SOME HISTORICAL TIT-BITS
Who Chooses the Designs?
In the UK in the 1960's stamp designs were approved by a rather cumbersome tripartite process involving the Postmaster General, the Post Office Stamp Advisory Committee, with the final decision resting with H.M. The Queen.
For most of the 20th Century the role of Postmaster General was seen as a rather quiet posting: a stepping stone on the ministerial career ladder such as for Clement Attlee and Neville Chamberlain.
Between 1964 and 1966, however, the post was filled by Anthony Wedgwood Benn who had a distinctive take on how British Postage stamps might commemorate national events.
Salvation Army 1965
Wedgwood Benn was keen to see a greater diversity in the people portrayed on British Stamps who he felt were too often, white Caucasian and male. In the issue to commemorate the centenary of the Salvation Army in 1965 an officer of colour appears.
Burns Commemoration 1966
Benn was also keen to commemorate people from the wider UK. Robbie Burns is Scotland's favourite poet: but it also appealed to Tony Benn that Robbie Burns was renowned as a Republican and an atheist.
THE QUEEN'S HEAD?
Battle of Britain 1965
In 1966 when discussing designs with the Queen, he 'wondered' whether it was necessary to show the head of the monarch on each stamp? He thought the Queen agreed, but he was soon informed by Downing Street that this was not the case.
THE COMMEMORATION OF HISTORY
"History is written by the Victors"
Walter Benjamin (1892 - 1940)
The postage stamp, a mechanism for collecting the taxes due on the carriage of mail, has been used since 1920 (when Portugal produced a series depicting highlights of its national history) to carry illustrations of a nation's history.
Illustrations chosen, of course, by the ruling monarch or political party. Sometimes this is implicit in the design (for example the key plate issues of the British Empire - in part an efficiency mechanism, in part a statement of imperial control - or is very explicit (for example, the shifting imagery of Spain during the civil war - militia symbols issued by the Republican, the image of Isabella the Catholic issued by the Nationalists.
Like many countries, France has also issued stamps that illustrate the national history. These three stamps illustrate the significance of the often 'hidden hand' of the government.
THE RESISTANCE OF VERCINGETORIX TO THE ROMANS
Under President Charles de Gaulle
THE GLORY OF THE "SUN KING"
Under President Georges Pompidou
CELEBRATION OF "THE POPULAR FRONT GOVERNMENT OF SOCIALISTS AND COMMUNISTS
Under President Francois Mitterand
TWO HUNDRED YEARS OF DEMOCRACY
Between 1975 and 1977 the USA celebrated the two hundred year centenary of the War of Independence, and the creation of the US Constitution. These were difficult years for the US Government. The Watergate convictions took place in early 1975, with Gerald Ford as President.
The aftermath of Watergate, and racial tensions continued in this period with race riots in Boston, Michigan, and New York. The election of President Carter fuelled expectations of real change in what was felt by many to be flawed government processes and a betrayal of the ideals of 1776.
Throughout this period the US Post Office issued a number of stamps which had the importance of the democratic process as a theme.
"LIBERTY AND THE FREEDOM OF THE PRESS"
"THE ABILITY TO WRITE - A ROOT OF DEMOCRACY"
"TO CAST A FREE BALLOT - A ROOT OF DEMOCRACY"
THE OTTOMANS IN EUROPE IN THE 16TH CENTURY
In the 16th Century Suleyman the Magnificent repeatedly sought westward expansion from what is now Turkey. Although held at Vienna and Malta the Ottoman forces also had military success, and a number of European stamps record some of these vicissitudes.
THE BATTLE OF MOHACS 1527
The Ottoman army totally defeated the Hungarians. Hungary was partitioned between the Holy Roman Empire and the Ottomans.
Stamp issued by Hungary in 1976
THE BATTLE OF PREVEZA 1538
One of the largest sea battles to take place in the Mediterranean. The Ottoman navy under Heyreddin Barbarossa defeated a "Holy League" navy assembled by Pope Paul III. The Ottomans ruled the Mediterranean until Lepanto reversed the result in 1571.
Stamp Issued by Turkey in 1941
THE SIEGE OF VIENNA
After defeating the Hungarians Suleyman marched onto Vienna and besieged was effectively the capital city of the Holy Roman Empire and the key to further Ottoman expansion into Europe. Bad weather was the principal reason for the Ottoman failure to capture the city.
Stamp issued by Austria in 1983
THE LANGUAGE OF THE MAIL
In his short but fascinating book "A History of Victorian Postage" (published by Amberley in 2017), Gerard Cheshire explains some of the derivations of the terms that we use for 'post' and 'mail' today.
"The term was used in England to indicate the starting post and the finishing post of a letter's journey. Thus a letter was sent from 'post' to 'post'". (p. 12). Hence postman, posting, postage, postbox etc. became the common parlance.
From the 16th Century the Thurn and Taxis family had the monopoly on mail for the Hapsburg Empire. Permanent post stations were built about a day's journey apart and became offices for the collection and onward distribution of post.
"The term is derived from an old French word 'male' which referred to a travelling bag, or wallet in which letters were kept during transit" (p. 12). Hence mail box, mailman, and more recently mail shot and E-mail.