Matsuo Bashō (松尾 芭蕉 actually called Matsuo Chūemon Munefusa – 松尾 忠右衛門 宗房, lived between 1644–1694) is one of the most known names of the Edo period of Japan. His writings, including numerous haiku (俳句) is even today considered a standard form of poetry writing, and his style inspired many of the writers of the next generations. His collection of writings Oku no hosomichi (奥の細道, often translated as “The Narrow Road to the Deep North“, or “The Narrow Road to the Interior“) is one of the gems of the literature of Edo Period. The text describes Matsuo Bashō ‘s travels in 44 fragments, called “stations”. Each of the short texts includes a description of the travel and the people encountered on the way, and concludes with some haiku verse.
Between 1987 and 1989, the Japanese Post devoted as many as 40 stamps and 20 minisheets to the writing of Oku no hosomichi. The 40 stamps come in pairs of 2, the resulting 2-panel stamp being a haiku poem and an illustration of the respective haiku poem. 20 such panels result. Each panel is also accompanied by an imperforated sheet. The stamps and sheets are separated into 10 series, numbered from 1 to 10.
Out of the many poets who have ever been featured on stamps, Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891) is probably one of the least prominent – at least this is how it looks at a first glance. However, among the “poètes maudits” (“accursed poets“), he is definitely the posterboy!
What’s more, some of the stamps featuring Arthur Rimbaud hide some interesting stories, so keep tuned!
In 1951, the French Post issued a series of 3 stamps devoted to the Symbolist poets, in which Arthur Rimbaud is featured next to Charles Baudelaire and Paul Verlaine.
Each poet is featured against an intricated background of images referring to the imagery from their poems. In the case of Rimbaud, the illustration alludes to his poem “Le Bateau ivre” (“The Drunken Boat”).
Romania issued in the early 2000’s a couple of series related to cultural anniversaries. Among these, in 2004 a series featuring Arthur Rimbaud.
The personalities featured in the set pertain to different areas of interest: there’s Salvador Dalí, there’s the Romanian physician and bacteriologist Victor Babeș, but there are also poets: Alexandru Macedonski, and Arthur Rimbaud. The addition of the latter two is not incidental: Macedonski was one of the major promoters of French Symbolism in Romania. The stamp featuring Rimbaud includes the text “changer la vie”, which is taken from his text “La Vierge Folle” (“The Foolish Maiden“): “Il a peut-être des secrets pour changer la vie ? Non, il ne fait qu’en chercher, me répliquais-je.” (“Did he, perhaps, have secrets that would remake life? No, I told myself, he was only looking for them.“).
One of the most courageous depictions of Arthur Rimbaud on stamps comes, however, not from Rimbaud’s native France, but from neighboring Belgium.
This sheetlet, issued in 2010 is devoted to literary anniversaries and includes Paul Verlaine, Arthur Rimbaud, Charles Baudelaire, Eduard Douwes Dekker, (pen name: Multatuli), Charlotte & Emily Brontë, and Victor Hugo). Since Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud had a fiery relationship, this stamp may well be the first stamp depicting a gay couple, be it an avant-la-lettre one.
It may seem weird, but Arthur Rimbaud also made it on the stamps of Djibouti as well. Not once, but twice!
The first time, in 1985, he is featured in a 2-stamp set together with Victor Hugo. I like the fact that although for the profiling of Rimbaud a traditional portrait photography was used, the designer chose to give it more personality by coloring Rimbaud’s hair in an excentric, parrot-like choice of colors.
The second time, however, in 1992, a more traditional approach was used for the 90F stamp – using the same gaze from the classical portrait photography; however the striking element comes via the 150F stamp: an older, more tired and apparently ill Rimbaud, hard to recognize after all, and all for a good reason; the accursed poet stays in history with his young, adolescent portrait, and not with his later life image.
And this is nothing surprising. Rimbaud died early, at the age of 37. His literary career per se was done when he was barely 21. Most of his known portraits date from the period 1871-1875 – when the young poet was at the height of his career. What about the later image from the second stamp? There are only a few images left from this later period, so the stamp design may very well be a work of fiction.
Last but not least, some words about the fascination with Rimbaud in Djibouti (which in a sense, I expect has little to do with his overt sexual orientation). After escaping the tumult of Parisian life and exile (London, Bruxelles), and after putting an end to his relation with Paul Verlaine, Rimbaud actually changed his lifestyle completely: gave up poetry and life in artistic cirlces, escaped from Europe altogether, and set base in different parts of the world – ultimately in Harar, Ethiopia – from where he traveled oftentimes to Obock in current-day Djibouti, trading in coffee and firearms.
The German-born professor of theology Martin Luther (1483-1546) had an incredible life that lead him to be one of the most prominent personae of the religious world. Not only was his life spectacular, but the heritage he left means a new faith, free of artifice and pretense. Of course, this did not leave him immune to the criticism of his contemporaries and even later, the Reformed Church had to struggle in order to gain the right to profess its faith. The strides made by this religious movement from the times of Martin Luther to being the most prominent faith in many countries is a thing we should all be in awe of.
The Reformed Church and Martin Luther himself were very often portrayed on stamps. Most notably, years such as 1983 (commemorating 500 years since the birth of Martin Luther), 1967 and 2017 (commemorating 450, and 500 years respectively since the Theses of Worms, which are considered the starting point of the Reformed Church) have proved to be very prolific. Below you can find most of the stamps related to the awesome journey of Martin Luther.
Austria issued three stamps related to the history of the Reformed Church. The first one was issued in 1967 and features an abstract design with religious insignia.
This year, the colony inhabited by human-like blue elves that we know under the name of Smurfs is celebrating its 60th birthday! Imagined and inked by Belgian cartoonist Peyo (real name: Pierre Culliford), the Smurfs are a great example of long-living cartoon characters, since their popularity never faded since 1958, the year the first cartoons featuring the Smurfs were published. The characters got their own histories, new Smurfs joined the colony, and now there are at least 100 Smurf characters that are easy to recognize due to their appearance and to their well-constructed histories. Half of them exist ever since the first comics were published.
Of course, there are Smurf comics, and animations, TV series and full-length movies, but there are also various types of merchandise, video games and they are even featured in theme parks. Stamps could not go missing from the Smurf universe, so below you’ll find the official Smurf stamps issued ever since 1984.
The Swiss Post issued two Smurf themed stamps in 2013.
Pictured above the self-adhesive stamps issued in Switerland.
I have never watched “Star Wars” movies because nobody was able to explain to me why I should watch them. Everyone talks in superlatives about this media franchise – it’s all in the limits of “great” and “awesome”, but that gives me little encouragement to watch the movies. I do know that “Star Wars” ranks second in the top of largest of highest-grossing media franchises, and I do know that it all started in 1977 with the first movie. Which was then dubbed the sixth movie. And I do know that this is science fiction as genre goes, however the action happens “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away“.
Even if I am immune to the charms of the “Star Wars” universe, I am not immune to stamps. The popularity gained by “Star Wars” is quite visible in the realm of philately. You will find below a fine selection of Star Wars-themed stamps.
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
What we have here is an early example of Star Wars themed stamps. Quite difficult to secure in one’s collection, they were issued in 1996 (but marked 1995) to “commemorate the Star Wars trilogy”. It’s unclear for me what exactly is commemorated, since 1996 is one year short of the 20th anniversary of the first movie.
Pictured above the three stamp series of self-adhesive stamps of St. Vincent & the Grenadines.
Like no other young adult book, “Harry Potter” entered our universe like a tornado. It’s been barely 20 years since the first HP book penned by J. K. Rowling has been published, and barely 10 years since the last novel of the fantasy series brought the destiny of loved characters to a stable end. That, of course if you believe things can be stable or if you think time is linear. Maybe the best of “Harry Potter”, after we’ve read the books, played the games, read the play, watched the movies, or bought Harry Potter memorabilia is only yet to start.
The universe conceived by J.K. Rowling is a record-breaker in terms of finance (she is the only known book author who is a billionaire) and popularity (450mil copies of the book were sold worldwide in 67 languages in the span of 10 years). However, it was a late bloomer when it came to stamps. Of course, because everything that comes on stamps has an aura of official recognition. But even here it is a record-breaker. Hold on tight, and you’ll see why.
The overall main proponent of Harry Potter stamps is of course Great Britain. It did not only produce the largest number of stamps inspired by the universe of Harry Potter, but it has also innovated here and there with stamp minting technologies.
Pictured above the 2007 series of stamps issued on the 10th anniversary of the first-ever Harry Potter book. Left to right: “The Philosopher’s Stone” (1997); “The Chamber of Secrets” (1998); “The Prisoner of Azkaban” (1999); “The Goblet of Fire” (2000); “The Order of the Phoenix” (2003); “The Half-Blood Prince” (2005); “The Deathly Hallows” (2007). It is also the first time when a cover of a book was featured on a stamp before it was even released! The series set out as an anniversary of the first book, but in fact, it includes the seventh book as well. The series of stamps was issued on Jul-17, 2007 – while the book itself was to released a couple of days later, on Jul-21, 2007. What a marketing feat!
Astro Boy (name in the original Japanese: 鉄腕アトム ・Tetsuwan Atomu) is one of the most popular heroes of manga. The earliest Astro Boy manga, published in 1952, gained immediate success – and made his creator, Osamu Tezuka (Japanese: 手塚 治虫) one of the main figures of international children’s literature. Osamu Tezuka befriended among others Walt Disney and Mauricio de Sousa, and was nominated an honorary chairman of the Superman Fan Club in Japan.
If you like Japanese animation on stamps, then you might want to take a look at our article devoted to Doraemon.
Placed in a futuristic context where humans cohabit with robots, the adventures of Astro Boy relate to the joys and sorrows of being a child, even if a child-robot. Astro Boy is lovable and instantly captivating, despite the manga being almost 70 years old. His charisma never faded, and even in the 2000’s movies and video games featuring Astro Boy are still topping sales.
Astro Boy stamps are not numerous, however, they are really philatelic gems. The stamps presented below all come from Japan – Astro Boy’s homeland.
The first series of Japanese stamps featuring Astro Boy were issued in 1997, within a series called “50 Postwar Memorable Years” (Japanese: 戦後５０年メモリアルシリーズ).
Visually, there are two almost immediate images that pop up in one’s mind when thinking about Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland“: the vintage illustrations of John Tenniel, and the Disney movie images. Normally people balance between the two when they think about the book. Newer images sort of strike as odd – and I have to confess I have the same feeling, unless it’s the illustrations of Yayoi Kusama – now that’s something I would like to see on stamps one day!
But coming back for a second to the compelling images of “Alice in Wonderland“. Tenniel’s 92 “Alice” images, including the ones which were not published in the original “Alice”, are now stored as blocks of wood in the Bodleian Library at Oxford. They are the drawings that made Tenniel equally famous as Alice – although his career as an engraver went a lot further than that. They were on display only once since being housed in the Library – in the year 2003. Walt Disney actually bought film rights for Sir John Tenniel’s images before he embarked on the 5 year creative struggle to bring Alice to the screen. Of course, this happened 67 years ago, so the techniques used were far more rudimentary than the ones used today. But still – if you don’t see the immediate resemblance in images, you should know that both sets of images are interconnected.
Why is that important for philately? Well, because these two prevailing images are most often found on stamps. On rare occasions, someone pens new “Alice” images, but you should be the judge of the effect. I personally am not a big fan of such transgressions.
By far the most prolific offer of stamps inspired by the universe from “Alice in Wonderland” comes from Great Britain. The first such stamps were issued in 1979 – Great Britain’s choice of stamps for the International Year of the Child. While many countries chose to illustrate this theme with stamps related to childhood images or even with awareness raising images for better education and healthcare for children, Great Britain put on stamps four classics of children’s literature, among which you can also find “Alice”.
Although the writings of Franz Kafka (1883-1924) are world-famous, his eerie personality and strange habits reported by biographers are sometimes known even better, even by people who did not go into his sometimes difficult to grasp writings. His influence is felt in many media, with comics inspired by his “Metamorphosis” being issued as early as 1953, and even a video game (Bad Mojo) in 1996. His legacy inspired also writer Haruki Murakami for his book “Kafka on the Shore” and compser Philip Glass for his opera “In the Penal Colony“.
The stamps devoted to Franz Kafka, although not numerous, are brought together by one unifying criterion – the image of the writer prevails. Only a couple of stamps are devoted to his work, otherwise his portrait is the one that takes the lead in philately.
There are two German stamps devoted to Kafka, issued on two different occasions.
Pictured above, a Federal German Republic stamp of 1983, issued for the 100th anniversary of birth of Franz Kafka. It features Kafka’s penned signature and the background shows the Church of Our Lady before Týn from Old Prague.
In 2018, Superman turns 80 years old! And still – he’s just as nimble and relentless in his pursuit of justice. Still one of the most likeable superheroes of all times, Superman made it several times to be featured on stamps.
The United States of America
Superman was first featured on an American stamp in 1998, on one of the US Millennium sheets.
Not only was he celebrated as one of the main actors of the 1930’s, but also this stamp was an anniversary one, since the first Superman comics saw the light of day in 1938.