If you’ve never had the opportunity to visit the American Philatelic Center, you may not know one of the best things about it: There are stamps everywhere. Literally. Everywhere. For a newbie philatelist like me (I started with the APS back in May), it’s truly delightful to go looking for an Ott lamp or a label maker and instead find a box full of stamps, waiting to be sorted out and passed along to new collectors. The only downside is that there’s rarely time to take a close look at them – but this month I decided to make time. These are some of the stamps I stumbled upon at the APC in July.
S.S. Great Britain
My first day at the APS, I sat down at my new desk and saw an incredibly cool stamp. It was GB 575, featuring the R.M.S. Queen Elizabeth 2, which the previous occupant of my desk had left behind. The stamp features an illustration of the ship on a vibrant teal background, but more importantly it’s a long stamp, which immediately drew my interest. After a lifetime of affixing small, square stamps to envelopes, I love a fun shape.
But I found Queen Elizabeth 2 in May, and this is about stamps I found in July – so it’s lucky that I found Queen Elizabeth 2’s series sister, the S.S. Great Britain, right at the end of the month. The largest passenger ship in the world from 1845 to 1854, Great Britain was the first large ocean-going ship to combine an iron hull and a screw propeller, allowing her to become the first iron steamer to cross the Atlantic (a trip she made in just 14 days). The following year, her owners were forced out of business, having spent all their remaining funds refloating the ship after she ran aground at Dundrum Bay in County Down after a navigation error. In 1852, she was sold for salvage and repaired, and went on to carry thousands of emigrants to Australia until being converted to all-sail in 1881. Three years later, she was retired to the Falkland Islands, where she was used as a warehouse, quarantine ship, and coal hulk until she was scuttled in 1937, 98 years after being laid down.
Funnily enough, in 1970, the year after the stamp was issued and 33 years after she was abandoned, Great Britain found new life. Sir Jack Arnold Hayward, businessman, philanthropist, and owner of the Wolverhampton Wanderers football club, paid for the vessel to be raised and repaired enough to be towed north through the Atlantic back to the United Kingdom, where she was eventually returned to the Bristol dry dock where she was built 127 years earlier. Now listed as part of the National Historic Fleet, Great Britain is a visitor attraction and museum ship in Bristol Harbor, with between 150,000 and 200,000 visitors annually.
Country: United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Face Value: 1 British shilling
Scott number: GB 579
Issue Date: January 15, 1969
Designer: David Gentleman
Printer: Harrison & Sons Ltd.
Arctic Deep Sea Exploration
Updated August 15
I’m a sucker for polar and deep-sea exploration, so any ice breaker, submersible, or polar map is going to catch my eye – and this 2007 set from Russia has it all. Sadly, I can't read the Cyrillic alphabet, so I’m not sure of the exact meaning of the text on the label (top), but after some Googling, I found out that this set celebrates Arktika 2007, the first ever crewed descent to the ocean floor at the North Pole. The expedition, part of the Russian program for the 2007–2008 International Polar Year, saw the Akademik Fedorov research ship (pictured on the label), both Mir submersibles (Mir-1 is pictured in the first stamp), and the nuclear icebreaker Rossiya descend on the Arctic. The full complement of vehicles included two Mi-8 helicopters and geological probe devices and Il-18 aircraft with gravimetric devices. The mission’s aim was to investigate the structure and evolution of the Earth's crust in the Arctic regions neighboring Eurasia, such as the regions of Mendeleev Ridge, Alpha Ridge and Lomonosov Ridge, to discover whether they are linked with the Siberian shelf (thus strengthening Russia’s Arctic claim).
Update: APS member Rebecca Drew kindly wrote in with a loose interpretation of the text of the label and stamps – Thank you, Rebecca!
If you speak/read Russian and could provide a more nuanced translation, both Rebecca and I would love to hear from you – just drop me a line at [email protected].
In the course of the high-latitude Arctic
Deep Sea Expedition
August 2, 2007
The Russian Flag was installed
at the bottom of the Arctic Ocean.
Deep water inhabited
Apparatus World-1 [A direct translation of мир-1, or Mir-1]
Depth 4300 meters
Face Value: 8 rubles
Scott number: RU 7055ab
Series: Arctic Exploration 2007
Issue Date: December 7, 2007
Designer: A. Drobyshev
Madagascar Diadem (Hypolimnas dexithea)
I didn’t find this stamp personally, but it was found for me – the APS’ new Content intern, Tess, fished it from the APS Stamp Search table and dropped it off at my desk early this month. One of her assignments was to dig through the pile until she found a stamp that she loved, and it was great to see her return with several (and also engage in one of my favorite traditions in philately: finding a stamp you know someone else will love and gifting it to them).
The Madagascar Diadem is a species of Hypolimnas butterfly endemic to the island of Madagascar. The species was first described (in Western scholarship) in 1863 by William Chapman Hewitson from a specimen collected by J. Caldwell from Antananarivo. It has since became one of the species targeted by lepidopterists because of its size and color. What better creature to include in the definitives of the short-lived Malagasy Republic? This series also features the Violet Tip (Colotis zoe), Garden Acraea (Acraea horta), Moth (Chionaema pauliani), and Clouded Mother-of-pearl (Salamis duprei), along with a variety of local plants.
Country: Madagascar (Malagasy Republic)
Face Value: 3 CFA francs
Scott number: MG 310
Series: Butterflies and Country Products
Issue Date: May 25, 1960
Designer: Pierre Gandon
My late grandmother was a proud Irish American, so in her honor, I always stop and take a look at the Irish stamps I come across. This stamp was issued in 1980, prior to the worldwide Irish stepdancing revolution sparked by the very first performance of Riverdance at Eurovision Song Contest 1994 in Dublin. If you (like me) are more used to seeing Irish dancers with waterfalls of ringlet curls and elaborate, sparkling dresses, the simpler style of the featured dancer might be surprising. But as I learned while researching the stamp, Irish dance comes in many forms, some of which are far more informal than those you would see at a feis, or dance competition.
I’m keeping my eyes peeled for the rest of the series – Playing the Bodhran and Whistle and Playing Uilleann Pipes. I have some friends who play traditional Irish folk music, and I know they’d be tickled to see this series. I also love that the whistle player looks like Leonard Nimoy.
Face Value: 25 Irish pennies
Scott number: IE 486
Series: Traditional Music and Dance
Issue Date: September 25, 1980
Printers: Irish Security Stamp Printing
Archangel Michael, painted by Guido Reni
This stamp is beautiful and dramatic and was a treat to find while making up stamp packets for APC visitors. It initially caught my attention because of its design – an angel smiting a demon in brilliant shades of blue. Then I read the text, and realized this was a stamp celebrating Interpol – so this must in fact be the Archangel Michael (the patron saint of police in the Catholic tradition), smiting none other than the Devil himself. The painting featured in the stamp, The Archangel Michael Defeating Satan, is by Guido Reni, an Italian painter of the Baroque period who painted primarily religious works. The painting was completed in 1635 and is located in the Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini church in Rome.
Face Value: 60 lira
Scott number: IT 659
Series: 23rd General Assembly of Interpol
Issue Date: October 9, 1954
Printer: IPS Off. Carte Valori (Officina Governativa Carte Valori)
Landscape and Train with Overprint
I almost passed over this one – I like a good train and/or telegraph stamp as much as the next person, but I was short on time and couldn’t pour over every stamp. Then I noticed the overprint. I can’t get enough of overprints. As much as stamps can tell us about the history of a country or region, they’ve often gone through levels of bureaucracy and planning before they appear at the post office. They’re beautiful, they’re polished, and they’re effectively propaganda. Overprints, meanwhile, are a rawer accounting of events, that can often tell more truth than the designers meant them to. This particular overprint is one of my favorites I’ve seen, speaking on technological and transportation revolutions that hit Costa Rica in the early 1930s. Though train and telegraph likely remained important to the country’s communication for years to come, the sudden need for a new type of postage for air mail says all it needs to about the tidal wave of change about to crash on the nation. And what a stunning art deco design!
Country: Costa Rica
Face Value: 40 Costa Rican céntimos
Scott number: CR C14
Emission: Air Mail
Series: Telegraph Stamp (Overprinted)
Issue Date: March 8, 1932
Printer: American Bank Note Co.
Much gratitude is due to the members, past and present, who have kindly donated their philatelic materials to the APS – your generosity brings joy to staff, members, visitors, and new stamp collectors every day. Thank you!
Have you ever found a random stamp while wandering the APC? Do you have any information to share about these stamps? Can you read the Cyrillic alphabet? Let us know at [email protected].