We had a busy autumn here at the APS and my stamp hunting time has been a bit limited, which is why I've opted for a combined September-October edition of Found Around the APC (if you've had a chance to read October's From the Vault, you may know that I was also waylaid by the treatise of a verbose Englishman). I hope you'll find this overdue exploration as enlightening as I did; enjoy!
Slovak Assembly Opening Overprint
Like many stamps I’ve examined in this series, I picked this one up because it was aesthetically pleasing (and I love overprints). The view of Bratislava Castle from across the (beautiful blue) Danube is lovely and the combination of the blue stamp with red-orange overprint is more than enough to draw the eye. But as students of European history may know, this overprint is part of a fraught period in Czechoslovak history.
The overprint, which reads “Otvorenie slovenského snemu 18.1.1939” marks the reconvention of Slovakian parliament on January 18, 1939, during which procedures to declare independence from Czechoslovakia were initiated in the wake of Nazi Germany’s advances into Czech territory. The small design beside the date is the Slovakian coat of arms, featuring a double cross (a symbol of Christian faith), and three hills representing three culturally important mountain ranges — Tatra, Fatra, and Matra.
The choice of the original stamp was no doubt highly symbolic to the fledgling government – a Czechoslovakian stamp featuring a Slovakian city, soon to become the new nation’s capital, stamped firmly with the coat of arms of Slovakia. It seems that even the location of the overprint was highly intentional, with its alignment in the top left obstructing only the sky and leaving Bratislava Castle unmarred.
The overprinted stamp was withdrawn quite quickly, on January 31, 1939, before the official establishment of the Slovak State. About two months after the stamp was issued, on March 14, the Slovakian parliament voted unanimously to declare independence and create the Slovak State under the auspices of Adolph Hitler.
Slovakia would officially remain a client-state of Nazi Germany under the leadership of President and Catholic priest Jozef Tiso until the spring of 1945, during which time the state provided troops for the invasion of Poland and the Soviet Union and agreed to deport two-thirds of the Slovak Jewish population to German-occupied Poland. However, by the summer of 1944, the advances of Soviet forces and the rebellion of the anti-Nazi Slovak National Uprising forced a total German occupation, removing any smokescreen of autonomy. The state was succeeded by the short-lived Third Czechoslovak Republic, which was replaced in short order by the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic.
As always, this topic is far too complex to adequately cover in a couple of paragraphs, but one of the things I’m enjoying most about stamp collecting is the opportunity to follow the threads that the stamps provide, and learn more about history, art, and culture along the way. Czechoslovak stamps are one of my collecting interests, and have given me plenty of opportunities to fill gaps in my knowledge.
If you’re interested in Czechoslovak philately but don’t know where to start, keep your eyes peeled for “Why Collect Czechoslovakia?” by James Buckner and Keith Hart of the Society for Czechoslovak Philately in the December issue of The American Philatelist – I got a sneak peek while editing the issue and learned a lot.
Face Value: 300 Slovak halier (3 Slovak koruny)
Scott Number: CS 254A
Issue Date: January 18, 1939
Print Run: 790,000
My dad is a keen aircraft enthusiast, so he’s the one you can thank for the inclusion of this stamp in this edition of FAAPC. I’ve been sneakily trying to turn my family into philatelists, so when I see stamps featuring things they’re interested in, I snap a picture and text it to them. That’s why I picked this stamp out in the first place, but as I took a longer look, I knew I had to find out what was going on with the two plane pile-up.
This stamp commemorates an extraordinary engagement in the early days of the Greco-Italian War (October 28, 1940- April 23, 1941), a local war that kicked off the Balkans campaign of World War II. On November 2, 1940, a squadron of 15 Italian CANT Z. 1007 bombers with Fiat CR.42 fighter escorts were spotted headed for the Greek city of Thessaloniki. The pilots of the local 22nd Pursuit Squadron scrambled to intercept the bombers in their PZL P.24s, and in the ensuing dogfight, three of the bombers were shot down. Sadly, the outnumbered Greeks were unable to stop the remaining 12 bombers from breaking through to hit their targets, but one pilot, 20-year-old Marinos Mitralexis, refused to let the Italians have the last laugh. Out of ammo, he turned his plane into a weapon, slamming its nose into a bomber’s tail before it could escape to Albania. The bomber spun out of control and crashed.
I read all this and was amazed, but not as amazed as I was when I read that Mitralexis then proceeded to make an emergency landing near the bomber, extricate himself from the wreck of his own aircraft, and take the four surviving crew members prisoner with just his pistol. Happening as it did just a week into the war, and with the Hellenic Royal Air Force vastly outnumbered compared to the Royal Italian Airforce, this engagement strengthened Greek morale and catapulted Mitralexis to war hero status. He received a chest-full of medals, including Greece’s highest award for bravery, the Gold Cross of Valour – and was the only Air Force officer to be awarded it during the war.
Apparently not one to rest on his laurels, Mitralexis continued to fly for the Allied Forces in North Africa after Greece capitulated to Germany in 1941, with five confirmed kills in the rest of the war. Sadly, the pilot’s luck ran out not long afterward; in 1948, he died after crashing during a routine training flight over the south Aegean Sea.
Face Value: 2.5 drachmas
Scott Number: GR 936
Series: Air Force
Issue Date: November 8, 1968
Print Run: 5,495,292
Bulgarian Aircraft Overprint
While we’re talking about aircraft, let’s zip on over to Bulgaria, where we’ll find possibly the most beautiful overprint I’ve ever seen. The rendering of the motion of the plane, the gentle, wispy curves of the clouds, even the green-teal of the overprint against the yellow of the original stamp – magnificent!
According to an article published by Linn’s Stamp News and written by the late Janet Klug, this is one of four Bulgarian airmail issues from 1945 featuring overprints on imperforate 1944 parcel post stamps. The underlying stamp appears to be the same for all four issues, a brownish-yellowish-goldish version of the Bulgarian Arms, but the overprints feature a different color for each value: black for 10 leva, red for 45 leva, teal/green for 75 leva, and maroon-brown for 100 leva (which, being the same value as the original stamp, does not feature a surcharge).
I don’t have much else to say about this one, I just liked it a lot. I hope you do too!
Face Value: 75 Bulgarian leva
Scott Number: BG C39
Emission: Air Post
Issue Date: February 15, 1945
Print Run: 250,000
Greek Exports: Fresh Vegetables
I think I mentioned in a previous edition of this series that I try to avoid repeating countries within an article – clearly that isn’t working out. It’s just that when I see a stamp like this Greek one, with its lovingly illustrated vegetables, I can’t resist – I don’t even like eggplant or carrots!
This stamp is part of a series celebrating Greek exports, which also includes stamps honoring fruit, cotton and textiles, and marble. Not being overly familiar with Greece’s exports myself, I wasn’t sure if the marble stamp was to be taken literally, or if it might possibly be referring obliquely to the various statues and columns that Western nations have plundered from the area over the centuries. Who knows.
But back to the veggies. Just for fun, I tried to plug all the vegetables on this stamp (the ones I recognized anyway) into one of those websites that gives you recipes based on what you have in your fridge – most of the results were “roasted vegetable parcels." After some Googling, I learned that there’s a Greek version of that concept called briám (μπριάμ), which (according to Wikipedia) is similar to a ratatouille. It’s usually built off of a base of potatoes and zucchini, but can also include eggplant, tomato, onions, and other seasonal vegetables, along with herbs like mint, parsley, and bay leaves. If you want to try it for yourself, you can find a traditional recipe here.
I recently started a small collection of culinary creations on stamps, which I’m thinking of expanding to cover stamps that feature nationally important ingredients. If you have a similar inclination, you might, as I did, look up and join the Gastronomy on Stamps Study Unit, a study unit of the American Topical Association that specializes in stamps related to food, gastronomy, food crops, cooking, and related subjects.
Face Value: 9 Greek drachmas
Scott Number: GR 1382
Series: Export Products
Issue Date: March 16, 1981
Print Run: 8,000,000
What a delight these stamps are! I’ve seen a handful of Zodiac issues before, but they tend to follow the same cosmic, ethereal pattern – not so these Polish examples. Here, Aries is portrayed as an anthropomorphic goat with a battering ram in the shape of his own head, Cancer is a lobster in an armchair smoking a pipe, and Aquarius is a petrified plumber in water past his knees. Rendered in a cartoonish style by Polish designer Maciej Jędrysik, this issue truly does not take itself very seriously. They also fluoresce under UV light – an added bonus to some already fascinating stamps.
Along with Baran/Aries, Rak/Cancer, and Wodnik/Aquarius, you’ll see here Lew/Leo (a brave lion rendered in almost Napoleonic style), Byk/Taurus (as a bull hugging a locked chest, for reasons unknown to me), Ryby/Pieces (a fish-headed person crying while holding a fish – or perhaps a beheaded fish-headed person?), Skorpion/Scorpio (a glamorous sunbather), and Waga/Libra (a robot with the face of a scale, posing for a woman-headed man and a man-headed woman). Sadly, I was not able to track down copies of Koziorożec/Capricorn, Strzelec/Sagittarius, Bliźnięta/Gemini, or Panna/Virgo – a real shame, as Sagittarius depicts an archer on a motorcycle and Virgo is some sort of clockwork lady covered in gears.
I expect some of these designs were just meant to be silly, but others (including my own star sign, Capricorn), seem to have lost something in translation. If any Polish philatelists can explain these visual jokes, I would be grateful!
Face Value: Various, Polish grosz and złoty
Scott Number: PL 3277-3288
Series: Signs of the Zodiac
Issue Date: 1996, each issued on the first day the new sign begins
Designer: Maciej Jedrysik
M.V. Kista Dan – Surcharged
I may have mentioned once or twice that I love philately dealing with the poles, icebreakers, or any sort of chilly exploration. I was pleased, then, to stumble across this stamp honoring M.V. Kista Dan, an icebreaker built in Denmark by the J. Lauritzen Lines and operated by the Australian National Antarctic Research Expedition (ANARE) in the 1950s.
Kista Dan was the eldest of several Dans of the period, including her more famous sister, Nella Dan, as well as Thala Dan and Magga Dan. You can read more about all of them via the Australian Antarctic Program, which maintains a thorough accounting of the icebreakers of J. Lauritzen Lines.
The original, unsurcharged stamp is part of a large set of 15 stamps (that I love and will one day acquire) issued by the British Antarctic Territory in 1963, their first year issuing their own stamps. Aside from scenes of polar exploration and other Antarctic imagery, the stamps also feature a lifelike and somewhat casual portrait of Queen Elizabeth II (or as casual as she ever got – she’s not wearing a crown, at least) in ¾ profile. I’m a fan of this choice, as in many of the stamps (including the one featuring the Kista Dan), she appears to be looming over the horizon, observing the antics of her subjects.
Eagle-eyed viewers will also note the surcharge on this particular example – these definitives were being used up until Decimal Day (February 15, 1971), when the UK currency system changed from the traditional system of 20 shillings to a pound and 12 pence to a shilling (for 240 pence to a pound) to the current system of 100 pennies to a pound, with nary a shilling to be seen. As a result, the previous denomination of 1/2d (or 1/480 of a pound) was overprinted with the new abbreviation (and technically, higher value) of 1/2p.
Country: British Antarctic Territory
Face Value: 1 British halfpenny
Scott Number: GB-AT 25
Series: Antarctic Research – Pictorials/Decimal Surcharges
Issue Date: February 15, 1971
Designer: Michael Goaman (original stamp)
Printer: Bradbury, Wilkinson & Co. Ltd. (original stamp)
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!
Do you have any information to share about these stamps? Have I made any glaring errors in my research and deductions? Did you make briám? Let us know at [email protected].