Sunday, 26 July 2015

Say It With Flowers

The wonderfully vibrant stamps of South Africa's seventh definitive series which started in 2000 encompasses butterflies, fish, birds and flowers with 27 different designs and 23 values.  Joan van Gogh was the designer of the flower stamps and they remind me of pressed flowers or how a botanical artist would lay them out on a table before painting them.  I've pinched their descriptions from an old South Africa Post release which describes the flowers L to R

Karoo violet (Aptosimum procumbens) -  "A densely tufted perennial found mainly in dry areas, especially the Karoo and Namaqualand. The plant is an excellent ground cover and because it is so well-adapted to dry conditions, the deep blue flowers often adorn the bare veld during periods of drought"
Tree pelargonium (Pelargonium cucullatum) -  "This attractive indigenous pelargonium with its brightly coloured pinkish-purple flowers, is well-suited to coastal gardens. They occur naturally along the south-western Cape coast, from Gordon's Bay in the west to Gans Bay in the east, with a few isolated populations on the Cape Peninsula"
Black-eyed Suzy (or Susan) (Thunbergia alata) -  "Described as a "cheerful, happy-go-lucky indigenous climber", the black-eyed suzy with its small bright flowers and distinctive black "eye", is a very popular garden flower. They occur naturally in the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and Swaziland".
Botterblom (Gazania krebsiana) -  "This sun-loving, fast growing flower occurs in a variety of bright warm colours mainly in the red, orange and yellow range. It is hardy and drought resistant, which makes it a popular garden flower. The botterblom occurs naturally in the Karoo, Namaqualand, KwaZulu-Natal, the Free State and the northern regions of the country, as well as in Lesotho, Swaziland and Botswana"
The last in the set (right) is the Blue marguerite (Felicia amelloides) -   "This delightful indigenous flower, also known as the blue daisy or bush felicia, bears sky-blue daisy-like flowers with prominent yellow centres. They are happy in almost any setting and the name felicia is aptly derived from the Latin word "felix" meaning "happy". They occur naturally and abundantly from Namaqualand to Caledon in the Northern and Western Cape".

South Africa has 11 official languages and from my small collection I observe that the smaller stamps bear the name South Africa in English together with the indigenous language. I wonder if these are booklet stamps as some have straight edges. The stamp on the left says Afrika Dzongam which is Tsonga, a language I've never heard of but there are the other more familiar ones such as Zulu (iNingizimu Afrika) spoken by 24% of the country and the 'clicking' language Xhosa (uMzantsi Afrika) familiar by being one sung by Miriam Mekeba (singer, civil rights activist and anti apartheid campaigner).     
Here is where art and flowers combine with the French artist Daniel Buren who planted 11,000 tulips in the Keukenhof, which might seem a lot but pales into insignificance in comparison to the 7 million flower bulbs planted annually in the park itself (which is open from March to May).  Daniel Buren is sometimes referred to as "the stripe guy" with his site specific installations of coloured stripes and has even been arrested in pursuit of his public art.

As this week's Sunday Stamps theme is "Say it With Flowers" I'll mention that in the language of flowers red tulips are a declaration of love, a fact that lets me segue into 
symbolic flowers and a set of machine stamps, or 'Post and Go', issued in 2014 as part of the British Flora series. The forget-me-not and poppy signifying remembrance, the rose England's national flower, the thistle for Scotland, the heather for luck (although I remember in the days when gypsies used to sell this plant it was always "lucky white heather") and lastly a floral symbol of northern Ireland, cultivated flax (of importance historically in the linen industry).   Wales did not miss out with their national flower, the daffodil, as it had already appeared earlier in 2014 as part of the Spring Flowers set which I showed back in 2014 here

An entry to Sunday Stamps II theme of - Say It With Flowers - for a bunch more see here 

Sunday, 19 July 2015


One of the wonderful points of each year is seeing the first bee, the first swallow and of course the first butterfly and knowing that summer is on the way. I will also add hearing the first cuckoo call because how else can one make a wish!  Although the above cover is called the "Butterflies of the Bailiwick" it shows common species for the British Isles.  The Wall butterfly is mainly confined to the coasts (but once found throughout England) it likes to bask on paths and walls. Although nettles are a pest when walking on overgrown paths, for the red admiral visiting these shores and the small tortoiseshell they are a favoured plant. The Common Blue portrayed is a showy male whose female companion can vary in colour from brown to blue but both can be spotted in grassy habitats.

The number of UK butterfly species hovers around 56 or 59 and a few migrants but travelling further afield they are in profusion with over 2,000 species in China and Taiwan
This is part of the China's  'Butterflies' set of 1963 which was voted one of the five classic sets issued between 1960 and 1965 as "Best Stamps in the Years of New China" in 1980.  Interestingly all the sets were of the natural world and included goldfish, chrysanthemums, landscapes of Huangshan Mountain and Peonies. I do not have a full 20 of the  'Butterflies' set and am unlikely to complete it as apparently used and in good condition stamps are hard to find, indeed some values have never been seen.   Information on the designer Liu Shuoren  is equally as elusive.

The common names of the butterflies are written underneath the stamps above however some can fly under different local  names and are from both China and also rare examples from other parts of Asia. It was while looking at their Latin designation I noticed in brackets the name - Matsumura and wondered what it meant.  Thanks to the internet I discovered the world of the "father of Japanese entomology" -Dr Shonen Matsumura (1872-1960), a pioneer of entomological research in East Asia who wrote the first entomology book in the Japanese language, named 1,200 species and published hundreds of scientific papers.    

A lot of his work on butterflies was carried out in Taiwan or as it was called at the time Formosa (when it was under Japanese rule)  finding species and subspecies.  Matsumura lived at a time when most of the research was being carried out by Europeans (mainly British and German) which is maybe why the one on the top right has a confusion of names. I have it as Hainan Violet Boat (although recent stamp directories call it a Beck Butterfly) and some entomologies call it Purple Beak.  Its scientific name is also a mix - Libythea geoffroy philippina Staudinger (named in 1889).  The bottom stamp is the iridescent Philippines Birdwing a subspecies (named by Matsumura as Troides magellanus sonani) of the Magellan Birdwing which was in turn named in honour of the explorer Ferdinand Magellan who was killed in the Philippines in 1521.

An entry to Sunday Stamps II whose theme this week is - Float Like A Butterfly - take wing for more here


Sunday, 12 July 2015


After a rather grim period for English cricket despair has turned to joy only recently and this year's first Ashes match has just finished with wickets tumbling in an unexpected victory.  How could I resist showing this cover from 2005 commemorating our biennial contest against Australia which in 2005, after long decades, we won (still another four matches to go this year).  At the time the cover was issued, on 10th July "the most thrilling series ever", it was all in the future.  We are hoping for a series just as entertaining this year.  Lord's issued a series of covers with the union flag stamp and the Ashes urn label in 2005.  This urn at 11 cm high must be the smallest trophy contested for in world sport.

The painting on the cover was one especially commissioned by the MCC for the 1980 Centenary Test Match at Lords in 1980 from Arthur Weaver, an artist who combined his love of landscape with sport but is possibly most well known for his golf pictures.

No cricket on the next cover but there is golf and how wonderful that this sporting occasion had postcard rate stamps
Since the first Island Games were arranged as part of the Isle of Man International Year of Sport the same competition has been held every two years with various islands taking turns to host. This year it took place in Jersey who last hosted the event in 1997.  Between 12 and 14 sports are selected by the host and as can be seen Jersey have gone for the max with  (top) table tennis, archery, athletics, sailing, beach volleyball (middle) swimming, golf, shooting, triathlon, football (bottom) basketball, tennis, volleyball and cycling.

Twenty four islands and 3000 competitors took part in this year event with the theme of 'Bringing Islands Together'. From Scandinavia to the Mediterranean and from the North Atlantic to the Caribbean, young athletes from small islands travelled to Jersey for this unique sporting occasion.  Gotland will be the next hosts in 2017.

An entry to Sunday Stamps II theme - Sporting Events - run over here to see more here 

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Pillar to Post

The mysterious 'bonus' offered by Violet Sky for anyone showing a Queen Victoria stamp some weeks ago was to choose a theme.  Yippee!   It was a nanosecond before I chose something postal or the post box and here is why.  There are hundreds postbox variations in the UK but more pertinent is that this year is 200th anniversary of the birth of the author Anthony Trollope, an employee of the post office from 1834 to 1867 and as a Surveyor's clerk involved in the logistics of providing roadside boxes.  Letters at the time could only be handed in to Receiving Houses and long distances might be traveled to post letters. Countries like France and Belgium had been using roadside boxes for some time and Trollope believed it was time to introduce them into the postal system here and installed an experimental box on the island of Guernsey.   This, the oldest pillar box in the British Isles, was installed on 8 February 1853 and is celebrated on the Guernsey FDC.  I believe the box is still in its original location in the centre of St Peter Port.  The stamp is a photograph of it with the background specially treated to give the pretty effect of a watercolour.

Of course the box was a great success so mainland Britain got one and it was in my neck of the woods

just up the road (or rather the M6) in the city of Carlisle (which is the postmark).  Unfortunately it no longer exists and neither does the Victorian post office it stood near, but there is a plaque on the wall informing passers by of the date - 1853 - when the first mainland post box was installed in Botchergate and directs the reader elsewhere to the replica pillar box outside the Old Town Hall.  The FDC's Victorian drawing on the left also shows a box that no longer exists which was one of those first five roadside boxes in London erected in 1855 (No 1 was in Fleet Street), all destroyed in the World War II blitz bombing. The stamps used on the cover are of a Green 1857 Pillar Box (one of a set from 2002). This wonderfully ornate box was designed by the Department of Science and Art. The posting aperture was in the roof of the box which shows a certain optimism of expecting dry weather and sunshine in these rainy islands. The first of these boxes even had a ceramic compass set into the roof.

Here is the rest of the 2002 stamp set showing the different types of pillar boxes through time on a FDC produced by the Trollope Society, which unfortunately I do not own but when I first saw it portrayed have lusted after it ever since.    
The envelopes surrounding Anthony Trollope are all addressed to characters from his novels.

The Victorians in their usual enthusiastic manner produced a great variety of pillar boxes until 1859 when the Post Office decided to standardise the design.  The growing demand for roadside posting facilities also resulted in a cheaper method of meeting that desire, the installation of small wall boxes from 1857
Here is a miniature sheet of four different types of wall boxes. These were also later also attached to lamp posts but today are attached to a variety of types of posts but still referred to as lamp boxes.  The royal insignia on the boxes are an easy indicator of their age. One of my favourites is the enamel plated Ludlow box (second from the left) so called because they were made by James Ludlow who won the contract in 1912 to supply boxes to sub post offices (many also had a rear door which opened inside the post office).  The one shown must have been one of the last to be installed as it bears the ER royal insignia (Queen Elizabeth's coronation was 1953) and from 1954 they were made without the enamel plate. Is it time to collect the mail now?

Postie had just opened this one in Suffolk when I was passing by.

An entry to Sunday Stamps II theme of - Post Boxes or Postal Themed - more postings  here

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Just Hangin'

Is this Lynx up here for a better view, looking for a snack or just chilling out?  
This little fellow is taking no chances.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Safe Harbour

A peaceful sunset at Bordeaux Harbour in Guernsey, one can almost hear the lapping of water against the bow. This is one of a series of coastal scenes featured on the island's definitive series 'Abstract Guernsey'.  It is only a short boat ride away to the smaller island of Alderney
here celebrating the founding of their harbour (the first of a series of stamps themed "Garrison Island").  There had been a harbour here since 1736 initiated by Henry Le Mesurier but it was not a very safe anchorage in storms so in the 19th Century an artificial harbour with  a 3000 ft breakwater was built.  The stamp on the right identifies a ship  "Ariadne at Anchor" and with a piece of luck (plus Google) I found the Priaulx Library on Guernsey had an article from the 19th century celebrating the fact that you could travel between Guernsey and London in three days, and mentioning the Ariadne, which it turns out was one of two steamers which ran from Southampton to Guernsey and Jersey. The Ariadne sailed on a Tuesday and the Beresford on a Friday but only from March to October and for a guinea and half the luxury of a main cabin could be obtained for the 12 to 15 hour journey.   For the tribulations of shipping, war with the French and privateers see the article here

Did you notice that railway line on the left stamp with crowds out on the hillside?  Today it would be Braye Harbour Station but back then the Victorians knew they needed a lot of rock to build the breakwater and also construct the forts along the coast to provide safe harbour.  How would they transport it from the quarry?   
Yes lets build a railway line!  This opened in 1847 to carry stone to the eastern end of the island on a 2 mile coastal route, which today is the only working railway on the Channel Islands (run by volunteers).
Queen Victoria landed in 1854 to see the progress of the forts and harbour accompanied by Prince Albert
both taking a tour of the islands.    

An entry to Sunday Stamps II on the theme of - Ports and Harbours - sail into more here

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

The Sorting Office

War Illustrated, 19th December 1914
The caption reads  "The Postal Section is a thoroughly organised department of the British Field Force, and works with remarkable smoothness and promptness, so that the men in the fighting-line have little to complain about in the delivery of the letters sent to them by their friends or delay in their letters home".

There was no indication of what part of the western front this was but by coincidence I found the self same photograph on the British Postal Museum blog as one of their collection of lantern slide described thus  "A field post office established at the side of a road in France is typical of the makeshift facilities employed to run the service"  It looks as damp on the colourised version as it does in this black and white picture from the War Illustrated.  The colourised lantern slide is at -  'Mail to troops fighting the First World War'

See my post from 2010 for a little bit more about the postal services in World War One here