Cinderellas part two: Artistamps

So far I have barely creased the surface of Cinderella “non-stamps.” You can do a deeper dive by going online to “Cinderella stamps images,” and get lost in the pictures and stories. I decided to take a little side trip into the wild and crazy world of Artistamps. Come along!

The Artistamp could be considered a sub-category of the Cinderella, but by rights deserves a category of its own. The hybrid term is charmingly defined as a  “portmanteau” — that is, not the two-part travel-case, but “a word blending the sounds and combining the meanings of two others,”  like motel, or brunch. In this case, the two words don’t fold quite as easily as the portmanteau —  is it  “artist” and “stamp,” or “artist’s stamp”? The key word to hang on to is “art.” The Artistamp may have an ulterior motive, an ironic,  political, satirical or even subversive purpose, but it also needs the  saving grace of artistic merit.

 

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These may look like postage stamps, but do not be deceived. They are the deceptive and alluring work of Donald Evans. Who ever heard of a place called “Amis et Amants” (Friends and Lovers)? I can’t make sense of the captions, and the “cancellation” consists of the artist’s name. But they sure are pretty, aren’t they?

To me and no doubt others, Donald Evans did as much as anyone during his brief and remarkably productive career to elevate the Artistamp to its deserved niche  in the collectors  pantheon. (Where is that perch, you ask? Somewhere between Andy Warhol, Saul Steinberg and R. Crumb.)  This guy was an architectural draftsman who had been fooling around drawing stamps since he was 10. He picked up the pastime again as an adult, and went on to design  thousands of imaginary stamps and imaginary sets from 42 imaginary countries. Each stamp was a meticulously designed and executed miniature, using ink and washed-out watercolors. Evans pecked out “perforations” using the period key on a typewriter. The results were stunning — whimsical, irresistible, altogether delicious. fullsizeoutput_18e1Evans seemed to tap into the essence of philatelic joy  — the crisp order, the soothing color, the variety of the  imagery and messaging, all contained within the frames  of those little stamps. Emily Cleaver writes: “He used this sameness, this deliberate smallness, to explore the infinite. His stamps are pieces of physical evidence sent directly from the limitless landscape of the imagination.”

Alas, Donald Evans died in a house fire in 1977.  He was just 33. A few more Donald Evans works follow …

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This witty souvenir sheet by Donald Evans celebrates some long-ago air show of the imagination, and features a single-engine plane doing a lazy circle — around the sheet. To me, the sheet also resonates with echoes from the famous and spectacularly valuable Inverted Jenny U.S. airmail stamp error of 1918.

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Children and adults could have fun with this made-up set from somewhere called Nadorp. Each stamp contains a pair of images — a match and a rose; a sunset and a gold ring; a canary and a bicycle. I challenge you to tell a story that combines each image. Or is there some linguistic pun involved? Somehow, I don’t think Nadorp-ian postal officials can help us solve these riddles.

 

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I am including this last image from Donald Evans — a gorgeous set from “Tropides Islands” — because I love it so. Something about the colors first enthralled me, then the exotic shapes of the palm trees; and finally, the labels — cabbage palm, barrel palm, sentry palm — conjured up more visions. What a tour de force! These Images bubble like a refreshing stream, immersing the viewer in color and shape and order. The stamps take on totemic significance, as vibrant emblems of nature on orderly display. My eyes are bathed in an ur-spring of philatelic bliss …

 

Artistamps live on, and so do Donald Evans’ creations. A lavishly illustrated book, “The World of Donald Evans” went through two editions. Hardcover and paperback copies of this sumptuous volume are available online, not cheap. Today his estate is represented by Tibor de Nagy Gallery in New York, which suggests that Donald Evans originals may be pricey. My sources list dozens, maybe 100 or more Artistamp creators these days. There are references to two Artistamp museums, one in Berkeley, Calif., the other in Jupiter, Fla. In 2008, an exhibition in Bremen, Germany was titled “Lick Me (Leck Mich): Artist’s stamps since the 1960s.” The business of adding those little stamp perforations to Artistamps seemed to become a cottage industry, with practitioners employing such tools as a sewing machine, leather punches, veterinary needles and customized scissors. And there’s this, from Wikipedia: “In 2004, the International Brotherhood of Perforator Workers (IBPW), an organization based in Washington, D.C., was established to represent the interests of artists owning and/or operating perforators in the creation of stamp art.”

Enough about Artistamps? Not quite. Before we leave the subject, I must tell you about … my own Artistamps. When and where else would I get the chance to share pictures of the “stamps” I designed myself? I drew them in the 1960s — by golly, about the same time Donald Evans was creating his limitless world of tiny stamp images, AND the same time Jock Kinneir (FSIA) was drafting his own Cinderella set of British definitives! There I was, in my early teens, oblivious,  busily drawing away at my definitive set for … Ghana. Why Ghana? Why not? I also dreamed up stamps from Germany and a few other British colonies …

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Here is my imaginary set  from Ghana — a complete definitive series, from 1/2d through 1 pound. (I never tried perforating my stamps — they are all imperforate.) fullsizeoutput_a93You may detect some similarities with early Ghana stamps, which had already captured my imagination; in fact, a few are almost copies. Nevertheless, they all are original in their way. The unifying elements, I should note, include the frame, the typeface for the name Ghana, as well as the denomination style for each stamp. In addition, there is a version of the Ghanaian flag integrated into each design (as on the “real” definitives). The stamps  increase in size, by steps, as the denominations rise. The coat of arms on the 1 pound stamp is accurate. The viking ship on the 1 1/2d is a logo used on other Ghana stamps. It refers back to the Black Star Line, the ill-fated pan-African/American
fullsizeoutput_a94shipping enterprise of black nationalist Marcus Garvey between 1919 and 1922. The portrait and statue of Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s founding prime minister, is also on-mark in 1962. Nkrumah would not lose power until the military coup of 1966, though by 1962, his regime’s democratic veneer already was wearing thin … The castle depicted on the 5 shilling is not a notorious slave portal like Cape Coast or Elmina. It is Christiansborg Castle in Accra, named by Dutch colonists who date back to the 1600s. The castle remained the seat of government after independence. All in all, I would hardly  claim similar consideration for this series from Ghana’s postal authorities

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Notice the similarities between these actual stamps from Ghana and my Cinderella version, above. Do you suppose plagiarizing is allowed in Cinderella land? Or is that called forgery?

as Jock Kinneir’s  proposed definitive series deserved from British authorities at around the same time …

 

 

 

 

 

This next selection of made-up Cinderella stamps consists of, clockwise from top left:  A black-and-white 1 pound stamp from Trengannu, an exotically named state in fullsizeoutput_a97Malaya, one of more than a half-dozen that issued stamps during the British colonial era. (Oops — it seems I misspelled the real territory, which is “Trengganu” or “Terengganu,” but not Trengannu. Sorry, folks.) This Cinderella  features a dapper King George Vi, some kind of formal declaration lying on a royal scepter, and under the portrait a time interval, presumably the length of British dominion: “1848-1948.” (This is nonsense, since the British did not take over from Thai rulers in Trengganu until 1909.) Notice how I drew the whole stamp with distinct lines — in an effort to make the stamp look “engraved.” OK, it’s not perfect, but let’s give the kid artist a little slack …  The next “stamp” over is another “engraving” from the George VI era, this one a bicolor “commemorative” from Malta, which borrows the image from another Malta stamp of a War Memorial on that small but strategic island colony in the Mediterranean. The reference is apt, since George VI was king throughout World War II, and survived another half-dozen years after. The memorial, too, is real. However, it  was not inaugurated until 1954 by Elizabeth II, two years after the death of her father, George VI.  …  Below and to the right is a rather nifty, imaginary Pitcairn Islands 5 shilling stamp with a portrait of Elizabeth II. The portrait is copied from one used on other colonial stamps of the time. There are what look like royal signatures in the upper corners, with a map and outline of the tiny south-Pacific island in the bullseye of its geographical coordinates. Kind of slick, doncha think? …  Last are what appear to be two values from an imaginary set from Kibris (Cyprus). The nation in the eastern Mediterranean had just gained its sovereignty in 1960.  In this set there is no longer an image of a monarch — though the currency is still an odd mixture of Cypriot mils and the pound sterling. Again, my technique means to suggest engraving, both in the woodsy landscape of the 15 mils and the curious 1 pound stamp, with its naive use of the royal coat of arms (complete with crown!) to represent an independent republic; there is another topographical elevation superimposed on a geographical representation. To me at least, the gold and magenta result a fairly gorgeous stamp — picture if you can the finely engraved version!  By the way, the year reference — 1962 — also suggests the approximate time all of these renderings were created …  fullsizeoutput_a98Now hold on a sec! If I drew those Cyprus stamps in 1962, then it was the same year Cyprus issued its first set of original definitive stamps after  independence. My catalogue says that set was released Sept. 17, 1962 — fairly late in the year. It certainly is possible that I drew “my” Cyprus stamps before then … Now take a look at my 15-mils stamp, compared with the 30-mils stamp from the “real” set fullsizeoutput_a96(pardon the heavy cancellation). Notice anything? For one thing, the color is an almost perfect match. Now notice how the Greek name , dropping down a vertical tablet on the left-hand side, is almost identical!  (OK, so my Greeks’ not perfect.) The actual stamp depicts ruins, not the forest in my stamp. But somehow, the open-air landscape, the cloudy sky, the general ambience — similar, no? If I had already seen the brand-new set from Cyprus (and it’s possible), then you could write off my “creative” design as imitative at best. If my design appeared without any foreknowledge of the imminent Cypriot definitive set, I would have to shake my head in some wonder …

fullsizeoutput_18fbHere is a rather harmonious grouping of German city-scenes, again in facsimilie engravings. Each historic structure is boxed in a frame that contains the city’s name. Interestingly, the country referred to on my stamps did not, at the time, officially exist. There was West Germany, the Bundesrepublik (federal republic), issuing stamps labeled “Deutsche Bundespost.” And there was East Germany — the DDR (Deutsche Demokratische Republik). The designation I chose — “Deutsche Post” — harkens back to the usage immediately after World War II.

fullsizeoutput_a59 Oddly, that name would pop up again in 1990, when the DDR was going out of business and hastily issued a series of stamps once again using the neutral name, “Deutsche Post.”

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Even more oddly, notice the similarities between one of the  “real” stamps issued in 1990 and my “Cinderella” from back in 1962. …

Now let me fill you in on my more recent foray into  Cinderella land — with Bike Delivery stamps. Local delivery stamps are among the categories of Cinderellas singled out by collectors. In my case, the delivery involved invitations to a seasonal party. I sent all but a dozen invitations by email and USPS, and determined to deliver the rest by bicycle, riding around the neighborhood. Because I am retired and don’t have to work for a living, because I love stamps, and because I felt I deserved a reward for my healthful and useful pursuit, I spent an hour or two designing my “Bike Delivery” stamps. (Note helmet.)

fullsizeoutput_18aaIMG_0748As you can see from this next image, I had lots of fun with the project — affixing a stamp in the appropriate spot on each invitation before dropping it off under or around the mailbox (it’s a federal offense  to use the mailbox itself, I understand). I “canceled” the cover with an inked seal from the carved jade name-stamp (“FISKE”) that my daughter Kate brought back from China. I even concocted a “first day of issue” cover — sure to be a collector’s item!  (Notice I still have a bunch of stamps left — ready for next time!)

You may be shaking your head over the preceding — as my neighbors might have done, if indeed they noticed the “stamp” and the “cancellation” on the “cover.” Really! A grown man, making “stamps” to stick on envelopes and deliver to his friends via bicycle. He really must have too much time on his hands. The whole thing is just ridiculous.

Well, scoff all you like at my Bike Delivery Cinderellas. Then take a look at this next image of a stamp from the U.S. Special Delivery series of 1902. Look familiar? (But where is his helmet?)

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Finally, indulge a grandfather and allow me to include this image — a creation of Frida, age 6 or so. The designs could be stamps, the numbers could be the denominations. These images might or might not count as Cinderella stamps — who’s to say? But isn’t it amazing, in any case, how the pairing of numbers and images in a series can please the eye, calm the spirit, nourish the soul. Inspired by Frida’s creativity, I believe the future of Cinderellas, or Artistamps, or whatever you want to call this polymath doppelganger of philately, seems bright.

 

END OF PART TWO

 

 

 

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