Stanley Gibbons Catalogues divide up British stamps into 3 eras - the Victorian Age (1840 - 1901), the Age of the 4 Kings (1901 - 1952) and the Elizabethan Age (1952 onwards). This is very convenient since each age covers the stamp issues of approximately 50 - 60 years. Perhaps it is no longer satisfactory to apply the term "Elizabethan Age" to other Commonwealth countries since many of them have now been independent for 50 years or more and many of them as republics.
Instead of defining an era of stamps by the name of the British monarch at the time, whether or not they were head of state of a particular member of The Empire/Commonwealth at the time, perhaps stamps can be placed in Ages named after the prevailing political environment at the time. The subjects featured on stamps often reflect contemporary events and beliefs and are issued in response to specific historical events sometimes by way of commemoration or out of need such as may happen when a territory's status changes after a war or a plebiscite and a new definitive series is required.
1. The Age Of Imperialism (1840 - 1914). See Blog 301. Unlike now, the purpose of most stamps of the British Empire during this period was to indicate the pre-payment of postage (!). The Queen Empress, Victoria, and her son Edward VII (King Emperor) and his son George V, also King Emperor, were featured on a very large proportion of the stamps of the British Empire during this period. Otherwise imperial allegories and symbolism received widespread usage. This philatelic era is notable for the ever increasing numbers of territories which were not only incorporated in the the British Empire but also of course by the consequential increasing numbers of territories which issued stamps.
2. The Age of The Wars (1914 - 1945). Both the First and the Second World Wars had enormous effects in the world of philately with not only stamps being issued during the wars which took particular forms because of the consequences of the wars but also new territories being added to The Empire so that after 1918, with the seizure of former German territories and the extension of The Empire into the Middle East, the King Emperor's territories were to reach their greatest extent and more lands than ever were to find their way into the pages of a catalogue of British Empire stamps. But the First World War was not the war to end all wars but simply a stepping stone to the further horrors of World War II and the road to the break-up of the Empire itself.
|British occupation of Batum, World War I|
|British occupation of Tripolitania, World War II.|
3. The Age of the Cold War (1945 - 1991).
This might also be called the Age of Independence since it was the period that Great Britain reconciled itself to the fact that it had been ruined financially by the Second World War and could not afford to try to keep a grip on an Empire where the native peoples had grown tired of British rule and wished to govern themselves. As the Indian sub-continent was allowed to slip away from its centuries of British rule, the Irish finally divorced themselves from their neighbouring island and the Africans and South East Asians and latterly the peoples of The Caribbean and Pacific areas also asserted their freedom; Britain had a bigger fear - mutual self-destruction carried out by itself and its allies and The Soviet Union and its allies. Some of the new Commonwealth nations showed themselves to be more sympathetic to the communist/socialist policies of Britain's enemies and these sympathies were sometimes depicted on their stamps.
It was however as much a period of cultural conflict as military confrontation and the super powers found ways of influencing the new territories with their respective cultural icons - for The Soviet Union it was Lenin and The Red Flag and for The United States it was Mickey Mouse and Elvis Presley. One form of Imperialism had given way to another (see Blog 301) and there are many examples of the super power rivalry in Commonwealth stamps issued after 1960.
|Eastern Bloc culture.|
4. The Age of Peace (1991 - 2001).
As The Soviet Union collapsed into 15 separate states and its communist allies gave up socialism, there was a feeling of peace at last. Of course there wasn't - there were several wars throughout the decade and Britain found it hard to keep out of them, but at least everyone felt as though the world was a safer place and that the threat of nuclear war had been dispelled. The philatelic consequences were less visible for The Commonwealth countries than in Europe and the former Soviet Union where issues for a large number of new territories began. Meanwhile a new influence was being brought to bear in many Commonwealth states - The People's Republic Of China.
5. The Age of Terror (2001 onwards).
The perceived peace was shattered on 11 September 2001 when 2 aircraft flew into the twin towers of the World Trade Building in New York with the resultant death of over 3000 people. The Age of Terror had begun. People all around the world who had ceased to live in fear of nuclear annihilation now learned to live with the everyday fear of falling victim to a small or large scale attack on them by terrorists, specifically those who followed an extremist interpretation of Islam.
The first philatelic effects were seen in the issue of stamps in honour of the memory of those who had died in the attacks of 11 September 2001. Many of these issues originated with the New York-based philatelic agency, IGPC, and a number of Commonwealth countries which were the agency's clients released stamps on the subject within a few months of the terrible events.
The United States determined to put an end to Al-Qaeda, the terrorist organisation which was behind the 2001 attacks and which had been given a haven in Afganhistan, then ruled by a government set up by a strictly conservative Islamic group, the Taliban. Forces of the United States and the United Kingdom launched Operation Enduring Freedom against the Taliban on 11 October 2001 and they were later joined by forces of other allies including the Afganhistan Northern Alliance. The forces of the Afghan Northern Alliance entered Kabul on 14 November 2001. An Afghan Interim Administration was established in December 2001 but the Taliban began an insurgency which continued for years and British forces remained in the country until 26 October 2014 when its final base there was handed over to Afghan government forces.
Australia Post issued 4 stamps on 22 January 2015 to commemorate its 4 military personnel who were awarded the Victoria Cross during the country's involvement in the Afganhistan war (see Blog 515):-
Meanwhile, on the pretext that the president of Iraq was storing weapons of mass destruction, The United States again with Britain as it ally as well as Australian, Polish and Iraqi Kurdish troops, launched Operation Iraqi Freedom on 20 March 2003. On 9 April 2003, Baghdad fell to the Allied forces thereby ending the rule of the Iraqi president who was later captured, tried and hanged.
In 2004 IGPC produced 3 sheetlets in the name of one of its Commonwealth client postal administrations, Grenada, on the subject of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The illustrations on one of the miniature sheets include a portrait of Tony Blair, the then British prime minister, and this is the only philatelic item of which I am aware which features him. One of the stamps on the 4 x $2 sheetlets featured George Bush II, the US President responsible for taking the USA into the Iraq war.
The same philatelic agency also produced philatelic items in 2004 on behalf of another of its client territories, St. Vincent And The Grenadines, which again took the form of sheetlets which highlighted the leading US role in the Iraq campaign. Bush was featured in the borders of both sheetlets along with US politicians and military personnel who played a role.
Despite the initial success of Operation Iraqi Freedom in deposing the tyrannical Iraqi ruler, subsequent events in the country led to a growing anarchy there and insurgency against the "Coalition". In the early part of the Coalition occupation, British forces took responsibility for security in southern Iraq based on Basra and did not hand over this responsibility to Iraqi forces until 2007.
Al-Qaeda In Iraq, an affiliate of al-Qaeda, was involved at an early stage in the insurgency as were other groups with a civil war resulting from the situation. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis were killed and during the course of the campaign 179 British troops lost their lives.
Royal Mail issued a prestige booklet on 21 September 2006 as part of a commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the introduction of the Victoria Cross. One of the booklet panes commemorated Grenada-born Private Johnson Beharry of the Princess of Wales' Royal Regiment who had been awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions in the Iraq war in 2004 as described on the booklet pane depicted below:-
Not surpringly, Johnson Beharry was also commemorated philatelically by Grenada. A miniature sheet containing a single $5 stamp was issued on 11 July 2015 which commemorated his award of the Victoria Cross and named him "Grenada's Hero":-
Grenada also issued a miniature sheet of 6 different stamps in 2007 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Victoria Cross and one of the stamps in the sheet once more commemorated Johnson Beharry:-
It is perhaps not at all surprising that, apart from the Prestige booklet mentioned above, Royal Mail has not made any philatelic gesture towards the British involvement in the Iraq war but in 2007 an exhibition at the Imperial War Museum which was titled "Queen And Country" included a work of art by 1999 Turner Prize-winning artist Steve McQueen, official war artist, which consisted of 160 sheets, each of 168 stamp-sized portraits, of UK soldiers who had been killed in the Iraq war. The sheets were all mounted in pull-out frames as often used in philatelic museums and each portrait included a silhouette of the Queen's head as would normally occur on real Royal Mail stamps. This work of art was later also exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery from 20 March to 18 July 2010. Steve McQueen went on direct the Oscar-winning movie, "12 Years A Slave" in 2013.
There was a campaign at the time to press Royal Mail to use the stamp designs in this exhibit as a stamp issue as the best way to pay tribute to the British soldiers who had been lost in the war. Clearly Royal Mail never took up the suggestion even though a couple of years later Royal Mail did consider that all the gold medal winners at the London Olympic and Paralympic Games were indeed worthy of philatelic commemoration, some appearing on more than one stamp and a total of 61 miniature sheets resulted.
On 30 April 2009 Great Britain formerly ended its combat operations in Iraq with its final troops leaving the country in May 2011; Australia had withdrawn its troops from there on 28 July 2009. US troops did not leave the country until 18 December 2011. The Iraq postal administration issued 2 stamps in 2012 to commemorate the 1st anniversary of the evacuation of the Coalition Authority (see Blog 424).
Elsewhere al-Qaeda and other groups which sought to use terrorism to achieve their goals had become, or were becoming, well established - including in Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, Mali and northern Nigeria.
In addition, from the end of 2010 through to 2012 a number of uprisings began in various Arab countries which were aimed at overthrowing authoritarian rulers - the so-called Arab Spring. Great Britain and France became involved in an air campaign against the supporters of the ruler of Libya, Muammar Gaddhafi (see Blog of 26 July 2012), in support of the revolution there but did not foresee that the country would fracture under 2 rival governments after Gaddhafi's overthrow and capture. Terrorist organisations moved into Libyan territory.
Prior to the resultant anarchy the Libyan postal administration issued 5 stamps on 23 October 2011 to commemorate the country's "liberation", 2 of which are depicted below:-
One of the insurgent groups which had emerged in Iraq during the Coalition occupation called itself Islamic State in Iraq (ISI). This group had emerged from al-Qaeda in Iraq after its leader had been killed in 2006. Although it was gradually weakened by US action against it in Iraq, in 2010 a new leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, began rebuilding ISI's capabilities and linked the organisation to the rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad in neighbouring Syria which had resulted from the "Arab Spring".
In 2013, al-Baghdadi merged his Syrian and Iraqi forces and called the group "Islamic State in Iraq and The Levant" (ISIL) (or Islamic State in Iraq and ash-Sham - ISIS). At the end of December 2013 ISIS intensified its actions in Iraq and occupied large areas of territory including the cities of Falluja and Mosul and then, in June 2014, went on to declare the occupied territory to be a sovereign caliphate called "Islamic State" with al-Baghdadi as its "Caliph". The numerous savage and brutal actions of its supporters are notorious both in its region and in countries elsewhere.
Recently, on the philatelic Internet site, Stamp Boards, the question has been asked as to whether or not this vicious pseudo-state has a functioning postal service and postage stamps. I am not aware that there has been any news of such a development having occured within the territory occupied by ISIS. The adherents of the group seem to be highly expert in the use of electronic communications when it comes to spreading their propaganda and it seems highly likely that their more mundane communications are carried out using the same means rather than by old-fashioned pen and paper methods.
A precedent exists for this since the territory which is called Somaliland which declared itself to be a sovereign state as long ago as 1991 but has never received any international recognition, has never established a postal service and never issued any postage stamps although numerous bogus "stamps" have found their way on to the market over the years (see Blog of 10 July 2010).
There is one article on the Internet, "Business Insider", dated 1 December 2014 which states that in ISIS-occupied territory "....postal services are created...." but this is not enlarged on and no details are given so postal historians will take it with a pinch of salt for now I'm sure.A number of Commonwealth territories have experienced terrorist attacks in recent years or their citizens have suffered severely as a result of outrages carried out in other countries. Whilst adherents of ISIS tend to launch both small- and large-scale attacks in sites over a wide geographical range as well as against those who live in Iraq and Syria themselves, two notable groups, Boko Haram in West Africa and al-Shabaab in Somalia, have done particular harm with their terrorist activity in Nigeria and Kenya respectively.
To return to al-Qaeda and the bombing of the World Trade Centre in 2001 which we may think of as the beginning of The Age of Terror - IGPC produced several items in 2011 with the names of various Commonwealth countries inscribed on them to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the outrage. Miniature sheets were produced in the names of The Gambia (which gave up its Commonwealth membership in 2013), St. Vincent And The Grenadines, Tanzania (which itself had experienced an al-Qaeda terrorist attack on 7 August 1998 when a bombing was carried out at the US Embassy in Dar es Salaam which resulted in the deaths of 11 people) and Sierra Leone:-,
Stamps have reflected the events which have been happening in the world for the past 175 years since the future personification of imperialism, Queen Victoria, was portrayed on the world's first postage stamp even though she was still a young woman and had sat on the throne of Great Britain for only 3 years. Events of the new Age of Terror have already been portrayed on stamps and doubtless will continue to be. The philatelic effects of the appearance of new states as a result of the actions of these terror groups may also be notable by the production of stamps for use on mail from these new states.
Stamp collecting continues to be an interesting way of keeping up with developments on the world scene which non-philatelists may never come to know about. As I have written before, stamps remain a wonderful educational resource and teachers should not ignore the help philatelic products could be to them in interesting their pupils in current affairs and history (and countless other subjects).
Even artists have recognised the usefulness of stamps as a means of depicting their subject particularly if their subject deals with political comment. All this keeps stamp collecting alive even if some philatelic agencies and postal administrations seem to be doing their best to wreck it by excessive and exploitative stamp production.