Sunday 27 December 2015

Postal Journey

A very long time ago I used to collect Chinese stamps quite seriously but then as often happens life intervened and I stopped collecting stamps of any type. Only when we entered the 21st Century with more leisure time have returned to my love of stamps but with a slight bias towards Scandinavia and the islands of Britain but really there is no plan, as you might guess from this blog. I still have an affection for Chinese stamps but my collection is more or less how I left it all those years ago.  I've dived into its pages for this week's theme. The cover above, although plain, is one of my favourites just for the romance of postal travel and the point in history it captures.  The cancel is dated 28th December 1905 and the native cancellations have the characters for Kiangsi the province in the top segment and Kuikiang (today called Jiujiang) the town in the bottom.
The reverse of the envelope has the arrival markings of 23rd January 1906 (26 days in transit) as it reached it destination of Hangkow.  The Treaty Port of Kuikiang was on the south side of the Lower Yangtze River, about 450 miles from Shanghai and the Treaty Port of Hankow was higher up the river about 600 miles from Shanghai. The major powers owned enclaves in China at this time and from the addressees it looks as though this was going to the German concession located in 100 acres of Hankow.   For an illustrated history of the Treaty Ports see here  (it uses the famous cartoon of the western powers dividing up China),

Perhaps the letters 26 day journey looked like this
1947: 50th Anniversary Directorate General of Posts
 or perhaps it sailed along the Yangtze
but as those 26 days attest not with the speed of steam
although today the journey could be made by train and a traveller would enjoy a four and half hours trip.

An entry to Sunday Stamps II theme - "Your Favourite Choice" at See It On A Postcard

Thursday 24 December 2015

Under the Christmas Tree

Wishing everyone happy holidays and a Merry Christmas.  Of course Inge Löök's mischievous Aunties are already enjoying the season. 

Sunday 20 December 2015

Joy to the World

I featured one of Liechtenstein's "Mountain Chapels at Christmas" stamps last year and couldn't resist sharing another one this year as I imagine it settling into its snowy redoubt as Christmas approaches.  This is the highest place of worship in Liechtenstein, where it stands beneath the Ochsenkopt (7,500m/2,286 ft) and above the mountain village of Malbun.  It was built in 1950/1 as a Chapel of Peace after World War II and designed by the Swiss painter and architect Johannes Hugentobler (1897-1955) who also created the round stained glass window which can be seen on the card. Thanks to Flickr one can see what this beautiful  window looks like from the inside here.
Erich Beck's painting on the stamp makes the building look very welcoming with the lights shining through the windows into a dark night.
1973: Christmas
I couldn't find any round stained glass windows in my collection but did find one from the Saint Sauveur church on Guernsey which also features Mary and Jesus, this time accepting gifts from the Magi
and here are the Magi on their journey following the star. Part of Australia's 2011 set which consisted of three secular and these two religious stamps
They were designed by Gavin Ryan who I always associate with his whimsical and amusing Road Trip stamps but Australia Post's choice of artist must be for his story telling abilities. 

An entry to Sunday Stamps II theme - Christmas (religious) - more beatitudes here  

Thursday 17 December 2015

Pedal Power

Three cyclists pedal across Winter Square, two turn to gaze towards the photographer.  Were they friends of the photographer or was it  just serendipity they were cycling past?  I would love to know their story but they will remain forever, enigmatic, captured in a moment of time. The date is c1903, the year of St Petersburg's 200th birthday which was celebrated by the aristocracy in February 1903 at the Winter Palace with what was called the "last spectacular ball in the history of the Empire" when they all dressed up in 17th Century Costume. November would bring a massive storm when many rushed down to see the flooding River Neva's huge waves.

The card came with
one of the brown bear definitives and a pine tree (Pinus stankewiczii) from the 2015 Flora of Russia set.  The dusting of snow on the cones is appropriate because my postcard was sent by Diana in Siberia.

How the species were chosen for the stamp set is interesting.  In 2014 millions of people took part in a vote for the green symbols of each of Russia's 85 regions.  The choices of Moscow (oak) St Petersburg (Acer) Crimea (High Juniper) and Sevastopol (the stamp shown) were used for the set.  An interesting political choice, two centres of power and a geographical area annexed by Russia in 2014.  All of the 'green symbols' will be planted in the 'Avenue of Russia' located in the famous Victory Park gardens in Sevastopol which has plants that represent all Russia's climate zones and is a big draw for tourists and  botanical enthusiasts.

Pinus stankewiczii is a species endemic to Crimea first identified in 1905 by the Russian and Polish forestry specialist Waclaw Stankiewicz (1866-1940) 

Sunday 13 December 2015

Winter Solstice

Guernsey Post have decorated their tree ready for Christmas.  Hope the two candles are not going to get too near the fairy's highly inflammable dress.  The robin is busy chirping its tune into the air but the Åland robin is too busy wrapping presents. I wonder whose name is on the label?
This came on my Åland Christmas postcard and is one of 2015's two stamp set, both of which are the creation of the Swedish paper artist Fideli Sundqvist who makes the scenes and then photographs them. The little paper feathers actually show up better on the scan than the stamp, although that may just be my poor eyesight. 
Here is the front of the postcard which is also the other stamp design. The 'Strictly Paper' blog has an interview and pictures of  Fideli Sundqvist other creations here for all paper art lovers
More robins?

The artist of the beautifully designed cover and the stamps is Jette Frölich who specialises in Christmas decorations (Jette Frölich Design).  From memory I think Denmark Post also produced her Christmas cards and seals to go with the stamp set in 2013. 
2013: Winter
Jette Frölich's inspiration for the set was the memory of skating in her childhood, the resilience and hope of the Christmas Rose as it blooms in the cold and frost and the robin is to remind people to feed the birds over winter.
2005: Christmas (Designer: Pirkko Vahtero)
The general title of this stamp is two of Santa's brownies under twinkling skies.  In reality the starry sky is a hologram and is indeed especially shiny and twinkly especially under artificial lights.   Santa must be worn out after delivering all his parcels, even with all his helpers, so he must be ready to go home and relax
And he does look ready for a sit down after his journey through the snow with his little rucksack but the light is on in the house in the distance and he will soon be snug and warm, or perhaps he is still delivering presents. This little chap is featured on Norway Post's 2015 Christmas card feeding a cat and they call it Santa and the Cat but in Norwegian it is 'Nissen og katten' and the Nisse is a much older tradition connected with the winter solstice.  He does not live at the North Pole but in the forest, is a small old man with a white beard, grey sweater and trousers, a red pixie hat, red stockings and wooden shoes who lives for hundreds of years.  Today he has morphed into Santa and there is a tradition of putting out porridge for the nisse on Christmas Eve for he brings presents but also can control your fortune, best be on his good side.
Here he is featured on a page of  Norway Post's booklet sharing his porridge with his cat.  I don't know enough of Scandinavian mythology to explain the cat's story but I know I'd love to share a bowl of porridge on a winter's day if the nisse comes calling.

An entry to Sunday Stamps II theme - Christmas (secular) - more winter cheer over here 

Sunday 6 December 2015


1984: Children of China
One of China's pre-cancelled stamp booklets of which I have a handfull from the 1980s.  This particular set of stamps they called a semi-postal issue but are generally known as charity stamps. As can be seen each stamp has a description 'In the Sunshine' and 'Healthy Growth'.  A choice between a ball and a panda, oh dear which one to choose.

The reverse of the booklet explains
"Children are the reserve force for Socialist Modernization of our country".  The statement lacks a bit of the joys of childhood but happily not the stamp images.  I like the growth motif of the cancel which is
repeated on the booklet cover.  Continuing the theme of 'socialist modernisation' then five year plans were all rage as we moved into the second half of the 20th Century 
and this shows children playing in a kindergarten as part of Bulgaria's 'Five Year Plan' of 1959.  I'll turn to something a little more seasonal now.
and two of the stamps of Romania's 'Village Children's Games' issue of 1960.  One can also learn a bit of Romanian on the way, sanius being sledding
and of course patinaj, ice skating. I say seasonal but we have had weeks of rain here and at the moment my county of Cumbria has red flood warning out, happily today is a respite and the sun has come out.  The warmth that comes with the rain means there will
2014: Christmas
be no ice skating here this month.  I wonder if there is still time to head south to the sun?
The cover shows Combwich Station in Somerset, which has only ever existed in the imagination of the model maker Chris Nevard, who also took the photograph.  The stamp is one from Jersey's contribution to this year's Europa theme of 'Traditional Toys' where they featured illustrations based on the artwork used to produce the ever popular Hornby train set boxes.

An entry to Sunday Stamps II theme - Playtime: toys or games - skip over here to play 

Sunday 29 November 2015

No Pictures, Possibly

If when browsing some Channel Island stamps a few weeks ago I had purchased Jersey's Magna Carta issue featuring one word, this week's Sunday Stamps II theme would have been a breeze. As I didn't there was a long browse through my collection of stamps, although because I have very few Brazilian stamps I  remembered the one above.  Where would we all have been without learning our ABC?  I always remember singing it at school, perhaps they do the same in Brazil. The stamp was issued in 2005 for Teacher's Day.  Maybe some of the pupils dream of becoming engineers
 and this stamp celebrates the 50th Anniversary of the Royal Flemish Association of Engineers, the KVIV. It was designed by someone whose surname I imagine took him a long time to write when he was learning his ABC - Emile Vandemeulebroucke.  Of course engineers need their mathematics so lets turn to numbers
and the ones use for post codes. This stamp was issued in 1966 for Austria's introduction of the Postal Code System and shows a postal zone map.  They use a four figure number, the first (the one shown on the stamp) is the geographic delivery area (1 being for Vienna etc).  The full set of numbers would also include a second number for the routing area, the third is the route the mail takes by truck or train and the fourth the post office outlet and the routing city.

Something not seen anymore is the postage due stamp which can be quite plain but not in the case of Czechoslovakia who produced some beautifully designed postage due stamps over the decades and I have chosen this one
used from 1946-1953 which they following in
1954 by this design.  They used two of their great stamp engravers for these intricate designs, Bohan Roule (1921-1960) for this and
Jiri Antonin Svengsbir (1921-1983) for the higher values.  I'm counting the area around the number as decoration to get round the "no pictures" guideline. Yikes don't mention the map otherwise I would not have been able to make an (unintentional) ABC of countries. 

An entry to Sunday Stamps II theme - Words and/or Numbers (no pictures) - more alphanumerics here

Sunday 22 November 2015


I am rather fond of Tenniel's drawings in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland so when these stamps were issued in January to mark the book's publication 150 years ago I wasn't sure I liked them.  Since then they have grown on me and I enjoy their vibrant colours and a modern Alice; they also look pretty on a postcard.  A collaboration between Jason Godfrey (Godfrey Design) and the artist Grahame Baker Smith it took them many months to come up with a set that told the Alice story and looked a coherent whole.  The FDC uses John Tenniel's drawing of the Mad Hatters Tea Part with the stamps so one has the best of both worlds.  The stamps show the start of the story with the White Rabbit running late and below it Alice falling down the rabbit hole.  Of course Alice cannot resist the potion with 'drink me' on it and the stamp below shows her grown too large for the White Rabbit's house.  The Cheshire Cat makes an appearance  “Alice asked the Cheshire Cat, who was sitting in a tree, “What road do I take?” The cat asked, “Where do you want to go?” “I don’t know,” Alice answered. “Then,” said the cat, “it really doesn’t matter, does it?” .  Lastly she arrives at the Mad Hatters Tea Party.  Since seeing the Tim Burton film I probably now imagine the Mad Hatter as being a bit like Johnny Depp.

When Charles Dodgson told the story to the Liddle sisters as he and the Rev Robin Duckworth rowed the River Isis from Folly Bridge to Codstow (the cancel on the FDC) about a bored little girl who found adventure down a rabbit hole they asked him to write it down.  In November 1864 (a couple of years after the boat trip) he gave Alice Liddell a handwritten manuscript of Alice's Adventures Under Ground with his own illustrations dedicating it as "A Christmas Gift to a Dear Child in Memory of a Summer's Day".  He was already preparing for publication and approaced John Tenniel to illustate the book but revised the story adding two of the most famous episodes, the Cheshire Cat and the Mad Hatter's Tea Party.
Once again Tenniel's drawing of the the Red Queen "Off with her head" is used on the cover and the stamps show our Queen of Hearts swooping through the gardens, the game of croquet with flamingos (I like the hedgehog making run for it), Alice giving evidence to the court and lastly -  A Pack of Cards
 'Who cares for you?' said Alice, (she had grown to her full size by this time.) 'You're nothing but a pack of cards!'
At this the whole pack rose up into the air, and came flying down upon her: she gave a little scream, half of fright and half of anger, and tried to beat them off, and found herself lying on the bank, with her head in the lap of her sister, who was gently brushing away some dead leaves that had fluttered down from the trees upon her face.
'Wake up, Alice dear!' said her sister; 'Why, what a long sleep you've had!' 'Oh, I've had such a curious dream!' said Alice

An entry to Sunday Stamps II theme of Children's Stories - more being told here  

Sunday 15 November 2015

Friend of Bulgaria

1921: J D Bourchier 'Times' Correspondent
How many people get a 9 stamp set devoted to them while remaining relatively unknown in their own country?  James David Bourchier (1850-1920) was from an Anglo-Irish family and born in Baggotstown, Bruff, Limerick who became an Irish journalist and political activist, not in his own country, but Bulgaria, because fate took a hand.  He was teaching at Eton, loosing his hearing and looking at other means of earning a living.  He wrote a number of articles and discussed with an old school friend about going into journalism.  While staying on the Adriatic coast in 1888 on doctors advice this same friend was reporting for 'The Times' in the Balkans and asked him to help by going to Romania and Bulgaria.  By the time he got to Romania the peasants revolt he was supposed to write about was over, so he journeyed on to Bulgaria which was in a state of turmoil following a war, a coup by military officers and the forced abdication of Prince Alexander who had been replaced by Prince Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha (in a desperate attempt to prevent Russian occupation of Bulgaria).
J D Bourchier in Bulgarian Costume
Bourchier became an expert in Balkan politics and lived and worked in Sofia championing their national cause internationally as Bulgaria's territory and borders shifted and changed with Balkan Wars. Despite his deafness he was a gregarious man, spoke many languages and journeyed throughout the Balkans, not only championing the Bulgarian cause but also that of Crete.   On the outbreak of World War One Bulgaria declared neutrality, but when promised regaining of territory by the Central Powers joined the Turks and Germans in 1915.  Yes this was not going to end well, so the territory they gained they eventually lost.

The world Bourchier had entered in 1888 had changed entirely and from providing the Times with articles he had become the Times Balkan Correspondent from 1890-1915.  He remained in Sofia and died in 1920.  He had requested the king on his death to be buried outside the walls of the fortress monastery of Rila.     

A state funeral took place in Alexander Nevski Cathedral when crowds lined the street as the funeral cortège passed and his grave does indeed lie outside Rila Monastry.  I have seen an old postcard with the grave and mourners surrounded by high hills in the open but today it looks as though trees have grown around it, and on the stamp the area does look very wooded. There is a mountain and a street named after Bourchier, a monument of him as well as a plaque near where he lived in hotel rooms in Sofia dedicated to the "friend of the Bulgarian nation and champion of the Bulgarian national cause"
The stamp bears the inscription "Bourchier's resting place".  14 million of this 9 stamp set were issued so they are easy to find (I seem to have accumulated all but one of the set) and were created by the British engravers and printers Bradbury, Wilkinson and Co who also produced Bulgaria's bank notes.

But I leave with a postscript on Prince (later tzar) Ferdinand because he was a philatelist.  His relation Queen Victoria did not think much of him saying he was totally unfit when he was installed as head of state, and that he was delicate, eccentric and effeminate and  "should be stopped at once".  She was wrong, he generally made a success of his role.   

  One amusing report was of Ferdinand briefing Bourchier on confidential matters during World War One but because of Bourchier's deafness he had to shout down his ear trumpet so everyone could hear him. After the war Ferdinand abdicated in favour of his son Boris and was exiled to to Coburg in German which he excepted as one of the hazards of kingship.

An entry to Sunday Stamps II theme - Famous People - visit more of them at See It On A Postcard.     

Sunday 8 November 2015

Arctic Convoys

HMS Vanoc is shown escorting an Arctic Convoy bringing vital supplies to Russia during World War Two. The semaphoring sailor is on a merchant ship passing the Naval Control Base in the Thames Estuary. The Arctic Convoys sailed from various ports in the UK from 1941-1945 but the greater number sailed from Loch Ewe in Wester Ross, Scotland (selected because of its deep water and access to the North Atlantic). Merchant ships would arrive load up and set off with their naval escorts in this cold and hazardous journey.  The Russian Arctic Convoy Museum is hoping to set up a multi-site museum around the Loch telling the story of the convoys but they are still raising funds.
The intense cold meant that the ships had to be continually cleared of ice and the stamp shows the crew of HMS George V clearing the decks in Arctic waters. The other stamp is of a merchant convoy in the North Sea.  I have an especial interest in the Arctic Convoys because I knew a merchant mariner who told stories of his experiences on the convoys. The merchant marine, sometimes referred to the forgotten service, meant that a medal was not issued for the participants of this cold and dangerous journey until 2012 (the Arctic Star). They asked one veteran how he was given it and he said it picked it up off the doormat when it came through the post! Not only did they not receive a medal until this date the Russians wanted to thank them by giving them the Ushakov Medal but they were not allowed to do so despite other countries such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand and USA giving their own nationals permission.  Rather late in the day (2013) the veterans could at last go and be awarded their well earned medals    
 The FDC shows a sketch by John Alfred 'Jack' Shirley (1922-2006) of the sinking of HMS Goodall at Kola Bay while he was on ConvoyJW66, the very last of the Arctic Convoys. Jack Shirley was a sub-lieutenant on the corvette HMS Alnwick Castle who recorded much of his naval life in watercolours.

An entry to Sunday Stamps II theme of - Monochromatic - more shades of See It On A Postcard here 

Sunday 1 November 2015

Domicile in the Isles

2014: The Manx Ark
The Rare Beeeds Survival Trust was established in 1973 with the growing realising that we were loosing unique and specialised breeds.  The Manx Post Office celebrated the Trust and the centenary of the Southern District Agricultural Society with this mini sheet.  The Isle of Man's farmers are an important part of "The Manx Ark" project, protecting breeding animals unlikely to be affected by an epidemic in Britain; the island Noah's Arc. Who knows what qualities and immunities will be needed in the future.

Lets turn to the stars of the show starting on the top row with the sheep that is native to the Isle of Man, the Manx Loaghtan Sheep which can have two, four or even six horns and is related to the prehistoric breeds that lived on the islands of Scotland. Next is the Northern Dairy Shorthorn, these red and white beasts were once the most common sight on the island but now are down to less than 50 females. At the end of the row is the beautiful Cotswold Sheep native to England whose wool is popular with spinners as when hand-combed all the fibres can be pointed in the same direction meaning non of that dreaded itching when worn next to the skin for the wearer.
Bottom row are the Exmoor Ponies, fewer than 300 breeding mares survive and most live in a more or less wild on Exmoor. well adapted to survive in cold and wet weather. A pig I have observed from paintings that is a favourite of artists is the Gloucestershire Old Spot Pig. For registration in the breed they must have at least one black spot and be predominately white. Lastly is the Irish Moiled Cattle. 'Moiled' is from the Gaelic "Maol" and refers to the bumps or crown on the head. Very docile it can live off poor quality grazing and is partial to willow and ivy.

From 1900 to 1973 26 native British breeds were lost and are now extinct, including the Limestone Sheep, a unique hardy hill breed with high wool quality and the added advantage that it could give birth at different times of the year.  It was also known as the Silverdale of Farelton Fell, a place of limestone pavements near where my Grandmothers family farmed. It is sobering thought to think she would have been familiar with this breed and yet I don't even know what it looked like.  

The theme for the GB Post and Go machine stamps in 2012 was British Farm Animals. As the cattle stamps didn't include my own favourite breed, the Belted Galloway. and I don't have any of the pigs here are a flock of sheep.
 Clockwise starting bottom left with the Soay, a robust sheep found mostly in Scotland and amongst the most primitive of breeds (like the Manx Loaghtan who we have already met) and the first domesticated sheep in Northern Europe. The Jacob, originated in Syria and was first introduced into Britain as an ornamental breed.  Welsh Mountain Badger Face, an ancient breed mentioned in the Domesday Book.  Dalesbred, whose hard wearing wool is favoured for the making of tweed and carpets. This sheep is seen on the hills and dales of Yorkshire and is also the emblem on the cancel.  Next the Suffolk and the Leicester Longwool, both sheep whose wool if favoured for fine knitting.

The illustrator and printmaker Robert Gillmore has created many of the past pictorial Post and Go series and he was also chosen for the British Farm Animals sets using the same techniques. Royal Mail explains "For his colour linocuts, Robert first makes a pencil sketch and then cuts a number of linoleum block, one for each colour in the design. To create the final image, he prints the blocks in sequence by hand using an 1860 Albion Press with water-based inks"

An entry to Sunday Stamps II theme of - Farming Farm Animals - go down to the farm here


Sunday 18 October 2015

Flags and Maps

Åland's first stamps were issued on 1st March 1984 although they were actually produced by the Finnish Post Office in cooperation with Åland's provincial government.  At this time of change both Finland and  Åland stamps could be used on post and the cover above takes full advantage.  A few years later in 1993 under the Autonomy Act matters including postal were run on the islands and Finland's stamps were no longer valid.
Lets look at the stamps starting at the top left which shows Åland located amongst the Nordic Countries; the cover repeats this sentiment in its map outline on top of an aerial photograph.  Travelling anticlockwise next are two of their first fishing boat definitive stamps. Three other stamps were issued in March 1984 of which two are on the cover, the harbour of Marienhamn and the sails of the barque Pommern (a museum ship which is a popular tourist attraction) and in the background, modern car ferries. The Åland flag flies in the corner and the stamps are completed by Midsummer celebrations (one of Finland's Europa stamps from 1981 on the theme of Folklore).

This made me wonder what stamps I might have that combined both flag and map and discovered two from conflict torn countries
This one commemorating Congo Independence also shows Joseph Mobutu who came to power in a military coup
c1966 Official Stamp
and this one also contains an outline of Lake Chad and its source rivers in Chad. 

For a sporting view of the world go back to 1962 when the Football World Cup was held in Chile. The flags are of Columbia and Uruguay who both went out in the group stages
The countries that made it to the quarter finals but no further were the stamp issuers, Hungary, the USSR with their instantly recognisable flag, England and West Germany. The other flag is Yugoslavia who would progress to the semi finals where they lost to Czechoslovakia.  This was the year that Brazil became World Champions. 
British entry into th European Community was celebrated in a set of three stamps two Se-tenant 5p value and
one 3p value. I don't know if the colour has any significance but this is certainly a topical stamp today as we run up to the 'EU In or Out' Referendum some time in 2017.  If we stay in the stamp theme could be reissued with a few more jigsaw pieces and a slightly different shape.  If out, the Union Flag would have to float out into the sea edging out of the stamp.

An entry to Sunday Stamps II theme - Maps or Flags - navigate your way here to see more