Wednesday 11 August 2010

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.

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