Sunday, 30 September 2012

Is Mauritius Attempting To Issue The Most Boring Stamps In The Commonwealth?

Very few modern Commonwealth postal authorities adopt as conservative an approach to new stamp issues as Mauritius does. All stamps that appear have local relevance and if they commemorate an internationally important anniversary or event, the designs usually feature subjects which are directly relevant to the island. The stamps are of modest face value which can be used on real mail by members of the general public and sets usually consist of 4 stamps and no more with the release of a miniature sheet being an unusual event. Top marks to the Mauritius Post Office except.....why are so many recent designs so unimaginative and downright dull? Four stamps were issued on 4 April 2012 to commemorate "Law Day" and among them was possibly the most uninteresting design of the year so far - the Rs20 value featured a hand and a gavel and nothing much else.

This followed on from possibly the most boring stamp design of 2011 which appeared when Mauritius issued a set of 4 stamps on 19 December which commemorated the Mauritius tea industry - the Rs25 value depicted a hand (again) pouring boiling water from a kettle into a teapot. At least you could say that the design was a little steamy!

Almost as dull was the Rs15 value's design from the same set which featured, er, teabags!

It is also very hard to enthuse about the design of the "events and anniversaries"set of 4 stamps which was issued on 30 June 2011 which featured  a black and white photograph of the Medine Sugar Factory:-

and to come back to the 2012 Law Day set, the photograph featured on the Rs15 value of a former Mauritius Chief Justice isn't going to make you rush out to your stamp dealer with an unquenchable need to add the stamp to your collection:-

Since the Law Day set, Mauritius has issued 2 further sets of stamps during 2012 - 4 stamps and a miniature sheet on 25 June which commemorate the centenary of the Mauritius Turf Club and which, because they feature the subject of horse racing, are actually a little more interesting and, back in the doldrums, 4 stamps which commemorate the Customs Department. Mauritius' conservative new issue policy deserves much praise but perhaps the designs themselves do not need to be quite so conservative. Perhaps the designer of all the above stamps, Nitish Peechen, could be a little more adventurous with future designs.


Saturday, 29 September 2012

Universal Mail New Issues.

I can now show close-ups of some of the designs of some of the latest stamp issues to be produced by Universal Mail United Kingdom for use by tourists on postcards to abroad. The most notable is the stamp which commemorates the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II and which is produced in a booklet of 5 stamps, all of the same design. Anyone collecting the stamps issued to commemorate this royal event will really need to obtain this stamp or perhaps the complete booklet as a vital part of the collection. Although not catalogued yet by Stanley Gibbons, this is a proper international postage stamp as much as the issues of Royal Mail are. The booklet is numbered UK0060 and dated 06/12.

All other issues recently received are also dated 06/12 and the whole length and breadth of The United Kingdom is covered by the booklets. As before, the relevant national flag is included in the design so, as in the stamps below, the Scottish saltire appears in the booklets which are relevant to Scotland. Booklet UK0058, "Scottish Icons", contains 5 different stamps including a picture of a plate of the rather revolting Scottish national dish of haggis, tatties and neeps (offal,  boiled potatoes and turnips) with the adjacent design of two West Highland White terriers.

The national flag of England appears for the first time on a Universal Mail stamp in a series of booklets which represent various regions and important tourist sites of the country and for once we are spared any more views of London. Instead we have an interesting view of The United Kingdom's second most important city, the once great power-house of industry, Birmingham, which has many fascinating tourist attractions and, it has to be said, excellent restaurants and cultural venues. The stamp shows the medieval parish church of Birmingham, St. Martin's, in front of the futuristic Selfridges buiding, both of which are centred in the historic Bull Ring area, for centuries the site of Birmingham's great market.

The stamp is one of five different designs featured in booklet UK 0048, "West Midlands", where a picture of another historic church, Worcester Cathedral, is to be found. This great religious building is depicted with the important River Severn flowing by it and inside the building the tomb of King John, possibly England's most villainous monarch, can be visited by tourists visiting the historic city.

Another booklet, UK 0065, contains 5 different stamps which feature the Severn Valley railway which is therefore an item of great interest to collectors of stamps which depict railways.

Meanwhile, another booklet in the Scottish series, UK 0057,  has 5 different illustrations of Scottish animals. all a lot more attractive than a plate of haggis and accompanying root vegetables. As well as the red deer (Britain's largest wild animal) and golden eagle depicted below, the stamps feature a Highland cow, 3 puffins and a Scottish Blackface sheep.

Another creature which appears in booklet UK 0062, "Inverness", is the Loch Ness monster, as it is depicted at Drumnadrochit:-

and among other famous British tourist attractions to appear are:- punting on the River Cam past King's College, Cambridge (from UK 0051, "Cambridge"):

the Roman baths at Bath (from UK 0046, "Bath"):-

and Tintagel in Cornwall, said to be the site of King Arthur's Camelot (from UK 0047, "Cornwall and Devon"):-

The current batch of issues include a single booklet for Northern Ireland (UK 0068) and 3 for Wales (UK 0055 and 56 and UK 0064). They are all very well produced and highly collectable in my opinion. Meanwhile, Royal Mail ignores British scenery on a set of stamps to be issued on 16 October 2012 and features scenes from much further away. Apparently, the first British satellite, Ariel 1, was launched from Cape Canaveral in 1962 and this issue commemorates the 50th anniversary of the event. The designs clearly tell you what they depict and are colourful and attractive although, priced at £5.30 per set, they are hardly cheap and fail to fulfill Royal Mail's promise of more modestly priced stamps, notably there is no second class value in the set. Why are we not surprised?

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Dr Who Stamps In 2013.

On 26 March 2013, Royal Mail will issue another set in its annual modern British cultural icons series which so far has brought us The Beatles (issued 9 January 2007), Harry Potter (17 July 2007), James Bond (8 January 2008), Design classics (13 January 2009), Modern "classic" pop music album covers (7 January 2010), the television programmes featuring puppets by Gerry Anderson (11 January 2011) and the children's books written by Roald Dahl (10 January 2012). These stamps are issued as an attempt to appeal to a wide cross-section of the British public rather than to stamp collectors and to try to persuade the public to buy the stamps as souvenirs of their cultural favourites which may be read or listened to or seen on television or at the cinema but they do at least depict subjects which play an important role in the modern British cultural identity. The set for 2013 will feature "classic British television" and is linked to the 50th anniversary of the BBC-produced programme "Dr Who". The programme is certainly a part of modern British culture and is particularly aimed at children although it also has some elements which make it tolerable for parents to sit and watch the programme with their children. It has even introduced new words into the English language - there are not many native British people who do not know what a "dalek" is or "a cyberman" or what the "Tardis" does. Royal Mail has previously issued a stamp to commemorate Dr. Who - it featured a photograph of a Dalek, one of Doctor Who's arch-enemies, which had been taken by the Queen's brother-in-law, Lord Snowden,  and was released on 1 June 1999 as one of a set of  4 called "The Entertainer's Tale", part of the Millenium stamps series. As the television programme is currently very popular in Britain, it is likely that the stamp issue will be popular with public (I suspect that there will be a set, a miniature sheet and a prestige booklet coming along). For those who can be bothered, there are a number of previous "Dr Who" items which may gain value as a result of the issue of this set in 2013. The piece de resistance must be a cover produced privately in 2000 which featured the first 7 actors to play the role of Doctor Who on the television and which had a 1999 "Dalek" stamp attached to it as well as the autographs of the 4 actors who were still alive then as well as facsimile signatures of those who pre-deceased the issue of the cover.

The cover was postmarked with a commemorative cancellation at Earls Court Road, London SW6 on 22 May 2000 and the postmark included the words "DR WHO VISITS THE STAMP SHOW 2000" (the 10 yearly international philatelic exhibition usually held in London),

Dalek stamp and "Stamp Show London 2000" postmark.

 Four Dr Who autographs.

Much earlier, in 1978,  covers were produced to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the first broadcast of Dr Who on the BBC. At least 2 versions exist with one being signed by Tom Baker who played Dr Who in the 1970's and the other being autographed by an actor called Sylvester McCoy who played the eponymous role in the 1980's. The covers were appropriately stamped with values from the memorable 1986 set which commemorated the return of Halley's Comet which had been beautifully designed by the cartoonist. Ralph Steadman.

The postmark used on the cover depicted the control unit of Dr. Who's Time and Spaceship, the TARDIS, and bore the inscription "25 YEARS OF DOCTOR WHO 23 NOVEMBER 1988 GALLIFREY" as an inner circle and "COVERCRAFT CELEBRATES LONDON EC" repeated twice around an outer circle. Dr Who is a creature from another planet, Gallifrey, who feels particularly protective towards the Earth in general and Britain in particular - especially London - though presumably, having been at the London 2000 philatelic exhibition, he did not visit the dire exhibition of 2010 or else he may have felt differently towards the city.

The sponsors of the postmark, Covercraft, produced their own cover, shown below, and they made use of, very appropriately, the 22p value of the set which had been issued on 24 March 1987 to commemorate the tercentenary of the work "Principia Mathematica" the mathematician and physicist, Sir Isaac Newton.

From 2005 to 2009 the Strand Stamp Centre produced sheetlets of stamps, in the Royal Mail Business Sheet format, which depict various aspects of Dr Who including labels which show some of the actors who have played the part:-

and, inevitably, the arch enemies, the daleks:-

In my spoof British new issue programme for 2013 (see blog of 28 November 2011) I indicated that Royal Mail must surely issue stamps to commemorate this British icon figure who now has the same British cultural status as James Bond or Robin Hood. Hopefully in this new era of respecting the wishes of their customers, Royal  Mail will not exploit the anniversary quite as much as I, half-jokingly, suggested they might.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Some Surprise Diamond Jubilee Stamps & Other Issues.

Universal Mail United Kingdom has issed a large number of new booklets of stamps for use by tourists on postcards to overseas raising the number which it has now released to a total of 68 booklets, the cost of each being £4.35 currently for 5 stamps (equating to a cost of 87p for sending a postcard overseas). Most designs feature tourist attractions in various regions, or cities popular with tourists, of The United Kingdom but one interesting booklet has been released to commemorate the diamond jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II and in my view fully qualifies for inclusion in a collection of stamps issued to mark the important royal anniversary. Over the next few days I shall add all the new issues to the Universal Mail UK checklist which appears on the 19 June 2012 blog but below are some examples of the latest issues:-

Booklet UK 0066 The National Gallery
Booklet UK0048 West Midlands
Booklet UK0064 North Wales
Booklet UK 0065 Severn Valley Railway
New Zealand Post has also been responsible for a new Diamond Jubilee-related philatelic item - a miniature sheet issued on 12 October 2012 to coincide with the Blenpex national stamp exhibition to be held in the town of Blenheim. Three of the New Zealand Diamond Jubilee stamps are included in the miniature sheet and so this is another item to add to a Diamond Jubilee collection.

On 5 September 2012, New Zealand Post also issued 4 WWF stamps for Niue which depict various sea fans. The stamps are also available in se-tenant format and in a miniature sheet.
On 2 October 2012, Isle Of Man will issue a miniature sheet to commemorate the centenary of Robert Scott's ultimately tragic expedition to the South Pole. Royal Mail issued a single stamp earlier this year in the miniature sheet which accompanied the final set of British monarchs stamps- clearly they judged the bravery of Scott and his colleagues to be of less importance in the history of Britain than the work of the children's book writer, Roald Dahl, who was commemorated by a set of 6 stamps, a miniature sheet and a prestige booklet (price £11.47p) less than a month before the solitary Scott expedition item appeared. The Isle Of Man issue redresses the balance a little.

Also to come from The Isle Of Man on 20 October 2012 are 6 gummed and 2 self-adhesive stamps for use on Christmas mail on the theme of a traditional Christmas:-

and 6 stamps on 20 September 2012 to commemorate the centenary of the Royal Flying Corps:-

Gibraltar issued another item for Diamond Jubilee stamp collectors on 14 September 2012 which commemorated the royal visit of The Earl and Countess of Wessex to Gibraltar to mark the Diamond Jubilee. The Earl is the Queen's youngest son.

On the same date, the territory also issued 4 excellent stamps to commemorate the bicentenary of the birth if the writer, Charles Dickens:-

and a set of 5 stamps and yet another miniature sheet which depicted old views of the territory:-

Tonga and Niuafo'ou have had another outpouring of new issues (dates of issue not yet known):-

Above is a $20 miniature sheet which depicts former Tongan monarchs and marks the death of King George Tupou V (see blog of 17 May 2012). Two sheetlets have been issued which depict the flags of the countries which attended the Pacific Islands Forum (a total of 30 stamps).

and, according to the Tongan Post Office's philatelic agents, at the request of the Tongan Post Office an express delivery $25 stamp which depicts owls has been issued. Oh, I forget to mention, there is not one $25 stamp but four of them and they are also issued in miniature sheet format so that even though the Tongan Post Office wanted one Express Delivery stamp, the philatelic agents have managed to produce eight stamps costing the stamp collector not $25 but $200!

And if that was not enough, the agency has also produced 4 similar stamps and an accompanying miniature sheet with the name of Niuafo'ou printed on them making a total cost of $400!

As if to show that they are really decent stamp producers fulfilling the needs of the client post office, 2 very modestly priced stamps have been produced (one each for Tonga and Niuafo'ou) on the subject of eduction

but unable to resist further exploitation, 2 very old miniature sheets have been dug out and overprinted in memory of Diana, Princess of Wales and both surcharged to much higher face values than they previously were.

Finally, the same agents have produced an new issue for their other client territory, The Cook Islands, and this issue, too, commemorates the Pacific Forum and uses the same designs as the Tonga set (why go to the cost of producing fresh designs for your client when you've already had to pay for one that you can use again at no extra cost?) So far in 2012, Tonga with Niuafo'ou has "issued" 94 stamps and 15 miniature sheets, not quite up to Stamperija totals but getting there.