Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Rarotonga Listed As A New Philatelic Entity By Gibbons.

I was rather surprised when recently reading the catalogue column of the February 2012 edition of Gibbons Stamp Monthly to find that a new philatelic entity had been added - that of the capital island of The Cook Islands, Rarotonga. The philatelic agency which has produced stamps with The Cook Islands name on them for the past couple of years or so, released 15 stamps and a large sheetlet inscribed "Rarotonga Cook Islands" on 22 July 2011, with the sensible subject of tourism as a basis for their designs. There really does not seem to have been any justifiable reason for a separate issue for Rarotonga since no political change had occurred nor a separate postal service had been established - it was rather like Royal Mail producing separate issues for London (let's hope it does not give them the idea to do so). It does seem very surprising that the editor of the Gibbons Catalogue would accord this artificial entity a separate listing especially as separate island issues have been ignored by the catalogue since the mid-1980's - entities such as the individual items of Tuvalu or St. Vincent or The Cayes Of Belize. In recent times the issues of The Cook Islands have had quite a high profile in Gibbons Stamp Monthly with quite a large article being published last year about the new issues of the territory and the royal engagement sheetlet being given free with the magazine (although rather unhelpfully the sheetlet was divided into two and its distribution occurred over 2 consecutive months meaning the recipients of the free gift ended up with 2 pieces of the sheetlet rather than an intact philatelic item). Perhaps this exposure to these recent Cook Islands issues convinced the editor that Rarotonga deserved to be treated differently from the individual islands of other countries. The stamps are therefore numbered 1 - 15 plus MS16 which in itself is strange since from 1919 until 1931 all Cook Islands stamps were inscribed "Rarotonga" even though they were for use throughout all the islands.

Two inhabitants of Rarotonga.

Rarotongan sunsets (or sunrises or both).

The high values.

The multivalue sheetlet.

Anyway, there we have it - a new entity (or new old entity) for Commonwealth stamp collectors to add to their albums. Perhaps, for consistency, the catalogue editor should reconsider the status of the stamps of some of the entities created in the past although, like the present Rarotonga, there was no justifiable reason for their names to be inscribed on postage stamps. I think the most worthy of all for reconsideration in this new "catalogue anything" culture are the emphemeral Cayes Of Belize stamps with which I will deal in the next blog.

Cayes Of Belize stamp issued 1984.

Sunday, 29 January 2012


At some time in the future Madagascar may be admitted to membership of The Commonwealth. The country's application for membership goes back some years but political events of recent years have prevented The Commonwealth from taking its application any further for the present. Certainly Madagascar has a good claim to join the organisation since its links with Great Britain go back to the first part of the 19th century and indeed it could be said that were it not for Britain, the country of Madagascar may not have existed at all, certainly in its current form. Relationships between the two countries go back to the Napoleonic Wars when the British smashed French power in the Indian Ocean area and captured Mauritius, Reunion and Seychelles. Although Reunion was returned to the French after the wars were ended, the British held on to the other island groups. Fear that the French or other powers might gain influence in Madagascar thus threatening the route to India and Ceylon led the newly appointed governor of Mauritius, Robert Townsend Farquhar, to seek ways for the British themselves to gain influence on the island and he decided to support the King of Imerina, Radama I, in his claim to be monarch of the whole of Madagascar. On the 23 October 1817, Radama and the British agreed a treaty of friendship and peace in which the British recognised the king as monarch of the entire island. A further treaty of 1820 resulted in Britain recognising Madagascar as an independent state and promised continuing support to Radama's regime whilst, in return, the Malagasy agreed to abolish slavery throughout Radama's realm. Additionally the British granted Radama a stipend of $1000 in gold, $1000 in silver, 100 barrels of gunpowder, 100 English muskets with 1000 flints, 12 sergeants' swords, 600 pieces of cloth, a full dress uniform for the king and two fine horses. Radama admired British methods of education, government and warfare (particularly as it was Britain that had brought low his great hero, Bonaparte) and he wished to modernise his country in the western European style. He became a great Anglophile. In 1820 he encouraged the London Missionary Society to establish churches, and later schools, in Antananrivo, the capital city. Missionaries poured into the island and by 1821 they were exerting notable influence on the king and thousands converted to Christianity. Radama I died on 27 July 1827 and was succeeded by his wife, Ranavalona I. Unlike her late husband, she determined to preserve the cultural and political sovereignty of Madagascar and repudiated the treaties with Britain and prohibited the practice of Christianity in the islands in 1835. British missionaries were expelled from the island and local converts were persecuted in the period which they called "ny tani maizina", "the time when the land was dark". Despite this, ambassadors were sent to European nations in 1836 to 37 and a Malagasy stamp of 1969 shows a painting by Henry Room which depicts the audience of the Malagasy ambassadors with Queen Adelaide, the wife of King William IV, which took place in 1837 (the king himself was sick and dying).

There is a marvelous account of the reign of Ranavalona I in the rather luridly titled book "Female Caligula Ranavalona, The Mad Queen Of Madagascar" by Keith Laidler (published by Wiley, 2005). The monarch died, not before time, on 16 August 1861 and her successor, Radama II, and his successor, Ranavalona II showed themselves more open to French influence rather than returning to a closer relationship with the British. The French grew increasingly rapacious in their wish to seize Madagascar for themselves and, in 1883, conjured up an excuse to invade the island and wage war against the Malagasy. After the war the French seized the northern town of Antsiranana which they called Diego Suarez. Meanwhile, the British community at Antananarivo had established a mail system in May 1883 whereby the post was sent by runner to the British Consulate at Tamatave from where the mail was forwarded by the French post office. In March 1884, W C Pickersgill, the British Vice-Consul, reorganised the service and issued stamps for use on inland and overseas mail. These stamps were usually only gummed in the corners to facilitate the removal of the stamps from overseas mail at Port Louis in Mauritius where they were replaced by Mauritius stamps or at the Vice-Consulate where they were replaced by French stamps for transmission via Tamatave and Reunion. The stamps of the British Consular Mail were suppressed in 1887 although the postal service continued to operate with the charges paid in cash.

In 1890, the British accepted the formal imposition of a French protectorate on Madagascar in return for French acknowledgment of the British protectorate in Zanzibar (for the same reason the British had ceded the island of Heligoland to the Germans). The Malagasy themselves were less prepared to accept this and the French bombarded and occupied the harbours of Toamasina and Mahajanga in December 1894 and January 1895 respectively. These flagrant acts of imperialism were followed by a French force marching on and attacking Antananarivo with a bombardment of the royal palace which resulted in the deaths of many of the Malagasy. While this assault on the Malagasy was taking place, the government of Queen Ranavalona III agreed that a syndicate of British merchants in the capital, including the Vice-Consul, should operate an inland postal service during the period of the war with France. Mail was sent to Vatomandry and forwarded via Durban where the stamps of Natal were added. The first issue of stamps prepared for the service was typeset by the London Missionary Society Press at Antananarivo in the values of 1d, 4d, 6d, 8d, 1s, 2s and 4s and were released in January 1895. A second issue which had been typographed by John Haddon & Co. of London was released in March 1895 and depicted Malagasy runners in six values:- 2d, 4d, 6d, 1s, 2s and 4s. The French entered the capital on 30 September 1895 and the British inland mail postal service was discontinued. The six values of the second issue are depicted below.

The French imperialistic designs on Madagascar were finally realised when the island was made a French colony on 28 February 1897 and this status was maintained until the Second World War when the French administration in the island remained loyal to the Vichy regime in France which was collaborating with Nazi Germany. It became necessary for the British to once more become involved with Madagascar as it was not possible to allow such a treacherous regime to maintain power in such a strategic place in the Indian Ocean. The British invaded the island in 1942 and occupied the country from 5 May 1942 to 13 October 1946. During this period French stamps were used on post but British censorship was applied. Having defeated the Vichy forces in Madagascar, the British allowed a Free French civil administration to be established in Diego Suarez and Antisarena on 10 September 1942 and on the rest of the island from 7 January 1943. The French finally granted full independence to the island on 26 June 1960.
One can not help but feel that once Madagascar returns to full democracy it should be allowed to join The Commonwealth, certainly there is a vast amount of shared history between the country and Great Britain. The stamp issues mentioned above form a basis for a collection which illustrates the link between Britain and Madagascar and serves as a prequel to any stamp collection which would be formed by Commonwealth stamp collectors if the country is ever allowed to join The Commonwealth. Flag Counter

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Diamonds, Gold, What Next...Uranium?

I recently reported the Jersey Philatelic Bureau's plan to issue a diamond-encrusted stamp in a miniature sheet with the total nominal face value of £4 but which was on sale in Britain for more than £150 (see blog of 27 November 2011). I see now that Australia Post is advertising a miniature sheet inscribed "Christmas Island" which commemorates the Year of the Dragon and which is printed on gold foil. Despite having a nominal face value of $2.40, the item is on sale for $99.95 and is actually described as a "presentation minisheet", being sold in a special display stand. Clearly not meant for use on mail, I am not sure who would want to spend such a large amount of money on this item which is masquerading as a stamp issue. It's not as though Australia Post is modest in its production of ordinary stamps having achieved no. 3 spot in the 2010 table of greediest stamp producers in The Commonwealth, releasing 205 stamps and 14 miniature sheets plus numerous booklets and other items (see blog of 19 October 2011). I think the main worry about this "gold issue" is that someone who does not know better will buy it "as an investment" and then, when they try to realise their investment, they will be disillusioned and turn against stamp collecting. It seems to me that the sale of items like this must represent a degree of desperation felt by Australia Post and other postal administrations as they try to think of innovations (though gold foil stamps are hardly new) to encourage increased sales since they must surely struggle to sell their huge amount of philatelic items to an increasingly disillusioned stamp-buying public, worn down by excessive drains on their ever-reducing finances. Or, perhaps, given the subject matter of the item, Australia Post expect to unload this on a more buoyant Chinese market. Well, we must ask ourselves, what valuable substance will be applied to a stamp next, platinum? uranium? Actually, that would be rather amusing, "the world's first radioactive stamp"!

Meanwhile, another surprise innovative issue from an unlikely source:- Cameroun, which has produced a 3-dimensional miniature sheet to add to the ordinarily-printed 4 stamps and 2 miniature sheets produced to commemorate the 40th anniversary of "co-operation" with The People's Republic Of China. The face value is 500F and it is in the same design as the identically valued ordinary miniature sheet featuring the presidents of Cameroun and China shaking hands with each other (see 24 November 2011 blog). It is produced by the same microlenticular method as the 2011 Royal Mail "Thunderbirds" miniature sheet (see 14 January 2011 blog) and is actually really rather effective. This is the first such item to appear on the African pages of my Commonwealth collection and, for once, I have to say it is quite good fun.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

St. Vincent & Sierra Leone: 2 Difficult Issues In The Bag.

In the past week I have managed to obtain two items which have been missing from my collection for a long time. The first is the very scarce 20c value of the 1996 definitive stamps which depict croton plants. After I wrote my blog about Bequia recently, I thought I would have a look on the internet to see if I could find the 20c value which is not given a price for an unused specimen in the Stanley Gibbons Windward Islands Catalogue (although a used example is priced at a mere £5). I managed to track the stamp down eventually as a single used on cover and on offer by Steven Zirinsky, the excellent New York dealer who also handles the St Vincent provisionals of 1993 to 2004, otherwise so difficult to find, and all for the marvellous price of just $5. A gap in my collection filled with great satisfaction.

Unused examples of the four highest values of the crotons set are illustrated below.

The other item which I have pleasingly obtained in the past few days is the miniature sheet issued by Sierra Leone on 20 October 2005. This was the first time that I had seen the item being offered for sale since the year of issue. I do not collect most stamps issued by Sierra Leone in the past 20 or 30 years unless they have a strict relevance to the country but the microcredit movement is of great importance to the populations of small, poor countries so I had long decided that this item was one of the few modern issues of Sierra Leone which should find its way into my collection. Unfortuantely it seemed to be the one issue which no dealer was offering for sale. It is a rather strange item in that it features a laughing, blond-haired, unidentified female on all four stamps which the Gibbons West Africa catalogue describes as "portrait of woman at left". I have not discovered how the woman is of relevance to the stamp design - is she someone who has played a major role in the development of the microcredit movement or did the stamp designer just like the look of her and decide to incorporate her picture in the designs? The rest of the designs feature the modest forms of industry of local relevance which microcredit aids as well as part of the United Nations emblem.

How satisfying it always is when those difficult little items finally turn up to fill those annoying gaps in one's collection. It is moments like that which make the various irritations of collecting anything, including stamps, all worthwhile.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Nevis' Sour Queen and Montserrat's Hero Musician

Another example of a failed modern stamp design is the miniature sheet produced with the name of Nevis on it to cash in on the profits to be made from stamps which noted the 85th birthday of Queen Elizabeth II in 2011. This is a particularly uncomplimentary design, picturing in the large margin to the right of the sheet a photograph of the Queen with an especially sour look on her face. Honestly out of the many thousands of photographs which have been taken over the years, could not the "designer" have come up with something a bit better than that?

Meanwhile, Montserrat has recently issued 2 stamps and a miniature sheet which commemorate a notable Montserratian, Alphonsus Celeste Edmund Cassell MBE, better known as "Arrow". He died at the age of 60 on 15 September 2010 and since he first performed in a school concert at the age of 10, had been a singer, initially of calypso music and then of soca music (soca is short for 'soul of calypso'). He had been born in Montserrat on 16 November 1949 and was a highly celebrated figure in the small territory. He released his first single record, "Dance With Me, Woman" in 1972 and set up his own record label, Arrow, the following year. His debut album, "The Mighty Arrow on Target", was released in 1974. How pleasing it is to see small territories like Montserrat issuing stamps which feature notable home-grown personalities rather than the constant stream of items which we have seen over the years commemorating Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe and so on. This issue of stamps commemorating "Arrow" pleasingly draws attention to the contribution to culture that a little place like Montserrat has made so let us hope we see more countries celebrating their musicians and artists philatelically rather than continuing to feature US personalities who had probably never even heard of the territories whose names appear on the stamps which feature them.

Meanwhile, having recently featured Tuvalu's design-less stamp, I thought I would show that from Dominica which has even less content on it than the Tuvalu item (which included the nation's coat-of-arms in its non-design). All that appears on the Dominica stamps is the country name and the value!

Finally, does anyone know what is happening philatelically in the British dependent territory of The Turks And Caicos Islands? The islands seem not to have issued any stamps since 2008 although you might have expected stamps to be issued to celebrate the royal wedding and the Queen's 85th birthday, if nothing else. One of the last sets to be produced was a sheetlet of six and a miniature sheet (depicted below) to commemorate the centenary of scouting. They had a period from 2003 to 2006 when the same thing happened - that is - no stamps were released and I wrote to their philatelic bureau to make enquiries and some months later I received a reply in the cover illustrated below, which was franked with 3 cheerful stamps from the early 2000's, and included brochures of the upcoming stamps which were released between 2006 and 2008. Perhaps the same thing will happen again. It is hard to believe that the territory will not release stamps to commemorate the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, the London Olympics and, possibly, the bicentenary of Charles Dickens, all of which are coming up in the next few months.

Monday, 16 January 2012

La Francophonie And The Commonwealth

A couple of days ago I received a letter from Romania whose envelope bore an interesting miniature sheet which had been issued in 2006 to commemorate the holding of the summit meeting of the heads of state and government of La Francophonie, an organisation set up by the French as a copy of The Commonwealth which they must have seen as necessary originally to counterbalance the prestige of the English-speaking organisation. Why the summit meeting was being held in Bucharest, the capital of that well-known French-speaking country, Romania, was something of a mystery to me, so I thought I ought to do some research to enlighten myself a little.

La Francophonie was apparently set up at the Conference of Niamey on 20 March 1970 and now has 56 member states, 3 associate members and 16 observer states. Romania is a full member because (according to Wikipedia) "French is spoken by 24% of the population (presumably, then, the vast majority of Romanians - 76% - do not speak French) and there are historic cultural ties, especially during the late 19th and early 20th centuries". Hmm, I see. Other members include Greece ("French is understood by 8% of the population" - and therefore presumably, not by 92%!), Moldova ("has close ties with Romania"), Macedonia ("French is taught as a second language in many Macedonian schools"), Sao Tome and Principe (former Portugese colony with French-speaking neighbours"(!)) and, best of all, the observer nation, The Czech Republic, where "French is understood by 2% of the population" and not, apparently, by 98%, and Lithunia, which goes one step further, by only having 1% of its population who understand French! The basis for membership of La Francophonie does sound rather bizarre and open to mockery. International diplomacy really is very silly at times. Still, the Romanian stamp I illustrate above is very interesting since it features a splendid piece of stone-age sculpture which, I think, can be seen in the museum in the port of Constanza.

The Commonwealth in contrast has a somewhat longer history than La Francophonie and was established by The Statute of Westminster on 11 December 1931 which acknowledged the independence of the former senior British colonies, then called Dominions (Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Newfoundland, South Africa and Ireland) which became partners of equal status to the United Kingdom in The British Empire. Strangely, no commemorative stamp has ever been issued to celebrate this historic act of parliament. Until India decided to become a republic in 1949, all Commonwealth members acknowledged the British monarch as their head of state and India would have been forced to leave The Commonwealth (as had happened in 1948 when Burma and Israel became republics) and The Commonwealth would have lost half of its population. The Commonwealth prime ministers, following the lead of Louis St. Laurent, the Canadian premier, agreed to The London Declaration which established that the only formal rule for membership would be recognition of The Head Of The Commonwealth which, so far, has always been the British monarch. This was commemorated by Uganda by stamps issued in 2000 which marked "fifty years of the modern Commonwealth".

The meetings of the Commonwealth prime ministers, now called CHOGM (Commonwealth Heads Of Governnment Meeting), stretch back many years and occur every two years. La Francophonie began to copy these prestigious meetings when the first Francophonie summit meeting was held in Quebec from 2 to 4 September 1987. The Bucharest meeting was the 11th such meeting and the most recent summit was held at Montreux in Switzerland in October 2010. One of the most notable CHOGMs was that held in Harare in Zimbabwe in 1991 where a declaration was made which emphasised the importance of Human Rights and Democracy in Commonwealth countries (a somewhat ironic venue given what was to happen in Zimbabwe in later years).

Most host countries of CHOGM have commemorated the meetings in their countries by the issue of stamps including Uganda which was the host nation in 2007.

The most recent CHOGM was held in Perth Australia last year and at the meeting the countries which still have the British monarch as their head of state reached an agreement on royal succession so that an older daughter could inherit the throne before a younger son whereas males have always previously had preference. Australia Post issued a single stamp to commemorate the event.

The most recent CHOGM to be held in The United Kingdom was that which took place in Edinburgh in 1997. Surprisingly, Royal Mail did not consider it to be a significant enough event to be worthy of a commemorative stamp issue although the post office did produce a booklet of definitive stamps which contained a large valueless label which drew attention to the event.

Probably the aspect of The Commonwealth which attracts most attention to the general public is the Commonwealth Games, held every four years, and these are usually commemorated by the issue of a set of stamps by the host nations and sometimes by some of the participants. The stamps illustrated below are 2 of the set of 4 which were issued by Jamaica when that country hosted the games in 1966. I suppose it is not surprising that La Francophonie has felt it necessary to copy The Commonwealth Games by initiating the Francophonie Games in recent years.

Of course, for we stamp collectors, the wide range of territories in The Commonwealth and their long-standing historic relationships with each other, make for the opportunity to accumulate a fascinating and coherent collection of philatelic items without having to worry about whether we should include the latest member state whose only qualifying feature is that 800 people in that country understand English and 6 of them have tried and enjoy Yorkshire pudding!

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Stamp Centenary: Kiribati Resorts To Overprints

The Gilbert Islands in the Pacific Ocean became a sphere of British influence by the Pacific Islands Protection Act of 1857 and in 1877, a High Commissioner was appointed over British subjects in the islands. Christmas and Fanning Islands were annexed in 1888 and a British Protectorate was declared over The Phoenix and The Gilbert And Ellice Islands in 1892. On 1 January 1976, the colony was divided into The Gilbert Islands and Tuvalu, the former Ellice Islands, and on 12 July 1979, The Gilbert Islands were granted independence and became known as The Republic Of Kiribati (pronounced Kiri-bass). The first stamps for use in The Gilbert And Ellice Islands were issued in 1911 and were the half-pence, 1d, 2d, 2d halfpenny, 5d, 6d and 1 shilling values of the contemporary Fiji definitive set with surcharges applied saying "GILBERT&ELLICE/PROTECTORATE" in 2 lines across the stamps. 2011 was therefore the centenary year of the first stamps to be issued either in Tuvalu or Kiribati. It has now come to light that the Kiribati Post Office has issued seven stamps to commemorate this significant postal event for the tiny country although so far I have read nothing to suggest that Tuvalu has done the same although its philatelic agents in New York have found it necessary to produce at least 16 sets of items in 2011 with the name of Tuvalu printed on them which commemorate events of such vital importance to Tuvalu as the women's football world cup final, the meeting of the US President and the Australian prime minister, the 125th anniversary if the Statue of Liberty in New York and the 50th anniversary of the first manned space flight.
The set of stamps produced by Kiribati are old definitive stamps overprinted and surcharged. In some ways, this approach to this commemorative set is very appropriate given that the first Gilbert And Ellice stamps themselves were overprints. However one is bound to notice that the number of new stamps being produced by the Kiribati Post Office has fallen off massively in the past year or so which is pleasing since all its philatelic agents, CASCO, seemed interested in producing for the little territory were stamps which commemorated various British military-related anniversaries and themes - wholly inappropriate for a group of tiny, peaceful islands in the middle of the south pacific area. However Kiribati now seems to be resorting to overprinting old stamps instead of producing new designs and this may be a sign that the islands' post office is strapped for cash and producing new stamps at minimal costs for collectors to spend a lot of money on - the stamp centenary set is quite expensive and includes a $10 value (a considerable mark up on the set of 1911 where the highest value was 1 shilling (5p)).

Earlier in 2011, on 1 June, Kiribati produced an overprint on a 5 year old stamp, to commemorate the beatification of Pope John Paul II. Is this a trend that will continue?

Another Pacific territory which has frequently produced new commemoratives by overprinting old ones in recent years is The Solomon Islands and an example is the miniature sheet produced in 2011 which commemorated the Indipex 2011 Philatelic Exhibition in India but strangely, only the middle stamp was overprinted (and the upper border of the sheet retained the name of Philakorea, the exhibition for which the sheet had originally been released).

Having said that, The Solomon Islands Post Office has released a number of original design sets in recent times including a miniature sheet marking the translation of the Bible in The Solomon Islands, illustrated below, and three sets of stamps showing portraits of what appears to be randomly selected kings and queens of England, most of whom ruled in that far distant country centuries before Englishmen had any contact with Solomon Islanders.

The most recent set of stamps, commemorating the royal wedding - a sheetlet of four and a miniature sheet - has the ominous appearance of having been produced by the New York agency although, pleasingly, I have not seen any evidence that The Solomon Islands has yet stooped to the level of agreeing to the production of numerous items with their country's name on them which bear on them pictures of President Obama, Michael Jackson, Elvis Presley, the Three Stooges, Marilyn Monroe ad infinitum.

Let us hope that these poor little territories, no matter how cash-strapped they are, manage to retain some integrity and authenticity in their new stamp issue programmes and that they do not go the way of so many other vulnerable islands and nations in Africa and the Caribbean area with their doubtlessly impoverished postal services and sacrifice their national reputations as expressed by their stamp issues for a few thousand dollars.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Jersey's Diamond Madness

Those who dream up Jersey's stamp issues have a lot to answer for (see my blog of 27 November 2011) but the latest bright idea is staggering. The Jersey Post Office has announced that it will release a special version of the Diamond Jubilee miniature sheet in which the stamp which depicts Queen Elizabeth will contain a real 1.25mm sized diamond situated in the crown the Queen is wearing in the photograph. The "limited edition" special miniature sheet - only 600 are being produced - will sell for £125 plus £6.95p postage (they won't even allow free postage on this staggeringly expensive item) and, if you live in the United Kingdom the total price is boosted to £158.34 because of the addition of value added tax to the bill. The face value of the miniature sheet is £4 so this must represent the biggest mark up on the price of a philatelic item above its face value in the history of stamp collecting - 3,960%! Somehow, I do not think that this particular item is going to get a catalogue number in Stanley Gibbons Stamp catalogue and thus the obsessional completists among us will be spared the need to obtain this miniature sheet. And at £150+, that is quite a relief. I'm not sure who would really want to buy this item but clearly the Jersey Post Office has identified some potential victims somewhere. Their publicity brochure says that the miniature sheet has a "very special "wow" factor" - I'd say it has a very special "ouch" factor. However, if you must have one of these items which is "presented in a deluxe presentation box accompanied by a numbered certificate", remember that with only 600 being produced "it's first come, first served", so, er, don't delay! I don't suppose that there's much chance of any of these turning up used on commercial mail!

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Classic Modern Day Stamp Design Failures (II): Cook Islands Win By A Mile.

I have already mentioned in a previous blog the gruesome portraits of The Duke & Duchess Of Cambridge that were depicted on the stamps issued by the Cook islands to commemorate the Royal Wedding in 2011. These must have been the worst stamp designs, among a general sea of mediocrity, that were issued by any Commonwealth country to mark the event.

But if they represent poor stamp design and even worse examples of portraiture, The Cook Islands really came out as having the champion bad stamp designs of The Commonwealth in 2011 by issuing not one but two stamps which show nothing but bar-codes! Two miniature sheets were produced each containing two stamps and a label, the first to commemorate the "Year Of Wetlands" and the second, improbably, to exhort Cook Islanders to contribute to a Relief Fund for their much wealthier distant neighbour in The Pacific Ocean, Japan, which as we all know, had experienced a devastating earthquake and tsunami.

If featuring bar-codes on stamps isn't mad enough, I have to express feeling a certain degree of respect for Tuvalu which has managed to issue a stamp with absolutely no design at all - a completely blank piece of paper (supposedly providing an area for personalisation with the customer's own design) apart from the country's name, coat of arms and stamp value. At least it provides a means of saving money by not having to pay a designer's fee.

One issue to commemorate the Royal Wedding that has not yet been widely offered for sale is the set of four issued by Anguilla. These have surprisingly high face values ($4, $5, $6 and $10) and I have seen no publicity at all in any philatelic literature about them up to now. The stamps which look as though they were designed by Roger Vigurs who has designed many sets of stamps for Anguilla over the years are quite pleasant if uninspiring.

One of my favourite issues which commemorated the Royal Wedding was that released by The Turkish Republic Of Northern Cyprus, a single modest, little stamp, rather crudely printed but which actually looked like a heart-felt tribute rather than yet another piece of exploitation.

Finally, a thought about the Diamond Jubilee commemoration which will be an excuse for the production of a huge number of stamps from The Commonwealth countries (and other territories no doubt); let us hope that the important royal event is not used in the way Uganda exploited the 25th anniversary of the Queen's coronation in 1978 when a miniature sheet of 4 stamps was produced with a portrait of the monstrous tyrant Idi Amin Dada glowering from the margins. Interestingly, a quite historic item in some ways since no other Ugandan stamps or miniature sheets featured a portrait of the monster which showed considerable unexpected restraint by the dictator when you think how often tyrants like to have their image on display for all to admire and fear.