Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Manx Horror:post scriptum

Unfortunately the illustration of the offending Manx Cardinal Newman/Papal Visit was missed from the previous blog and so it is added here for all to apprevciate.

Manx Horror: Classic modern day stamp design failures (I).

The Isle Of Man's latest stamp issue is a superb example of the descent of modern stamp design and choice of subject which continues to occur from postal administrations and postal agencies frantically trying to hoover up the last vestiges of stamp collectors' cash available to buy new stamp issues. The issue of 11 August to commemorate Pope Benedict's visit to The United Kingdom is wrong in so many ways. 
On the face of things it seems a good idea to make such a commemoration as issues marking papal visits are probably quite popular and the stamps sell in good numbers thus boosting philatelic income for the postal administrations which issue them. Ching! - the welcome sound of cash registers ringing. But why is The Isle Of Man making such an issue (other than the hoped for leeching of profits from their loyal band of philatelists)? After all The Pope is not visiting The Isle Of Man and the island is not part of The United Kingdom. So what relevance is the subject matter to the territory?
And the design - dreadful! I am sure that Cardinal Newman is a worthy subject for commemoration but does the miniature sheet have to show his dead body? I think this could open up a fascinating new area of thematic collection - dead bodies on stamps - that's a subject to cheer everybody up. An exhibit of such a theme would have been very much in place at the London 2010 Philatelic Exhibition since that also seemed to be pretty dead when I visited it. Included in the miniature sheet are two pathetic, tiny and dreary stamps featuring the great man which can hardly be viewed as a worthy commemoration of that individual. Mind you where they may be lacking in size and colour they certainly make up in face value - The Isle Of Man Post Office seems to think that they need two new £1.50 values which must be terribly useful for use on everyday mail although the wallet-aching £3 that they bleed from collectors must surely have been at the front of their minds when they decided on the denominations to be included in the sheet.
The designs of the tiny stamps also reveal what a minefield the subject of the issue is. Clearly there are those who would object to the philatelic commemoration of a papal visit to a country where its own peculiar form of protestantism is the state religion and its head of state is also the head of the state church. One supposes that this must be the explanation of the bizarre appearance of the designs where the royal cypher is completely out of proportion to the territory name which is so small that it is barely legible thus emphasising the importance of the monarch and head of the church to forestall criticism of commemorating a foreign leader and another church leader's visit. In their panic to cash in on the visit the Manx Post Office have released the sheet one month ahead of the Pope's arrival in Britain and have noted that the Newman's beatification is to be made at Coventry Airport but we have known for several weeks that this site has been changed to Cofton Park in Birmingham but the Manx have still released this completely incorrect sheet - no doubt they could not bear the financial loss of not issuing the incorrect sheet. No doubt, also, someone will magically point out that the inscription is wrong and the Manx Post Office will have to issue a second, correct, version in the expectation of actually making double the sales that they originally expected. Ching! - the sound of another cash register.
In 1973, the Manx Post Office began issuing stamps. They were interesting and all relevant to the island and beautifully designed. Now stamp designing mainly involves getting a photograph up on a computer screen and manipulating it a little to incorporate the country name and the extremely high face value. The design must feature a subject of the moment - a celebrity easily recognisable to a poorly educated general population or a dreary piece of modern culture. National pride has a very small part to play in the selection of subjects for commemoration - the much larger role is played by the potential for generation of financial profit. This potential falls with each cumulative philatelic money grab. The Isle Of Man modern stamp issue programme is uninspiring and unworthy of such a charming little island with a proud history. But then again it is not the only territory that you can say that about.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

African Problems 2: Ghan-aaagh!

In the last few days I have managed to obtain a stamp for which I have been searching for twelve years or so - the c200 value of the set from Ghana which celebrated the 40th anniversary of the country's independence. This famously featured the portrait of the then president, Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings, who decided it was not appropriate for his portrait to appear on Ghana's postage stamps and so the stamp was withdrawn from circulation. Having been issued on 6 March 1997 it ceased to be available on 22nd April 1997 and the short period of sale resulted in it becoming instantly rare and not generally included in stamp dealers' new issue distributions and so missing from many collections. I recently found it being offered for sale on the Delcampe auction web site and dashed to buy it. Another rare piece of modern philately secured!
Unfortunately Ghana continues to be problematical. One set I have not yet seen offered by any dealer and overlooked by Gibbons in their West Africa catalogue is a set from - I think - 2005 commemorating "Panfest '05" which I believe was the Pan-African Historical Theatre Festival. At least five stamps were included in the set although I have only managed to obtain four of them in used condition so far. They are illustrated above. The stamps have clearly been available for everyday usage, so why they have not received a philatelic distribution is mystery to me.
Right now, the problem area for me is attempting to obtain all the values of the definitive set of small designs which has been running from 1995 to 2007 and on top of that it is difficult to know how many stamps, some definitives and some commemoratives, have been surcharged in different formats to address the change of currency which has occurred in the last couple of years or so. So far I have seven different stamps (illustrated above) and I have at least one more on its way to me from a seller in Ghana. As I say, just how many of them there are in total will no doubt become apparent eventually. 
In the last two or three years, Ghana has concentrated on issuing stamps of pure local interest (apart from a couple which I think originated with the Chinese commemorating the Beijing Olympics and the Peony Festival in China - see previous blog on the subject of philatelic imperialism) and the flood of poorly researched and designed stamps from New York seems to have been assuaged. I enjoy the struggle to track down Ghana's real stamps and abhor the abuse of Ghana's national reputation represented by countless issues featuring American pop stars and baseball players. Let us hope that we have now finally seen the back of all the expensive garbage that has appeared over the years and that Ghana is now getting on with issuing stamps to be used on its mail that reflect the various aspects of Ghanaian life, culture, wildlife, scenery and so on.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Somaliland to Somalia to Somaliland

The Horn of Africa was strategically vital to the security of the British Empire in India and in 1884 the british proclaimed a protectorate over Somaliland. It was administered from Aden initially as an Indian dependency and Egyptian post offices had been opened there during 1876 and the stamps of Egypt were used there until the garrisons were withdrawn in 1884. Two cancellations were used from Berbera and Zeila and Indian stamps were used from these offices from 1 January 1877 until 1903 with the "B" obliterator used in all Bombay-controlled offices. The Protectorate Post Office was established on 1 June 1903 when the control of British Somaliland was transferred from the Indian government to the British Foreign Office. The first Protectorate stamp issue consisted of Indian stamps depicting Queen Victoria overprinted in black in eleven values. The illustrated cover shows the eight lower values of the set on a clearly philatelic cover to Oldenburg in Germany. In the late fifties, Somaliland was prepared for independence by a series of constitutional measures including the establishment of a Legislative Council with a majority of members being elected, an event commemorated by a pair of definitive stamps, appropriately overprinted, on 5 April 1960 (illustrated). It was decided that Somaliland would be merged with the former Italian Somaliland, Somalia, when independence was achieved but Somaliland's independence preceded that of Somalia by four days and so for that short period Somaliland was an independent state and three stamps were issued to tide over the postal needs of the country for that short time; Gibbons does not include these items in the Part 1 Catalogue as Somalia did not subsequently join The Commonwealth. The issue consisted of three Somalia stamps overprinted "Somaliland Independence 26 June 1960" printed in three lines and they consist of designs featuring a native plant and the head of a gazelle. These stamps are illustrated.
  In January 1991, Siad Barre, the Somalian dictator, was overthrown and anarchy spread across the country. Previously, in May 1988, civil war had broken out between the Somali National movement (SNM) and the central government and as the anarchy spread, the SNM proclaimed the independence of Somaliland on 18 May 1991 since when it has remained a de facto independent republic but has not been recognised as such by any foreign state even though it remains a veritable oasis of calm in the midst of the chaos in Somalia. If it were to be recognised as a sovereign state then it would certainly qualify to be a member of The Commonwealth although I imagine that a number of countries would object since the recognition of a secessionist state might pose them problems with potential breakaway areas within their own territories.
  Since secession Somaliland does not appear to have inaugurated a postal service and therefore not to have issued any postage stamps . This is rather surprising since one of the prerequisites of statehood seems to be the production of little pieces of paper with the country's name on them ostensibly for the prepayment of postage. A lot of bogus items have been produced however which are supposed to be Somaliland stamps. The Somaliland government has said that no such items have been issued. One of the most fascinating productions of such bogus stamp releases dates back to 1998 when a British philatelic magazine included a short piece in its news section stating that a British agent was producing stamps for the Somaliland government and giving a number which could be contacted for further information. I contacted the number and was told by the individual who answered that he had been asked to produce stamps for Somaliland as well as producing other services for its government and that the first issue would be British Machin definitives surcharged in Somaliland currency (one value of 500 shillin on a 1p stamp). This rather unusual idea was supposed to underline the historic links between Britain and Somaliland but, he said, (perhaps not surprisingly) the depiction of the ruler of the former colonial power proved very unpopular locally and use of the stamps was short-lived. Two versions of the surcharge were produced:- one in which the penny sign was not obliterated and the other in which the penny sign was obliterated by a small five-pointed star, the inscription of the overprint reading "REPUBLIC OF SOMALILAND FIVE SHILLIN" in four lines (both varieties are depicted - the former in a block of four and the latter as three singles "used" on a cover and cancelled by a large two-ring postmark reading ".HARGEISA . REP OF SOMALILAND" and dated 11 MAR 1998). The cover was addressed to "NATIONALBANK HARGEISA". I was also told that during this period external mail to Somaliland was being routed by sea from Aden to Hargeisa and that there were also air connections with links existing between Somaliland and Ethiopia and Saudi Arabia. I was informed that a definitive series featuring wildlife was planned and indeed such an issue did later appear on the philatelic market bearing a fictitious coat of arms and some additionally overprinted "Govt Official AIR-MAIL" in three lines. Twelve values were produced ranging from 500 shillin to 25000 shillin and I later obtained a basic set cancelled on a "cover" with the same postmark from Hargeisa as described above and dated 09 APR 1998 although there is nothing to say that that was the supposed first day of issue. Further issues also appeared apparently from the same source most notably an addition to the ubiquitous Princess Diana stamps produced by many postal agencies at the time in the form of a sheetlet of nine different portraits which I have "used on cover" cancelled by the above Hargeisa "postmark" and dated 10 May 1998 and imperforate on cover with the above official overprint and with a cancel of 21 May 1998. Somebody had some fun producing that lot and even more fun from extracting money from unsuspecting collectors for them. Despite their bogus nature, I cannot help but actually find them to be interesting and even more interesting to me is he question "why has Somaliland not got round to establishing a post office?"
  I tried to get information directly from Hargeisa about a possible postal service as long ago as 1997 but my letter was returned by the British post office with an interesting boxed inscription "SERVICE SUSPENDED RETURN TO SENDER" (see illustration). I repeated this exercise about three years ago but on that occasion Royal Mail returned my letter undelivered and with no postal markings applied. A photograph on a Somaliland website depicts a local post office (in Berbera or Hargeisa?) in a very run down state and clearly not open for business (see illustration) and about the same time a correspondent in Germany informed me that he had received a reply from Somaliland in response to a question from him, routed through the Middle East, which confirmed that Somaliland had never operated a postal service thus far.

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Friday, 9 July 2010

Great Britain used in BIOT.

An item I obtained quite by chance in 2004 was a spectacular cover with British stamps applied, all cancelled by a BIOT Post Office cachet. Some free BIOT definitives were given away with an edition of Gibbons Stamp Monthly and as I already possessed the items as part of a complete set I thought I might apply them to a cover and send it to the BIOT and ask the postmaster there to kindly apply a local postmark so that I might have a nice cover genuinely sent through the post from the BIOT. The postmaster was more than obliging - he not only serviced the cover I sent him but also sent it back to me inside a "On Her Majesty's Service" envelope bearing a 2002 "Friends of Chagos" 34p stamp. Both covers were cancelled with a (slightly oval) circular date stamp - "Diego Garcia . Chagos - B.I.O.T." dated 30 November 2004 (the cover I had sent for cancellation) or 08 December 2004 (protective envelope). These were two lovely items to please any philatelist but even more surprising was that the very kind postmaster had also returned the envelope in which I had originally enclosed my cover. This is a remarkable item. It appears that the British Post Office had not cancelled any of the stamps on it so when it had arrived in Diego Garcia the postmaster there cancelled it with the large BIOT cachet as well as the Diego Garcia cds. This was not done on arrival but on 8 December when my cover was being despatched back to me and the cover bearing British stamps was then inserted in the protective cover along with my original item. I therefore received three interesting covers instead of one but, most spectacularly, a cover with an example of British stamps used in the BIOT. What a remarkably kind and helpful gentleman the BIOT postmaster was and what a happy surprise I received when I opened the containing cover from the BIOT on its arrival. The "GB stamps used in BIOT" cover remains one of my favourite items in my entire collection. The illustrations depict the "Friends of Chagos" stamp cancelled by the BIOT cachet, the Great Britain stamps cancelled with the BIOT cachet, the entire GB used in BIOT cover, the Diego Garcia cds, BIOT stamps with cachet and the whole of my original cover.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

History of The Commonwealth: The First English Empire

The modern Commonwealth of course has its roots in the former British Empire and many stamps have been issued over the years which can be used to tell the history of these two institutions. English imperial aspirations go back much further than Victorian times however as what we may call The First English Empire dates back to the reign of King Henry II, the English king from 1154 to 1189. After years of civil war between his mother, Mathilda, and Stephen of Blois, Henry came to power following an agreement by both sides that he should succeed to the throne when Stephen died. He had inherited Normandy from his mother (she had done so by descent from William The Conqueror who had first united the throne of England with The Duchy of Normandy by conquest in 1066) and Maine and Anjou from his father as well as Aquitaine from his wife, Eleanor. In all he ruled not only England but more of France than the French king - what is known as The Angevin Empire.
  In addition to all this he extended his empire to Ireland by responding to a call from King Diarmait Mac Murchada of Leinster to help to restore him to his lands from which he had been driven by the High King of Ireland and following the successful outcome of the campaign to restore Diarmait, Henry proclaimed himself Lord Of Ireland in 1171 hence beginning 800 years of English overlordship of the island for the next 800 years. So early in history, the King Of England was the leader of a large Empire which would lead to centuries of intermittent conflict with the French and Irish.
  From the point of view of this first English Empire, the reign of Henry's son, the notorious King John, proved to be disastrous. John's brother, Geoffrey, brought Brittany to the Angevin inheritance by marriage but John attempted to seize Anjou, Maine and Brittany from Arthur, Geoffrey's heir, and eventually imprisoned the young man and murdered him. Philip Augustus, the French king, eventually confiscated all John's lands in France except Gascony and when John died, the first English Empire was a shadow of its former self. 
  Edward III (1327 - 1377) resumed action against the French in an attempt to salvage the English possessions in France. Territories lost by John in the meantime had been restored to the English monarchs but in 1337 the French king, Philip VI, confiscated the Duchy of Aquitaine and the County of Ponthieu. Edward staked a claim to the French throne as the only living male descendant of Philip IV, his deceased maternal grandfather, but the French invoked the Salic law of succession and Philip VI came to the throne. Edward's aggressive response led to the start of the Hundred Year's War and in 1346 invaded Normandy. Calais was captured the following year and in subsequent years Edward gained a considerable number of possessions which he secured in full sovereignty by the Treaty of Bretigny in 1360 although he renounced his claims to the French throne. The war was begun again in 1369 but the outcome was less satisfactory for the English and by the Treaty of Bruges of 1375, English possessions were reduced to the coastal towns of Calais, Bordeaux and Bayonne.
  The Hundred Years War was resumed by Henry V in 1415 and early successes in Normandy restored the territory to England and Henry's forces captured Paris in 1419. Henry was acknowledged as successor to the mad French king, Charles VI, by the Treaty of Troyes of 1420 but died before he could take the throne but his son Henry VI was eventually crowned king of France at Notre Dame de Paris on 16 December 1431 while the French supported Charles VII of Valois and opposed the English. The French campaign was in the doldrums until Charles followed Joan Of Arc, a young woman who was experiencing hallucinations, in stepping up the campaign against the English and the weak leadership of Henry VI finally led to the end of the Hundred Year's War and the English Empire in France reduced to the port of Calais.
  Calais was finally lost during the reign of Mary Tudor who had married the Spaniard Philip IV and who had  managed to get Mary to send English troops to fight on the side of the Spanish in a war against France. The outcome was disastrous and Calais was lost finally on 13 January 1558. The First English Empire was ended but already the English were looking to the New World - Mary I's grandfather, Henry VII, had sent John Cabot across the Atlantic and he had discovered Newfoundland.
  The illustrated stamps are from a set of "English Monarchs" and were issued by Barbuda from 1970 to 1971 and depict William I (Duke Of Normandy and King of England), Henry I, John, Edward III, Henry V, Henry VI and Mary I as well as two French stamps which depict Joan Of Arc, issued 1968, and the last English possession in France, the port of Calais.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

More Tonga Surcharges

I was quite surprised to receive a phone call in the latter part of last week from Steve Zirinsky, the New York dealer, wanting to let me know that he had received some more surcharged stamps from Tonga. He informs me that two were issued as recently as May 2010 and consist of the Niuafo'ou WWF Lorikeet 55s value originally issued in 1998 and hand-surcharged in July 2008 with a 30s value, now surcharged with 70s and the other is the 55s value of the Niuafo'ou Barn Owl set also surcharged 70s. A month later in June 2010 a further surcharge was produced - this time it was the 55s value of the 2001 Tongan dance set again surcharged 70s. One assumes this 70s value represents a new postal rate and that it came into being in May and, as often before, there were insufficient stamps available at the post office for the new rate. Judging by the prices of these items the owl stamp ($300) is considerably rarer than the others, the dancers costing $50 and the lorikeet $40. I was also surprised to see on the scan that Steve Zirinsky sent me that another unpriced hand-stamped value from July 2008 had surfaced - a Niuafo'ou 33s butterfly stamp surcharged 30s. It is important to note that two of the latest stamps feature designs of birds (and also one is a WWF stamp) - of immense interest to collectors of bird thematics and the 2008 butterfly stamp is relevant to collectors of that equally popular theme. As I have said before, these are real postage stamps not tedious collectables from greedy agencies.
  The illustrations depict the 2008 butterfly stamp surcharge, the 2010 owl painfully rare stamp and the group of 3 surcharges issued in May & June 2010.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Tuvalu 2005 miniature sheets

Another very satisfying outcome for me of my recent visit to the Stafford stamp fair was stumbling upon a dealer by chance whom I discovered to be selling two miniature sheets from Tuvalu which I have been looking for to add to my collection for several years.  I was not aware of these two items which were originally released in 2005 until they first appeared in the catalogue column of Gibbons Stamp Monthly during the course of 2007. Until my visit to Stafford I had never seen the sheets offered for sale by any dealer nor had I noticed them for sale on E Bay. I had presumed that I would never find them and did not even leave a space in my collection for them. They are not any of the run of the mill, locally irrelevant issues being produced in Tuvalu's name by the New York philatelic agency but one is part of an infrequent series of issues which I suppose must be produced by the government of Taiwan to emphasise its diplomatic links with Tuvalu and the other could be a locally produced overprint on a previously issued miniature sheet. 
 The Taiwan related issue was released on 5 May 2005 and commemorated the state visit of President Chen Shui-bian to Tuvalu and was in a similar format to a sheet issued the previous year to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Taiwan-Tuvalu diplomatic relations. The second sheet I had been hunting down was released on 10 July 2005 to commemorate the centenary of Motofua Secondary School and consisted of overprints and $2.50 surcharges on the two stamps contained in a miniature sheet which was originally issued on 8 May 2002 and which had commemorated the attendance by two Tuvaluan children at the United Nations Children's Forum in New York. A locally pertinent issue had been made on 9 March 2001 which marked the first anniversary of the death of 18 girls in a fire tragedy in a dormitory of Motofua Secondary School and this must have been a terribly traumatic event for the people of such a small nation as Tuvalu. Given the recent nature of the tragedy it is not surprising that the little nation wished to philatelically commemorate a more joyous event for the school - its centenary.
 The Taiwan related issues are interesting in themselves. Such items can be found from a number of small Commonwealth territories where either The People's Republic Of China or Taiwan have managed to gain influence with the governments of the small and/or impoverished states and the various stamp issues represent a sort of philatelic diplomatic war between the two rival Chinese states. From time to time the Japanese also manage to get some of these countries to issue stamps to show how the territories have been aided by them but all this fades into insignificance when you think about the United States' philatelic neo-imperialism represented by the huge outpouring of issues by a New York agency with the names of 20 or so Commonwealth states inscribed on them, which are mostly dedicated to depicting contemporary United States culture and aspects of American history which clearly have no relevance to the country whose name appears on the "stamps". Tuvalu is, alas, one of the victims of this latter category of philatelic imperialism but if such issues are treated with the contempt they deserve, then an interesting little collection of new issues can be made that still represent this tiny little island nation in The Pacific Ocean. 
 Another Taiwan related issue has appeared recently - on 19 September 2009, another miniature in the usual format was released to commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of Taiwan- Tuvalu diplomatic relations. I illustrate this item and the two 2005 issues above.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Problematical new issues 3: Malawi SAPOA & Rotary

I visited the Stafford Stamp Show on 19 June 2010. Unfortunately I found it a most inconvenient and expensive venue to visit given that the exhibition was several miles from Stafford in the countryside and for anyone traveling there by public transport a costly taxi ride was necessary since buses appeared to pass there only every two hours from Stafford Railway Station. However, when I arrived there I found a pleasantly laid out collection of dealers stalls and very few customers so that I generally had the dealers to myself and they had time to chat and help me look for the items I was hoping to buy. I visited Nigel Haworth's stall and with his usual unrivalled offering of Commonwealth stamps and new issues I began to feel that my visit to Stafford was proving to be more useful than I had feared it would be. We chatted about the latest South African Post Office Administrations (SAPOA) joint issue which this time comes from nine of the member states (South Africa, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mauritius, Swaziland, Botswana, Lesotho and Malawi) and which of the issues he so far had in stock (Namibia and Botswana which I had already obtained on my visit to Stamp World 2010 in May) and he reminded me that Malawi has not yet released its previous SAPOA issue, the wild animals set of 2007. This set had long been puzzling me. An illustration of the miniature sheet has been depicted on a birds on stamps website for a long time but I have never seen the item offered by any dealer so I was not sure if it had actually been issued or whether it was so scarce that no one had been able to obtain it to put on sale. It appears that the former is the case; Nigel suggested that the South African printers had not released the set to the Malawi Post Office because of the latter's inability to pay for it. For the present at least I have scrubbed it from my "to get" list of stamps. The illustration of this miniature sheet is illustrated in this blog.
 Another mysterious issue from Malawi is the Rotary miniature sheet released on 25 July 2005. Stanley Gibbons and other catalogues only list the four stamps as being produced in miniature sheet form but purchases of Malawi kiloware I have made in the last few months confirm that each value was also available for use from ordinary sheets of stamps. I have found all four values printed in much lighter shades than those in the miniature sheet and I have seen at least two of the values in se-tenant pairs (clearly not originating from the miniature sheet). All four values of the sheet stamps are illustrated here as well as the miniature sheet for comparison. Again I have not seen any dealer offering the individual stamps for sale in mint or used condition.
 New headaches from Malawi are looming. The SAPOA World Cup set may pose a problem in availability or possibly not since a publicity item from ZimPost announced that all the participating nations had put up 50000 euros to pay for the issue so one supposes that Malawi must have paid its share up front and will therefore have received its supply of its own stamps. Perhaps this will open the way for the 2007 issue to become available to them as well. Additionally a new set of butterfly definitives has been issued in new values and all with "Protect Nature" inscribed on them. I have only seen them offered for sale once so far and that was on E Bay with ludicrously high prices being bid for them. I suspect they will become available from a proper dealer in the foreseeable future at sensible new issue prices. I hope so!

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Problematical New Issues 2: Cameroun

After writing the previous blog I was surprised to come across the announcement by CamPost of another issue. If I had been more thoughtful I would have realised that such an issue was likely to be released about now, marking as it does the fiftieth anniversary of the independence of Cameroun and the fiftieth anniversary of the state's reunification with the British Cameroons. This second issue whose date of release is not entirely certain but may be also 10 May 2010 comprises 5 values: a 125F depicting the national flag, a 200f depicting the 50th anniversary logo. a 250F value depicting the national coat of arms, a 550F depicting a portrait of President Biya in black and white and 1000F with the same presidential portrait but in colour. The illustrations show the five values of this set and top and bottom are depicted the stamps which commemorate the "Africa 21" Conference previously reported.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Problematical new issues 1

Two territories which always pose problems whenever they issue new stamps are Cameroun and Mozambique. Cameroun has recently announced one of its very infrequent and usually almost unobtainable new issues which was planned to have been released on 10 May 2010 and which celebrated The Africa Conference, "Africa 21", which was being held in the capital city of Yaounde. The issue comprised of two stamps, values FCFA 125 and FCFA 250, and are said to depict the conference logo, the lower value in black and white and the higher in colour. As Cameroun's football team is also appearing in the World Cup competition in South Africa (but not getting off to a good start after a 1-0 defeat in their first game against Japan), given a number of previous issues have been released to commemorate previous World Cup participation by the Cameroun team, we might also expect to find the Post Office, CamPost, issuing a further set to mark this latest World Cup involvement of the country. No doubt it will be even more difficult to track down and be much sought after by football philatelists and most likely will turn up after some months at the very least, if not years, on E Bay fetching well over $100 for a set and the same again for any associated miniature sheet. We will see.
  Meanwhile, Mozambique has announced its most recent new issue - a set of 3 stamps released on 14 April 2010, all in the same stylised design, marking the 30th anniversary of LAM - the Linhas Aerias de Mocambique - the national airline. Mozambique new issues are usually difficult to track down but are mostly not in the same league of difficulty as those of Cameroun and I often find I can obtain them from the New York dealers, Herricks, a few weeks after the date of issue. In these new issues I do not include the long thematic sets which the Mozambique Post Office officially acknowledges as "issued abroad" which is a bizarre concept that implies that they are not produced for use on mail within Mozambique but as collectibles with postal validity which, no doubt, if you troubled yourself to take to Mozambique with you, you could actually post a letter with one affixed and it would be carried through the mail. Such a series was "The History of Transport", said to have been issued on 30 September 2009, and consisting of an expensive 162 stamps and 27 miniature sheets. I long ago decided that such items would not receive a place in my Commonwealth collection. But a collection of the new issues actually produced for use on real mail in the country makes a fascinating collection and adds a note of exoticism with their inscriptions being entirely in Portuguese rather than English as well as their primitive production and naive designs. Sometimes the most interesting stamps are the ones you have to work hardest to obtain.

Friday, 28 May 2010

New Tonga Surcharges

The main highlight for me when I recently visited the rather quiet, diminutive and expensive-to-travel-to "London 2010 Festival Of Stamps" (why do all these affairs in Britain have to be held in London?) was my visit to the stand of the dealer Steven Zirinsky from New York where I was able to see and purchase some of the latest Tongan surcharges which he had written about in a recent edition of Gibbons Stamp Monthly and which are of more importance to stamp collectors than most other modern philatelic emissions since the Tonga Post Office really does produce them to be used on mail rather than to bleed collectors of money. Unfortunately these items are not sold to collectors so that they are so rare that they are difficult to find and shockingly expensive to buy. But they are REAL postage stamps. In his article, Mr Zirinsky described how Tongan postal rates were increased from 20s to 30s in 2008 and to deal with this three surcharges were produced by hand stamping previous issues. They are exceedingly rare. Two of the items were Niuafo'ou issues of 1998 and although he had one on cover he was not able to put a price to it for the present and the item was not yet for sale. The third handstamp, the 2000 Commonwealth Membership 55s surcharged 30s, was being sold for $700 on cover and I believe he had three different covers for sale. After the handstamps, three machine-printed surcharges have been produced - the first on 21 November 2008 being the 55s depicting Vava'u Port Of Refuge. The illustrations here depict the three machine printed stamps and the Commonwealth 2000 hand-stamped item. Exciting, if expensive, Commonwealth stamp collecting.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

British New Issue Nonsense (1); Selective Memory

No-one can doubt that most countries now produce new stamps not because of any postal need nor even to honour someone worthwhile  or commemorate a particularly important national event, but simply to make as much as money as they can get away with without putting off collectors from buying their stamps. The British post office, Royal Mail, long in serious financial difficulties, has for some years now given up any pretense at considering the wishes of their stamp collecting public and issues more and more stamps every year, some of which are not even available at ordinary post offices for the public to buy to use on their mail. In 2008 Royal Mail began a series of issues which on the face of it at least had some historical interest although the issues were only tentatively related to any specific historical anniversaries or commemorations - that of featuring British monarchs although the series started off at an arbitrary date - 1399 - which is when the House Of Lancaster came to power under King Henry IV who had had his predecessor, King Richard II, starved  to death - not a very promising personality to be featured on the first stamp of a long series. 
  The latest series features the first monarchs of the united Great Britain  - the Stuarts - and an accompanying miniature sheet deals with important subjects of the Stuart era - the physician William Harvey who was the first man to describe the circulation of blood, the civil war which was waged throughout the British Isles, the stamp itself featuring Sir Thomas Fairfax who was a leader of the Parliamentary forces, the poet John Milton, and a design related to John Vanbrugh, a dramatist. What the miniature sheet does not depict, however, is rather significant - it does not feature the two rulers of England after the deposition of Charles I after the Civil War - Oliver and Richard Cromwell, who headed the republic that replaced the monarchy for ten years or so. Of this father and son pair, the omission of Oliver Cromwell is the most significant - he is undoubtedly one of the most important figures in British history who had a profound effect on the course of British government but he has never been depicted on a British stamp. Cromwell is notorious in Ireland for the aggressive campaign he waged there during the Civil War and even today he remains a loathsome figure in that part of The British Isles. It is almost certainly for that reason that he has not been featured on a British stamp but his importance to English history means that for the sake of not causing offense to one part of the country, his role in another part can never be commemorated - political correctness taken too far? The omission of this giant of British history makes a nonsense of the British monarchs series particularly when it has featured a collection of murderous monsters already - Richard III, who even his numerous apologists can not deny killed his own nephews to clear his way to the throne as well as probably murdering his brother, his wife and the former feeble-minded King Henry VI. Henry VIII who saw his way to arranging for two of his wives to be beheaded as well as numerous other people - great and humble - who fell victim to his paranoid bloodthirstiness and Mary I who delighted in burning frail, elderly priests at the stake although she never brought herself to go and watch such a horrific event herself. These are just the sort of people who manage to find their way on to stamp designs when a post office is issuing stamps just to make money rather than to commemorate people of national worth.
  And then even if you ignore the monsters, Cromwell's achievements are much more worthy of commemoration than those of poor Queen Jane, a young girl who ruled for just nine days before being deposed and executed by Mary Tudor or Edward V who ruled for a couple of months and then disappeared as the victim of Richard III. The depiction of poor, pious Henry VI, mentioned above, is also questionable since whilst being a founder of admittedly important educational establishments he did manage to lose the crown of France which his father had won for him. In the presence of monsters and nonentities it is disgraceful that Cromwell has not received a philatelic commemoration in his own country - Royal Mail has air-brushed him from history. Perhaps a stamp or stamps could be released but perhaps not in post offices in Northern Ireland to avoid offense there.

Monday, 17 May 2010

African Problems 1 continued

On 1 September 1991 the new Eritrean Postal Administration opened a number of post offices - at Asmara, Assab, Adiquala, Adikeih, Akordat, Barentu, Decemhare, Ghindae, Mendefera, Masawa, Keren, Tessenai and Senafe. and the first postage stamps were issued on the same date. A set of three issued in a quantity of 20000 of each value was released in three colours printed by Adulis Printing Press in Asmara, the Eritrean capital city. The stamps are featured in a catalogue of Eritrean stamps of the period 1991 to 2004 produced by The Philatelic Bureau in Asmara and the illustration (immediately above this text) depicts three very crudely produced stamps with rough irregular perforations. Two other values were also produced later (not mentioned in the Philatelic Bureau catalogue) which included a 5 birr value. These are listed in Stanley Gibbons Catalogue but are unpriced and again very crudely produced on very thin paper, very much resembling the original three values in the quality of the finished product. I have two examples of the 5 birr which while both being alike in design, are printed on different sizes of paper ( see illustration above) so that one of them has much wider borders to the stamp. Last year I obtained a set of the original three stamps from Herrick Stamps in New York (third illustration) but was surprised to find that they vary very considerably from the items depicted in the Eritrean Bureau Catalogue - they are not only redrawn but also much more professionally produced. Early commemorative stamps of Eritrea from 1993 to 1995 were produced by BDT, Enschede and also in Rome and one wonders if the redrawn set originate from any of those printers. I have yet to see a set of those first stamps as illustrated in the Eritrean Philatelic Bureau catalogue but presumably the more primitive versions are those arising from the Asmara printer. It seems to me that there are many questions yet to be answered about this particular stamp issue.
  News of new issues from Eritrea is slow to arrive and only in the last few days have I obtained a stamp I have not previously seen (4th illustration above text) despite having visited Eritrea (including several post offices and the Philatelic Bureau in Asmara) in November 2008. The stamp is valued 70c and depicts Eritrean resistance soldiers with the flag of the Eritrean People's Liberation Front and has a "2008" imprint in the lower border along with the name of the designer, "graphic design by Laine Biala", at the lower right and that of the printer, Joh Enschede, at the lower left. This single value is probably part of a bigger set and I wonder if it commemorates the 30th anniversary of the liberation of the town of Nafka in 1977, a significant event in the Eritrean struggle for freedom. No doubt all will become clear eventually. Although the stamp has a 2008 imprint it may have been issued later than that since, as I say, I did not see it being sold in any outlet as late as November of that year. This particular example looks as though it was postmarked at Keren, one of the post offices I visited, and it was certainly not on sale there when I went.
  Finally I turn my attention to one of the African countries which has come quite latterly to be a member of The Commonwealth - Cameroun (see posting no 1). Information on new issues from there is hard to track down and new issues are extremely infrequent. To the best of my knowledge the most recent issue has been the pair of stamps which commemorated the papal visit to Cameroun which was released on the 17 March 2009. The stamps feature the Pope and President Biya and are tastefully designed and nicely printed by Cartor. The illustration (top of the page) depicts the first day cover from Yaounde.

African Problems 1

The problem with the new African members of The Commonwealth mentioned in my previous posting is that it is really quite difficult to find information about new stamp issues. I make my life even more difficult by including one or two countries in my collection which are not Commonwealth members but do feature in the "Part 1" catalogue in a former life - they may have been occupied or ruled by Britain at some stage in their history and on or since independence have not joined The Commonwealth which their former constitutional links with Britain entitle them to do if they so wished. One of these countries is Eritrea which had originally been annexed by the Italians in 1892 and which became a full Italian colony in 1890, forming part of Italian East Africa from 1936 to 1941 when it was occupied by Great Britain during World War 2. The British administered Eritrea until it was federated with Ethiopia on 15 September 1952. The Ethiopian regime gradually became more oppressive and fully integrated Eritrea in Ethiopia on 14 November 1962. Rebel groups began to resist the Ethiopian government and after years of conflict and the overthrow of Mengistu Haile Miriam, the Ethiopian dictator, the Eritrean People's Liberation Front took full possession of Eritrea in 1991, held a referendum on independence in 1992 and proclaimed the independence of Eritrea on 24 May 1993.

Friday, 14 May 2010

New Commonwealth Countries: Rwanda

  Since the mid-1990's, collectors of Commonwealth stamps have had three new countries to deal with - one of them a territory only a fraction of which had been under British rule until the beginning of the 1960's (Cameroun) and the other two which never had constitutional links with Britain or any other Commonwealth country at all (Mozambique and Rwanda). 
  Rwanda had been part of German East Africa from 1894 and was taken over by Belgium in 1916 during the First World War. Prior to German occupation the country's history was one of settlement by the Hutus from the tenth century but they had become dominated by the Tutsis from the fourteenth century. In 1919 the territory became part of The Mandated Territory of Ruanda-Urundi under Belgian administration. Whilst still under Belgian rule the Hutus rebelled against the Tutsis and on 2 October 1961 King Mwami Kigeri was deposed by the dominant PARMEHUTU party which formed a government on 1 January 1962. The Belgians granted independence to Rwanda on 1 July 1962 as a republic but in 1990 a civil war broke out between the Hutu and Tutsi populations which culminated in appalling massacres of the Tutsis and moderate Hutus in 1994. The country gradually recovered and elections were held in 1999 which brought a unifying government to power. The new president largely blamed the French for meddling in the country and causing the disaster which had befallen it and consequentially led the country away from the Francophone sphere of influence towards the English-speaking group of nations and, particularly as he received support from Uganda during the civil war, he saw advantages for Rwanda in joining The Commonwealth. After years of working to receive approval for its admission to The Commonwealth, Rwanda finally became a member of the organisation on 28 November 2009 at the Commonwealth Heads Of Government Meeting in Trinidad. Completist collectors of the stamps of The Commonwealth were therefore faced with a new country to collect.
  Very reasonably the editor of Gibbons Stamp Catalogues begins listing of newly joining countries at the first issues after the date of admission of the country to The Commonwealth. This is a relief since the Commonwealth collector is not then faced with decades of previous stamp issues to track down and buy although it means that any collection of these countries begun in such a manner falls a long way short from telling the postal history of the territory. Rwanda has pleasingly had an ultra-conservative stamp-issuing policy in recent years and apparently has not issued any new stamps since 2003, issues before that date additionally being quite infrequent. But in some ways that is a little disappointing since the pleasure of knowing that we have an interesting new philatelic entity to collect is rather thwarted by the fact that there is not actually anything to collect at present. What to do? I thought it might be reasonable to make a small collection of the stamps that are currently available at Rwandan post offices for use on ordinary mail. Sadly I live a long way from Rwanda and have no opportunity to visit the country to see what is actually being sold. So I suppose that looking at recent mail coming from Rwanda is another approach but unfortunately I have not yet been able to track down a source of such items. So for the present I have contented myself with buying some covers from the early 1990's and early 2000's (presumably mail during the mid and late 1990's was severely disrupted by the civil war) and that has provided me with a philatelic introduction to this new Commonwealth member. The stamps on the covers all seem to have subjects of local relevance and the circular postmarks, most in blue ink while I also have one in violet and another in black, are an introduction to the country's towns from where the mail originates. Perhaps, after years of trying to gain admission to The Commonwealth, Rwanda will make a stamp issue to commemorate its successful application but if it does I do not know how long it will be before stamps collectors discover that such an issue has been made. At least at the moment we are not faced by a tsunami of agency-produced stamp issues which have no relevance to Rwanda and which have little chance of ever getting used on the mail in the country.
   The illustrations depict cancellations from the town of Nyabisimdu, the town of Butare in southern Rwanda and the capital city of Kigali. The former is in black ink and dated 22 August 1991, the second is in violet ink and probably dated 2002 and that from Kigali is in blue ink with a date of 30 January 1991.