Empire. Following the collapse of that empire, Albania was able to achieve its independence in 1912. In 1920, a republic was formed, and following some periods of political instability, Ahmet Zogu was declared Prime Minister. After a constitutional change that converted the country to a monarchy, Zogu was crowned King Zog I, in 1928. He stayed on the throne for 11 years, until Italy invaded Albania during World War II. In 1943, Germany replaced Italian forces, and in 1944 the German occupiers withdrew. Forces aligned with the Communists took the reigns of power, and the People's Republic of Albania was declared in 1946. Thirty years later, in 1976, the country was renamed the Socialist Peoples Republic of Albania. For the last several years, the country has moved toward democracy, although the transition has been slow.

Through all of this political turmoil, the consequences for the people of Albania have been tremendous. The political, social and technological infrastructure of the country has deteriorated to such a point that Albania lags far behind most of Europe in terms of advancement. The Albanians will have to overcome years of corruption. All of these political periods are represented on the stamps of Albania and knowledge of these periods is helpful in determining the date of a given stamp.

Albanian Stamps
Note spelling variations in country name
If you've ever sorted through stamps and are used to native spellings being similar to their English translation, this country will throw you for a loop. The name Albania is an English name; the name of the country in its native language is "Shqipëria". The native name means "Land of the Eagles"; the national symbol for Albania is a two-headed eagle.

To add a little more confusion about the name, there have been many different spellings of the name to appear on the country's postage stamps. All of the names begin with the unique three-letter combination of "Shq" so that would be your tip off that the stamp you are examining is from Albania.

The Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalog recognizes nearly 3000 regular issue stamps as authentic. It seems that Albania turned on the printing presses and left them running, as this number is a tremendous amount of stamps for a country which has 3.5 million inhabitants. Like many Eastern European countries, Albania uses stamp issues as a means of raising much-needed money for their deteriorating infrastructure. To put the number of stamps in perspective, it took 53 years to reach the first 1000 stamps issued (1966) and only 15 years to reach the next 1000 (1981). The stamp issues have diminished as they have yet to reach the third 1000 stamp block in the 27 years since.

Fortunately, for collectors, the Back-of-the-Book stamps have not been anywhere nearly as prolific. Scott recognizes 40 semi-postal stamp issues, with the charity portion mainly going to health-related causes such as the Albanian Red Cross. A total of 81 Air Post stamps, 3 Special Delivery stamps, and 44 Postage Due stamps round out the Back-of-the-Book stamp issues.

It would be difficult for the average collector to complete this country. The early issues are in short supply, leading to high costs. The first 10 stamps, for example, issued in 1913, have a combined catalog value for over $3,000 US in used condition (mint is more), and stamp #11 catalogs for the same amount!

Previous Stamp Issuer Topics:

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Spotlight - Great Britain Machins

Great Britain Machins

Robin Harris has created a veritable treasure trove of information on Great Britain's Machin stamps. Virtually every Machin, including many variations, are detailed on his comprehensive website. This week, I've chosen his site for Stamp of Distinction's Website Spotlight.

As a brief refresher, a Machin stamp (pronounced 'May-chin) is a definitive stamp issued by Great Britain. It features a depiction of a plaster sculpture of Queen Elizabeth II in profile view. The cast was created by Arnold Machin, hence their name.

When the first Machin stamp was issued in June 1967, I'm sure few thought that this would be the largest definitive stamp issue ever. Over 40 years later, Royal Mail has continued to issue new denominations and colorations of this workhorse stamp.

Robin's site is extremely detailed and shows expert craftsmanship. Even though the author states "I do not pretend to be an expert on Machins - quite the opposite, I am still very much a novice," I think you will find that the self-described "Machin Nut" has become very knowledgeable on the subject matter.

Great Britain Machin

The site is organized with a navigation menu on the left side of the page. From here, one can visit links to find out the history of the Machin design, variations, denominations, perforation changes, etc. It is easy to move from one area to another.

There are three main "lists" that are available from the sidebar ... one for pre-decimal issues, one for decimal issues, and one for the anniversary Machins which portray the busts of both Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth II. Every denomination and color shade is represented in these lists.

Choosing one of the entries on the stamp lists takes you to an expanded page showing the stamp and major variations. A representative copy of the stamp is displayed in full color (as accurately as a computer will allow). The comprehensive page also lists perforation variations, printer changes (where known), regional issues (Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Isle of Man) if they exist for the denomination and color.

Additional lists are available on the sidebar include lists of stamps by perforations, high-values, self-adhesive stamps, etc. The lists are an exhaustive source of information that will help you quickly zero in on specific stamps.

The site also guides you through helpful steps to determine which stamp you might have. Based upon the perfs, denomination, tagging, and other characteristics, it gives several "markers" to help you sort your Machin collection.

If you collect Machin stamps, you will definitely want to visit this site. Even if you don't collect them, visit this site anyway ... it's attention to detail make it an excellent representation of all that is good with a comprehensive philatelic site. It is a tremendous collection and will be a great site to bookmark.

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, April 19, 2008

Pitcairn Island's Solar Eclipse Stamp Sheet

A solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes between the earth and the sun, obscuring at least part of the sun. There are several different kinds of solar eclipses.

Depending on your location and the distance of the moon from the earth, you might be lucky to see a total eclipse, in which the entire face of the sun is hidden by the moon. These occur every 18 months or so, but are only visible from a very narrow viewing window on earth.

A partial solar eclipse occurs when the sun, moon and earth are not exactly lined up, but the moon nonetheless obscures at least a part, but not all, of the sun.

Annular eclipses are a variation of the total solar eclipse in which the moon does not appear large enough to cover all of the sun. The moon, which travels in an elliptical path around the earth, is sometimes farther away from the earth, which will make it look slightly smaller when viewed from earth. In an annular eclipse, the smaller appearing moon cannot completely hide the sun, so when it the moon is exactly centered over the sun, a "ring" (or annulus) of sunlight appears around the moon. These are slightly more common than total eclipses.

The rarest type of eclipse is the hybrid solar eclipse, in which a solar eclipse appears as both total and annular. The cause of this phenomenon is the curvature of the earth ... as the eclipse "travels" across the face of earth, the curvature of the earth alters the apparent distance from the earth to the moon, making the moon appear to change size very slightly. When the moon appears its largest, i.e., when it is closest to earth's surface, it will completely block out the sun's light, yielding a total eclipse. As the eclipse moves across the surface of the earth, the curvature of the earth makes the moon farther away from the surface, resulting in the moon appearing slightly smaller. The "smaller" moon hides slightly less of the face of the sun, causing more of the sun to be visible, resulting in an annular eclipse. This type of solar eclipse is the rarest of the rare ... only about 5% of all solar eclipses are hybrid.

On April 8, 2005, a hybrid eclipse occurred that was visible throughout the southern Pacific Ocean, as well as parts of South and North America. Most locations saw a partial solar exclipse, since from the viewing angle, only a small portion of the sun was covered. The island of Oeno in the Pitcairn Islands, however, was very close to the center of the moon's shadow, also known as the path of totality.

To celebrate this rare event, Pitcairn Islands produced a 3-stamp issue featuring graphic depictions of what the eclipse might look like. The stamps had a First Day of Issue for the date of the eclipse, so the depictions are artist renderings based on photographs of prior eclipses.

The souvenir sheet consists of 3 circular stamps denominated $1, $2 and $3 (NZ).

The stamps went on sale April 8, 2005 and ceased to be offered 2 years later. You should be able to find these stamps with a little bit of searching through the internet or on stamp auction sites.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Belgium's Dominical Labels

Belgium, 1912 (Scott #102)
King Albert I w/ dominical label
If you've ever studied the postage stamps of Belgium, you will notice that some of their early stamps have an additional label on the bottom of the stamp. Stamp albums usually have space for both the stamp and label, and most stamp catalogs value the stamp with the label intact. In today's entry I will give you a brief rundown on these labels.

These labels are called dominical labels. The purpose of the label is used to identify to the postal system whether delivery of letters should take place on Sunday.

First, a bit of semantics ... often you will hear people mention that the labels are attached to the stamp. They are not physically attached to the stamp with glue or some other physical method. In reality, of course, the labels are part of the same piece of paper as the stamp, but are perforated so that they can be detached from the stamp. Those that haven't been detached, would be considered attached to the stamp.

From the earliest days of the Belgium post office, mail was delivered 7 days a week. Unionized postal workers and Christians felt that a day of rest, preferably Sunday, should be allowed. Following the 1884 election when the Belgian Catholic party came to power, Mr. J. H. P. Vandenpeereboom was appointed to oversee the post office.

Hoping to ward off labor unrest, Mr. Vandenpeereboom decided to let postal consumers dictate whether postal delivery should occur on Sunday. Beginning in 1893, his solution was to sell stamps with dominical labels on them. The labels stated "Not to be delivered on Sunday."

If Sunday delivery was not wanted, the label was left intact on the stamp and the combined stamp and label was applied to the envelope. If the sender wanted the letter to be delivered on Sunday, or if they didn't care one way or the other, they would remove the dominical label when they stuck the stamp to the envelope.

Vandenpeereboom's goal was to keep strict records on the use of the labels to determine the wishes of the consumer. A full 90 percent of the letters mailed did not have the label, and therefore wanted Sunday delivery.

The labeled stamps were issued from 1893 to 1913. There is anecdotal evidence that when German bombs destroyed Belgium's printing works at the start of World War I, the replacement printer could not make the labeled stamps, thus bringing an end to the use of the dominical label. Following World War I, the Belgian postal labor unions had gained strength and were able to abolish regular Sunday delivery.

The Belgian issues that have dominical labels are listed below:

Date of Issue
Number of Stamps Issued
Coat of Arms / King Leopold II
Arms of Antwerp
Arms of Brussels
King Leopold II
Coat of Arms
St. Martin (semi-postal)
St. Martin w/ "1911" Overprint (semi-postal)
St. Martin w/ "Charleroi-1911" Overprint (semi-postal)
Lion of Belgium / King Albert I
King Albert I (larger head)


Thursday, April 17, 2008

Guidelines for Successful Stamp Trades - Part 2

To see the first part of this post, click here.

Yesterday, I presented some guidelines that can help you conduct a successful stamp trade, from setting up the trade to selecting the stamps to send. Today's post will conclude this subject and will include tips on how to safely send your trade through the mail.

  1. Secure your envelope properly. If you've ever received a bunch of stamps in an envelope without some sort of stiffening cardboard around it, you know the frustration first-hand. The stamps in these envelopes get bent or creased while going through the mail system, especially if they travel from distant countries. Be sure to add something stiff on both sides of the stamps you are sending.

  2. Use sufficient postage. Make sure that you use adequate postage on your packet. If you fail to do this, you will either get the packet returned to you for additional postage, or the recipient will have to pay the postage due. Not a pleasant scenario either way.

  3. Always use stamps on the envelope. You are paying the same amount for postage whether you use stamps or not, so why not give your partner a bonus? Your stamp trading partner will appreciate you using nice stamps. Many stamps are very easy to soak off of the envelope and are a nice bonus to your trade.

  4. Ship your stamps promptly. Unless you are an established trading partner, or were advised beforehand, it is very reasonable to expect stamp trades promptly. Sometimes an overseas trade will take two or three weeks to arrive just due to the time in transit. It is important that you get your packet into the mail stream promptly. No one likes to see a stamp trade drag on for months.

  5. Use registered or insured mail, if appropriate. Some traders want you to send stamps by registered mail. They may live in countries or communities where theft might occur. Or they may feel that this prevents them from being accused of cheating their trading partners by (falsely) claiming to have not received a packet of stamps.

    Out of all the stamp trades that I have conducted, I can't remember one packet that didn't eventually show up. It will happen, although probably not as frequently as people fear, but a mailed packet does sometimes fail to make it to its destination. The bulk of these problems are probably due to insufficient addresses, missing return addresses, etc., and not to outright theft. However, once it happens you feel cheated.

    I have taken the approach that the extra costs of using insured or registered mail for every mailing will cost more than the very infrequent stamp packet getting lost/stolen. I'll just send a replacement packet and keep the money I've saved from using regular mail service to buy stamps. If you are trading high value or rare stamps, this might not be an option; insurance may be something you want to use.

  6. E-mail the sender when the packet is received. If you are conducting an internet trade, be sure to e-mail the sender to acknowledge that the stamps arrived. This is just simple courtesy.

Yesterday's and today's posts are just a dozen simple things that ensure successful stamp trades. If you will follow these suggestions, I think you will find your stamp trading more enjoyable.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Guidelines for Successful Stamp Trades - Part 1

If you've ever traded stamps with another collector, you know that it can be very rewarding to expand your collection with a wide variety of stamps. But occasionally you will receive a packet of stamps that makes you just shake your head in disgust. It seems that not everyone treats a stamp trade with the same respect that they should.

Today I present some guidelines that will help you conduct a stamp trade. Today's tips will focus on the trade itself, from setting up the trade to selecting the stamps you will send. Tomorrow's post will include tips on how to properly send your trade safely through the mail.

  1. Specify exactly what is to be traded. Both parties need to know what is expected of them for the trade to conclude successfully. Most stamp trades that happen due to a internet post or in a stamp magazine will list the countries that one trader wants in exchange for the countries the trader is offering in return. If you participate in these types of trades, do not expect the recipient to be happy if you don't fulfill your side of the bargain and send some other country.

    By the same reasoning, specify the type of stamp you are looking for. If you expect commemorative stamps and receive definitive stamps, you are going to be unhappy. Make sure that everyone agrees on the definition of used stamp ... canceled-to-order (CTO) stamps are not the same as postally used, even though they have a postmark on them. And the difference between a mint stamp and a mint never hinged stamp can also frustrate a trader.

    Agree to the terms of the trade before sending a single stamp. Once you've become established trading partners, you can probably relax a little, but first time trades need to have their conditions set forth.

  2. Let it be known if you are a beginner. Most stamp collectors are happy to help beginners. However, you need to make sure that your potential trading partner knows this, as they will keep their expectations reasonable. Some traders do not want to take the time for beginners, which is a sad, but true reality. Many will, though, so don't surprise them by holding that information from them.

    Most experienced collectors know that beginning stamp collectors won't have nicer stamps to send. Still, they may conduct a trade with you, if only to help you build your stamp supply with better quality stamps. You probably can't expect anything long term, but they might send a packet or two of stamps your way, just to help you out.

  3. Send only quality stamps. Do not start off a trade by sending your junk stamps to the other person. Doing so will only foster ill will and shows a lack of integrity on your part. Send the best stamps you can afford to send. And by best, it's not so much that they must be rare, but that they must be in very good condition.

    One of the frustrations that I have encountered is that sometimes I receive stamps that have perforations missing, are wrinkled, or a corner is bent. There is no excuse for sending these types of stamps. I do not ship out stamps that way; I do not expect to receive them in return that way. This is unfair. Make sure that you send as good as you want receive.

    I think the biblical Golden Rule -- Do unto others as you would have others do unto you -- should apply here.

  4. Return equal or better stamps. If a trader sends you a packet of 50 stamps, return at least 50 stamps to them. If they send valuable stamps, make every attempt to send equal or higher value stamps to them in return. If you decide that you will "cheat" this person, don't expect another trade. Plus, it will come back to haunt you, especially if your name gets known around the internet as a bad trader.

  5. For trades based on catalog value, send comparable stamps. Some traders use the values listed in a stamp catalog as the basis for their trades. If you do this, make sure that you either use the same catalog, or adjust your values accordingly. Some stamps in foreign catalogs seem to have a higher value than catalogs based in your own country. If so, make sure that you compensate so that you are able to give your trader a comparable value for their trade.

  6. Do not fulfill a stamp trade by sending cheap stamps! If someone sends you stamps that are valued at the minimum price, while you sent better stamps to them, you will not want to trade with them for long. Try to send equivalent value stamps in return.

    For example, suppose I send you 50 stamps that catalog for 50 cents (US) each. I will probably be disappointed if you return 100 stamps that catalog for 25 cents, since the value would typically indicate that they are not as rare as what I sent to you originally.

    There may be times that this sort of trade is acceptable. If, for example, I am starting a collection in a new country and I have nothing to start with, I might rather have 100 stamps, just to fill up more album spaces. You need to make sure this sort of trade is appropriate before you send the stamps out.

Stamp trading is a very fun aspect of our hobby. Who doesn't like to receive a packet of stamps in the mail?

Be sure to return tomorrow for the conclusion of this post where I will focus on how to properly send your stamps through the mail.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

New Issue - Taiwan's "Finding Nemo" Souvenir Sheets

Taiwan, 2008
Finding Nemo Souvenir Sheet
Let's just face it -- stamp collecting is not very exciting for young children. It has trouble exciting children the way television, video games, the Internet, and other alternatives are able to capture their attention. It is sometimes seen as a dull hobby that is best suited for the older among us.

But ask nearly anyone and they will tell you that at one time or another they used to collect stamps in their youth. True, many times this was a hobby that lasted for a few months or maybe even a year or two, but it seems that almost everyone tried stamp collecting as a child.

Sometimes this initial burst of activity was due to a stamp album they received as a Christmas or birthday gift. The desire to try stamp collecting may have come from a letter from a far-off relative that was franked with a beautiful stamp. Or the thirst to try stamp collecting may have come from watching Grandpa pore over his collecting. Regardless, a small fire was lit that was acted upon. I think it is important that we likewise need to light that small fire in today's children.

One way to do this is to purchase a few stamps for the child in your life, be it either your own, your grandchild, the kid up the street, or someone in your church or at work. Every child likes to receive a gift, and the gift of a unique stamp might go a long way to get them interested in stamps. If nothing else, they will be interested in your generosity and may very well remember it for their entire lifetime.

Taiwan, 2008
Finding Nemo Souvenir Sheet
To find stamps, just look around at the philatelic magazines that you receive. Almost every stamp magazine lists new issues that children would find interesting. What child wouldn't like animal stamps or stamps with Santa Claus? These can probably be found for juts a few dollars and would bring joy to a child's life.

On April 3rd, Taiwan Post issued two souvenir sheets featuring Disney characters from the movie Finding Nemo, a very popular animated movie from 2003. As with most Disney movies, the high-quality of the animation and the comical happenings of the characters keeps a child's attention. The movie won an Acadamy Award (the "Oscar") for Best Animated Film, as well as many other awards.

The souvenir sheets feature a total of 10 stamps, arranged as 5 stamps per sheet. Eight of the stamps are circular and not only have their favorite characters from the movie, but are sure to pique the interest of a child by virtue of not being rectangular.

The souvenir sheets are affordable. With current exchange rates, each sheet costs about $0.85 US.

For further information, contact Taiwan Post

Monday, April 14, 2008

Stamp Issuers - Alaouites

Alaouites, 1925 (Scott #12)
Overprinted France 'Sower'
The Alawites State (French, Alaouites) is a region on the western side of Syria. France occupied Syria at the end of World War I, and following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, France received the area by mandate from the League of Nations. In 1924, the territory became an independent state, although France was still under mandate to administer the area. In 1930, the area was renamed Latakia.

France never printed stamps for Alaouites; all of the stamps in use during the period were overprinted stamps of France or Syria.

The first stamps were issued in 1925 and were French definitives. The stamps were overprinted with "Alaouites" and the denomination, and included the Arabic translation. There were a total of 21 French overprints used and these stamps catalog anywhere from about $1.50 (USD) to $7.00 each.

Because every Alaouites stamp is an overprinted stamp, almost every stamp issued has variations of the overprint. Some has multiple copies of the overprint, but the most common variation is the inverted overprint, where the overprint is upside-down, when viewing the underlying stamp right side up. The inverted overprints for the first series of stamps (the French overprints) run from about $10 to $20.

Sample overprint showing
name and denomination
Beginning in March 1925, Syrian stamps were overprinted and used for postage. There are a total of 25 regular issue stamps from 1925 through 1928. Combined with the 24 French overprinted stamps, there were a total of 49 regular stamps issued for Alaouites.

For the Syrian stamps, there are a variety of overprints, including those in black, blue, or red ink. With this many options on overprints, there are several varieties for most stamps. However, collecting the main issue of Syrian overprints would not be very expensive ... most of these stamps catalog for $1 or $2.

Two types of back-of-the-book stamps were issued for Alaouites -- air post and postage due stamps.

The air post stamps are double overprinted; the first overprint consists of the basic stamp overprinted for service in Alaouites but with an additional overprint indicating their use for air postage. The 1925 stamps were overprinted with words and numbers; the 1926 issue and later were overprinted with a large red or black airplane. There were 21 air post stamps issued (excluding variations) and the total catalog value is around $115.

Alaouites, Air Post, 1926 (Scott #C12)
Regular Issue Overprinted with Red Airplane
Postage due stamps were also issued for Alaouites. A total of 10 stamps of this type were issued with a total catalog value of about $30.

Price-wise, the basic stamps for Alaouites should be in anyone's budget. With a total catalog value of about $300 for the entire run, most any collector could afford these stamps. Many of the lower-value stamps can be obtained for well under their catalog value, although the few high-values seem to hold up well.

If you decide to collect the overprint variations, you will find them much more expensive. I've seldom seen any listed on auction sites and will probably have to be obtained by a dedicated stamp dealer.

Previous Stamp Issuer Topics:

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Spotlight - Stamp Albums Web

Stamp Albums Web

Most collectors quickly come to the realization that in order to house their stamps they will need to purchase one or more stamp albums. Depending on whether you want to collect all the stamps of one country, or all the stamps of the world, stamp albums come at a price -- a price that seriously depletes our stamp collecting budgets. Enter Bill Steiner's Stamp Albums Web site.

Since 2001, Stamp Albums Web has provided a very affordable alternative to expensive stamp albums. Bill Steiner, owner of the site, has created a series of album pages that you can download and print yourself, freeing yourself up from costly albums and extravagant shipping fees. And the cost is the best part. More on this later.

Stamp Albums Web houses two primary sets of stamp pages. The first collection is a set of pre-1940 (also known as the Classic stamp collecting period) album pages. With this set you have space for all major stamps that were issued during the first 100 years of the postage stamp.

The other collection that is offered is a worldwide collection. At about 95% complete (save for the most recent year or two, which even the large publishing houses have yet to publish), the world is very well represented. The 5% or so that is missing represents about 20 countries that are not yet up to date, with most just needing a few more years of stamps to be completed. All in all, Stamp Albums Web houses about 70,000 stamp album pages!

Stamp Albums Web
Sample album page

You might be asking what does it take to make your own stamp albums. First, you need to make sure you have Adobe Acrobat Reader. Bill provides a convenient download link for this free utility. Next, you simply download the files and save them on your computer. Finally, you print them out on the paper of your choice. Bill also provides helpful recommendations for paper choices, printing problems you might encounter, etc.

Now to the cost of this service -- how does a $20 (US) website membership sound? It is an incredible bargain that everyone can afford. For that price, you get one year access to download any of the files that you want. If you have a slow download speed and/or would like to have a CD-ROM of all album pages, it can be purchased for $30. To combine both the one-time CD-ROM with a yearlong website membership, it is only $40. His website indicates that he takes major credit cards, checks, PayPal, even unused U.S. postage stamps. Again, this is an incredible bargain that will pay for itself many times over. Over 2000 subscribers can't be wrong!

As with any human endeavor, occasional mistakes will crop up on an album page. Bill has a policy of making correction pages available online for an extended period of time. You can even download them after your subscription has run out.

Even if you don't have access to a printer or good quality paper, or are a computer "dummy", you can still get affordable stamp albums. Bill has licensed several users in different countries to provide ready-to-use stamp album pages for a nominal fee.

If this review sounds biased, it is. I subscribed to Stamp Albums Web for several years as I started building my Scandinavia stamp collection. I only stopped because of a once-in-a-lifetime bargain I got off of eBay for a complete world-wide stamp album collection. Had I not made that tremendous bargain, I would still be downloading and building my stamp albums today.

Be sure to visit Stamp Albums Web and look around. You will probably find yourself very pleased with the choices that are available and will want to become a subscriber yourself.

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, April 12, 2008

The Last Stamp of the Philatelic President

Probably the greatest single person to influence the world on the joys of stamp collecting died on April 12, 1945. In Warm Springs, Georgia, Franklin Delano Roosevelt succumbed to a fatal cerebral hemorrhage after 12 years as the 32nd President of the United States, a feat unmatched and unmatchable due to constitutional changes.

United States, 1945 (Scott #928)
United Nations Conference
Roosevelt had been an avid stamp collector since the age of eight. Having a wealthy family with worldwide connections gave him the opportunity to acquire stamps from all over the world.

Tragedy struck Roosevelt at the age of 39 when he was struck down by a paralytic disease widely thought to be polio, although recent evidence supports a diagnosis of Guillain-Barré Syndrome. Whichever disease it was, Roosevelt was permanently paralyzed.

During his long periods of recuperation Roosevelt delved deeply into his stamp collection. The collection brought him solace during those difficult days. Studying, organizing and mounting stamps was an enduring relief for Roosevelt.

Upon entering the White House as President, Roosevelt brought his stamp collection with him. He also brought to the office an expertise in philately that hadn't been seen before or since. He was active in postal activities, suggesting stamps, approving designs, and offering direction to the Post Office. He has been nicknamed the "Philatelic President".

His active participation in stamp collecting was evident up to his final day. On the morning of April 12, 1945, while resting in Warm Springs, Georgia, he arose and worked on his collection. He then looked over a design for a new stamp to recognize the founding of the United Nations. A few weeks earlier, Roosevelt had suggested a stamp design, and the Postmaster General had a mock-up design created for the President's review. It was this design that he approved that fateful morning.

Later that day, at 1:15 PM, Roosevelt collapsed from a cerebral hemorrhage. He died two hours later. The nation and the world had lost an avid collector. His love for philately and his popularity on the world's stage caused many people to take up stamp collecting.

The stamp that he approved on the morning of his death was altered very slightly before it was released a few weeks later. The Postmaster General put Roosevelt's catch-phrase "Toward United Nations" and the date in quotation marks, along with identifying the President by name.

The stamp, illustrated above, is Scott #928 for the United States. The stamp is widely available for a very low cost.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Terminology - Coil Stamps

Vertical coil pair
Note imperforate sides
Coil stamps are a horizontal or vertical strip of stamps, usually rolled into a coil, thus earning their name. Historically, there have been two main users of coil stamps. One user is a stamp vendor who sells stamps by machine and would use coil stamps so that a specific number of stamps could be purchased by the user. Mass-mailers are the other main user of coil stamps. They use the stamps so that their automatic machinery can apply the stamps in rapid fire to hundreds or thousands of letters.

The first attempts at mechanically vending or affixing stamps used regular perforated sheets of stamps that had been separated into long strips of stamps. This caused problems because the perforations on the sides would mess up the machines, and the perforations between the stamps would sometimes separate at inopportune times.

The United States Post Office tried to solve these problems by selling imperforated strips of stamps for this purpose. Vendors could then add their own perforations to the stamps for their specific reasons. These private perforations are highly collectible and there are several resources available for determining the company that sold or used the stamps.

Early coil stamps were manufactured from strips of stamps pasted together. For example, a pane of 100 stamps arranged as 10 rows of 10 stamps would be cut apart to make 10 strips to 10 stemps. Typically, every 10th stamp of one strip would be pasted to the 1st stamp of the next strip, yielding a 100 stamp strip. The pasted area of the stamps would remain and would sometimes be used to mail letters. Some of these pasted pairs of stamps have survived and are very collectible.

With the advent of the rotary press, a continuous stream of stamps could be printed. The round die used to imprint the stamps has a seam where the curved stamp plate is joined together so as to be continuous. This results in a faint line on the strip of stamps, since ink tends to accumulate in this tiny seam. The seam is called a joint line, and the two stamps adjacent to this seam are called joint line pairs. These types of coil stamps are also in demand.

There are two orientations of coil stamps -- horizontal and vertical. The vertical coil stamp is where the stamps are arranged top-to-bottom and have the perforation between them. Usually, but not always, this means that the stamps have no perforations at the left or right, yet have perforations on the top and bottom of each stamp. The orientation is reversed for horizontal coil stamps.

Around 1980, the US Postal Service added a plate number to every few stamps in a coil. The plate number identified the printing plate used to create the stamps. This number created a new collectible craze, as collectors sought after these plate number coil (abbreviated "PNC") stamps. Generally, collectors prefer that plate number coil stamps are contiguous strips of stamps with the center stamp being the one with the plate number. You typically see them as strips of 3 stamps (PNC3) or 5 stamps (PNC5)

Self-adhesive stamps, which have die-cut and no perforations, can be sold in coils as well. Currently, many post offices are selling "liner-less" coils, in which the self-adhesive stamp sticks to the next lower layer of stamps, much like how adhesive tape lightly sticks to itself on a roll of tape.

Coil stamps are an interesting variety of stamps to collect.

Previous Terminology Topics:

Thursday, April 10, 2008

New Issue - Vanuatu's Coconut Crab Stamps

Vanuatu, 2008
Coconut Crab, 60v
Vanuatu is an island nation consisting of a cluster of islands located in the South Pacific Ocean, east of Australia. In February 2008, Vanuatu Post issued a two-stamp set featuring one of their native anthropods ... the coconut crab.

The coconut crab (Birgus latro) is the largest land-dwelling crab. It inhabits the South Pacific Ocean region and can be found in many locations throughout the region.

The most amazing feature of the coconut crab is what gives it its name -- they climb coconut trees and eat the coconuts. They have extremely powerful claws and are able to pinch into a coconut in order to feast on the inner flesh. The crab's claws are so powerful they can lift over 50 pounds (22 kg) during the crab's search for food.

Coconut crabs are massive; when fully grown they have a leg span of about 3 feet (1 meter) and weigh about 9 pounds (4 kg). They spend their life on land, and are the largest land-based crabs on earth.

Coconut crabs are long-lived; some have been known to have lived for more than 30 years.

Vanuatu, 2008
Coconut Crab, 500v
When young, the coconut crab lives as a hermit crab, finding discarded shells for a place to live. As the crab matures, it converts its soft shell into a hard shell and no longer requires a scavenged shell. This conversion comes at a price, however, as the crab must periodically molt its shell as it continues to grow. During these molting cycles the crab has to remain secluded until a hard shell grows back, or risk being an easy meal for another animal.

Shell or no shell, their greatest predator is undoubtedly the human. Coconut crabs are considered a delicacy in the South Pacific and especially in Vanuatu. Because of the high demand from the restaurant trade and the fact that it takes about 4 to 8 years before a coconut crab can reproduce, their numbers are rapidly declining.

Vanuatu is taking efforts to preserve the coconut crab population. In 2004, a 3-year ban was instituted at one of the main collection points for the crab. Additional bans have been initiated. There have also been restrictions on harvesting the crabs if they are of a minimal size.

These two stamps are denominated in 60 VUV and 500 VUV, which is Vanuatu's currency unit. Together the two stamps would cost about US $6 with the conversion rates. Vanuatu Post issued the set as individual stamps and as part of a beautiful souvenir sheet featuring both stamps.

Vanuatu Post can be found at

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Laika, Space Dog

The space race between the United States and the Soviet Union in the 1950s and 1960s was, like most aspects of the Cold War, a surrogate contest between democracy and communism. Each country vied for supremacy in space, if only for a matter of national pride.

Before humans could venture into space, there were many unknowns about the final frontier. Each country had to conduct experiments to see if humans could possibly survive the journey into space and to determine if there were physiological changes that would endanger the space traveler. Unwilling to risk human lives when conducting these experiments, animals were used as test subjects during these initial experiments. Less than one month after the launch of Sputnik I, the first artificial satellite in space, Sputnik II carried its canine cosmonaut, later nicknamed Laika, into space.

Laika was a mongrel dog rescued from a Moscow animal shelter. Her pedigree remains unknown, but she may have been a mix of Husky and/or Samoyed with other breeds also figuring into her makeup. She was approximately 3 years old when she was selected from a pool of three dogs to become the first living creature to orbit the earth.

Cold War politics figured in to the ultimate decision to send Laika into space. Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, following the successful launch of Sputnik I, requested that Sputnik II be launched by November 7, 1957, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Soviet Revolution. The rush to get the satellite launched meant that some shortcuts would have to be done in order to meet the deadline.

Unfortunately for Laika, Sputnik II was not designed to return to earth; the satellite was launched knowing that it would ultimately burn up on re-entry into earth's atmosphere. While many aspects of the flight of Sputnik II were hidden from public view due to the secretive nature of the Soviet space program, there have been reports that poisoned food was to be fed to Laika to euthanize her. Apparent problems during the launch, however, made these humane efforts unnecessary.

While the successful launch of Laika was a propaganda coup for the Soviet Union, it soon backfired on them. Once it was known that there was no way for Laika to return safely to earth, the West cranked up the propaganda. Laika was a pawn in international politics.

The true story seems to be that Laika had died well before the news of Sputnik II was widely known. The best evidence is that a few hours after launch, Laika died, possibly from stress and overheating.

Laika, with her docile and unassuming appearance, became a cause célèbre for animal rights. She remains the only living creature to have been launched into space without the means to be returned safely. Without a doubt, Laika's friendly, yet passive, appearance, coupled with the outcry at how her life was so brashly sacrificed, has made it unlikely that there will be future space experiments on helpless animals.

Several countries, mainly Communist countries, have issued stamps honoring Laika. Mongolian and Romanian stamps are displayed nearby. Several countries issued commemorative stamps featuring Laika in 2007, the 50th anniversary of her historic space flight.

Most stamps featuring Laika are available very cheaply.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Techniques - Building a Country Collection

Country-based stamp collections
can be very rewarding to create
Most collectors cannot possibly afford to build a comprehensive world-wide stamp collection, so many turn their focus on collecting the stamps of a specific country. Depending on the country you select, this can be an attainable goal within a few months or a lifetime.

Stamps from so-called dead countries, which no longer exist, can sometimes be acquired easily with the help of a dedicated stamp store or with the help of the internet. Trying to complete a collection for an active stamp-issuing country that has issued stamps since the early 1840s is nearly impossible, unless you are independently wealthy, which probably precludes most of my readers.

Here are several steps to help you start a country-specific collection:

  1. First you will need to decide on a country to collect. It is helpful to look through stamp albums to get a rough cost for how much the stamps of that country would cost. Maybe you want to collect stamps from your native country, or possibly the Old World country from which your family emigrated.

  2. Next determine if there are specific types of stamps you want to collect from the country. Are you interested in regular issue stamps? Air mail stamps? All catalog-listed stamps that the country issued? This will help you to narrow your search for the stamps to collect.

  3. Next, determine how you will mount and display your stamps. Will you use home-made stamp pages that are created with a word processor? Will you use ruled graph paper to organize your stamps? Will you buy a dedicated stamp album for your country? This question needs to be addressed so you can begin accumulating your stamps and tracking the ones you have and the ones you need.

  4. If you are to purchase stamps in packets, purchase the largest packet of different stamps that you can afford. This is an important first step for a stamp accumulation. Starting off correct will greatly decrease your time and cost to collect the remaining stamps.

    Suppose a dealer offers 200 different stamps from a country for only $2 and 300 different stamps from the same country for $15. Generally you will be better off to purchase the larger group of stamps for two reasons.

    • One, the 100 extra stamps that you get will probably not be random selections, but will be better stamps that you wouldn't normally get in the 200-stamp packet. Thus you will end up with 100 more stamps, but they will have a higher value that the corresponding 200 stamps in the lower-priced packet.

    • Two, the larger packet will probably include the 200 stamps in the smaller packet. If you were to go back later and buy the 200-stamp packet after first buying the 300-stamp packet, you will probably end up with 200 duplicate stamps. Thus, the largest packet of stamps is usually your better purchase.

  5. Mount your stamps. Once you have placed your stamps in your album, you will be able to create a want-list, which is a list of stamps that you need to complete your collection. You might record your wanted stamps on a computer, but be sure you have it on paper too. When you travel to stamp stores or stamp shows, you want to be able to quickly find out if you need a specific stamp.

  6. Next, zero in on auctions, stamp sites, and stamp organizations that list stamps of your country. This will be your life-line to completing your collection. You will probably have to buy the higher-value stamps individually. With some savvy bidding and negotiating, you can probably complete your country within your budget.

These are just a few techniques to build a country-based stamp collection.

Related Techniques:

Monday, April 7, 2008

Stamp Issuers - Ajman

Ajman, 1964 (Scott #18)
Sheik and Lanner Falcon
Ajman is an emirate located in the Persian Gulf. In the 1820s Ajman, and several other Persian Gulf sheikdoms, signed a truce with Great Britain in an effort to stem piracy of British Indian ships in the region. This truce and several additional agreements has led to the sheikdoms being classified as Trucial States.

In 1971, Ajman joined five other emirates to form the United Arab Emirates, with a sixth emirate joining soon thereafter. Ajman is the smallest of the emirates, with a total area of 100 sq. miles (260 sq. km).

Very few stamps from Ajman are considered postally valid. There have been many stamps issued for Ajman, but a great number of them had limited, if any, postal use. The Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue only recognizes Ajman stamps from 1964 and 1965 as valid. The remaining Ajman issues, primarily from 1967 through 1972, are excluded as their postal use appears to be questionable.

Ajman, 1964 (Scott #26)
U.S. President, John F. Kennedy
The first Scott-recognized stamps of Ajman were printed in 1964. This series of stamps features the reigning sheik on one half of the stamp and images from the sheikdom on the other. The 18-stamp issue has a catalog value of about $10 (USD) in mint, never hinged condition.

The second series of recognized stamps honors United States' President John F. Kennedy. Issued one year after his assassination, these 8 stamps feature various aspects of President Kennedy's life and political career. These stamps have a catalog of $8 for mint, never hinged stamps.

The 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games were honored in the third set of 10 stamps. The set catalogues in mint, never hinged condition for $6.50.

The last set of Scott-recognized stamps honors the centennial of the Stanley Gibbons stamp catalogue. The 10-stamp set depicts various historical stamps. It currently catalogues for about $4.

These four stamp sets, comprising 44 stamps, are the complete run of regular issue Scott-recognized stamps for Ajman. With a catalog value of about $30 for the entire run, these stamps are very affordable for the collector.

Ajman, 1965 (Scott #36)
Tokyo Olympic Games, Gymnast
In addition to these regular issue stamps, Ajman also issued 9 Air Post stamps and 5 Official stamps, and 4 Air Post Official stamps using the same design as the first set (sheik plus national emblem). The total mint, never hinged catalogue value for these "Back of the Book" stamps is about $15.

The full set of recognized Ajman stamps have a catalog value of about $45 (USD), so these stamps are within anyone's budget.

Be aware that there have been many, many other Ajman stamps that are not recognized by major stamp catalogues. You will probably want to arm yourself with a catalogue before blindly ordering stamps of this country, as you might end up with unrecognized stamps that are not part of your stamp album.

Previous Stamp Issuer Topics:

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Technique - How to Find Stamps in a Catalog - Part 3

In today's entry, I conclude my list of ways to try to pinpoint the date of a stamp. To review the first two parts of this entry, be sure to check out Part 1 and Part 2.

  1. Date the stamp using watermarks. Watermarks, the semi-transparent markings that are used as a security device for paper, are typically used for a period of time and then changed or eliminated. By knowing the watermark of the stamp you are trying to date and comparing it to known ranges of watermarks, you may be able to place the stamp in the correct era.

    Be aware that watermarks are rarely used in more modern stamps

  2. Examine the style of adhesive. One of the trends of postage stamps is the use of self-adhesive glues in more recent stamps. Consumers favor the "peel-and-stick" experience as opposed to the "lick-and-stick" of old.

    Fortunately, self-adhesive stamps have not been used that long. While there were sporadic attempts prior to the 1980s to issue self-adhesive stamps, it is in the mid to late 1990s that they begin to be used by more and more postal authorities. Self adhesive stamps are very popular with the consumer.

    By knowing the type of adhesive available on the stamp, one can determine approximate years of a stamp.

  3. Perforation changes can reveal dates. Stamp perforations might reveal an estimated date of issue for a stamp. The perforations exist to enable a pane of stamps to be separated into individual stamps, and the various methods used over the years can help to date the stamp.

    The very earliest stamps were issued imperforate, which means there was no method of separating stamps, other than scissors or a sharp knife. After that, the early stamps were sometimes rouletted, which is where sharp blades were used to make incomplete cuts between the stamps. The individual stamps were easier to pull apart but they usually had rough edges where they were separated manually.

    Later, perforating machines were used to puncture holes in the margin between stamps so that they could be torn apart. The perforations themselves are probably of limited value in dating the stamps since the perforations have been used for decades, but recently, there are been some perforation changes that can be used to zero in on dates of issue.

    More and more stamps, especially commemorative issues, and stamp perforations that are not the traditional series of holes, but have some simple cutout design in the midst of the stamp perfs. Great Britain has used an elliptical perforation for a number of years that complements the row of round holes. Canada has issued several recent stamps that have a maple leaf punched into the perforations. Knowing these types of special perforations can help one date a stamp.

    Most newer self-adhesive stamps are die-cut. This means that a sharp cutter (a die) has cut through the paper leaving the stamp adhering to a backing paper. When needed, the stamp is just peeled off. The die-cuts leave a very crisp edge to the stamp, since it is lifted from the backing paper, and not torn, like the other methods require.

Over the last few days I've tried to list just a few ways that you can determine the issue date of a stamp. Each of these techniques is only good at narrowing down a stamp's issue date to a range of dates. Hopefully, these tips will reduce the amount of time needed to find the stamp in the catalog.

Related Techniques:

Friday, April 4, 2008

Technique - How to Find Stamps in a Catalog - Part 2

In today's entry, we continue listing ways to try to pinpoint the date of a stamp. To review the first part of this entry, be sure to check out Part 1.

  1. Review the stamp for Anniversary dates. Stamps are often issued to mark anniversaries of well-known individuals or famous events. Knowing this, one can estimate the date that a stamp was issued.

    For example, many stamps that celebrate the life of someone are issued on a 50 or 100 year multiple of either their birth or death. If the person's name is noted on the stamp, a quick search of the internet, might help you zero in on anniversary years.

    The same can be said for events. Many stamps were issued honoring the 50th anniversary of key dates of World War II. By knowing a little about the subject, you might be able to tie the stamp to a specific date, such as the Allied Invasion of Normandy (D-Day) and pinpoint the anniversary date.

  2. Review currency changes for the issuing country. Some countries have changed their base currency due to wars, financial crisis, or regime change. Careful analysis of the currency change can place the stamp in question to a specific date range.

  3. Examine the country name. Along with the root causes of a currency change, the country's name may also change. Often, after a military coup or after achieving independence, the country will be known by a different name . For example, after a monarch is deposed, a country may not longer be called the Kingdom of xxx, but they may now be the Democratic Republic of xxx. These changes in country title will place you in specific eras in the country's history and should help establish date ranges of the stamp.

  4. Compare the denomination of the stamp. There are exceptions, but postal rates generally go up in value as time goes by. By carefully comparing the denomination of a stamp to listed stamps, one can sometimes place a stamp in an appropriate era.

    For example, if the stamps of a country are denominated as 40 cents during the 1980s, the 35 cent stamp that you are trying to locate was probably issued in the 1970s. This technique does not always work, because definitive stamps, the workhorse stamp of most postal administrations, are usually distributed with a wide variety of denominations, since they are used to make up any possible rate.

    Also, drastic changes in the denomination printed on a stamp can pinpoint dates of hyperinflation. Stamps issued as Germany was losing World War II were printed in staggering denominations, as the currency was considered to be almost worthless.

These are just a few examples of how you can place the date of issue for a stamp. Tomorrow, I will wrap up this topic with a few additional tips to help you.

Related Techniques: