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!
When I started research for this article, I was hopeful to find a lot of examples of children’s songs on stamps. I could find numerous childhood activities: games, toys, holidays, learning, entering adulthood – everything is there. I even found a niche topic that I would like to explore in the future – childhood looked at with nostalgia: how children in days of yore were having fun (with the unclear implication whether nowadays children have the same amount of fun). However, I couldn’t find many examples of children’s songs on stamps.
The reason I researched this is because I want to talk today about one of my all-time favorite series of stamps. Nothing fancy. It’s a series of stamps from Japan called “Japanese Song Series” (in Japanese: 日本の歌シリーズ) and which was issued between 1979 and 1981. The distance in time alone makes the stamps already “vintage” to some extent, but the thing that really attracted my attention was their attentive, almost peaceful design and the variety of songs described.
Now if you don’t have any Japanese tune you can’t get out of your head, maybe you want to click on the Youtube link below:
Of course you can skip that and directly go to the topic of stamps (since everyone knows that children’s songs are infectious and that’s part of their scam). So the series of stamps I am talking about includes as much as 18 stamps – issued in pairs of 2. Each stamp includes the chorus of the song in musical notation and text. That makes the stamps extra lovely.
Pictured above: 荒城の月 – Koujou no Tsuki (“Moon over Ruined Castle“) and
タやけこやけ – Yuuyake Koyake (“Afterglow“).
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).
After taking a look at the US and British Millennium stamps, it’s now Canada time! If you want to score high in quizes or acing your Canadian citizenship exam, then this read is for you. But of course, everyone is welcome to take a look!
The Canadian Millennium stamps were issued on two separate occasions. A first bulky set of 17 sheets each made of 4 large-format stamps (totaling 68 stamps) was issued on September-15, 1999. A second set made of 3 single stamp minisheets was issued on October-12, 1999. All stamps from The Millennium Collection/La collection du millénaire are inscribed bilingually in English and French.
The first set includes all sorts of historical, cultural, economic and political landmarks. The large-format stamps are a pleasure to look at. The second one features 3 stamps issued in three different printing technologies – like a short course in the history of stamps – where they’ve come and where they’re headed to in the new millennium.
The first issue
Pictured above: the World Heritage site of L’Anse-aux-Meadows; Pier 21 immigrants; the Neptune Theater; and the Stratford Theater Fetival.
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.
French philosopher René Descartes (1596-1650) left to us a strong legacy, including the famous saying “I think, therefore I am” (French: “Je pense, donc je suis“). He also inspired the newly coined phrase “Cartesian anxiety,”, which represents the hope that studying the world will give us unchangeable knowledge of ourselves and the world – an awkward thing in our post-modern times.
Today we’re going to talk about an error on stamps. Stamp errors are pretty common, actually, whether they are related to a flaw of printing (wrong framing, or missing colors) or to the information provided on the body of the stamp. The story takes us back to the year 1937 – when France, for the 300th anniversary of Descartes’ “Discourse on the Method” issued a stamp. In fact, it had to issue it twice.
The full title of Descartes’ masterpiece is “Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting One’s Reason and of Seeking Truth in the Sciences“, and despite the long title it’s quite an interesting read, even for the minds of contemporaries who are dealing with TMI and FOMO day in day out. It’s still fresh, not at all boring, and it can provide you with hours of musing on the nature of thinking and our superman-like ability to think.
The first stamp that was issued was released on May-24, 1937. It features an engraving of the known portrait of René Descartes by Dutch painter Frans Hals with an intricate backdrop – where we can see the title page of his best known work.
After taking a look at the British Millennium on Stamps, it’s now high time to look at another extraordinary Millennium collection, this time the one minted in the USA. The USA was one of the pioneers of Millennium stamps, starting their well-devised series as early as 1998. A total of 10 sheets, each with 15 stamps were issued between 1998-2000. Their topics were announced from the very beginning, and are present in the frame of the sheet: art, sports, historical events, technology, entertainment, science, political figures, and lifestyle. Among the many firsts of this Millennium series, I give you a hint: this was the first time the word ‘lifestyle’ made it to a stamp! Speaking of new words – each sheet also contains the new words allegedly coined during the period. Truly educational.
Generally speaking, the stamps are devoted to the American spectrum of events, however, epoch-making events from other geographies are not disregarded completely. Each sheet is devoted to one decade of the 20th century, starting chronologically from the 1900’s and ending in the 1990’s. In addition, each sheet has a title, that sums up the zeitgeist and is supposed to be found on some of the stamps of the sheets. In addition, each gummed stamp has a printed explanation on the back.
The 1900’s: The Dawn of the Twentieth Century
Pictured above: the Tin Lizzie Ford model; Theodore Roosevelt; the movie “The Great Train Robbery“; Crayola pencils; the St. Louis World Exhibition of 1904; the 1906 Pure Food and Drugs Act; the Kitty Hawk plane of 1903, the Ash Can painter’s movement; the arrival of immigrants; the nature preservation work of John Muir; the creation of the legendary ‘teddy’ bear; the social activism of W.E.B. du Bois; the Gibson Girl fashion; the first World Series of baseball; and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House in Chicago.
New words: cheerleader; filmmaker, phony, psychoanalysis.
I have always been of the opinion that Marc Chagall‘s early modernism can be explained by a simple phrase, namely, the one explaining his origin. He was a Russian–French of BelarussianJewish origin (1887-1985). He took elements of Russian and Belarussian folklore, emerging Russian and French modernism, and did not forget at even one moment to celebrate the visual memory of the Jewish shtetl.
He was born Moishe Shagal and was one of the most longliving artists, falling short of 2 years to be 100 years old. He adopted Russian, and then French citizenship, lived in both countries but also spent almost a decade in the United States, and frequently visited Israel. He experimented with painting, stained glass, tapestries and ceramics. At the same time, he lived through numerous artistic influences and always remained true to himself, to the effect that it’s rare that a Chagall can be taken for the work of someone else.
The fascination with Chagall was, of course, not only in exhibitions and museums, and was not only incorporated in architecture (such as his stained glass works), but also made its way into the world of philately. Today we are going to look at some stamps inspired by Marc Chagall.
Issued in 2012, this two piece set features a painting from Marc Chagall (right) from the National Gallery of Armenia.
Chagall’s native Belarus seemes to never have enough of his art on their stamps. It happened for the first time for their EUROPA issue in 1993. Their issue devoted to contemporary art shows Chagall at his finest.