Stamp Oddities and Curiosities
Curator Stuart shares some wonderfully bizarre stamps from our collections.
In my previous blog, I introduced you to some British stamps which were withdrawn from widespread use and now exist as fascinations and rarities; which any stamp collector would no doubt treasure in their own collections. Albeit interesting, the blog painted a fairly traditionalist picture of the philatelic world.
The focus of this blog is to introduce you to some of the more bizarre oddities that I have unearthed within our ‘Stamps of The World’ collection.
Germany 1923 – Hyperinflation Stamps
In early 1923 German workers began a general strike, protesting the occupation of the Ruhr by foreign troops. Already steeped in financial difficulty – the Weimar government chose to subsidise this strike, something which aided the collapse of Germany’s already fraught economy.
The cost of a loaf of bread, which had previously cost a mere 250 marks in January 1923; catapulted to 200,000 million (200,000,000,000) marks by November.
The German hyperinflation of the period is documented in these stamps, overprinted and issued at the time.
Stamps provide a valuable source for studying the impact of conflict and war. These Latvian stamps from 1918 were printed on the reverse of discarded paper used in the manufacture of bank notes. This became necessary during an acute shortage of paper after WWI, as Latvia was embroiled in a war of independence following the invasion by Soviet Russia. Other stamps during this period were printed on German military maps. This highlights the devastating effect of the War on everyday consumables, where even paper became a scarce commodity. The resulting stamps, however, are pretty cool.
Jamaica Abolition of Slavery Stamp, 1921
War is not the only form of conflict and struggle which impacted the fate of certain postage stamps.
This stamp, printed as part of a pictorial series, was prepared for issue in June 1921 but cancelled shortly before, due to political unrest and the controversial subject matter it illustrated.
It is estimated 416,000 stamps were printed and subsequently destroyed. Two blocks of four were preserved and one block was, unsurprisingly, added to King George V’s impressive collection. The other was integrated into the official collection in Kingston. This block mysteriously disappeared from the Post Office’s vaults and resurfaced as four singles.
Specimens were however sent to the Universal Postal Union (UPU) and distributed to all UPU members, including us. We, therefore, have this incredibly rare example in our collection.
I’ll be honest, the main inspiration for writing this blog was ultimately an excuse to share the wonderfully bizarre stamps of Bhutan. They’re now officially my stamp heroes! Bhutan had no intention to follow suit and produce stamps in the same vein as most other nations had before them. Theirs really are quite unique!
Talking Stamps, 1973
First up we have the world’s first talking stamps. In 1972 a set of seven 33 1/3 rpm vinyl record stamps were issued in Bhutan. Fully playable, they contain soundbites from Bhutanese folk songs and histories of Bhutan in English and Dzongkha (the local dialect). By peeling off the backing paper and affixing them to an envelope or postcard, they then became fully functional postage stamps.
Embossed Stamps on Gold Foil, 1975
Also from Bhutan, in 1975, and true to form – these stamps are elaborate and over the top. This time we have embossed stamps on gold foil, in various increasing sizes, as Bhutan celebrated the 20th Birthday of their then King, Jigme Singye Wangchuck in their own unique style.
Next up, as issued in 1973, we have these floral stamps from the ‘Roses’ stamp issue. In typical Bhutanese fashion – these stamps were not designed to be simply enjoyed with your eyes, oh no! Each stamp was scented with the aroma of each Rose flower, on impregnated paper.
Famous Men, 1972
From the weird and wonderful to the utterly bizarre – these 3D plastic moulded stamps from Bhutan in 1972 feature world leaders and politicians as you’ve never quite seen them before.
5000 years of Steel Industry, 1969
Finally, these Airmail stamps from 1969 are really quite special. The stamps celebrate ‘5,000 years of steel industry’, with each stamp featuring a different period within Bhutan’s steel producing history.
My personal favourite from this set sees Bhutan celebrating the steel industry… in the future, including flying vehicles set in a super futuristic metropolis. To say their stamps were forward thinking would be an understatement.
I hope you enjoyed this insight into some of our ‘Stamps of the World’. Postage stamps can be rather fun and strange if you search hard enough! On that note I will endeavour to find more curiosities and oddities within our collection and who knows, there could be a part 3 of this blog series…In the meantime, why not come and explore other treasures in our museum?
– Stuart Aitken, Curator of Philately