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.

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