I came across this “souvenir sheet” of what looks like British stamps in my GB stock album. I needed the space for something else, so I decided to relegate this questionable philatelic artifact to a stock file. As I removed it from its place, I took one more look at it.
“A new approach to British Definitive Postage Stamps,” reads the headline. Underneath is the name of the designer — Jock Kinneir FSIA** — as well as Stanley Gibbons, the iconic London stamp establishment that commissioned the set.
(**Regarding FSIA, the only entities I could find using that acronym are the Faridabad Small Industries Association; the Free State Institute of Architects, in South Africa; and the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976.)
At the bottom of the sheet is some small print: “NOTE: The above are purely private productions and have not been officially commissioned by the Post Office for authentic stamps.”
Well, that settles the question of authenticity, I guess. Still, it’s an interesting curio — from the Spring of 1965, just as the British Post Office was settling on a new set to replace the one in use for the 12 years since Elizabeth became queen.
While trying to determine if Jock Kinneir FSIA had created any “real” stamps, I learned that he was a prominent graphic designer in his day. Kinneir (1917-1994) developed the signage system for the British Railway in the 1950s and 1960s. His simple, unadorned, readily-legible-at-speed signs soon became standard fare, and the movement spread to airports, subways, other countries. I must only add that the typeface he and his partner, Margaret Calvert, adapted for their traffic signage was a 19th century German trade font titled, “Akzident Grotesk.” (I kid you not; look it up.) The Kinneir-Calvert version became the “Transport” typeface.
I suspect the typeface on this this sheet is Transport. It is interesting, to me at least, to contemplate these stamps and imagine, what if … What if the BPO had rejected the plain, if elegant, Machin portrait in favor of
this set of stylish designs and landmarks? They would not have sparked anything like the philatelic revolution of the Machin era, whose sets and numbers have stretched ever onward over a half-century. The Kinneir “fantasy” set may be pretty, may have seemed modern and sleek for its time. Perhaps a postal official or two took a look and gave it some consideration. Perhaps not. There was hardly a contest between Kinneir’s worthy effort and the magisterial Machin, rightly called one of the greatest stamps of all time.
The only other reference to Jock Kinneir designing stamps that I could find in the limited interval I allowed myself for research is the following: It seems Kinneir was one of eight Scottish designers invited to submit proposals for a two-stamp set commemorating the 200th anniversary of the death of Robert Burns in 1966. Kinneir’s bold design consisted of Burns’ signature, scrawled in black across a stark white background. Even bolder, it dispensed with the portrait of the monarch, an integral element of all British stamps (except postage dues) since the beginning of stamps with Queen Victoria on the Penny Black in 1840. (Kinneir’s shocking innovation was encouraged by Tony Benn, the democratic socialist politician serving as postmaster general in the Labour government.)
The Postal Advisory Committee initially chose Kinneir’s designs. However, on learning that the queen herself did not approve of her portrait being removed from the nation’s postage stamps, and knowing that the queen must pass on recommendations for all postage stamps, the committee retrenched. Its final submission was a more conventional design by another of the Scottish artists, Gordon F. Huntley. The stamps returned to using the queen’s portrait. While Kinneir redrew his stamps to include the portrait, the authorities still chose the other design, citing a new reason: postal cancellations might ruin Kinneir’s bold effect.
So as far as I can tell, while Kinneir was a whiz-bang designer whose work in transportation signage has had a global and lasting impact, he pretty much struck out in the stamp-design department.
Some stamp collectors may find it a waste of time to focus on stamps that never were — like the Jock Kinneir set of proposed (and rejected) British definitives. These make-believe stamps have acquired the somewhat mocking nickname of “Cinderellas.” It would take more time and toil than I can manage to compile a comprehensive guide to this amorphous category of pseudo-stamps — labels, badges, commemoratives, tributes, propaganda, art, advertisements and what-have-you, in multiple categories, proliferating in one country after another until it becomes a parallel world to true philately.
There are catalogues on the subject, along with shows and exhibits, an index begun in 1961, and a lively online presence, including the Cinderella stamps forum. I wonder, though, how you can keep up with Cinderellas on one hand, while setting boundaries on the other. The broadest definition of Cinderellas, from the authoritative source Stanley Gibbons, is “virtually anything resembling a postage stamp, but not issued for postal purposes by a government postal administration.” That would include Easter Seals and green stamps, U.S. savings bond stamps and food stamps, as well as the delicate and whimsical watercolor stamp designs of Donald Evans. (See Cinderellas part two: Artistamps). Cinderellas could have a satirical purpose — like the Doonesbury comic stamps created by Garry Trudeau in 1990. Twine Workshop took philatelic aim at George W. Bush in 2005.
Like counterfeit currency, Cinderellas have no place in the postal world order. There may be zillions of avid Cinderella collectors out there, and I hope they are having fun. While I have had my brushes and even flirtations with Cinderellas during my decades as a stamp collector, I’ve always been wary of them, particularly when they are oriented commercially or promote a specific group. There is so much involved with “legitimate” philately that I feel I must focus on the “real thing” rather than get sidetracked by Cinderellas …
That is, until they get interesting — for example, when Cinderellas masquerade on the fringes of “real” philately, or actually blur the lines between the two. Like when the philatelic powers-that-be banished to Cinderella-land stamps from self-declared but not universally recognized lands — say, from Biafra during the rebellion of the 1960s, or in the Congo rump states of South Kasai, Katanga and Stanleyville earlier that same decade. In the struggle to resist Cinderellas, the stamp collector’s heart is tugged by history and bureaucracy. The philatelic romantic roots for the stamp-issuing state as it asserts its national (or at least, postal) identity. Oh, for a cover with Cinderellas, officially cancelled!
The term Cinderella also applies to stamps serving darker purposes. During World War II, as the Axis nations fought for global dominion, their postal ambitions soared beyond their early territorial gains. In Vichy France, the Nazis’ puppet state, postal authorities produced stamps for France’s colonial empire. They pointedly dropped the name “Republique Francaise,” for the Nazi-approved “Postes Francaises,” and included an inset portrait of Marshal Petain, the compliant French ruler. Though issued by the Vichy government, the stamps never were offered for sale in their designated colonies. One wonders how they were sold, and for what purpose. Propaganda? Morale? False hope? Delusion? The spurious Vichy colonial stamps are not valuable, though some of the engravings are charming. Notice how the stamps in the lower image carry an overprint and a surcharge in support of “Oeuvres Coloniales” — colonial projects. Did the Nazis and their French collaborators really have a fund for such projects? If so, it must have led a bizarre bureaucratic existence. I don’t believe Axis troops dared set foot in any of the free French colonies. Not with de Gaulle and his allies operating out of London, Algiers, Brazzaville and other points in equatorial and west Africa, which remained beyond Vichy (or German) control.
Safe to say, the Axis powers did have ambitions for Africa — at least to exploit its resources. They also had designs on India, then still the colony of the British Raj. But neither the Nazi wehrmacht nor its Japanese allies were able to penetrate the subcontinent. Some of the war’s most furious fighting occurred in Burma, on India’s doorstep. In occupied Singapore, Indian nationalist Subhas Chandra Bose formed a Provisional Government of Free India, declaring its sovereignty and independence from Great Britain — but taking its orders from Tokyo. Just in case the Axis powers did manage to gain a foothold in India, artists dreamed up a set of rather garish stamps declaring “Free India” (“Azad Hind”) and displaying the Indian nation breaking its chains, among other designs. History was not kind to this “independence” movement. Though Bose’s Indian National Army soldiers fought alongside the Japanese in Burma, and managed to take and briefly hold territory on Indian islands and make border incursions, “Free India” fizzled, and history accords it no role in the subsequent emancipation of India from colonial rule in 1947. (Bose died from burns he received in a plane crash in 1945.) These stamps were never placed on sale in India or anywhere else — perhaps they circulated as propaganda, souvenirs, or as shadowy exchanges in the casbah where such nightmarish Cinderellas find their way into the mainstream; which is the reason we still find them available today, for prices that can range up to $100 or more for a complete set. (The illustration above comes from the Internet.)
Even a fleeting illumination of Cinderellas must shed a beam on Lundy. “Local” stamps — used for mail delivered privately and not sanctioned by the post office — go back to the early days of philately. But Lundy is another story. This small island in the English Channel (population: 28?) began issuing its own stamps in the 1920s, after the British Post Office discontinued regular mail service to and from the mainland. London apparently accepted Lundy’s maneuver, and agreed to
take Lundy-stamped letters for further delivery — providing they also bore the necessary GB postage stamp. And so began the unavoidably lighthearted succession of “stamps,” denominated in “puffins” and
depicting, among other things, the ungainly bird native to the island. You will not find Lundy stamps listed in major catalogues or sold through online sites like Stamps2Go or Zillionsofstamps. (eBay offers a few sets for sale or bid — not
Are these Lundy stamps legitimate or Cinderellas? I say they are spurious, but the breezy debate has been going on for decades, so it might as well continue for a while longer …
Gallery: Cinderellas in my collection
The following is a selection of Cinderella items from my collection, in no particular order. Let the pictures — and captions — speak for themselves.
END OF PART ONE