Tuesday 12 February 2013

208. Abdication Of The Pope and British Footballers.

During a rather short pontificate various Commonwealth countries have depicted Pope Benedict XVI on a large number of issues, mostly produced by a large New York-based philatelic agency on behalf of its client territories. Many of the issues have commemorated papal visits abroad and in the last few years the agency has produced stamps with the names of its clients printed on them even though the stamps have commemorated visits of Pope Benedict to countries often thousands miles away from the country for whom the stamps are issued. Issues celebrating papal events are clearly popular and apparently are still a good source of income for the philatelic agency and so in the next few weeks we will no doubt expect a huge outpouring of issues commemorating the outgoing pope, the interim vacant see and the installation of the next pope whoever that will be. The nonsense of such issues is illustrated by the item depicted above - a miniature sheet produced with the name of The Gambia printed on it which was released on 15 November 2005. Why do I say that it is a nonsense? Well, The Gambia is a small country where Christianity is very much a minority religion - 90% of Gambians are Sunni Muslims - and of the 9% of the population that is Christian, there are only about 43000 who are Catholics. Yet, in recent years The Gambia has had stamps with its name printed on them produced for it which not only celebrated the start of Benedict XVI's papacy as shown above but which have commemorated his various birthdays, anniversaries of his succession and trips to foreign countries. These stamps do not seem to honour the Pope but merely to cynically exploit him and the collectors who spend large amounts of money buying them. I wonder how many of these stamps ever found their way on to a letter in that largely Muslim country. There is much speculation that the next Pope may be from Africa, Nigeria or Ghana, and if that happens I would certainly understand that various African Commonwealth post offices would want to philatelically commemorate such an event.
  On the subject of cynicism, Royal Mail, the British Post Office, has found new ways of getting around their announcement that they would reduce the number of sets of stamps issued per year - first of all, as previously pointed out, by issuing increasing numbers of "Post And Go" stamps, particularly in limited numbers at various philatelic exhibitions, and then by simply issuing increased numbers of stamps per set. Thus, we find that 10 more stamps will be issued on 16 April 2013 to commemorate "Great Britons", some greater than others. The designs feature Norman Parkinson, a photographer, Vivien Leigh, the movie actress who famously appeared in the film "Gone With The Wind", Peter Cushing, a movie actor who played Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Frankenstein in the Hammer horror movie series, a villain in "Star Wars" and who is also the missing "Dr. Who", having played the role in 2 movies of the 1960's (this stamp is thus added to the 11 "Dr. Who" stamps to be issued on 26 March), David Lloyd George (as a former prime minister, he is one of the truly "A List" "Great Britons"), Elizabeth David, a writer about food, John Archer, the first Afro-Caribbean man to hold British public office, Benjamin Britton (composer, another "A List" commemoration), Mary Leakey, archaeologist and anthropologist and Richard Dimbleby who was a television broadcaster. History will not remember most of these people but in 200 years time someone may find an old stamp album and wonder who they were. 

And then, Royal Mail is also going to produce another set of 11 stamps which commemorates the 150th anniversary of the Football Association (in England) and, so as not to offend the Scots, the 140th anniversary of the founding of the Scottish Football Association. The issue takes the format of a miniature sheet with 11 different stamps each depicting a portrait of a member of a United Kingdom "Dream Team". Actually, I have to say that I think that it is a very good issue and should be equally as popular as the Dr. Who set among the general public of Britain. The footballers depicted were all chosen from players whose senior careers peaked in the period 1963 to the 1990's and the featured players are:- Jimmy Greaves, John Charles, Gordon Banks the goalkeeper, George Best, John Barnes, Kevin Keegan, Denis Law, Bobby Moore (England's captain of the team that won the 1966 World Cup final), John Robson, Dave Mackay and Bobby Charlton (who also played in the 1966 World Cup winning team).

Bobby Moore

Bobby Charlton
Of course, like the Dr. Who set, this is too good a money-making opportunity for Royal Mail to miss and so they have been unable to restrain themselves from also issuing yet another prestige booklet and a series of retail booklets which will of course include variants of the basic stamps because they will be self-adhesive rather than gummed.

Jimmy Greaves

Kevin Keegan
So, by 3 May 2013, Royal Mail will have issued 44 commemorative stamps, 3 miniature sheets, 7 definitives, 6 retail booklets and 2 prestige booklets plus a number of Post And Go stamps (a total of 62 items plus Post And Go). By the same date in 2012 Royal Mail had issued 45 commemorative stamps, 4 miniature sheets, 16 definitive stamps (including regionals), 1 prestige booklet, 4 retail booklets (a total of 70 items). Thus it does appear at first sight that the total number of issues have been reduced but the excess of numbers in 2012 is mainly made up by definitives and we have yet to hear if more will be produced this year if postal rates rise which they usually do about April. So at the moment there is no convincing evidence that Royal Mail is truly acknowledging its customers' opinions that there are too many stamps being issued and that the announcement of a reduced number of sets being issued was anything but a cynical piece of publicity which they knew that they easily get around.

Sunday 10 February 2013

207. Another Isle Of Man Catch-penny Issue; New issues From Hong Kong, Solomon Islands and Turks And Caicos.

Despite already having announced several new issues for the beginning of 2013, detailed in a previous blog, the Isle Of Man Post Office has been unable to resist the release of 2 further catch-penny items to coincide with the China International Collection Expo and celebrating an event clearly of great importance in the Isle Of Man - the Chinese New Year. Not content with a stamp issue the Manx Post Office felt that the event was so important to this small island which sits in the middle of the Irish Sea - a long way from the far east - that a miniature sheet of 6 stamps (below) was required to do justice to the Manx celebrations of the festival this year and even that was not enough as a further sheetlet of 20 stamps was also required (above). I look forward to hearing about what must clearly have been exuberant celebrations in the middle of Douglas, the Manx capital, to celebrate the festival. Or not, as the case may be. The date of issue was 8 February 2013.

Meanwhile a territory where such an issue is much more appropriate is, of course, Hong Kong where the Chinese new year commemoratives were released on 26 January 2013. There was a set of 4 stamps (above), a miniature sheet:-

a silk miniature sheet as well as a silver and gold miniature sheet:-

Hong Kong new year silk miniature sheet.
Perhaps it all adds up to rather more than I should like to see but the various items are at least relevant to Hong Kong and are extremely well-produced and attractive, as are most stamps from the territory which is why I still collect the issues of Hong Kong even though it ceased to be a British territory more than 15 years ago. The issues of Hong Kong give the stamp collector continuing great pleasure which is more than can be said for some territories still in The Commonwealth. The second issue of the year from Hong Kong is a set of four stamps and 1 miniature sheet which was released on 28 February 2013 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the International Red Cross Committee:-

The latest Commonwealth WWF stamps have been produced for The Solomon Islands and are clearly products of the Lithuanian stamp agency, Stamperija, and are very attractive and according to the WWF Stamps website are only being sold in the usual sheetlets of eight (2 of each stamp) or as 4 se-tenant strips in sheetlets of sixteen. Whether or not Stamperija will come up with additional variations, such as imperforate stamps, remains to be seen. The stamps which depict the Solomon Islands cockatoo were designed by Vyautas Svartis. The date of issue is not yet known.

Solomons Cockatoo sheetlet of eight.
At long last, an issue from The Turks And Caicos islands which has direct national relevance - a miniature sheet released to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Turks And Caicos National Trust. The design features a replica built in 2007 of an old slave cabin in the Cheshire Hall plantation ruins. Now if only the territory would issue more stamps which celebrate its national heritage rather than on subjects which have more to do with US popular culture than Turks And Caicos culture. I do not yet know the date of issue of this item.

Wednesday 6 February 2013

206. New Montserrat Definitive Set.

Montserrat is to issue a new 16 value definitive set which will feature moths and butterflies of Montserrat. It is a pleasingly colourful and attractive set but will hopefully not be accompanied by miniature sheets and sheetlets, such as has happened in Penrhyn recently and as discussed in the previous blog. I do not yet know the date of issue of this set.

Other forthcoming new issues include 2 sets from Antigua And Barbuda, one of which commemorates the European artist, Raphael, and comprises a sheetlet of 4 stamps and a miniature sheet. There is nothing in the design of the stamps to demonstrate any link between Raphael and Antigua, presumably because there is not any, and therefore one questions why this issue is being made by the Antigua And Barbuda Post Office. Similarly, there appears to be no connection between this island Caribbean state and the late American entertainer, Elvis Presley, but Antigua's Post Office is issuing no less than 5 miniature sheets on the theme of Presley's "Classic Hits" in the near future
Antigua And Barbuda sheetlet commemorating the art of Raphael.

Grenada is to issue a sheetlet of 3 stamps and 1 m.s. which depict shells of the Caribbean region, but not specifically of Grenada itself, and a set of 4 stamps and 1 m.s. which depict butterflies, again of the Caribbean region rather than of Grenada itself:-

Meanwhile the Grenada Post Office also issued, on 3 January 2013, stamps which ostensibly are for use in the Grenadine islands of Carriacou and Petite Martinique and which comprise 6 miniature sheets which, similar to those from Antigua, commemorate the "classic hits" of Elvis Presley. There is also a sheetlet of 4 stamps and 1 m.s. which belatedly commemorate the centenary of the sinking of the Titanic, and 10 stamps in 2 sheetlets and 1 m.s. which depict whales and dolphins of the Caribbean area, again not specific to Grenada waters:-

I suppose you could say that the depiction of marine mammals of the Caribbean area is of some relevance to Grenada but the music of Presley and the sinking of the Titanic clearly are completely irrelevant to the island and its offshore appendages. Nevis is to issue a set of 4 stamps in sheetlet format plus 1 m.s. which depict beetles, whether or not any of the featured species are found on the island is a question not answered by the designs:-

Nevis beetles miniature sheet.
There is a long list of issues from Sierra Leone due to appear on the market, precise date of issue not yet known:- Elvis Presley "classic hits" (5 m.s.), 500th anniversary of Michelangelo's completion of the painting of the Cistene Chapel in the Vatican (8 stamps issued as 2 sheetlets, each containing 4 different stamps), Primates of the world - apes not religious leaders  (sheetlet of stamps and 1 m.s.), Carnivorous plants of Africa (!) (sheetlet of 4 stamps and 1 m.s.); 50th anniversary the death of John Kennedy, a former US president (3 stamps and 1 m.s.), Centenary of the sinking of the Titanic (sheetlet of 6 stamps and 1 m.s.) and Dog breeds of the world (sheetlet of 4 stamps):-

None of these issues produced for Sierra Leone have any direct relevance to Sierra Leone though it is possible that some of the carnivorous plants may be present in the country (again, the design does not tell us) and - who knows? - someone there might own a labrador dog or a Jack Russell terrier (though when I visited Sierra Leone none of the dogs I saw there looked like any of these breeds) so I doubt if any of these stamps will find their way into my Commonwealth collection. As I'm forever writing, I collect stamps which mean something to the country whose name appears on them and hardly any of the stamps mentioned above, apart from the Montserrat butterflies definitives, have any real relevance to the countries for which they have been produced. Really, it would not be that difficult for designers to make their stamps more representative of their client territories - just a little research, that's all it takes -but why bother when there are thematic collectors out there who are ready to spend money on anything that depicts their subject of interest even if the country that depicts the subject has no links with that topic?

Tuesday 5 February 2013

205. Philatelic Collector Inc. Takes Over Samoa.

One of the New York-based philatelic agencies, Philatelic Collector Inc., has established itself as the "exclusive agent, advisor and distributor for all philatelic Material" for Samoa. This is the third philatelic service of a Commonwealth country of the Pacific region to be taken over by this company since it took over control of the stamp issues of the Cook Islands in 2010. At the end of 2011, Tonga too fell under its control and during 2012 a large number of stamp issues, frequently of very high face value, were released with the names of Tonga and one of its constituent islands, Niuafo'ou, printed on them. Cook Islands, too, has had a large number of stamps issued for it in the last two or three years and the numbers of such issues have been increased by stamps released with the names of Penrhyn, Aitutaki and Rarotonga, all constituent islands of the state of Cook Islands, printed on them.
  A feature of the takeover of stamp issues by this company so far has been the release of a new definitive series for its client territories soon after it has taken over the release of new issues and these seem to be invariably accompanied by sheetlets which contain all the values of the definitive stamps which have been produced in ordinary sheets and, recently in the case of Penrhyn, additional miniature small sheets which also contain all the stamps of the set and so make up a third version of the complete set (hence completeist collectors are faced with buying not one set of definitives but three). I suppose we must expect a new definitive series which has been produced for Samoa to appear on the market in the near future. Meanwhile, a Christmas set was rushed out for release on 21 December 2012, which was a little late for use on Christmas mail; Philatelic Collector Inc. having been appointed agents for Samoa only on 26 November 2012.
 The Christmas item was actually not a set but a sheetlet of 10 stamps, admittedly each modestly priced at 50c, but of lazy design - a photograph of a religious painting with 10 stamp-sized perforated shapes in it - look at the illustration above, some of the designs of the individual stamps within the sheetlet are ridiculous, the top right design for instance depicted nothing more than a small piece of an arch - if you received that on Christmas post you would wonder what was going on.
  So, just as we did with Tonga last year, we collectors of Commonwealth Pacific area stamps must have our anxieties about what this agency will produce during 2013 in the name of the Samoa Post Office. By the end of 2012, Tonga, following what had happened in The Cook Islands, had fully realised our worst fears and had produced a highly expensive range of new issues during the year. I fear that the Pacific area is becoming close to uncollectible what with another New York-based agency continuing to produce stamps frequently with highly irrelevant subject matter for its client territory, Tuvalu, and the excessive new issues being produced in the name of The Solomon Islands by a Lithuania-based agency. A pity but that's stamp collecting in 2013. It is up to the individual collector to decide what he or she wants to spend their money on and to avoid being exploited. Catalogue editors have a role to play too if they have the backbone to decide that they will not list exploitative issues - their influential position means that they have a duty to the collector and to the hobby but sadly there has been little evidence to suggest that editors are prepared to do much to help collectors fight back. Let us hope that the Samoan Post Office is able to restrict issues more than the post offices of some of their neighbours have been able to do.

Saturday 2 February 2013

204. Sixtieth Anniversary Of The Coronation.

Singapore's first issue of 2013 was released on 4 January and took the form of the usual lunar new year set consisting of 3 gummed stamps from ordinary sheets (above), a Collectors sheet (below):-

and a sheetlet of 10 self-adhesive stamps at the first local rate:-

I enjoy collecting the Singapore new year stamps which are always colourful and amusing and are at least appropriate to the country unlike some of the lunar new year stamps which appear from countries such as Gibraltar and Grenada (both illustrated in recent blogs). The collector's sheets are of course controversial since they are sold at a price higher than their face value and for this reason are not usually given full catalogue status by Stanley Gibbons Catalogues although the editor of the Catalogues does not see this as a reason to exclude Royal Mail prestige booklets from the catalogue even though they too are sold at a price above the face value of the stamps contained inside. A highly inconsistent publication. Singapore issued 2 stamps on 27 November 2012 with the same designs as a pair released by Brunei, as a joint issue. A miniature sheet was also produced:-
A set of 8 stamps was also produced by Singapore on 17 October 2012 which commemorated various festivals held there and the 4 1st local values were also produced in a self-adhesive format, each in a booklet of 10 stamps making 4 booklets in all. Another Collector's Sheet was also issued, again very colourful and attractive, and is depicted below with the folder in which it was issued:-

I have previously mentioned the stamp issues due to appear on 6 February 2013 from  Ascension and Bahamas, both client territories of Pobjoy Stamps, and below, I depict the miniature sheets which the territories will issue which accompany the sets of 5 stamps which will be released on that date:-

For decades, royal anniversaries were commemorated by numerous territories participating in various omnibus series which we thought of as "Crown Agents' omnibus issues" but as CASCO, the Crown Agents' successor, appears to gradually fade away and lose its client territories to Pobjoy Stamps. I wonder if we will call such omnibus issues "Pobjoy Omnibuses" in the future. Having said that, these particular issues have in fact been designed by CASCO rather than Pobjoy's usual designers and I suppose similar designs will appear from some of the residual CASCO territories, although CASCO's publicity is so poor that I have not yet seen any information which confirms that. 
  I find it quite difficult to keep up with the issues of the Malaysian Post Office but there have been some interesting and attractive items recently. I like the postal history-themed issue which appeared on 22 October 2012 which consisted of 3 stamps and a miniature sheet and which depicted postmen's cycle transport, one of which is illustrated below:-

and on 8 October 2 stamps and a miniature sheet appeared which commemorated the 750th anniversary of Melaka, with the miniature sheet also being overprinted with the badge of Malacca to commemorate the Melaka Stamp Exhibition:-

Like Singapore, Malaysia also issued stamps for local festivals on 27 September 2012 and the issue consisted of 5 stamps:-

Finally, I depict the 2 Brunei stamps issued on the 27 November 2012 as its part of the Brunei-Singapore Joint Issue mentioned above. One of each of these stamps appeared in a booklet produced by the Brunei Post Office which consisted of a small card folder with the stamps stuck into the booklet by the selvedge from the edge of the stamp sheet.