Too Many Georgetowns, Wayward Money Orders, Obedient Servants and the S.S. Arakaka out of British Guiana


In the image above, I am not actually paging through a stamp album, but rather an atlas. It could be that I am deciding where to send my next money order …

While living in Heidelberg, Germany in 1961 and 1962, a fair portion of my busy days at ages 12 and 13  involved stamp-collecting. I got into the fun habit of sending money orders to faraway post offices, asking the postmaster to send me back stamps for the money. I received in return some wonderful sets from Malta, Gambia, Sierra Leone, Gibraltar, Cook Islands — all over. Quite a thrill for a young fellow. Today the sets have increased in value, and some of the colorful, stamped covers sent back from those exotic post offices are worth something, too.


There I am, sitting at center, receiving an envelope with stamps from some far-off British Colony. Such events were quite an occasion, as you can see. Even the letter-carrier got into the act.                                 Photo credit: Mother, obviously.

Pa was an avid stamp collector as well, but he didn’t get actively involved in this zany project. Come to think of it, though, he might have been the one to suggest the scheme. Where else would a 12-year-old have gotten the idea? In any case, when I asked him if he’d like me to order a set for him as well, he did go along with the game a few times, adding money to the total to cover his share.

Sometimes I got in a jam, and had to write follow-up letters and check with the post office. A particularly byzantine process started in the spring of 1961. I was planning to send money orders and letters to George Town, the capital of the Cayman Islands, and to Georgetown, the capital of British Guiana. But somehow, things got mixed up.


Above are the first five volumes of my diary, which I began in Pakistan in 1958. I include this image because I will be quoting from my diary in this essay. The excerpts are from Volumes VI and VII, below, which cover the years 1961-2.

I found a typed copy of my letter to the Cayman Islands folded in my diary, dated April 8, 1961. It’s kind of cute:

Dear Postmaster:

My name is Frederick Fiske, and I am a devoted stamp collector. Having said this, I suppose you already know what I am writing about. I would like you to send me, as soon as possible, one variety each of the current issue, as many varieties as the five German Marks that I am sending you in a money order will pay for.  …”

(The letter continues, but I must interject this comment. I already had
purchased the first two stamps in the 1953 series  — the 1/4 penny and 1/2 fullsizeoutput_1e6dpenny varieties — perhaps at an inflated price from the Kenmore Stamp Company approval service, I decided in my 12-year-old, penny-pinching brain that I would try to save myself the cost of these stamps, which would be duplicates. And so I continued:)

“… If the current issue is the issue put out in 1953, would you please leave out the first two varieties … and if a more recent issue has become current, please do not feel obligated to send it to me, 1 each, as many as the money can pay for. Please send the letter back by airmail, as quickly as possible, using my money to pay for the return postage. Please use stamps on the letter.

Thank you very much. Sincerely, Frederick Murray Fiske

I mailed this convoluted and confusing letter April 10. (“please do not feel obligated …”?) A complicating factor was that German postal rules at the time apparently required that money orders be sent separately from the inquiry letters.

My diary entry for April 10, 1961 notes:  Morn headache. Mathias is a bore. Sent m.o. to CAYMAN ISLANDS. People in P.O. didn’t know where it was. …     (Hmmm. That should have been my first clue trouble was coming… )

fullsizeoutput_1e76On April 29, I received a puzzling response from British Guiana, dated April 19. As it happens, I saved the rather undistinguished envelope in my Worldwide Covers album (see right), with the note inside. It was a form letter with some blanks filled in, titled, “British Guiana Postage and Revenue Stamps.” It came from the Chief Accountant at the General Post Office, Georgetown, Demerara State, British Guiana:

“Mr. Frederick Fiske, … With reference to your letter no.  ?  ?  date April 8, 1961, in connection with stamps on sale in the Colony, I am directed by the Postmaster General to forward a List of Particulars and Mail Order Form on opposite page. …”   It was signed:

“I have the honor to be, (Sir or Madam), Your obedient servant

(illegible signature) Chief Accountant”

Though it was flattering for 12-year-old me to be addressed by an “obedient servant,” it made no sense at all that the letter came from British Guiana rather than the Cayman Islands — though today it seems clear enough that those parochial postal clerks in Heidelberg found “Georgetown” British Guiana before they found “George Town” Cayman Islands and simply misdirected my letter (but not my money order?). In my diary entry for April 29, I note: … Had Deutsch test today, and didn’t do too well (or too badly)! Got a letter from Georgetown, Br. Guiana (no stamps) ? Must have stopped there on the way to Cayman Is.  Got new bikes! Mine cost $41.50. In aft. went riding (J, N and I).  Home at 6, and bed at 11. Might send next letter to Africa.

Hold on. Did I really think the letter somehow stopped off in British Guiana en route to the Cayman Islands? I guess my 12-year-old mind figured the fullsizeoutput_1e6cSouth American colony was a way-station for mail steaming from Europe to the Caribbean colonies. Let’s see what a map of that route would look like …

I went to Pa to get help straightening this out. He took the time to untangle the chain of events. Then he drafted the following letter, which I found clipped to my diary, in his neat, careful handwriting (very much like Kingsley Amis’s handwriting, I have discovered):

fullsizeoutput_1e96Philoweg 9


Postmaster, Georgetown, British Guiana

Dear Sir: With reference to your letter No. DPT: 953 c/168,

there has apparently been some confusion. My letter of April 8, to which you refer, was addressed to Postmaster, Georgetown, Cayman Islands, and was accompanied by a postal money order for 5.5 German marks, which fullsizeoutput_1e95amounted to nine shillings eleven pence in their currency. Apparently the money order has gone to the Cayman Islands and the letter to you. Could you please forward the letter to the Cayman Islands, so that the order may be filled. I am enclosing your mail order form, with postal money order for  XXXX German marks. According to German postal authorities, the money order must be sent under separate cover. I hope that the error may be straightened out, and that I may soon receive stamps from both Georgetowns. Yours very truly  (Fred: I’ll take them up to $1. You figure what you’d like, and we’ll add them together)


Thanks to the powers of the Internet, I was able to capture this example of Kingsley Amis’s handwriting, so that you can easily compare it to Pa’s, right beside it. I first discovered this similarity at an exhibition that displayed Amis’s journal. The letters d, m, t, h, etc are very alike. Other letters, not so much. But compare the “Yours …” in the final salutation. Makes me wonder what other qualities Pa shared with the dyspeptic GB novelist …

Have you followed me so far? I typed up a draft letter, and clipped a copy to my diary, dated May 3, 1961. What Pa and I had decided was to take the opportunity to order stamps from British Guiana, as well as get my original letter to the Cayman Islands, where it belonged.

My diary entry for May 5, 1961 notes: …Morn school. Out 1. Had new teacher sitting in at H.A.’s. Looks nice. Home after H-K’s at 5. Practiced. Mowed lawn. Worked with Br. Guiana letter, and bed at 9:45 p.m.

Diary entry for May 6: Morn school till 9:30. Then sent money order with Pa to Br. Guiana. Home for lunch.  … Philohoehe for dinner … Got a little too much to drink … am rather lightheaded as I write this!!!!!!!

So things appeared to be set in tipsy motion toward resolution:  The money order and mail order form were headed to British Guiana, and the Cayman Islands letter was soon to be forwarded from British Guiana to its intended destination. Good luck with all that!

Amazingly enough, everything worked out in the end, though not without further twists to the tale.

By June, I was growing impatient to hear from either British Guiana or the Cayman Islands. My diary entry for June 23 notes: … got new Hi-fi set. Wrote letter to Br. Guiana (again!).

On July 21 a reply came from Georgetown, British Guiana: “July 14, 1961

fullsizeoutput_1e84(To) Mr. Fred Fiske

Sir: I have to refer to your letter of June 24, 1961, enquiring after your order of British Guiana postage stamps of current issue and to inform you that the stamps were dispatched to you on June 2, 1961.

2. The inconvenience which may have been caused you by the delayed despatch is regretted.

I have the honor to be, etc. (illegible signature) Director of Posts & Telecommunications”

What the heck? The stamps were mailed June 2? My diary entry for July 21, the day the explanatory letter arrived, does not seem unduly stressed out, though:  … Letter from British Guiana! …  Hit home run. 2 in math.


These diary entries record my receipt of the two letters from British Guiana, (upper left and lower right) four days apart.

Four days later, on July 25, a substantial envelope arrived from British Guiana. My ship had come in!  The glassine envelope inside contained a  sheaf of beautiful, exotic stamps — engraved, bi-color, mint-never-hinged, post-office fresh. My diary entry for Tuesday, July 25 notes exuberantly at the top: Morn sleep, work, letter from BRITISH GUIANA WITH STAMPS!! …

There was still the outstanding matter of the Cayman Islands stamps to deal with. Another diary entry, for Thursday, July 27, notes: … Aft. to movie, “Mr. Miller Ist Kein Killer.” Was good. Also sent letter to Cayman Islands …

On August 26, I sent a another follow-up letter. My diary entry for Aug. 27 hints at my disappointment at returning from an out-of-town family trip and finding no letter from the Caymans:   … Put my stamps in Europe stock book. Only got a letter from Creech. Wrote him one, and also one to the Cayman Islands. Bed at 10:30.

On Sept. 16, out the clear blue sky and sea, the director of posts and telecommunications in British Guiana sent me the following letter:

“Mr. Frederick Murray Fiske …

Sir,  I have to refer to your letter of August 26, 1961, and to inform you that your money order was received and cashed in British Guiana on May 31, 1961, and the British Guiana postage stamps of current issue which you required were posted to you on June 2, 1961.


I must include this partial image of the letter from British Guiana with its reference to the S.S. Arakaka, or you might not believe it!

2. Although the package was posted to you on June 2, it has been ascertained that the next available sea-mail from Georgetown, British Guiana was on the 26th June, the carrier being the S.S. Arakaka. It is to be hoped that you will already have received the stamps on receipt of this letter.

3. Your letter of June 24, 1961, was acknowledged on July 14, 1961, a copy of which is enclosed for easy reference.    I have the honour to be, etc.”

Are you getting the picture here? Are you seeing how odd this is? It seems that once again, my letter to the Cayman Islands — this one mailed Aug. 26 — was diverted to British Guiana! Is this really standard procedure? (See route on map, above.) Is it something about the trade winds? Or the chronic deficiencies of Heidelberg postal clerks?

I’m not sure that the details of this last letter sank in at the time, but they have some clarity for me now. I am particularly intrigued by the delayed-sea-mail angle. I can just imagine my packet of stamps sitting in steamy Georgetown, Damerara State, British Guiana, starting June 2, waiting day after day for the departure of the packet-ship S.S. Arakaka; being loaded on board to begin the long steam voyage June 26, from the South American coast to Europe …

As I reflected on the preceding, I could not ignore a frisson of deja-vu — a ghostly echo from one of philately’s most famous stories … a story about another ship’s delay in carrying British Guiana stamps. This happened in the 1850s. As the story goes, Postmaster E.T.E. Dalton had 50,000 stamps on order, but the shipment from London in 1856 carried only 5,000 stamps. With supplies dwindling, Dalton arranged for the local newspaper printer to produce a three-value emergency set for the interim. The postmaster was not pleased with the result, however, and very few of the stamps were used. To certify authenticity, Dalton insisted each label be initialed by a postal official before receiving the normal cancel. Within eight to 10 weeks, new stamp supplies arrived from London, and the postmaster withdrew the fullsizeoutput_d4fprovisionals. Today only one example survives of the one-cent, printed on dark magenta paper, bearing the colony’s badge  of a sailing ship in black ink. When this rarest of stamps changes hands, which is infrequently, it goes for millions.

In my case, as in the 1850s, the ship eventually came in. And the director of


By the 1860s, British Guiana had plentiful supplies of new issues. Here are a few from that era in my collection. (The one-cent black on magenta, above, is NOT from my collection, needless to say!

posts & telecommunications in British Guiana (signature illegible) was correct: By the time his last letter arrived in September — by airmail, not sea-post — I had my  stamps. They had arrived July 25, you will recall, and they  deserve words of appreciative description.

The brown envelope inscribed, “On Her Majesty’s Service,” bore two nice examples of the 1954 set. On the back were a pair of thick fullsizeoutput_1e78black wax seals, embossed with a crown and what looks like the letters “STAMP AND PO’S.” The envelope inside contained gorgeous stamps, post-office fresh,  fullsizeoutput_1e79from one cent all the way to the $5. I gave Pa the complete set and kept the second set to the $1, which was as far as my money went.



I think the images above are explained in the text. Below is an image of the stamps I was able to add to my collection as a result of this mailing. As you can see, it is not a complete set — I was still missing three values. Since Pa paid a bit more, he received a complete set — which I inherited when he died. Below is the image of my completed set, along with an enlargement of one of the beautifully engraved and colored stamps therein.




As October unfolded, still with no word from the Cayman Islands, I went to the post office in Heidelberg to follow up. My diary entry for October 12, notes: Morn school as usual. Nance beat me in math test. … Aft. beat her in German test. Home 5, after seeing about my M.O. to Cayman.

I have no memory how I presented my case to the local postal authorities. Perhaps a receipt, carefully preserved? But something got jarred loose as a result.

fullsizeoutput_1e7cOn Oct. 26, a packet arrived from the Cayman Islands. In my Worldwide Covers album I still have the envelope, postmarked Oct. 23. That’s more than six months after I sent that first letter April 10, supposedly steaming toward the Caymans, but ending up instead in … British Guiana.

fullsizeoutput_1e8eMy cover album page also preserves a notification card from the Heidelberg post office that might help explain the delay in the Cayman Islands delivery. To be precise, however, I would have to decipher such phrases as “Nachforschungen nach dem Verblieb,” and “Nachforschungendegebuehr wurden by der Aushaendigung diesen Schreibens erhoben.”  The gist of it, as far as I can make out, is that the  Heidelberg P.O., in response to


The image top right shows the stamps I received in the envelope from the Caymans — missing key values, you will notice. It cost me a bundle to buy them later on. Above is an image of the complete set. (The 1 pound stamp is temporarily removed from the next album page.) Below is an enlarged image of a stamp from this gorgeous set.

my inquiry (“Ihrem Antrag”) of Oct. 12, was able to confirm that my money order (for 5.51 German Marks) had been duly received and processed in the Caymans. Between Oct. 10 and Oct. 23, the international postal bureaucracy was able to pry loose this precious packet of Cayman Islands stamps and send it winging to its intended destination, fullsizeoutput_1e92where it arrived after just three days. By the way, the card with the explanation from the Heidelberg P.O. was sent to me March 30, 1962 — more than five months after I got my stamps, and nearly a year since I sent out my first letter on April 10, 1961.

The post office can work in mysterious ways. …

The envelope from the Caymans was embellished with three of the beautiful stamps from the 1953 set. The cellophane envelope inside contained pretty examples of the set up to the 5 shilling value. All of these stamps have increased nicely in value. I only wish I could have coughed up enough German Marks to buy the set complete to the one pound,  at face value, thus saving me a considerable outlay to acquire the missing stamps from a dealer later on.

fullsizeoutput_1e89I must add this piquant detail:  the itemized list included in the packet (see right) shows that the postmaster (“… your obedient servant, etc.”) had thoughtfully omitted the 1/4d or 1/2d stamps, thus fulfilling my ridiculous request in the original letter of April 8, and saving me three-quarters of a penny for the unnecessary duplicates …

Dear Reader, if you have made it this far, I congratulate you for your patience and forbearance. There is one more little twist to this tale of international philatelic protocol, circumstance and whimsey. It involves yet fullsizeoutput_1e7danother, thick envelope from British Guiana, also preserved in my Worldwide Covers album (see right). This one arrived April 3, 1962.

Before revealing the contents of this envelope, I must provide some context, starting with a request for stamps I sent Oct. 16, 1961 to  Ascension Island, a tiny British Crown Colony in the south Atlantic, hundreds of miles off the coast of West Africa whose capital is … wait for it … Georgetown.

My diary entry for Oct. 16, 1961 notes: … Went to P.O. and sent M.O. to Ascension.
My diary entry for Jan. 1, 1962 notes receipt of a letter from Ascension, as follows: No stamps in the Ascension thing. They said that maybe I could send the money order inside the letter.

fullsizeoutput_1e82The envelope and letter from Ascension, preserved in my Worldwide Covers album (see right) and dated Dec. 4, 1961, reads:  “Dear Sir, Thank you for your letter of the 15th October.

I regret to inform you that you did not enclose the money order mentioned in your letter, and until I receive it I cannot fulfill your order.

There is no airmail service from here to Germany. Yours faithfully, APDunne (sp?) p.p.Postmistress”

My diary entry for Thursday, Jan. 4 notes: … M. sleep till 8:30. Got up early so that I could have breakfast and not have to clear the table. In late morning got off shopping. Sent a correct M.O. (NOT a Postanweisung) to Ascension at the American Express. Aft. stayed around and worked on my album from Pa. …

I presume this means I absorbed the cost of the first money order, which would have been quite a blow, given my limited resources. The next diary entry I can find involving this matter is Tuesday, April 3: M.S.A.U. (diary code for “morning school at usual”). Home about 1:30. Letter from Br. Guiana for Ascension. All messed up. Night bed 9:30-45.

This is the thick letter I described earlier. As to its contents: I presume there was a cover letter, but maybe not. How to explain the bizarre  circumstances of this mailing in terms suitable to an “obedient servant”? The heavy bond envelope went via London, whose circular date stamp of March 29 is on the back. It  contains three items:

fullsizeoutput_1e7e** My envelope mailed Jan. 4, 1962 to “Postmisstress (sic), General Post Office, Georgetown, Ascension.” On the back is a circular postmark inscribed,  “Jan. 7, 1962 — G.P.O., British Guiana.”

fullsizeoutput_1e7f** An envelope “On Her Majesty’s Service,” inscribed, “Jan. 12, 1962, G.P.O. Georgetown, British Guiana,” addressed to “The Postmaster General, General Post Office, Georgetown, Ascension.” This envelope presumably included the envelope I had intended to send to Georgetown,  Ascension, but which ended up in Georgetown, British Guiana — just like my earlier letter to George Town, Cayman Islands. On the back of this second envelope was another circular date stamp, inscribed “22 Ene (Jan.) Aeropostal – Paraguay,”  indicating that my letter had been misdelivered once again, this time thousands of miles south of British Guiana — to Paraguay!

fullsizeoutput_1e80** The third envelope was a larger size, white and flimsy, certainly large enough to contain both my original letter to Ascension and the follow-up envelope from British Guiana. It carried a circular date stamp, inscribed, “Aeropostal, Paraguay, 10 Feb. 1962.” This envelope, like the second one, was addressed to “Postmaster General, General Post Office, Georgetown, Ascension.” Interestingly, “Georgetown” was crossed out — apparently some official decided there were just too many Georgetowns involved! A registration sticker identified the sender’s location as “Asuncion, Republica del fullsizeoutput_1e81Paraguay.” And here comes a real shocker: A rubber stamp in the lower right corner declared: “Missent to British Guiana.” (see enlargement, right;  apparently this happened often enough that it warranted a rubber stamp!) Sure enough, on the back of the envelope from Paraguay was another circular date stamp confirming arrival in British Guiana, inscribed, “Registered Airmail, 21 Feb. 1962.”

“All messed up” is right! Here’s a quick recap: It seems my first letter to Ascension, mailed way back on Oct. 16, 1961, arrived at its intended destination without the accompanying money order. My second letter, sent


The torturous path my letter and money order might have traveled from Heidelberg, Germany to Georgetown, Ascension — via Georgetown, British Guiana, and Asuncion, Paraguay! The final leg of the journey to the tiny island in the South Atlantic is only wishful thinking on my part, since the forwarding envelope from Asuncion ended up — back in British Guiana! To get my stamps, I finally put my case before the Heidelberg postal authorities. Somehow, it worked!

Jan. 4,  1962, with a new money order, went to Georgetown, British Guiana instead of Georgetown, Ascension. (There was no way British Guiana in South America could be a way-station for mail to Ascension Island, well over 2,000 miles away in the South Atlantic Ocean.) Then the letter that was supposed to be forwarded from British Guiana to Ascension ended up in Asuncion, the capital city of Paraguay! (Ascension/Asuncion, get it?) Penultimately, the same letter, forwarded from Paraguay to Ascension Island ended up — back in British Guiana! Finally, postal authorities there disposed of the matter by packing all three letters in that heavy-bond  envelope and sending it back to me, in Heidelberg.

This might have been enough to discourage a less intrepid philatelist. But not FMF! The day after receiving this confusing correspondence,  Wednesday, April 4, 1962, my diary notes matter-of-factly: M.S.A.U. … Out 1. Home 1:30 on streetcar.  … Smoked a cigarette, but it didn’t hurt, cause I didn’t inhale. Bed 9:30, after learning  Deutsch  poem. … Letter to Ascension.

I must have settled in for a patient wait, since the postmistress of Ascension Island already had forewarned me that there was no airmail service to Germany. Happily, the envelope from Ascension — with stamps — finally arrived June 6, 1962. It was worth the wait: In addition to containing a complete Elizabeth II set of 1953 (which has increased 20-fold in value since then), the envelope carried the set complete to the one shilling, with crisp circular date cancels inscribed “Ascension, 21 MY 62” —   perhaps applied by a very accommodating Postmistress Dunne herself?Notice the “By Air Mail” sticker. You may recall that six months earlier, the postmistress wrote there was no air mail service between Ascension and Germany. Notice, too, that I apparently requested the letter be sent via the diplomatic APO address through New York City, which obviously did enjoy mail service from Ascension. My diary entry noted, rapturously: “… LETTER FROM ASCENSION! WONDERFUL. 10 stamps on the cover! Bed 9:30.”


Above is the cover from Ascension, bearing 10 stamps from the beautiful 1953 series., perhaps assembled and applied by Postmistress Dunne. Below is the complete set I paid about $3 for, which currently is selling online for upwards of $75 mint/never hinged, like these examples. In short, I made a philatelic killing. I ask you: Was it worth the trouble? You bet! What a thrill! It’s part of the fun of stamp-collecting.

Version 3





Cinderellas part four: Illegal stamps 3. Cinderellas in the Balkans

The stamps from the Balkans discussed here, many of them illegal, reflect the violent disruptions during the 1990s involving Croats, Serbs and Bosniaks. These  emblems of national aspiration began appearing after the breakup of the former Yugoslavia. Today, Serbs and Croats enjoy influence within a strangely fractured, multi-ethnic Bosnia-Herzegovina. So far, so good: Most everyone is  behaving, and like in Northern Ireland, peace seems to build its own self-reinforcing constituency. Back in 1992-93, however, the Muslim Bosniaks, Croa
ts and Serbs (and later the Kosovars) took up arms. It was awful: Thousands died. The Dayton agreement that ended the bloodshed in 1995 is a high point of the administration of President Bill Clinton, who brought the antagonists to Ohio and kept them there until they had a deal. The attached is a stamp commentary that meanders through this perilous time, profusely illustrated with philatelic artifacts from the harrowing scene. I hope you enjoy it!
Best, FMF
p.s. As you may note, this is only “part 3” of my commentaries on illegal stamps. The 

fullsizeoutput_1a84next two should come together rather quickly, then maybe we can get back to … Bechuanaland Protectorate?








Three postal authorities claim the same bridge! Here are three views of Stari Most (The Old Bridge) in Mostar, a small city in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The scenic bridge dates to the 1500s, and was the work of Mimar Hayruddin, apprentice of renowned Islamic architect Mimar Sinan. A remarkable feat of engineering for its day with its delicate, soaring arch, the old bridge spans the Neretva river in the middle of the multi-ethnic city. Also remarkable is the way it is celebrated on recent stamps from three different postal authorities — one representing Croats (left), another Serbs (right), and a third (center) the federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina. How can three separate national entities lay claim to the same bridge? To find out, or at least grope for some answers, read on!

fullsizeoutput_1acdThe envelope postmarked “Mostar 10.2.93” arrived in my mailbox, in response to my international postal coupon, without a legal postage stamp, an illegal stamp or even a Cinderella. Instead, it carried an ink stamp that read: “Postarina Placena / Port Paye” — postage paid.

Inside was a handwritten note — in so- so English, with several cross-outs — fullsizeoutput_1ac3signed “Trajaneski Dragi,” that was as poignant as it was informative. “Dear Fred Fiske,” the note read. “We haven’t eny stamps. If we have it be late. I am sorry.”

I had sent my international postal coupon the previous June (1992), when I embarked on a philatelic adventure. I mailed out letters to 23 newly authorized postal authorities in the former Soviet Union and the Balkans. Enclosed in each letter was a postal coupon — I recall it cost 75 cents — which provided for a return letter, using stamps to cover postage from the recipient country. Why did I do this? Because I was interested to see what stamps these new nations and postal officials would use at the dawn of their sovereign journeys. The General Post Office in Mostar was just one of the many GPOs I mailed coupons and envelopes to, from Kiev to Riga to Tashkent. (I expect to report on this in a future blog post, profusely illustrated of course.)

fullsizeoutput_1a9bMostar lies in the southwest of the
confusing nation of
I say confusing,
because part of the
1994 accords that
led to peace in the
Balkans was
establishing three
areas of influence in Bosnia-Herzogovina
— Croatian, Serbian
and the rest of the
multi-ethnic state,
including Muslims.
Serbia staked territorial claims with its sprawling “Republika Srpska.” Croatia apparently didn’t set formal borders, but asserted its sphere of influence in
traditionally Croat areas (including Mostar?), and shared authority in the federation. Each of these three groups has issued its own stamps, through private agencies. BH Posta serves the Bosnia-Herzegovina federation; Srpske Poste makes stamps for the Serbs, while Hrvatska Posta Mostar supplies stamps to the Croatian postal authority. (Note the reference back to Mostar — a Croatian lodestar … ) Some would consider such quasi-commercial enterprises suspect, and place an asterisk against their stamps as potentially illegal, or Cinderellas — even though they have been accepted on letters mailed inside Bosnia-Herzegovina and beyond.

Are all three types of stamps valid throughout Bosnia-Herzegovina? I’ll try and find out … Meanwhile, Croat postal officials seek to have it all ways in their publicity: “Bosnia-Herzegovina-Croatian post Mostar’s postage stamps are guardians of spiritual, cultural, historical and natural wealth … not only of Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but of Bosnia and Herzegovina as a whole. These small works of art travel throughout the world and carry our messages, beauty and also are a source of knowledge and evidence of history.”

fullsizeoutput_1a85The Serbian postal authority — or rather, its private contractor — launched a campaign to have its Europa 2017 stamp (right) chosen as the most beautiful in Europe. In 2017, the multi-nation Europa issue settled on a theme of castles that are still standing. In its pitch, the Serb promoters sounded a theme of peaceful coexistence you don’t hear often enough these days. “Once seen as symbols of power, defence, war and supremacy over other kingdoms, it is extremely positive to see these monuments survive the sociological and political evolutions to have a much more peaceful and beautiful connotation at present times.” The uplift continued: “Today these castles are preserved as monuments that do not only teach us about our own past history, but they can also demonstrate how we no longer need fortified walls in Europe, in order to live in safety.” Then came the hook: “Poste Srpske through this topic are proud to present the fortress Kastel, and we urge you to vote for it via an online competition organized by the Post Europ, the association that represents European public postal operators …” (The deadline for votes was Sept. 9; 2017; for the contest results, go to


fullsizeoutput_1a86In the interests of intra-national good will and fair play, it behooves me to point out that the other two stamp-producing entities in Bosnia-Herzegovina also put out Europa 1017 castle stamps. I don’t know whether they were entered in the contest for Europe’s most-beautiful stamp, but they are pretty nice, don’t you think? Which one of the three do you prefer?fullsizeoutput_1a87

A few more words about these three issues from the separate and distinct postal authorities in Bosnia-Herzegovina, all issued as part of the 2017 Europa series. Featuring old castles, they include the Serb stamp already shown (Srpske Poste); at right above, the Croat stamp (HP Mostar); and below it the stamp of the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina (BH Posta). It is tempting to impute some national characteristics to each of these stamps. Look at the Serbian image, all angular and spikey and showy, with titles proclaimed from the ramparts. The Croatian entry is in softer focus, with a rustic feel; the castle ruins are rounded and accessible, against pastel greenery and blue sky. The Muslim federation stamp has more of an Islamic feel, with delicate twin arches in an intricately detailed close-up of an ancient castle’s stone alcove. Each stamp is striking in its way. I like all of them, though I remain intrigued and a bit puzzled how this tripartite stamp-issuing phenomenon has managed to continue through the years …

Bosnia-Herzegovina’s stubborn demonstrations of philatelic tribalism pose challenges: Collecting all three sets of stamps is expensive! Doesn’t the whole thing perpetuate unwelcome chauvinism? Weren’t these supposed to be more assimilated, cosmopolitan times for the Balkans? Then again, one might ask: Is one set more “authentic” than the other? My vote goes to the stamps of the multi-ethnic Bosnia-Herzegovina federation, over those of the Croatian and

Serbian pretenders. (By the way, Mostar is located in the heart of the federation — which seems to entitle both Croats and Serbs to claim it as their own as well.)

A final thought on this subject: I must admit I’m a bit charmed by all three ethnic groups celebrating a common heritage in their side-by-side-by-side stamp issues. I kind of love the idea that Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks all publicly revere the fabled Stari Most in Mostar — which may lead to acknowledging a shared heritage after all. If you insist on being tribal, I’d much prefer you demonstrate it proudly, through beautiful stamps, rather than by inciting each other with hateful speech, or hitting each other over the head with cudgels, or machetes.

The history of stamps in Mostar is just as confusing as its present status. I have not delved deeply into that history, though I feel I already know much more on the subject that the average reader would be interested to learn. Through the centuries, Mostar was ruled by the Ottomans, then Austro-Hungarians, then Yugoslavs; there was a spasm of fascism under the Nazis, and after World War II, Tito. During the breakup of the Balkans in 1992-3, Mostar was a flashpoint for conflict. First there was fighting between Croat and Yugoslav forces, then Serb and Bosnia-Herzegovina troops.

By February, 1993, when Trajaneski Dragi in Mostar sent me that poignant response to my international postal coupon, I can readily believe there were no stamps available. Many buildings, including historic landmarks, had been wrecked or damaged in the fighting. Postal service was disrupted. Besides, how to decide which stamps to use?! The Yugoslavs had been routed, and were fading into history in any case; the Croats had driven out the Serbs, and were occupying the west side of Mostar; Bosnia-Herzegovina forces were concentrated in the east. Three months later, in May, active fighting would break out again. Quickly, though, the troops settled in for a standoff. By the time the conflict ended, as many as 2,000 people had lost their lives in and around Mostar. In November, 1993, shells from the Croat side destroyed the fabled Stari Most bridge. (The Croats declared the bridge was a strategic target, but scholars and experts scoff at the claim, calling it an example of “killing memory.” The bridge was rebuilt with international aid and reopened in 2004 as a UNESCO World Heritage site.)

During the unsettled times of 1992 into 1993 in the Balkans, Mostar and other cities and regions were disrupted by the pitched battles, sieges and other confrontations involving Croats, Bosniaks and Serbs. Just as Croats contested for influence in the Bosnian region around Mostar, so they challenged Serbia in its northeast province of Vojvodina. Stamps appeared in 1992 with overprints claiming to represent Croat interests in both regions.

fullsizeoutput_1a8fBecause of my
fascination with the
very first philatelic
yowls of national
aspiration (even if
they do not last
long), I acquired
some of these sets
— including a
remarkable cover,
illustrated here,
that I must
describe in more detail. The cover contains a set of Yugoslav definitives, overprinted alternately “Souverena Bosna i Herzegovina” and “Souverana Herzeg-Bosna.” The postmark: Mostar. The date: 06.07.92. — July 6, a month after I sent my letter to Mostar in June, and eight months before the stampless return letter to me from Trajaneski Dragi the following February. Just days before this cover was cancelled June 7, the Croats had consolidated their positions in western Mostar. This set from “sovereign” Bosnia- Herzegovina” (the eastern sector?) may appear legitimate. Indeed, it carries what looks like the same cancellation as the envelope I received from Trajaneski Dragi the next February. Yet this set is considered spurious by the philatelic community.

fullsizeoutput_1a8dAlso considered spurious is another set (right), which is listed by a dealer as “Bosnia-Herze-govina/Croatian overprints,” and consists of eight stamps from the Yugoslav definitives, this time with “Jugoslavija” blacked out and replaced by the checkerboard Croatian coat-of-arms.

fullsizeoutput_1a96Another set,
“Vojvodina /
autonomy for the
northern Serbian province which neighbors Croatia,
and includes a sizable Croat population. This set — 10 overprints of Yugoslav definitives — is also dismissed as Cinderellas.

Yet anotherfullsizeoutput_1a8c
Cinderella set of
five Yugoslav
carries the
overprint, “Hrvatska Republika Vojvodina” (Croatian Republic Vojvodina). Nice try, Croatia — and I’ll admit I paid $25 for my set. Today, Croatia survives as a peaceful, modestly prosperous Balkan nation stretched along the sparkling Adriatic Sea— but without Mostar, which is firmly within Bosnia-Herzegovina; and without Vojvodina, which is part of modern Serbia.

I could go on and on about the Cinderella overprints for other Balkan splinter- states of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s — Kosovo, Istra, Sandjak, Krajina … but I sense your patience is wearing thin, dear reader. So let’s quickly review a few more images from the philatelically phractured Balkans, acknowledging that it remains a fertile field of study for Cinderella collectors and others, then move on. I hope that if you delve into this morass and collect stamps from the region, you don’t pay the prices I did!

A small gallery of (a few) legal and (mostly) illegal or Cinderella stamps from the Balkans


fullsizeoutput_1a92Bosnia-Herzegovina has had stamps since the 1870s, when it was part of Austro-Hungary. These stamps depicting a charming Bosniak girl were issued in 1918, at the very end of the empire. They are not “real” stamps, but rather newspaper revenue labels. You’ll notice there isn’t even a country name on them. After Bosnia-Herzegovina became part of Yugoslavia, the “anonymous” stamps were reissued, also surcharged (example above), and used for postage. Thus we have an example of a Cinderella stamp fullsizeoutput_1a93that was repurposed as a legitimate postage stamp.



And get a load of this stamp, a delicate  engraving also from 1918. It depicts our old friend, Stari Most — the bridge in Mostar claimed by all three ethnic groups in the stamps illustrated at the top of this commentary.

Version 2Here are more examples of Yugoslav definitives overprinted for “local” use by the territories of fullsizeoutput_1ab8Istra (above right), Sandza (right) and Zapadna (below right). I could spend time trying to fullsizeoutput_1ab6figure out if these are cities, or regions, or states of mind in the Balkan universe — but I won’t. I am intrigued by the longhorn in the Istra coat of arms, the Islamic star and crescent moon for Sandzak, and the fleur de lis and banner for Zapadna — they all suggest multi-ethnic aspirations in contention. I appreciate the struggle, and am glad that everyone seems to have worked things out sufficiently to be living in peace. I like to think of these stamps — all illegal, as far as I know — as emblems of a process that has led to tolerance, coexistence and self-expression.


fullsizeoutput_1ab7The breakaway Balkan province of Kosovo is a whole story of its own, which I won’t try to retell here. Instead, I display two philatelic artifacts from its modern history. The first set, above, is a Cinderella issue representing Kosovo’s national aspirations. fullsizeoutput_1a81The stamps at right  were issued on behalf of the NATO peacekeeping force that did so much to keep things from going from bad to worse in Kosovo. Emerging from U.N. supervision, Kosovo declared its independence in 2008. Its autonomy remains in dispute — Kosovo is not a member of the U.N. or the Universal Postal Union, so its stamps may or may not be legal …


fullsizeoutput_1abbHere are early stamps from the Serbian side in Bosnia-Herzigovina. In the top row, the stamps are inscribed “Republica Srpskpa,” which corresponds to the name for territory within national borders, but somehow distinct from the federation itself (see map, above). The lower row of stamps add the word Krajina. This refers to Serbia’s claim to territory extending into Croatia, essentially redefining the borders (krajina means “frontier.”) NIce try, Serbia. Eventually the krajina was reaffirmed as the pre-existing border between Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. The Krajina label was never recognized internationally, so these stamps are illegals, or Cinderellas — though as you see below, there are postally used examples of these stamps on covers.

fullsizeoutput_1a89Here are a couple of covers I purchased on eBay for a few bucks each. The one on the left features stamps from Republica Srpska which are supposed to be illegal, but were postally accepted just the same on this letter to Italy. The stamps fullsizeoutput_1a88on the the right-hand cover were used internally. As the postmarks indicate, the covers originated in Banja Luka, a city in northern Bosnia-Herzegovina that today lies within the boundaries of the Serbian-claimed territory.


fullsizeoutput_1abdThis oddment at right was listed on eBay as “Travnik probe 1992.” I believe it was issued during the Croat-Muslim conflict around Travnik in the central region of Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1992. (The fleu-de-lis design echoes the Zapadna Cinderellas, above.) The price on eBay is just a few bucks, but I’d pay more than that for an example of this stamp postally used on an envelope.


fullsizeoutput_1a8aI include these two covers I bought for my collection, both mailed in Mostar, to illustrate how illegal stamps can be used on legitimately posted letters. Both letters were mailed internally — the one below right didn’t even leave Mostar. Something about the postmarks struck me. The envelope above left is dated 30.2.92 — Feb. 30, fullsizeoutput_1a8b1992. The one below it  was postmarked 02.08.92 — Aug. 2, 1992. You may recall that I mailed my international postal coupon to Mostar in June, 1992 — four months after the first cover was postmarked, two months before the second cover was processed. My letter should have arrived in Mostar in plenty of time for a return cover to be embellished with those same stamps, legal or not. OK, I understand postal officials may have been distracted by a few things, including civil war. What may be most surprising is that old Trajaneski Dragi got around to responding to my inquiry at all. By February 1993, it seems there were no more stamps available — legal or illegal. Where did the stamps go? Did they just run out? Were they confiscated by one side or the other?


fullsizeoutput_1abaFinally, here is an image I captured from the internet. The overprint is intriguing: It sets a date — 11.05.1994 — that’s May 11, 1994, more than a year before the Dayton Accords would end the Balkan conflict. The stamps bear the inscription “BiH Konfederacija” — Confederation of Bosnia- Herzegovina — and alternating cities, Vienna and Geneva. What role did these cities full of diplomats and international civil servants play, along the road to Dayton? And what about that word, confederacija? The Dayton agreement established Bosnia-Herzegovina as a formal “federation,” not a loose “confederation” of sovereign states. Thus, these stamps not only are Cinderellas, but they rapidly were superseded by history.


Bonus: Stamp Ramblings and Musings

Active stamp collecting means keeping your tongs in play, enjoying the hobby when time permits. Every now and then I dip into the online stamp market, or go to the local stamp show. I also bid on stamp auction lots at my beloved Syracuse Stamp Club (and occasionally sell a few lots myself). .

Today I received a packet from an efficient stamp-man in Salem, Oregon. I spent an affordable $26.87 for my lots, which resulted from an online pitch from a dealer collective over the internet. I didn’t score any particular deals, or add significantly to my collection. It’s been lots of fun, though. Here’s  what I bought:

fullsizeoutput_1e50** A South Africa set from the late apartheid era. It is not very valuable. though it is a very pretty set of birds, plants and fish — a desirable item for topical collectors, I would think. On second thought, though, it poses a challenge to topical cllectors, in that it combines three specialties — birds on stamps, plants on stamps, fish on stamps. Then again, topical collectors may not care about complete sets. I’ll have to find out some day …

fullsizeoutput_1e4b** A long, incomplete set from the 1980s Falkland Island Dependencies. The stamps were cheap, probably worth little if anything — but oh! What scenes of desolation:  “Shag rocks” … “Bird and Willis Islands” … “Twitchern Rock and Cook Island” …  These stamps purportedly were printed for use on the forlorn islands of Sandwich and the South Shetlands, closer to Antarctica than the southeast coast of Argentina. Interestingly, it was also in the 1980s that Argentina went to war with Great Britain over these islands, along with the relatively nearby Falkland Islands. The British prevailed, and in this set reaffirm their claim to the Falkland Island Dependencies. Argentina, the loser, has never given up its claims. (For more about this, see my post on Stamp Wars, October 2017.)

fullsizeoutput_1e4c** A souvenir sheet from Togo, 1961, This fills a large space on a page of my Togo collection, which is far from complete. Indeed,  I have no great ambitions for my Togo collection. Still, Togo’s role in colonial and post-colonial Africa grabs my interest. The slogan on this set of stamps — Commission Economiques des Nations Unies Pour L’Afrique (Economic Commission of Nations   United for Africa) — sounds poignantly hopeful and naive, even deluded, given what has happened in Togo and west Africa, and Africa generally, over the last 50 years.

Togo has an improbable philatelic history, having endured German, British and French colonial dominion before gaining independence in the 1960s. I pretty much stopped collecting Togo — or many other African countries — after the 1970s, when their stamp-issuing habits starting going off the rails. (For more about this, see my series of posts on illegal stamps, which began in September 2017.)

fullsizeoutput_1e4d** The 250 franc from Upper Volta (1968) cost a couple of bucks. In a beautifully engraved, multi-color cameo, it depicts a satellite in space, over the West African capital city’s relay station. The inscription reads, “Ouagadougou — Station Spatiale.”   There is a spot in my Africa albums for this stamp, though I harbor no ambitions ever to assemble a valuable collection from Upper Vola (now Burkina Faso) or most other countries. What draws me is the history of post-colonial Africa. I cling to the fond hopes portrayed in these stamps of international cooperation, progress, peace and human development. What breaks my heart is that these hopes soared more than 50 years ago, then came crashing down in the ensuing decades.



** These stamps from Pakistan also fill spaces in my stamp book. I started my collection as a youngster after my father, a U.S. foreign service officer,  was posted to Dacca, East Pakistan, in 1957. I haven’t paid much attention to stamps for Pakistan — or what is now Pakistan and Bangladesh — since we left n 1960. On impulse, I decided to add a few of couple of missing issues from the 1950s that were harder-to-get for a penniless, pre-teen collector. They cost me less than six bucks today, thereby filling spaces that have remained blank for decades. Some fun!

Version 2

**   Uhuru Zanzibar 1963! Another fond hope, this time from the east African island nation of Zanzibar. For better or worse uhuru (independence) didn’t last long. By 1964, the sultan had been deposed, and a “revolutionary” government had united with Tanganyika on the mainland, creating the new nation of Tanzania.

fullsizeoutput_1e51** The Guernsey set (1-7) may look pretty dull, but I was attracted by the color varieties and the sense of completeness about this historic set; or rather two sets,  one with watermarks, one without. Notice that these sets, like GB stamps, do not carry the name of a country. In a way that seems somehow ineffably English, it seems Great Britain, having invented stamps, never had to stoop so low as to  flaunt its name on its postage labels — or those of its channel islands (though Guerney, Jersey and the Isle of Man soon did put their names on their stamps.) Indeed, the islands in the English Channel developed philatelic cottage industries, with colorful and fullsizeoutput_1e56collectible stamps down through the years. Guernsey’s first philatelic presence came during World War II, when the Nazis occupied the island, along with neighboring Jersey — so close, yet so far from Winston Churchill’s citadel.  These newer stamps, from the 1950s, featured the pretty young Queen Elizabeth II. They only cost a couple of bucks, yet they seem to herald the modern, post-war era.

These are the kinds of ramblings and musings that stamp-collecting invites. What a hobby!


Bonus: Seychelles and the Key Value!

fullsizeoutput_1da6What a dull-looking stamp!

That may well be your reaction on contemplating the example included here. I hope the digital image does justice to just how ordinary this stamp looks: It consists of a photograph of three men in a non-motorized boat — sort of a mini-barge/gondola/fishing conveyance, presumably native to the Seychelles. The name of the British colony appears on the stamp, along with the value, 1 rupee, and in tiny letters below, “fishing pirogue.” Above left, enclosed in a small oval, is a profile portrait of Britain’s King George VI. Particularly noteworthy — or rather, NOT noteworthy — is the color, a kind of sallow pea-green, of noxious  tone, with a washed-out quality. The Scott catalogue describes the hue  as “yellow green.” Whoever picked this color should have been brought up on charges before the Board of Philatelic Aesthetics, summarily convicted of seditious — or at least, sulfurous — stamp-making and sentenced to Philatelic Purgatory.

All that said, I offer you this startling admission: I just paid 37+ euros for it! (That’s more than $40!)

Let me quickly add that I checked with wife Chris before making this online purchase —  after all, we are retirees, living on a fixed income. I can say as much as I like about stamp collecting being an investment, wise or not. Safe to say, when you spend $40 for a postage stamp, that money isn’t going to pay any bills, or cover other necessary expenses. But Chris was feeling indulgent  — after all, I had checked with her — and she didn’t put up a fuss; just rolled her eyes and sighed.

The letter arrived — from Paris, France, as fate would have it. “Here are your stamps,” wrote Renaud de Montbas (pecheurdetimbres). “I hope  you’ll enjoy them … as I put all my passion in my lots …”  I hope to figure out how to give M. de Montbas a good rating, since not only did this self-described  “fisher of stamps” send me my stamp quickly, he also covered the envelope with beautiful French stamps I could add to my collection.

And the stamp itself — what a prize! Let me explain:

Some of the rarest and choicest postage stamps are not particularly attractive — like the 1857 British Guiana stamp, the world’s greatest philatelic rarity. What makes stamps rare could be any number of things, resulting in their scarcity and desirability to collectors. This Seychelles stamp isn’t really that rare. It’s not extremely old, dating to a set issued in 1938, soon after George VI took the throne and became titular ruler of the colony.  I could speculate that one reason this stamp is rare is that it is so homely — but I won’t. I will make some related observations, however:

I. This 1938 set of stamps was a radical departure from the staid tradition of postage stamps from the Seychelles, an island group in the Indian Ocean miles from Madagascar,


Here are samples of Seychelles stamps through the years, starting with the 1890s set, top, featuring Queen Victoria; to the left are stamps of the Edward VII era (1902-1911). Below are stamps featuring George V (1911-1935). Notice the difference between the top and bottom George V stamps? It’s the side inscriptions — on the top stamps, they read “Postage/Postage” on both sides (who knows why the redundancy?), while the bottom stamps are inscribed with the more sensible “Postage/& Revenue.” Other subtle changes: the lettering below is white on a dark background; and the frame is crimped, not round.

the African coast, Mauritius or anywhere else. The first colonial stamps date back to a design used in many colonies that depicted a   profile bust of Queen Victoria. Essentially the same design — different busts — was used for King Edward stamps, then King George V stamps — across four decades.









II. Seychelles letter-writers must have been mildly thunderstruck in 1938 when their stamps suddenly began featuring vivid photographic vignettes of home.  Giant tortoises! Coco-de-mer palms! Fishing pirogues! To collectors, these were exotic scenes from a faraway island, unfolding under the steady, benign gaze of the handsome, well-groomed young British monarch. After fullsizeoutput_1d90so many years of the same design, now there was something new!  One wonders: If the purpose of maintaining the design was in part to convey a sense of the British empire’s soliditiy, continuity, normalcy and orderliness, then what did the radical departure into gaudy labels in 1938 signify? fullsizeoutput_1da7This shift in the  philatelic paradigm surely was a signal — unconscious, perhaps — that the colonial era was no longer going to be quite so predictable …

fullsizeoutput_1da8III. What a lot of stamps there are  in this set! Between the 2-cent stamp and the 5-rupee value I count 24 varieties — considerably more than the average for the first George VI set in other colonies. (Though I must add that right from the beginning, Seychelles did issue more long sets with color varieties fullsizeoutput_1dcbthan most colonies; please don’t ask me why. Mauritius, an island colony a mere 1,000+ miles away in the Indian Ocean, also seemed to issue long sets — 20 stamps or more, Version 5with different colors. Go figure.)  Over the past 18 years I managed to accumulate a nearly complete Seychelles 1938 George VI set, which is  tantalizing for a diehard collector/investor like me. But an affordable 1 rupee yellow-green eluded me — until now. Believe it or not, 37.99 euros is actually a great price for a decent copy of the stamp — fullsizeoutput_1daaeven a hinged one, like this. Other prices online ranged up  past $50, much higher for a never-hinged example. To have the set complete is a special pleasure of stamp-collecting — particularly if it results from a process of patient accumulation over time.

IV. Why so many stamps in this set?  It seems many denominations appear on two stamps, of differing colors. The first stamps, issued in 1938, are rarer than the second set that appeared in 1941. Particularly valuable is the 75-cent gray-blue, which commands prices 75 times higher than its dull violet successor.

fullsizeoutput_1da9V. The 1 rupee yellow-green could be considered the key value of the set. It is about 100 times more valuable than the 1 rupee gray that took its place in 1941. At least, I figure that’s what happened — all these earlier values were withdrawn, or at least no longer produced,  after just three years. The relatively short circulation lifespan of those earlier stamps no doubt helped to account for their subsequent rarity and inflated value.

fullsizeoutput_1d9eThe remaining set stayed in circulation from 1941 on, until a new set appeared in March 1952, featuring a portrait of a shockingly aged George VI. (Unfortunately, the king had died a month fullsizeoutput_1da1earlier; the resourceful stamp makers simply replaced the portrait of George VI with a cameo of the young Queen Elizabeth II and issued that set in 1954; notice how the stamp-makers kept the same gray-and-white coloring for the 1-rupee stamp right on through. More sets followed; the Seychelles gained independence in 1976.)

VI. Why so many color changes in the 1938 set? Though I don’t know the answer, I’m always willing to speculate. One thought is that in 1941, the exigencies of wartime made it impractical or wasteful to use some inks rather than others. (This theory is not perfect, however; just check above to see the nearly similar color of the 1938 6-cent and the 1941 20-cent. What gives?)

I have another theory as well. I like to think that the colonial philatelic poobahs back in Whitehall decided the original colors were just too god-awful — starting with that 1 rupee pea-green number. Come on, chaps, we can do better than that. How about just a dignified, gray-and-white 1 rupee? That’s the ticket!



Here at the end is an illustration of stamp-collector’s delight — adding the elusive “key value” that completes a set. On the left, the missing stamp sits next to its designated spot on the appropriate page of the Minkus British Africa album, clearly illustrated with a black-and-white likeness of the missing stamp. Below, the set is complete! According to my research, a complete set like this — all mint except for the nine cent — is selling in the neighborhood of $200, with a catalogue value in excess of $300. Wowza!




Bonus: The end of stamp collecting, refuted

Mark Twain called rumors of his death in 1897 “an exaggeration.” Other predictions of the demise of one thing or another also have been exaggerated: that radio would mean the death of conversation; that TV would eclipse radio; that the Internet would sound the knell for newspapers, reading, writing, thinking, whatever. It hasn’t happened yet. (Granted, newspapers aren’t what they used to be; and Mark Twain did eventually die, in 1910.)

What about the decline of stamp-collecting? Rumors that philately is on its last legs (last hinges?) have been circulating for years. There are just too many distractions in modern living, it is said — the Internet, TV, video games, extreme sports, social

This quaint image depicts the intergenerational ritual of philately. Today’s father probably is immersed in Facebook, or cable sports, while Junior is burrowing ever deeper into games and social media — none of which have anything to do with stamps. To which I say: so what?

media, what-have-you; the older generation of stamp collectors is dying off;  the younger cohort is just too busy to keep up with their parent’s hobby; as for the kids, who knows what they’re into these days —  certainly not stamps … or newspapers; life is just too fast-paced for that dry, sedentary, pokey hobby; besides, there are just too many stamps coming out these days, there’s no way to keep up; plus, hardly anybody still uses stamps — they don’t even exchange letters, for goodness’ sake!  How can you collect something you don’t even know exists?

I’m here to tell you different. At least, that’s my mission — whether it’s a fool’s errand, a Quixotic quest, a blind alley or some other metaphor for a doomed itinerary. That’s what the FMF Stamp Project blog is about: I’m on a mission to save stamp-collecting — single-handedly if necessary!

Actually, I suspect stamp collecting will survive, with or without help from  the FMF Stamp Project. If philately is such a dying hobby, how come I get stamp auction pitches via email where the bidding is fierce? LIke, 22 bids for one item! I joined the fun the other day, staking a claim to two lots. One of them I managed to win but on the other, I was finally outbid and lost the lot.

The latest tolling of the bell for philately comes from Eugene L. Meyer, in an op-ed column for The New York Times a few weeks ago entitled, “Stamped Out.”  ( Described as a journalist and author, Meyer obviously is not a stamp collector — or at least, is no longer a stamp collector. I detected neither smoke nor spark of the phire that burns in all true philatelists.

He describes his years as an active hobbyist in his youth, when stamp-collecting was still a mainstream pastime. He earned a merit badge for philately in the Boy Scouts. He collected foreign stamps off envelopes saved by a friend of his father’s. He collected first-day covers and plate blocks of new U.S. issues, and checked out “dealers who would advertise in the back pages of comic books” and send  packages of cheap stamps “to get you hooked.”

Meyer recalls the days when just about every high school had a stamp club. It made me remember when department stores had counters, with colorful and exotic displays under glass for old and young stamp enthusiasts to pore over.

Today the stamp clubs are mostly gone, as are the stamp counters — and department stores, come to think of it. The legions of young stamp collectors grew up, their collections all but forgotten. “Stamp collecting could be addictive, and for many in my generation it was,” Meyer writes. “But there comes a time to let go of childish things, and the stamps, plate blocks and first-day covers I collected in the 1950s had sat in the box in the basement for too many years, unlooked at, unattended to …”

While I bridle at the suggestion stamp collecting is a “childish thing,” I understand what Meyer is getting at. I, too, found little time for the hobby during my active years of career, marriage, parenting, navigating through it all. But I never lost my enthusiasm — adult enthusiasm — for stamps.

Am I an outlier? Meyer’s limited research suggests — maybe. His sources told him that the average stamp collector today is between 65 and 70 (I am 69, so if I’m not an outlier, I’m an over-the-hiller); and that membership in the American Philatelic Society has declined by 50 percent over the past 20 years, from 56,532 to 28,953. (I admit I dropped out.)

When Meyer went to sell his collection, one of the dwindling number of active stamp dealers told him there is no market for his common stamps; the dealer wouldn’t even make an offer. Instead, he suggested Meyer donate his collection to a volunteer group that sorts and sends stamps to veterans hospitals and homes. Which he did.

At least that counters the assertion that stamp collecting is “childish.”

In a rapidly changing world, is there still a place for stamp collecting? Of course. There are challenges, to be sure. Stamps may be coming out faster than anyone can collect them — as many as 17,000 a year, worldwide. Meanwhile, paradoxically, a new generation barely knows what a stamp is any more. What’s wrong with this model?

Stamp collecting, like the world, is changing. Great stamp rarities continue to command record prices at auction. Stories about

George Bernard Shaw, among other luminaries, was an avid stamp collector.

stamps may not often find their way into mainstream news reports — except for occasional gloom-and-doom predictions like those in Meyer’s column. But stamp  stories are just as revealing,  entertaining, historically relevant as ever. The stamps are authentic artifacts, many of them exquisite works of art and design. And the older ones are getting rarer every day.

In his piece, Eugene Meyer invokes the spirit of Franklin Roosevelt, citing his lifelong passion for philately as an emblem of the hobby in its heyday. FDR, who could rest his useless legs fullsizeoutput_1b9ewhile he soared into the imaginative realms of his magnificent stamp collection, once said, “I owe my life to my hobbies — especially stamp collecting.”

If philately really is dying, I wish it would hurry up, so when prices collapse I can pick up some real bargains. However, I suspect that while stamp collecting will never recapture the dominant position it once occupied among hobbies. there will continue to be enough enthusiasts in this generation, and the next, to keep alive the fascination with those colorful specks of paper that tell so much.


BONUS: Is a stamp illegal if it starts a war?

fullsizeoutput_1ac81. When this Bolivian postage stamp map (right) was first issued, in 1928, it caused an uproar in neighboring Paraguay. The two nations had been having a long dispute over the semi-arid, sparsely populated Chaco region. Paraguay and Bolivia, both land-locked, were among the poorest nations in South America. This postage stamp for the first time boldly named the territory that would  extend Bolivia’s southeast border, “Chaco Boliviano.”


fullsizeoutput_1aceA year earlier, Paraguay had  established its philatelic claim to the Chaco, a region that constituted about 40 percent of its northern land mass. A Paraguayan stamp in 1927 (right) displayed a corresponding map with the label Chaco Paraguayo (you can just make it out underneath the “Paraguay” banner.) The very next year, Bolivia would “occupy” the Chaco, philatelically speaking. The battle was on! Bolivia kept laying it on, reissuing its design in 1931, the year before the fighting began. Its last map stamp with the Chaco Boliviano inscription was issued in 1935, the year the two sides agreed to a cease fire.

fullsizeoutput_1ac9Postal officials in Paraguay countered the Bolivian affront with more stamps, this one at right a bit larger than the offending ones, with a map that clearly labeled the disputed territory as Chaco Paraguayo. To drive home the point, the stamp carried a legend at the bottom: Ha sido, es y sera (“Has been, is and will be”). As if that weren’t clear enough, the message continued on a pair of shields: El Chaco Boreal / Del Paraguay. (boreal means “northern”)

It may be a philatelist’s exaggeration to claim that these stamps provoked the vicious war between Bolivia and Paraguay over the Chaco. Provocative philately surely was a contributing factor. The 1932-35 conflict became the longest territorial war in South American history. It was costly and bloody — and largely ignored by the rest of the world. Bolivian fatalities were estimated as high as 65,000 — 2 percent of the population; Paraguay’s dead numbered some 36,000, 3 percent of its population.

fullsizeoutput_1acaIn the bitter fighting, Paraguay eventually took control of much of the territory, and a ceasefire was reached in 1935. But it was not  until 1938 that a truce was negotiated and signed. The agreement awarded Paraguay about two-thirds of the Chaco. That nation followed up with a series of self-congratulatory stamps celebrating the accord. One stamp (see right) really rubbed it in: A map pointedly emphasized Paraguay’s territorial dominance, and was accompanied by a suitably smarmy quotation, “Una paz honoroso vale mas que todos los triunfos militaries” (“An honorable peace is worth more than all the military triumphs”).

Safe to say Bolivia, which ended up with the short end of the Chaco, did not issue any celebratory stamps. In this case, the victor got to write the history.

The Universal Postal Union directs that nations should avoid giving political offense in its postage stamps. Whether or not these stamps from Bolivia and Paraguay were actually responsible for provoking a war, they clearly crossed the line drawn by the UPU.

ADDENDUM — A HAPPY ENDING? A final agreement on borders was not reached until 2009. Since then, oil and natural gas reserves have been discovered in both the Paraguayan and Bolivian sections of the Chaco.

What follows is a small gallery of more politically incorrect stamps (according to the UPU’s rules)




2. These wartime stamps from Nazi Germany crossed the line into offensive territory — though the engravings themselves are distressingly artistic and well executed. The top example shows a grenade-thrower in action, with an empty Allied helmet in the foreground — presumably from a vanquished foe. The fullsizeoutput_1ad2lower stamp depicts a dreaded U-Boat slicing its way through the sea under a corona of sunbeams, while a ship burns in the background — presumably its enemy prey. British? American?








3. I bet you never saw these crude stamps during the Vietnam War. Maybe ever? They were issued by North Vietnam, and doubled as propaganda labels — strictly against UPU rules. It was illegal to import them into the United States. Look at the communist soldiers in the image, above right (is that a woman?), shooting down a fullsizeoutput_1adahelicopter clearly labeled, “U.S. Army.” In the stamp below it, a U.S. B-52 explodes, hit by ship-to-air artillery, while another flaming jet in the background plummets to the Earth.










This North Vietnamese stamp (right) kind of jarred me, in that it shows a group of American anti-war protesters demonstrating with signs reading, “End the war in Vietnam,” and “Vietnam for the Vietnamese.” Above the fray hovers the ghostly visage of a clean-cut, American-looking guy whose name on the stamp is given as “Noman Morixon.” Who is he? He is Norman Morrison, an American Quaker, anti-war protester and married father of three. In November, 1965, the 31-year-old went to Washington, picked a spot outside the Pentagon office of U.S. Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, doused himself with kerosene and set himself on fire, burning to death. While his sacrifice may not have had much impact in his native land, the North Vietnamese certainly noticed. “Mo Ri Xon” became a folk hero. A Vietnamese poet memorialized his ultimate act of conscience.  Years later, when a Vietnamese ambassador came to Washington, he made a point of visiting the site of Morrison’s principled self-immolation.








Here’s one more offensive and therefore illegal image on North Vietnamese stamps: a U.S. prisoner of war, presumably contemplating his sins. There oughta be a law against this stamp. In fact, there is.








4. You don’t have to read North Korean    to figure out what these lurid stamps are about. To the left,  a fist smashes a missile labeled “USA.” To the right, a hand clasping a gun hovers over a scene of red missiles targeting … what is that, the U.S. Capitol?!



North Korea’s pique toward the United States goes way back.  Here is a stamp celebrating the burning of the USS General Sherman, an ironclad ship that visited the Korean peninsula in 1866, apparently for purposes of trade, but without local authorization.
All aboard perished when the ship was torched.
The USS Pueblo incident in 1968 also was celebrated, illegally, in North Korean postal history.
This stamp at right presents a  phalanx of hand-held weaponry,  confronting a diminutive group of U.S. seaman from the Pueblo.  The ship was boarded and captured when it strayed too close to the North Korean mainland.










The humiliation of the Americans continued in these propaganda stamps. The one directly above seems to conflate the downing of the EC121 U.S. spy plane in 1969 and the capture of the Pueblo.

5. The two-month “war” between Argentina and Great Britain over the Falkland Islands in 1982 was not nearly as bloody as the Chaco war between Paraguay and Bolivia; but the stamp war over the Malvinas/Falkland Islands seems never-ending.



The Argentine stamp at right, overprinted Las Malvinas son Argentinas and issued in April, 1982, for the first time made the formal territorial claim in print on a postage stamp. It appeared right after Argentine forces stormed the Falklands in early April, overwhelming British colonial authorities. The stamps were available for use in Argentina — and the Malvinas/Falkland Islands — until the surrender to British troops in June. The death toll from the skirmishes: 649 Argentine soldiers, 255 British troops, and three Falkland Island civilians.


(For some of the account that follows I am indebted to my fellow blogger Dave of Global Philately, who has posted a splendid philatelic-led narrative of the Falkland Islands war.)







Britain’s claim to the Falklands extends  into the 19th century. The islands’ first postage stamp (right) depicted a mature Queen Victoria.












Britain affirmed its claim on a stamp from Canada in 1898 (right) celebrating the British empire. Particularly in
the blow-up image (below), you can see the Falklands off the southeastern tip of South America, colored red to signal Version 2its place in the imperial constellation.





















It wasn’t until 1936 that Argentina came back with its own postage stamp claiming the same territory in its colored map. But the philatelic impact of that claim went back further. Argentine authorities refused to recognize Falkland Island stamps, charging postage due for covers mailed to Argentina from the islands.








In 1933 the British had issued a beautiful set of two-color engraved stamps to mark the centennial of its  colonial claim — an assertion that irked their Argentine counterparts, and may have contributed to the decision in Buenos Aires to issue its own map stamp (see above) three years later.










At some point Argentine postal authorities prepared  this stamp design, which wrenched the islands firmly away from the British. The stamps were never issued.















However, the rather undistinguished  stamp at right was issued in 1960, purportedly to commemorate the national census. Cute, the way it adds a couple of “chips” off its coast to the Argentine hegemon — not just the Falklands, but also South Georgia, another British-claimed island group, and a slice of Antarctica.




Then, in 1964, came three more stamps (see envelope, below) extending Argentina’s claim even further. Notice on the 4-peso stamp how Argentine flags are planted on the Falklands, South Georgia, the South Shetlands and South Orkneys, as well as Argentine Antarctica!


At right is a cover from my collection from April 1982, a gift from my brother, who was working for Rotary International at the time. It is plastered with Malvinas son Argentinas overprints, and was mailed from the Argentine mainland to Rotary HQ in Evanston, Ill. I don’t believe it’s worth much, though it certainly has historical interest. The stamps must have been withdrawn after the British took back control of the Falklands in June. Otherwise, London surely would have raised holy heck with the Universal Postal Union.



The one-year anniversary of the Falklands/Malvinas war, in 1983, produced a curious pair of stamp issues. The Falklands issue was a four-stamp set in a souvenir sheet, marking the “liberation” — in June. Note the jaunty expression on the face of the soldier in the stamp at right.





In Argentina, a stamp also came out marking the anniversary — that is, the date Argentina asserted its  claim by occupying the islands — in April.







In case you thought the matter may have been settled since then — this three-stamp set from Argentina in 2012 once again portrays the disputed islands. The legend printed on the envelope translates roughly as: “The question of the sovereignty of the Malvinas shall go on forever.”

In a 2013 referendum, 99.8 percent of voters representing the Falkland Islands’ roughly 4,000 residents opted to remain a British territory. Argentina dismissed the referendum results.
















































Cinderellas, part four: Illegal stamps! 1. Introduction


This charming set from the Democratic Republic of the Congo was deemed illegal by the Universal Postal Union after it was disowned by postal officials in Kinshasa, Congo.

If you are a stamp collector, here’s some shocking news: More than a few of the stamps in your collection — even some of your prettiest topical sets featuring birds, butterflies, rock stars, Disney characters or world history — may be illegal!

When I say “illegal,” I don’t mean forgeries or  counterfeits — though let’s pause to consider them in passing. These fakes are  like forged paintings by “old masters” being foisted off as the real thing, or counterfeit $20 bills rolling off some  illicit press. Stamp catalogues warn about forgeries, which naturally are found among costlier and rarer stamps. Some early issues from British Guiana, for example, are called “reprints” — not exactly forgeries, since they are “official,” but not genuine

postage stamps either. The original 1 cent magenta of 1852 (above left) is for sale on eBay for just over $5,000; a reprint, readily identifiable by its thick paper and bright color (see above right, from my collection), is worth no more than $15.

Early stamps from the south African republic of Transvaal are quite dear — No. 1 is listed at $350, No. 3 at $450. The catalogue warns that “So-called reprints and trial


The top example from Transvaal (the “Z. Afr. Republiek, or South African Republic) is genuine. The one below is a forgery. Can you tell them apart? (hints: in the forgery below, the eagle’s eye is a blob, and the word “EENDRAGT” in the banner is evenly lettered; in the real stamp, above, even though it is faded you still can see that the eagle’s eye is a dot, and the “D” IN EENDRAGT is larger than the other letters, actually touching the top of the banner.

impressions of the stamps … are counterfeits.” It goes on to describe how to distinguish forgeries from the real thing. Beware, this really gets into the weeds: “In forgeries … the ‘D’ of ‘EENDRAGT’ is not noticeably larger than the other letters and does not touch the top of the ribbon. In … genuine stamps, the ‘D’ is large and touches the ribbon top. The eagle’s eye is a dot and its face white on the genuine stamps; the eye is a loop or a blob attached to the beak, and the beak is strongly hooked, on the forgeries. …” There is much more to be said about forgeries — I just spent an absorbing 10 minutes delving into the subject online, and could easily get lost in the fake weeds. But let’s move on …

How about a word of reassurance?fullsizeoutput_1992

Just because you own a few illegal stamps, doesn’t mean the Stamp Police will come knocking on your door, demanding to see your collection. They won’t  throw you in jail, slap you with a fine, or even confiscate the unauthorized items. In fact, the Stamp Police don’t even exist. And don’t think that just because some of your stamps are illegal, they have no value.  The UPU estimates the market for illegals is at least $500 million.



I recently read about an illegal stamp issue that was a hot item at the 2016 World Stamp Show in Manhattan. The souvenir sheet from the  Central African Republic (see right) displayed Donald Trump, then the U.S. presidential candidate. The stamps commemorating the World Stamp Show paid tribute to prominent New Yorkers, with Trump featured as the most prominent of all.  It was being promoted by Stamperija, a private firm based in Lithuania that  serves the CAR and at least 10 other nations through outsourced postal operations, including stamp production and marketing. This sheet breaks at least a half-dozen rules for postage stamps set by the Universal Postal Union. Yet reports from the stamp show indicate sales were brisk. (You can buy one of the  sheets online from eBay for $6.26, plus postage and handling.)

What are the rules? First, here are six rules the Trump souvenir sheet from the Central African Republic breaks:

— It gets involved in the politics of another country

— It has nothing to do with the CAR: does not promote its cultural identity, has no bearing on the people or the state.

— It was not in circulation in the CAR or available to CAR postal customers.

— It was not in keeping with the spirit of the Preamble to the UPU Constitution

— It did not contribute to the dissemination of culture or to maintaining peace.

— It was not a manifestation of the sovereignty of the CAR.

Victor Banta of the philatelic webmaster group took the trouble to put the CAR souvenir sheet into context and perspective. He noted that while the World Stamp Show was going on in New York City in 2016, the CAR was wracked by kidnappings of government ministers, tribal violence and the threat of terrorism. “The influx of peacekeepers no doubt reduced further bloodshed,” Manta observed, “but the crisis continued to outpace the response” in a “rapidly expanding catastrophe.”  Now why does a government in such a state put out stamps honoring New Yorkers, particularly the controversial presidential candidate Donald Trump? As a distraction? A sycophantic ego trip? A commercial hustle? Whether or not this souvenir sheet illegal (and I believe it is), it’s a philatelic phelony.  J’accuse!

The rules may seem repetitive, even redundant, but it’s worth parsing words to get at what exactly is and is not a “postage stamp.” The UPU begins its definition transactionally: “Postage stamps: 1) Shall be used and put into circulation solely under the authority of the member country … 2) Are a manifestation of sovereignty and constitute proof of prepayment of the postage …”

The UPU declared that stamps must “be devoid of political character or of any topic of an offensive nature in respect of a person or a country …”  The postal poobahs  even set size parameters — not less than   15 mm or more than 50 mm, vertical or horizontal.


Guess who?

Here’s a basic rule, one might think: Stamps must bear “the name of the member country or territory of issue, in roman letters …”  But wait! There is an exception. One country, and one country only, does not have to print its name on its stamps. “An exception shall be granted to Great Britain,” the UPU allows, “the country which invented the postage stamp.”

In 2008 the UPU reaffirmed its Philatelic Code of Ethics as originally adopted at the UPU congress in Bucharest, Romania in 2004. The goal of the enterprise is “high quality, ethical stamps” and a “vibrant philatelic market.” Keenly aware of the enduring value of stamps to philatelists, the authors of the code of ethics warned that postal authorities “shall not produce postage stamps or philatelic products that are intended to exploit customers.”

The code of ethics seems to cover the matter of cancel-to-order mills, the bane of most philatelists. But the language is vague, directing that “cancelling and marking devices shall be used for operational purposes only.”  Couldn’t you call it an “operational purpose” when a postal authority decides to reduce its stock by having its stamps cancelled to order? The postally-suspect “remainders” thus created are sold (somehow) at a deep discount, and are spurned by collectors-in-the-know (though I admit I own some CTO sets).

The code also addresses supply and demand. This means ensuring “that the number of stamps issued each year is limited to that which their market will accept.”  Postal authorities should “avoid oversupply,” the code advises. “They shall not saturate the market and thus drive philatelists and collectors away from the hobby.” As for proscribing illegal stamps, the code makes only one reference to “products of unofficial origin incorporating postage stamps,” and directs its members to “avoid any action which might be taken as declaring approval … or conferring official status” on such illegals.

Since 2002, the World Association for the Development of Philately (WADP) has been keeping track of legitimate stamp issues from UPU member states through its WADP Numbering System (WNS). Not all UPU member states cooperate with the WNS,  however, so there are gaps.

How many of the world’s 17,000-plus new stamps each year are designed and printed by outfits like Stamperija? Lots. Thousands of stamps in recent decades carried the names of nations in Africa and the former USSR, as well as tiny sovereign island states, and before that the Arab trucial states … Here is where it gets really confusing. How do you separate the “legitimate” postage stamps issued by, say, the Arab trucial state of Fujeira, from the “illegal” sets proscribed by the philatelic poobahs? And what if the set is “legit,” that is, postally valid, yet it breaks rules set by the UPU’s code of ethics? I mean really, look at some of these topical sets picked at random from the Scott catalogue for Fujeira in 1967: Butterflies, Winter Olympics, fullsizeoutput_1982Eisenhower.


Or how about florid souvenir sheets from the west African nation of Sierra Leone celebrating … U.S. Civil War generals (from both the north and the south!)?


fullsizeoutput_197cThese stamps  have nothing to do with Fujeira or Sierra Leone, any more than the sets of French classical  painting on stamps from the Arab world or Central Africa. Is that a philatelic crime? At least a shade unethical?



Now consider this pretty stamp (right) from Angola —  it is from a series of topical sets  celebrating flora and fauna, fungi and cacti. Why does the UPU insist they are illegal? Because Angolan postal authorities themselves denounced these issues to the UPU, refusing to acknowledge their legitimacy. The Philatelic Webmasters Organization noted: “Three companies located in Belgium, Great Britain and Lithuania issued stamps in its name.” Was this a shameless attempt by unscrupulous stamp-makers to cash in on the topical stamp market? Was there a misunderstanding? A deal gone bad? A plot foiled?  I wish I knew. …


The stamps above, purportedly from Angola, are all illegal. Angolan postal authorities renounced them, and the Universal Postal Union proscribed them. One observer thought it odd that all the stamps were denominated in the same amount: 3.5 million KZr., whatever they are …

As you begin to realize how many illegal stamps there are out there — from Mali, Chad, Georgia, and so on — the likelihood that this is the result of an accident or a misunderstanding fades. What we’re left with is a philatelic scheme that blurs the boundaries between legal and illegal, and between Cinderellas and “real” stamps. The goal: to bleed the market until the entire house of stamps   collapses in a pile of disarray, distraction, dismay, disgust and disinterest.


A small gallery of illegals, undesirables and toward the end, forgeries


Isn’t it odd that these two sets, above and below, look like they could be part of the same series? One is from Guinea-Bissau, in west Africa, the other from Vietnam, in southeast Asia. Are they illegal? No, not that I know of. But both sets appear to be cancelled-to-order, which is against the rules of the Universal Postal Union (though the rules are hardly wriggle-proof). I don’t know if these sets were printed in their respective countries or not, or if they were ever on sale locally. In the case of Guinea-Bissau, pretty much a gangster state as far as I can tell, the stamps had little or nothing to do with the people or their postal needs and practices. The collectibles likely were printed and marketed abroad, with the proceeds going into predictable pockets. Did the communists in Vietnam behave any less like corrupt crony capitalists?



A set of stamps from Fidel Castro’s Cuba honoring Greta Garbo and Marilyn Monroe? How does this serve the interests of the Cuban people? When was the last time the United State Postal Service honored Cuban performers? This could be internalized cultural imperialism; or creeping capitalism among Cuban entrepreneurs who see the possibility to cash in on the topical stamp market…


Between 1965 and 1990, all Togo stamps are suspected of being illegal, or at least “undesirable” and “abusive,” according to the Philatelic Webmasters Organization. Presumably that would include these sets from 1965 and 1967. In addition to their spurious provenance, the stamps bear the unmistakable sign of being cancelled-to-order (i.e. neat cancels in the corner, original gum on the back still intact.) Pretty stamps, though!


This souvenir sheet from “The Gambia” would fall under the category of “Stamps We Should Better Avoid,” according to the Philatelic Webmasters Organization. In fact, all Gambia stamps since 1985 are suspect, the PWO says. I bought this souvenir sheet a while ago; probably paid a couple of bucks for it. I know it’s not worth much, especially since its integrity as an authentic set of “postage stamps” has been called into question. I admit it, though: I’m a sucker for stamp-on-stamp collecting. And these are some great images of rare and wonderful postage stamps. One question, though: Why no stamp from Gambia?


This “authentic” set from Sierra Leone is remarkably similar to the “illegal” set from the Congo illustrated at the top of this post. How in the world is the average collector — or even the average stamp dealer — supposed to figure out which stamps and sets and sheets are the real thing, and which are the work of entrepreneurs cashing in on the half-billion-dollar market in illegal stamps?

Notwithstanding the purpose of this particular inquiry is illegal stamps, I can’t resist treating you to a few memorable stamp forgeries from the past …


This image on the left is described as an “American propaganda stamp” from World War II. I don’t know much about it, except that it parodies the definitive series from the Hitler era (see example, right). The name “Deutsches Reich” has been replaced with “Futsches Reich,” and Adolf’s profile is transformed into a hideous skull-creature. Brrr!

The Goebbels propaganda shop came up with this multi-layered Nazi deception (right). First, the red overprint — “Liquidation of Empire/Jamaica” — describes a fantasy scenario of de-colonization after Nazi conquest of England. Now look at the stamp itself. At first glance it appears to be a common British definitive from the George VI era (compare with the real thing, below). But no! The cross above the crown has been replaced by — a Star of David! Instead of the rose in the upper left corner there is — a Bolshevik Hammer and Sickle! Message: Great Britain is a tool of the Jews and the Communists. Pretty slick, eh? Maybe a bit too slick, I’d say …


Journey with me further back in history for this little collection of Confederate forgeries. I just acquired it at the Syracuse Stamp Club auction, for a buck. DJK, the seller, labeled it “Confederate fakes,” and that pretty much says it. Every design from the brief interval of CSA stamp production is represented here — in a set produced “privately” in 1941, seven decades after the war between the states ended. The so-called Springfield Facsimiles were the work of H.E. MacIntosh, owner of Tatham Stamp and Coin Co. in Springfield, Mass. He commissioned the stamps as a promotional gimmick, using copyrighted portraits. After many complaints, fullsizeoutput_19e3MacIntosh agreed to label the stamps “Facsimile” and number his fakes. At right, for comparison purposes, I offer an example of the actual 10-cent Jefferson Davis profile stamp of 1863. I know it’s genuine because it was used on a cover, and passed down to me in my collection. Am I really sure? Well, look closely: the engraving itself is distinctive (the cheap imitation of the 10-cent stamp above, which is in the second row, far right, is lithographed, if I’m not mistaken.)



And so it’s come to this, folks: A souvenir sheet of stamps from Sierra Leone, a poor, mismanaged nation in west Africa, that celebrates the era of the steam engine giving way to the “century of electricity.” I can attest that this sheet was purchased in-country in Sierra Leone — by my son-in-law. It may have been under sketchy circumstances, I’m not sure — through an agent or intermediary, perhaps. He picked up a whole pile of Cinderella-like sets and sheets, which surely cost a bundle, and gave them to me for my collection, but about which I still wonder: Are they really stamps?






Cinderellas, part four: Illegal stamps! 2. Outlaws from the exploding USSR


There is nothing overtly illegal about this cover, as far as I know. It was sent to me through the mail from Kiev in 1992, the year Ukraine regained its independence. So I can vouch for the authenticity of the cover and the stamps on it. Below left are three copies of the 20-kopek USSR definitive stamp of 1988. Upper right is a 3-kopek value from the same set, this one overprinted with the distinctive trident symbol of Ukraine. The Soviet “CCCP” (SSSR) in the cancel, as well as the use of USSR stamps, is jarringly archaic. This envelope came from “independent” Ukraine. It bears a stamp with an overprint proclaiming Ukrainian sovereignty. Seems to me the Soviet stamps are technically illegal on this letter, if you go by Universal Postal Union rules. And by the way, how come Ukrainian postal officials couldn’t get around to creating cancellations in the name of their newly freed country? Get a move on!

The fracture of the Soviet Union in 1991 created a kaleidoscope of new philatelic ventures. In the Baltic region, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia regained their sovereignty  and began issuing stamps in their own names for the first time since before World War II. In  Ukraine, Armenia, Ajerbaijan and Georgia, their last stamps were issued in 1923, when they became part of the Soviet Union. Moldova, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan would be issuing the first stamps of  newly sovereign states.

More philatelic light shards spun off during the seismic weeks and months between the USSR and state governance. “Local issues,” also called
“provisionals,” sparked everywhere as one self-styled postal authority after another stamped their micro-national overprints on copies of the last definitive set of the USSR, across all nine time zones of the Soviet vastness. There were so many local issues that I despair of compiling a complete list. (So far I have 68 on my incomplete list.)


These are examples of the last set of definitive stamps issued by the Soviet Union, in 1988. Pretty cute, eh? They were overprinted as “local issues” from one end of the USSR to the other in 1992-3.

A philatelic meteor shower occurred in Ukraine. There, a local issue appeared bearing the names of 25 Ukrainian cities (Ternopil, Sevastopol, Lvov, Kiev, Loots … ), in effect creating 25 new philatelic authorities. (see below)



The same trident overprint, above, is used (spuriously) on “local” issues from Odessa and Zurupirisk in 1992-3.


A century-old trident overprint on a Russian stamp displays the distinctive symbol of Ukraine.


The “stamp” at left features the trident and  commemorates 25 years of Ukrainian something-or-other. It was released in 1954. The set above right honors the Olympics in 1960. These are all bogus stamps. Ukraine used only USSR stamps from 1923 until 1991. So where did these come from? And why were they made?


fullsizeoutput_1a2fThis illegal Cinderella series from 1958, which marks the 40th anniversary of the founding of the Ukraine National Republic, makes its propaganda point pretty clearly: Rise up, Ukrainians!
(Spoiler alert: They didn’t.)


fullsizeoutput_1a2eHere are some creepy covers. I don’t suppose you would list as Cinderellas these stamps from Nazi-occupied Ukraine in World War II. The stamps were “legal” in their creepy way. The top example is a philatelic cover created in 1942, during the brief Nazi expansionist era. (Notice how the efficient Nazis already had their own cancellation for Ukraine.) By March of 1943, when the cover at right was mailed, the wheels were coming off the Nazi juggernaut. I like to think this envelope shows evidence of desperate times — the haphazard address and placement of stamps, the general wear and tear, one stamp with a corner missing …

fullsizeoutput_1a32Here is another illegal Cinderella from Ukraine that I include because it features the familiar trident — and also because of the crude art work, overprint and around-the-edge lettering, “world refugee year, 1959-60.” It would rank as one of the worst stamps ever designed, were it not for the fact that it’s not really a stamp to begin with.




Do you have a Ukrainian friend? Perhaps he or she could explain what it is about the Ukraine point of view that countenances producing all these stamps for a fictitious independent state of Ukraine? Look at them all! Bogus, every one. And I expect this is far from a complete collection of Ukrainian Cinderellas …







Compare this unusual inverted overprint with the stamp on the envelope illustrated at the start of this essay (see enlargement, below). That one was authentic; Is this one?  The stamps looks very similar, though these   carry different values  (5,00 instead of 3,00), and the overprint is red, not gold. The dealer describes the item as Version 2“unlisted,” which raises my suspicions. Nevertheless, Yours Truly shelled out $13.75 for this “error.” What’s an illegal error worth?









Fancy commemoratives of the ex-Soviet Union also were appropriated and overprinted as local issues. These two sets carry the names of Russian territory — Zapolarye and Severomorsk.



Artistic overprints expanded to cover miltiple stamps at a time, creating a new image superimposed on the block-of-four underneath it.


In the case of these Ukraine-based overprints (above), the “new” images, imprinted on blocks-of-four of USSR definitive stamps, mimic a set produced by independent Ukraine in 1922 but never issued (wonder why?). Note the enlarged images (below) of the 5 and 10 (kopek?) values. The originals stamps are to the left, the overprints at right. Clever, eh?


The overprints may be crude,  witty, garish or elegant by turns. The regional claims to postal authority become so microscopic or abstract as to be almost ludicrous. What, pray tell, are the borders of Birobidzhan, the Jewish Autonomous Region? Russian Antarctica? Mari-El Republic?

One should wonder: Do these stamps bear any relation to real postage stamps? Or was some guy sitting in his basement turning out these illegal Cinderellas with a pile of stamps and a rudimentary printing press? Certainly there is no reliable postal value to these stamps. Have you ever seen any of them cancelled on a postally used cover? I haven’t.  (Dealer Frank Geiger claimed to have covers for sale with local issues, i.e.,  used for postage.)

Safe to say, a great many of these stamps could be rightly identified (or dismissed) as illegal Cinderellas. There is certainly enough background on these spurious issues by now to make it clear we are talking about unauthorized  stamps. The Philatelic Webmasters Organization lists 35 “members” of the Russian federation whose names are found on illegal issues, including the Kuril Islands, the Republic of Karelia,  Republic of Ingushetia, Spitsbergen Island, Republic of Tatarstan …

Suddenly I am confronted with a smoking gun: a detailed description of some illegals that are right there in my collection! The Wikipedia entry on “illegal stamps” identifies a specific example, with a large illustration. The caption describes “Stamps of the Soviet Union with overprints supposedly from the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic.” This unwieldy title, also known as  PMR, covers territory in the former Soviet republic of Moldava — specifically Transnistra — that didn’t want to break away from the Soviet Union. When the USSR collapsed, the PMR was basically out of luck and out of business. The stamps illustrated above “were produced in 1992 or 1993 without the knowledge or permission of PMR authorities,” according to Wikipedia. Philatelic scholar Niall Murphy has taken the trouble to study the “Sun Rays Group” of PMR  overprints. There is just no way these stamps can be legal. And there they are, right in my stockbook! It looks like I may have paid $16 for them. The dealer described them as “civil war issues,” staking a vague claim to legitimacy amid the exigencies and fog of battle. I should not have been fooled. Would I be fooled again? Indubitably, because I am fascinated by the first philatelic yelps of new nations being born. The awkward overprints, the false starts and early designs, surcharges, errors — all combine into a revealing portrait of collective human invention, refracted through the lens of philately.

All this means I was a sucker for these “new issue from new republics”  come-ons. Here’s how one dealer, Frank Geiger of Upper Saddle River, N.J., made his pitch, back in the 1990s: “With the disintegration of the Societ Union and Yugoslavia … many new countries have appeared on the globe. As strange as some of these names seem to us today, they will, someday, be as familiar to philatelists as Alderney, Aruba and Aland. We are pleased to offer complete coverage of the ‘new republics’ of Europe and Asia. …”

Nice try, Frank, but I don’t buy it. Not any more. For one thing, Aruba is a legitimate, longtime Caribbean island with its own postal authority. Alderney,  a channel island linked to Guernsey off the coast of Britain, just plays at issuing stamps, while the stamps of the Aland Islands, which is an autonomous region of Finland, are still in Cinderella-land.  Furthermore, time has proven Frank Geiger wrong. Today, no one remembers the stamps from Norilsk, or Ekaterinburg, or Birobidzhan.


This page includes overprints of USSR stamps for Azerbaijan (top), Moldava (middle) and the Kuril Islands (bottom). FYI, the Kuril Islands are 8,113 kilometers east of Moldava.

Nevetheless, I admit to spending $22 here (Odessa locals), $4 there (Bassarabia, first issue), $25 elsewhere  (Crimea local issues). I guess I spend a hundred or two on these  Cinderellas, with their slapdash  overprints and surcharges on  pint-size  Soviet definitives. I believe I was  hypnotized by these little definitive stamps — so alike and yet so different. I yielded to the philatelist’s impulse to accumulate more and more of these  overprints. I was struck by how, depending on the names in the overprint, two similar USSR stamps could designate territory separated by thousands of miles …

Geiger made his case well, claiming to have some first day covers and other cancelled material available. In the case of a “Russian local issue” from St. Petersburg, he wrote: “These stamps were officially issued by St. Petersburg Postal District and have been used on international mails, but the local authorities have been asked by the central Russian government not to repeat this type of issue.” Tellingly, Ginger did not offer any cancelled examples for sale. And get this added note: “Our St. Petersburg stock came form a local source in 1992 and are genuine overprints. Beware of low-priced fakes now appearing on the market as the demand for these stamps continues unabated.”  Could he really be warning his readers about forgeries of illegals?!  How low can you go?!

The Norilsk set Geiger offered was used, he further claimed, to mail parcels between the islands of Novaya and Malaya Zemiya, off the northern coast on Siberia on the Arctic Ocean. However, he was not able to offer any cancelled examples or covers for sale.


Is this a Cinderella or a real stamp? Legal or illegal? I say legal and official, because I received it from a postal agent in Ukraine in 1992, in response to my request for a stamped cover. His/her bonus enclosure of this mint stamp was accompanied by the hand-written note — “First stamp independente Uraine” — which displayed a touching sense of national pride along with the awkward syntax and amisspelling of “independent.” At my next Syracuse Stamp Club meeting I will try to remember to check an up-to-date catalogue to make sure this really is a first. (Update: I did; it is.)  Certainly it’s not the first Ukrainian stamp, though. That one date back to 1918 and the Ukrainian National Republic. Moreover, numberless Ukrainians, proud and stubborn and creative, would point to the many issues put out by loyal exiles through the years of Soviet rule. Now that the Soviet Union is long gone, the thought suddenly occurs: Might it some day be time to review those “illegal” Ukraine issues, and to reimagine those Cinderellas as authentic, flickering emblems of a dormant nation that awoke in 1992? Sounds to me like a fairytale ending  …

So here I am, with set after set of these bland USSR definitive stamps and their obscure and ephemeral overprints … Prednestrova, Birdobidjian, Udmurtija, Alta, Abhkazia, Karelia, Karil Islands …  No matter what they cost me, I now wonder: What are they worth? Surely something — if only as evidence of the aspirational lodestar that spun off all this spurious philately.





A small gallery of overprints from the exploded USSR    



I don’t believe you will find these stamps listed in any reputable catalogue. (Maybe a disreputable one.) I kind of like the USSR stamps — they’re pretty. Plus, they have these interesting overprints. The bottom ones say “Azerbaycan,” which must be Azerbaijan, the former Soviet republic now going strong on its own. So why is this an illegal Cinderella? Oops, I should be answering questions, not asking them.


All these stamps (above and below) are “local” overprints from the USSR definitive series of 1988. They all purport to represent the Crimea, which was part of Ukraine before the Soviet anschluss. OK, you may be right if you suggest that I am going overboard on these stamps. Back in the 1990s, though, there was something mesmerizing about all these stamps sparking up from the former Soviet Union. These Crimea locals, with their overprinted symbols (can you find Prince Vladimir’s trident?), assert a renewed national identity, literally imprinting Crimea’s sovereignty on the emblems of its former Soviet ruler. Similarly, throughout the crumbling Soviet empire, the spirit of sovereignty and independence flared and flashed in the local overprints that rebranded stamps from the old regime as beacons of freedom.



Version 2

Here’s a wild melange (above), including overprints from Birobidzhan (the Jewish Republic) that imprint a Menorah over Soviet-era stamps. Could this be a little jab at the USSR for its historic hostility to Jews? Likewise, the Russian Cinderellas depict Czarist emblems — isn’t that the doomed Czar Nicholas himself, in full uniform, spread over four USSR definitives? What would Lenin make of these counter-revolutionary Cinderellas?


Quiz time: Are these real? Here are three blocks of stamps, the left from from Ukraine, the other two from the USSR. All are overprinted on behalf of the Ukrainian army battalion serving as UN peacekeepers in Bosnia in the 1990s. Were these stamps ever actually used on mail out of Bosnia? Out of anywhere? It’s easy enough to make out a value on each block — .05, .20 and .25 (what “C” stands for I don’t know). I am not going to try to decipher the overprint. I do like stamps issued for peacekeeping contingents, though. I guess that’s because I am a strong advocate for peace, and savor philatelic emblems of peacekeeping which reflect that noble human aspiration. (I hope they are real — the stamps as well as the aspiration!)


Finally, here are stamps from a modern definitive set, officially issued by postal authorities and put to use in Ukraine. The denominations are letters not numbers, as is customary in much of the modern world. It’s a modest and boring set, I suppose, though I like definitives   like this share a design concept, with varying images and colors. I have one concern about the legality of these stamps, though. I thought the Universal Postal Union directed that all stamps (except those from Great Britain, which invented stamps) must have the issuing nation’s name on it — in roman letters. This has been an issue throughout the Russian sphere — the lettering is cyrillic — as well as in some Arab/Asian nations. Now those stubborn Ukrainians continue to thumb their nose at philatelic protocol. Or should the UPU diktat be discarded as outdated and Roman-centric?
ADDENDUM: By the mid-1990s, both the Ukraine and Russia had (grudgingly?) accepted UPU guidelines. Ukraine stamps henceforth were inscribed in cyrillic and also in roman letters (“Ukraina”). Russian stamps bore the roman footnote, “Rossiya.”


Cinderellas part three: The first Cinderellas

fullsizeoutput_1932The question is asked: What was the first Cinderella? That is, what is the first artistic imitation of a postage stamp or “Artistamp,” not sanctioned by an official postal service?

My semi-authoritative source (Wikipedia) notes that “The first artist to produce an ‘artist’s stamp’ is open to interpretation.” Well, what do you know? I would say just about everything about this verfluchte subject of Cinderellas is open to interpretation. Nevertheless I shall soldier on, because I believe I have an interesting conjecture about the “first Cinderellas.”

Some consider the first Cinderellas were “local” mail delivery stamps — like the Pony Express, whose covers today are worth big bucks. Some local stamps were issued by regional postal authorities around the time the first U.S. stamps appeared, in 1847. In the later 1800s, commercial “poster stamps” are considered early artist’s stamps, or Artistamps. Otherwise, references seem to be mostly in the 20th century — a Dada postage stamp in 1919, World War II-era Artistamps, then the 1960s and beyond. (The term “Artistamp” is credited to T. Michael Bidner, in 1982. Bidner was a devoted archivist of artist’s stamps.)

My assertion is that Cinderellas appeared the same year as the world’s first postage stamp, the British Penny Black, in 1840; and that those very first Cinderellas helped determine the course of philately itself.

The story starts with the Mulready Cover, named for the artist, William Mulready. An associate of Rowland Hill who designed the Penny Black, Mulready was chosen to produce postage-paid envelopes, in one-penny and two-pence denominations. Think of it as the first aerogramme, about 80 years before  airmail service. The envelope Mulready came up with was an elegant engraving that featured Britannia with a lion at her feet, presiding over a kind of universal postal union — exotic animals and persons representing British subjects and others in different continents engaged in various activities, including getting and sending letters.


Here is a Mulready Cover in my collection. It includes a pretty Maltese Cross red cancel on the front, and an 1840 postmark on the back that could be July or May — the earlier date would make it quite rare. I paid about $46 for it in an online auction — a pretty good deal, I’d say. Note Britannia dispatching winged, nude messengers from the center. Upper left, Asian elephants, camels and Chinese gentlemen crowd the space. Upper right are naked Indians and clothed Pilgrims, a mother with babe in arms and a busy cartwright. In the bottom corners are depictions of domestic letter-reading. These scenes figure in the caricatures to come.

Rowland Hill anticipated that his boring Penny Black stamp would be less popular than this exotic, engraved cover. He was wrong.

The Mulready Envelope never caught on.  There are at least three explanations out there. First, the cover was so busy that the public couldn’t really get the point. In fact, the Mulready Cover was subjected to public ridicule and scorn, some of it downright lascivious. The London Times took an immediate dislike to it. “We have been favored with a sight of one of the new stamp covers,” the newspaper editorialist opined, “and we must say that we have never beheld anything more ludicrous than the figure or allegorical device by which it is marked with its official character.” (More about this later.) A second factor was suspicion that the Mulready Cover was a government conspiracy to control the flow of information under the Postal Reforms Act that had just become law. The third explanation, which I want to dwell on at some length, was the threat posed to stationers by this new postal instrument, sold in 12-copy Formes for 1 shilling or 2 shillings. Since the aggrieved stationers had ready access to engravers and printers, they launched a media blitz. In the  milieu of 1840, this meant printed cartoons and caricatures. The satirical artwork began appearing almost simultaneously with the release of the Mulready covers. The public fuss was not lost on Rowland Hill. Less than a week after the covers went on sale May 12, Hill wrote in his journal: “I fear we shall have to substitute some other stamp for that design by Mulready.” He added testily: “The public have shown their disregard and even distaste for beauty.” Within two months the postal powers-that-be had decided to scrap the Mulready Cover.

Is the cover beautiful? Ludicrous? Lascivious? Let’s take a look at some of the caricatures, and see how they manage to undermine the hifalutin notions of the Mulready Cover.

fullsizeoutput_18ffThis first caricature is noteworthy not just because of the pipe-smoking figure of Britannia, but because it comes with a detailed description in a contemporaneous gazette.  I will quote from the commentary at some length, because it goes directly to the point that the Mulready Cover is so elaborate, obscure, even ribald, that any point is lost and the hapless viewer must  make up his or her own story. Herewith the 1840 text, to accompany blow-up images of the section being satirized:

Version 3

Below, a detail from the Mulready Cover; above, the caricature.

“Look directly at the centre, and you will perceive the besotted figure of Britannia with her shield upon her knee. She has just put up a covey of postmen, with the wings of wild geese — naked in the pictur, but here, you will perceive, clothed for families.  … At the foot of Britannia is the Version 2British lion, looking as mild as if suckled upon ass’s milk, and having not so much as a growl  inside of him. With spectacles on nose, and his nob covered with a Palmerston cap, he is leisurely reading the latest foreign intelligence. This once vigorous animal appears to be in his dotage, and his tail hangs as limp as a thread-paper! …”

Version 4

Two versions of the domestic letter-reading scene described below. Left is  from the Mulready Cover; the slightly creepy one above is a caricature.

Version 4I’m not done yet. Here is the satirist’s impression of the domestic scene in the lower left corner (see enlargements): “… There is the portrait of a venerable old lady of the name of Smith. She is bed-ridden, ladies and gentlemen, and is listening to a letter read by her niece. Mark the figure of Mrs. Smith. She is looking all sorts of gratitude, and her two hands is clasped. The letter is from her grandson, John Smith, reported to have been hanged for burglary and murder; whereas that letter, just received by the penny post, assures the delighted parent that her grandchild is transported for life, for robbing on the highway, with the minor offense of slitting an attorney’s nose. …”

This business of lampooning the Mulready Cover went viral, 1840s-style.  An online collectors site lists 47 satirical covers. The effect must have been dramatic, and the battle was quickly won. While there would continue to be designed envelopes through the Victorian era and beyond, and while we all know about aerogrammes and stamped envelopes, the postage stamp quickly became the preferred and indispensable mailing device. Score a victory for the first Artistamps! (Though I suppose the Mulready Cover technically was not a stamp … )

I have had fun looking over these caricatures and would like to share images of some of them. I got the images from the Internet, mind you, since they are expensive and rare. An original cover can cost $550, sometimes much more, though

you occasionally may find a bargain.  Unfortunately, I have not yet uncovered any other colorful narratives to accompany these images. However, I shall endeavor to  pass along in captions some of my own impressions from close observation; and as Yogi Berra said, you can see a lot just by observing.


In this Mulready Cover caricature, Britannia looks clueless and self-satisfied as she dispatches her letter-carriers, who are not naked but clothed in appropriate uniforms. A foreign gentleman on either side of Britannia is conspicuously thumbing his nose at Her Imperial Eminence, while at her feet, a pint-size admiral rides a British lion who appears emaciated and decrepit, letters dangling from a tail outstretched like a clothesline. In the lower corners, two postmen on horseback gallop in opposite directions, while in the upper left, a carrier weighed down with sacks gazes woefully at the viewer; upper right, a town bell-ringer is so mesmerized by his envelope, he forgets his task. All in all, not a very positive, respectful depiction of the people’s response to this new postal gimmick, wouldn’t you agree?



Here is one in a series of lampoons issued under the satirical rubric, “Rejected design’s (sic) for the postage envelope.” A dowdy Britannia with a goofy grin presides over a constellation of what seem to be nude acrobats, while the English lion peeks out (lasciviously?) from behind her skirts. In the middle ground, a pair of women of questionable repute share a bottle over their envelope, counterbalanced by a gentleman reader in a pith helmet and a leering pasha. The foreground is bracketed by two peg-leg pirates, each gleefully brandishing a Mulready Cover. What a disgraceful, disorderly scene!


Here is another from the “rejected design’s” series. In this depiction, a cross-eyed Britannia looks positively looped. Her dog-like lion is delivering a Mulready Cover in his teeth to a surprised recipient. The postage envelope is everywhere in evidence, though to what purpose is not clear. Nor is it clear to me what the two misbehaving boys in the foreground have done with a Mulready Cover that leaves their master so perplexed. — and the woman behind them so downcast. At the lower left, the bloke seems to be offering a Mulready Cover to the tradesman for use in polishing shoes.


Here is a third cover from the “rejected” series of caricatures. Britannia and the lion look OK, compared to their comportment in other illustrations. What distinguishes this work is that all the recipients of the bothersome Mulready Covers are women. Look at them: idling away their day reading scribbles on an envelope when they could be doing useful work. Notice the supply of letters fluttering down, top left, and left foreground being thrust at the lady on the divan. I say, these Mulready Covers are corrupting the women and undermining the moral fiber of the nation! Will no one bring this sinful indulgence and indolence to a stop?!


Here’s an unusual Mulready Cover caricature that appears to be hand-drawn in pen and ink. Notice how it is a “complete” envelope — that is, the four corners can be folded over and sealed to create the letter suitable for mailing. The cover is attributed to John Menzies, and while it briefly was offered online for L5,000 ($6,534), it apparently was withdrawn from sale. Noteworthy are the vignettes of a poor fellow watching carriers deliver armloads of envelopes (upside down, top — see inset, below), a woman (right flap) receiving an envelope from a “postman” whose pockets seem to be bulging with loot, and a guy (left flap) whose whole visible outfit, as well as his eyes, nose and mouth, are fullsizeoutput_1937.jpeg made out of Mulready Covers. Kinda creepy!
By the way, it looks like this cover actually went through the mail. Since it isn’t a pre-paid Mulready Cover, I figure the sender supplied the necessary penny for postage, and the clerk applied that bold red “paid 20 JY 40” date stamp.








Here is another busy caricature of the Mulready Cover. Britannia and some of her naked messengers are presented fairly straightforwardly — except at left, a naked minion rides a glue stick with a belching smokestack — and delivers a Mulready Cover to the mouth of a waiting camel. Britannia has a jester’s bells on her cap, and the shield replaced by a penny coin — the price of a Mulready Cover. Lots going on here: The English lion is all but obliterated by his cap; among other envelope-readers, a bespectacled elephant (upper left) rests her letter on a block that is inscribed by the printer, “W.H. Mason, Repository of Arts, Brighton”; note the faces carved into the foundation … note also the scenes, bottom left and right. Is the postman a clean, personable public servant (left), or a wily rascal (right)? By now you must be getting the same impression I’m getting — that the cumulative effect of these published caricatures makes it impossible to take the Mulready Cover seriously.


What follows is a small gallery of Mulready Cover caricatures from the 1840s,  with notes and comment


Online description: 1840 an example of the Mulready “Caricature” envelope by Spooner issue No 2, illustrating the characters all receiving letters addressed to West Wycombe from Petersfield dated for NO 12 1840, being sent un-paid and bearing on front a “2” charge mark in black ink. The envelope is sealed by a gold on black wafer illustrating a hangman placing a noose around the condemned prisoner’s neck with the legend “I trouble you with a line”! A rare and most attractive item of Victorian humour.

The caption above accompanies the online offering of this extraordinary Mulready Cover caricature. At the center is a dour, pipe-smoking Britannia and her lion, flanked on one side by a devil with a mail sack, and on the other by a gunpowder explosion throwing victims into the air. The envelope is embellished with six scenes of letter exchanges, each one worth a story of its own. All this busy-ness reinforces the overall point of the anti-Mulready campaign, which is that the Mulready Cover is so confusing and misunderstood and busy that it should be scrapped immediately.

One more thing about this cover. I have not yet made the connection, but don’t you think the figures in these comic caricatures, with their big heads, expressive faces and tiny bodies, look an awful lot like the work of John Tenniel, illustrator of the Happy Families playing cards — as well as “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”? Well, maybe. Maybe not. Tenniel would have been only 20 at the time. So if it wasn’t Tenniel, who drew these wonderful characters?


In my opinion, those Tenniel-like characters are more interesting than the crude ones in this caricature. Britannia looks like a thug, the distracted lion looks more like a turtle. Then there’s all the busy-ness. In this iteration, everyone is using the post — that is, the Mulready Cover — as an excuse, a quick fix, a way to avoid personal responsibility. Here are the comic sketches of 1840:

Upper left:
Daughter: Oh please, Mr. Smut will you bring Mother half a hundred of coals.
Mr. Smut (enjoying a snack): I can’t bring them cos I’m engaged. But I’ll put em in the post directly.

Lower left:
Miss: Have you sent my mutton Mr. McSticken?
Mr. McSticken: The boy has just put it in the post Miss.

Upper right:
Diner: Waiter, how long will my soup be.
Waiter: It’s just put in the post sir.

Middle right:
Postman (handing baby to surprised matron): It’s returned, marm They won’t take it in.

Lower right:
Child (to grandmother, who is threading a needle): Granny, can’t you send belly aches away by the post?

Not sure what the deeper meaning of all this is. That you shouldn’t rely on the post office — or the Mulready Cover? Hey, not bad …


This is a caricature where I initially found myself at a disadvantage. The small title at the top announces, “Punch’s Anti-Graham Envelope.” Who is Graham? Apparently the guy standing in for Britannia. And then, who is guy drawn as the head of a black snake taking the place of the English lion? One of them must be Mulready. I know Punch is the venerable British humor (humour) magazine. And I can see a snake in the grass when it’s right in front of me. Another thought occurs as I take in those little postmen in their coats and top hats, flitting about in great numbers, peering through a keyhole, reading over shoulders, even sticking their heads right into a Mulready Cover to see what’s inside: Isn’t this a visualization of the conspiracy theory — that the Mulready envelope is the leading edge of a campaign to control the free flow of information? A snake in the grass, indeed!

Why is this cover blue? My guess is that this particular caricature is not aimed at the (black) one penny Mulready Cover, but at the (blue) 2d. cover. One more note: This is not the first caricature where there is a small icon at the bottom of a bottle with an “S” on it. Meaning? Could be an artist’s mark …

Addendum: Now I have more authoritative background (and confirmation) on this cover, which dates to 1844, courtesy of the web. This is from the William James Linton Archive at the Melton Prior Institute for reportage drawing and printing culture: “The politician who suffered most from Punch … was the most unpopular of a long line of unpopular Home secretaries, Sir James Graham. … His capital offence was directing the opening of certain of Mazzini’s letters (ed: Giuseppe Mazzini was an Italian, a politician and journalist who led the early movement for unification.) … in consequence of the statements made to our Government by that of Naples, to the effect that plots were being carried out – of which the brilliant and popular Italian refugee was the centre – to excite an insurrection in Italy. … (T)he popular feeling roused by it was intense, and Punch, up in arms at once at this supposed violation of the rights of the subject, fanned the excitement … This consisted in the famous Anti-Graham Envelope (…) drawn by John Leech — a sort of burlesque … . The circulation attained by this envelope was very wide, and although I have not ascertained that many were actually passed through the General Post Office, it certainly brought a flood of bitter ridicule on the unfortunate Minister.” (M. H. Spielmann, The History of Punch, 1895)

More from the Melton Prior Institute: “The original prepaid Mulready envelope was the world’s first postal stationery, issued in 1840, at the same time as the first postage stamp. It had been decorated by the painter William Mulready with a representation of Britannia at the centre top, sending out her winged emissaries to all corners of the British Empire. Leech and Linton turned this document of Imperial pride into the vision of a total surveillance state with the detested minister as “Big Brother” Britannia, who sends out his winged flock of clerks to violate people’s privacy. The Anti-Graham envelope followed a favoured radical strategy of using fake documents and bogus money as means of criticism and propaganda … For Linton, it was a first encounter with the art of creative forgery.”


OK, this caricature is just too busy for me. The quality of the reproduction makes it nigh-on for me to decipher everything. It’s fair to conclude the gist of the thing is: Mulready Cover bad!


Now look at the blowup, right. It’s from the upper right of the last caricature. And here we come, finally, to the lascivious angle. Notice how the naked Indian conferring with the Pilgrim (no, wait! It’s now a postman!) looks like a Vaudeville extra. So does the Indian seated on what looks like his pants, whose buttocks are modestly concealed by … what? A Penny Black postage stamp! It’s altogether quite a garish scene, don’t you think?

For comparison purposes, fullsizeoutput_18a2I include a blowup of the same corner of the authentic Mulready Cover. In the dignified scene, one (naked) Indian shakes hands with a (fuilly-clothed) Pilgrim, while others stand back. In the foreground, another (naked) Indian sits on a mat, facing away from the viewer. Never mind the (naked) winged messenger in the background, or the (naked) Laplander driving his reindeer sled. Focus on the buttocks! They surely grabbed the attention of the British public, even as they found their way into the caricatures. Were Victorian sensibilities titillated by this expose of supple young butt cheeks? Was there outrage? Gossip? Protest? (Gee, someone should do a paper on this …)

Now let’s take a quick look at other lascivious close-ups in Mulready Cover caricatures.


In this caricature (sorry about the hand-scrawled cancel), naked Indians cavort around the sober Pilgrims, while fellow sitting on the mat maintains a stoic silence. Indeed, his helmet or cap or mantle of hair makes him look like a (naked) Prince Valiant …



Version 2


In another caricature, the artist went off on a flight of fancy, doodling one naked sprite after another …




Version 2


In this cynical caricature, all the characters have become grotesques — Indians and settlers conniving in a tight group. Naked buttocks are much in evidence, including the fat cheeks of the obligatory seated-nude-facing-away. Next to him a reclining dandy is wearing a postman’s hat … and apparently nothing else!






Finally, here is a detail from a caricature showing a youth in chains, seated, looking downcast. But see: A bird flies toward him, carrying in its beak — a Mulready envelope. All is not lost!

That notion that an airborne Mulready Cover can free a prisoner or slave is a bit visionary, particularly so for a satirist from the 1840s. What an image!



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.



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 …


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.


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.



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 …


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


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.”


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?)



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.