I know stamp piles can be divisive in the hobby – what for some is a heap of treasure waiting to be explored is for others a mess and a headache – but I love them. There’s always something interesting hiding among the hundreds of thousands of monarch-branded definitives, and I’ve learned so much about philately (and any number of other topics) just by pawing through a pile and asking my colleagues a lot of questions.
It’s no surprise, then, that when APRL Board Vice President Tom Bieniosek and I were packing up the Stamps by the Bucket and Covers by the Container tables at the end of GASS 2023, I kept finding my attention drawn to hidden gems. I present my finds to you now for your enjoyment.
The big, purple X cancel on this one caught my attention immediately, but I wasn’t sure what to make of the text. Railways? Newspaper? Which was it?
Those of you who collect revenues will of course know immediately what I had to do some research to learn – this is a revenue stamp issued not by the New Zealand Post Office (whose monopoly apparently extended only to letters and not newspapers and parcels), but by New Zealand Railways for carriage of newspapers by train.
I’m not certain exactly when this stamp would have been printed, but Railway Newspaper stamps were in use from 1890 to 1925. After perusing the Railway Newspaper Stamps page on New Zealand Stamp Images, I believe that this stamp is not of the scroll B variety, which was issued from 1924 to 1925, but the original scroll A. Sadly, that leaves me with 35-odd years during which the stamp might have been used.
This halfpenny example is of the smallest denomination – 1d, 2d, 3d, 4d, and 6d values also existed. New Zealand Stamp Images also notes that the stamps were surface printed by the Government printer, and that different unwatermarked papers were used, with any of the following perforations: 12 ½, 10, 11x10, 11, and 14. From this I inferred that New Zealand Railways was less circumspect than the Post Office in matters of counterfeit prevention, but perhaps a variety of unwatermarked papers and perforations was the colonial norm.
Country: New Zealand
Face Value: 1 New Zealand Halfpenny
Scott number: Not listed
Series: Railway Charges
Issue Date: 1890-1925
Tiger Puffer (Takifugu rubripes)
I wasn’t sure who this fish gentleman was, but I was immediately attracted to his expression. He looks to me like he was caught somewhere he shouldn’t be, and might be a second away from legging it to some other part of the ocean.
It turns out he’s probably actually a lot closer to blowing up – that’s right, this gentleman is a Tiger Puffer, a.k.a. Takifugu rubripes, Japanese puffer, or torafugu. Torafugu is one of the most valuable commercial fishes in Japan, as one of the several varieties of pufferfish prepared and served under the name fugu. Like other pufferfish, it contains tetrodotoxin and can be lethal when not prepared properly. The toxin is highly concentrated in the liver of the fish and other organs – careful preparation is necessary to prevent cross-contamination with the flesh (which also contains the toxin, though in smaller amounts).
Interestingly enough, the torafugu also has an incredibly small genome, one of the smallest of all known vertebrate genomes. It was the first after the human genome to be made publicly available, perhaps leading to such innovations in fugu science as 22-seiki fugu (22nd-century fugu), a genetically modified type of the fish which has increased appetite and weight gain. Non-poisonous fugu have also been introduced after researchers discovered that a fugu’s tetrodotoxin comes from eating other animals infested with tetrodotoxin-carrying bacteria, which the fish develops an insensitivity to over time. Some farmers, particularly those in Usuki in Ōita Prefecture, now specialize in the non-poisonous fish.
Face Value: 15 Japanese yen
Scott Number: JP 869
Series: Fishery Products
Issue Date: March 10, 1967
Print Run: 26,000,000
Batumi “British Occupation” Overprint
This overprint caught my attention because while I tend to enjoy stamps from Russia and the USSR (as an appreciator of both propaganda and Eastern European art & folklore), I couldn’t recall ever learning about a British occupation of a Russian territory in this period. I like to fill gaps in my knowledge, so of course I scooped it up for later study.
When I started researching this piece, I discovered Batumi, a Black Sea port that was annexed by Imperial Russia during their conquest of that region of the Caucasus. A key Russian oil port, the city was once a boom town (and briefly the home of a young Joseph Stalin, who organized strikes in the city in 1901). Following the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, the fledgling Russian Soviety Federative Socialist Republic returned the city to its previous owners, the Ottoman Empire, but the reunion was short-lived – the end of World War I saw off the Ottomans, and ushered in an extremely brief British rule. The British occupation of Batumi lasted from December 1918 to July 1920 (when control of the city was transferred to the Democratic Republic of Georgia), and in February 1919, local stamps were overprinted for British use.
But was this stamp one of them?
During my research, I found out that the varieties of Batumi aloe tree stamp are commonly forged, with the overprint and without. Intrigued, I referred to my scan of the stamp, and noticed it seemed to be a far redder purple color than the examples I was seeing online, which cited the 15 kopek denomination as violet. A clue! I cast around my desk for the actual stamp, which I had set aside in anticipation of writing the article, and eventually found it under Dead Countries of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries: Aden to Zululand (which I really need to return to the APRL). But in person, this example is the correct blue-toned violet – it was just the scanner tampering with the shades.
Still, I wanted to be sure, so I headed down the hall to Circuit Sales. APS Circuit Manager Bill Dixon also happens to be our resident foreign forgery expert. Bill picked up his loupe but didn’t even have time to flick it open before he knew the overprint was a forgery. The biggest giveaway, he says, is the misalignment of the overprint – the letters BR of British are significantly out of alignment with the remaining letters. If that weren’t enough, a variety of other miniscule details (revealed upon inspection with the loupe) proved the base stamp was also a forgery.
I’m thrilled to have sniffed out my first forgery (that I know of), even if the wrong feature tipped me off in the first place. Special thanks to Bill for his assistance!
I have an informal rule to not repeat countries in the same feature… but I just love these little ducks, so we’ll be talking about two Japanese stamps this month. This circular stamp features three white and yellow ducks on a walk – possibly on their way to mail a letter, as the stamp is part of a larger release for Letter Writing Day 1999. In the original souvenir sheet, the three ducks can be found alongside stamps of giraffes, kites, children playing instruments, and many other adorable images. These stamps were issued during my own childhood years, and my inner child was delighted to see them for the first time however many years later.
I tried to do some research on Letter Writing Day in Japan, but much of the information available online was reposts of the same clickbait article that only speculated on the origin of the holiday – and claimed that Japan celebrates Letter Writing Day once a month. Based on Japan Post's issuance of Letter Writing Day stamps (annually in mid-July), however, it seemed more like a once-a-year event. After a lot of dead-ends, I finally tracked down a blog post that cites a Japanese magazine article from 2014 on the subject (sadly the article is no longer available online, but you can find the blog post here) that suggests while the holiday is celebrated monthly, July's Letter Writing Day is the most important.
Letter-Writing Day (Fumi no Hi) is a tradition originally founded by Japan Post back in 1979 to promote the fun of exchanging letters. It is celebrated on the 23rd day of every month and most of all on July 23rd. “Fumi” derives from the words for 2 (fu) and 3 (mi), while “Fumizuki” is an old name for July in Japanese. These two Kanji also mean “letter” and “month” — so it is literally THE perfect day to write a letter!
Face Value: 80 Japanese yen
Scott Number: JP 2686j
Series: Letter Writing Day 1999
Issue Date: July 23, 1999
I think I was a magpie in a former life, because every time I see a stamp with even a hint of gold, I have to take a closer look. A few of these EUROPA keys had caught my attention before, but I found a cluster of them at GASS and knew it was time to dig into their story.
This example hails from Deutsche Bundespost and was one of Germany’s 1968 EUROPA stamps. First issued in 1956, EUROPA stamps are issued by and are intended to signify Europe’s desire for cooperation between countries. They also do double duty as promotion of philately, and are some of the most popular stamps among collectors across the world.
From 1956 to 1973, EUROPA stamps had a common design, with the exception of 1957, which allowed the participating countries to issue any design that fit the common theme of “Peace and Welfare through Agriculture and Industry.” The 1957 method was taken up again from 1974 on, with a few exceptions, including 2023. This year, EUROPA stamps shared a design (with a few variations) representing the theme of “Peace – the Highest Value of Humanity.”
In 1968, the common EUROPA design was a key with the initials CEPT (standing for the European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations), said to be “opening the door to a united Europe.” The designer of the keys was Swiss painter Hans Schwarzenbach, and the participating countries were Andorra, Belgium, Cyprus, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Iceland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, Netherlands, Portugal, San Marino, Spain, Switzerland and Turkey. Though the keys all feature the same initials and shape, different background colors and colors of the key (ranging from gold and silver to blue and purple) help to distinguish the country of origin at a glance.
Country: Federal Republic of Germany
Face Value: 20 German pfennig
Scott number: DE 983
Series: Europa (C.E.P.T.) 1968 - Key
Issue Date: April 29, 1968
Designer: Hans Schwarzenbach
Print Run: 70,000,000
King Edward VII
Despite my earlier remark about monarch-branded definitives, I’ve become very interested in the pre-WWI varieties, particularly the British ones. There’s something exceedingly stampy about them. Don’t ask me to explain what I mean by that; I haven’t figured it out either.
This particular example depicts King Edward VII, ruler of the United Kingdom and the British Dominions and Emperor of India from 1901 until his death in 1910. The eldest son of Queen Victoria, Edward, or “Bertie” as he was known, held the title of Prince of Wales for almost 60 years. His record was broken by his great-great grandson, King Charles III, who was heir apparent to his own mother, Queen Elizabeth II, for 64 years.
Edward was by many (British) accounts a beloved monarch; his excellent fashion sense aside, he was reported to be magnanimous, intelligent, and possessed of remarkable bonhomie. He was also something of an enigma in terms of his social and political views – he was opposed to Irish Home Rule and women’s suffrage, but openly supported William Gladstone’s Representation of the People Act and regularly condemned racial prejudice and Anti-Semitism. Of course, as with any monarch, it would be impossible to summarize Edward’s long and nuanced history in the public eye in just a few short lines, so I encourage you to read more about his life if you have the chance.
Edward’s version of the penny red comes in many minor variants, and I’m not entirely sure which this might be – partly because of my philatelic skill level and partly because the stamp is covered in a scrawling hand cancel. As you’ll find out in the next entry, reading script handwriting is not my strong suit, so I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to decipher it – but if anyone else can shed light on what it might mean, please shoot me an email!
Country: United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Face Value: 1 British shilling
Scott number: GB 128
Series: King Edward VII - Definitives
Issue Date: January 1, 1902
Designer: Emil Fuchs
Printer: Harrison & Sons Ltd.
Since I began my philatelic journey, I’ve picked up a few covers (including an FDC for the 1959 U.S. 4c Arctic Explorations stamp, a particular favorite of mine), but mostly as extensions of a stamp I was interested in. This was one of the first times I was drawn to a cover for its own sake.
This is a Belgian postcard, as evidenced not only by the Belgian stamp but also the inclusion of both Flemish and French in the pre-printed portions (Postkaart vs. Carte Postale, for example). The cancel and the handwritten date confirm the card was mailed in 1950, possibly on January 31, though I’m relatively uncertain about that. The handwritten date reads “31 I 50” to my eyes, but I’m taking a leap to assume the I stands for janvier or January when there are two other months beginning with J (which is of course not the letter I).
The cancel also (sort of) fills in a gap left by a neglectful sender – the card was mailed somewhere in the vicinity of Uccle, one of 19 municipalities of the Brussels-Capital Region – but lacking the “naam en adres van den afzender,” that was all I was able to deduce about them. The addressee I had a slightly better time with; after some guessing and Googling, I believe this card was addressed to Mr. P. Heuls Speerl, Ruelensvest 115, Heverlee. Heverlee is a borough of Leuven, a city east of Brussels, and that address would place the addressee approximately 20 miles and 35 minutes from Uccle by modern roads.
Now, to the message itself. I have absolutely no idea what it says. I understand some French, but my eyes (and brain) are struggling to make sense of this handwriting. With the help of APS Editor-in-Chief Susanna Mills, I was able to distinguish a few words, such as the salutation (which we believe reads “Cher Père,” or “Dear Father”), and the occasional oui, vous, and possibly 20 ordres. Aside from that, we’re stumped. Is there a philatelist out there willing to lend a hand and let me know what this postcard says, or what the red pencil B signifies?
Update: Rebecca Drew has once again kindly written in with aid and provided us with a rough transcription and translation (and possibly an identity for our mysterious sender!). I've included both below with a few notes of my own.
Oui, j'ai bien ecrit 1.10 donné. 20 ordres.
Vous pourriez feut remplacer ce dernier mot por "injonctions" si vous le [Lorrey?] mieux.
Merci des resignment que [ur?] me [dimez?] et qui [Lorrent?] leu utiliations dans me future article.
[Cont a sen?]
Yes, I wrote 1.10 given. 20 orders. [As in, I wrote to you earlier that 1.10 in Belgian currency was paid in exchange for 20 orders?]
You could replace this last word with "injunctions" if you [Lorrey?] better. [if you prefer?]
Thank you for the gratitude that [ur?] gave me and that [Lorrent?] uses them in my future article. [Thank you for the feedback which I will use in my future article?]
[Cont a sen?]
If this update has given you any more clues to the true meaning of this note, please drop me a line!
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 (and cover)? Have I made any glaring errors in my deductions? Can you read French in cramped handwriting? Let us know at [email protected].