Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Missives from a 14 year old

Post from Thailand: Totally beautiful combination of  map envelope and crab stamp
In writing this blog over the past few weeks, I have come to realise that I have always loved post - more so than I was particularly conscious of. In search of blogging inspiration this week, I ventured deep into the hazardous realm of my parents' backyard shed. I was looking for the aerogram that I remember once receiving from Grandma. I didn't find it - but I did find three shoe-boxes full of letters that I had packed away before going overseas in 1999 and have never thought of since. This tells us that as well as being a stamp collector and full time nerd, I am also a tragic hoarder.

Within the boxes of letters from my high school girlfriends (which I dared not read), there was a folder full of old pen pal letters. When I was fourteen I joined "International Penfriends" and as it turns out I have a whole bunch of letters from Japan, Thailand, Switzerland, Denmark and Indonesia dating from c.1995. I am pretty glad that I am a hoarder, because the letters are all quite beautiful.

Cool postmark on this Swiss envelope. And the stamp on the left is pretty gorgeous.
What is not beautiful, but quite funny, is that in my folder full of my old pen pal letters, I have kept drafts of some of my letters to my prospective pen pals. "Hi my name is Helen and I go to Mirboo North Secondary College" etc. Fairly tellingly, in my draft introductory letter I also wrote:
"My hobbies include netball and badminton. I like art, but I am not fantastic at it. And I collect lots of things. You name it, I collect it, basically. Stamps, soaps, business cards and GLO caps"
GLO Caps? What the hell are they? Well, actually I know what they are. Because along side the letters in the shoeboxes I found in the shed, there were also, you guessed it, GLO Caps. Sheesh. What a dork. I was onto something with the stamps though.

So my letters were pretty cheesy. What I think is particularly funny is the note to myself recording what I had included in  'Letter No. 2' to Damien Walsh, which I noted was written on apricot paper and sent on the 31.11.95. I told Damien:
  •  all about an embarrassing moment at badminton (I wonder what that was?)
  • that I have to share a bedroom with my little sister 
  • and that I had an excursion for my geography class to the beach at Inverloch.
Pretty exciting stuff from the life of a 14 year old. Meanwhile, some fourteen-year-olds are drinking, partying and generally running amok. I was drafting pen pal letters.
Apparently I wasn't always so prompt with my replies...

So, in delving into my parents shed (a dangerous thing to do at the best of times) I did not find the aerogram that I was looking for, but I did find a whole collection of  'post'. And I also found that I told a lie in my first blog post, as I have actually received more than one aerogram in my life. I received one from a pen pal when I was fourteen. And here it is, 16 years later:

Featuring a hot air balloon! Love it.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Sunday Stamps: Spring/Flowers Autumn/Trees

This is my first time participating in Viridian's Sunday Stamps, and I hope that I will be forgiven for stretching the theme of flowers/springtime just a tad. I am, generally speaking, not really a floral sort of girl, and I live in the southern hemisphere. These are my excuses.  

Although Melbourne so regularly experiences four seasons in one day (just as Crowded House sang), Autumn is the official season, so that is the one I thought I would pay homage to here. Thus, in a happily Autumnal frame of mind, I have chosen some pretty gorgeous flowering tree stamps to share (so I am sort of on-theme, right?).

These stamps come courtesy of my Grandma Nellie. And also courtesy of my Grandma Nellie is her (slightly out of date) 1980 catalogue of Australian Stamps, which tells me that these tree stamps were released in June 1978.

I think these stamps are so exquisite, partly because of the beautiful matte colours used, and the strikingly simple designs; and partly because the trees illustrated are so distinctively Australian. I can't even pick a favourite stamp from this series!

I hope you have enjoyed these stamps as much as I have. Thanks for letting me participate in Sunday Stamps!


Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Maps and Stamps

Part of the reason that I am so open about my nerdy interest in stamps is that I work in an extremely nerdy office. I work for an archaeology consultancy based in Melbourne, and I have truly found my people there. At work, there is a girl with a sand collection, a girl with a rock collection and a boy and a girl who are both crazy about Lego. My boss collects vintage jigsaw puzzles with English country scenes on them. We are all complete nerds - there is no two ways about it.

But being around nerds is quite liberating, and I am in a place where I can vocalise my love of stamps without being laughed out of town. Well, almost. Ben, who is a rock art nerd, thought stamps were off the scale of nerdy. An 11 out of 10 on the geek-o-metre. Humpf.

It is also known around our office that I am particularly fond of maps. I like making maps, I like looking at maps, I like collecting maps (particularly Melways). Ben, the rock art nerd, was one day scoffing at my love of stamps, and remarked "Ha! Imagine if you had a stamp with a map on it! Your head would explode!"
Hell yeah, I thought. Maps on stamps would be TOTALLY COOL. What an awesome idea!

Luckily the lovely Kris was in the room to back me up when Ben was busy mocking stamps (and me). That night I went home and did a little big of googling and discovered that I was not alone, that there was a whole society dedicated to maps on stamps: the CartoPhilatelic Society! Who knew?!

The next day I very excitedly mentioned the CartoPhilatelic Society to Ben, who was not impressed; and to Kris, who may not have been impressed, but very kindly let me rabbit on about maps and stamps anyway. I did not think much more of this exchange and happily went off on a two week holiday to Samoa. But when I got back from holidays, waiting on my desk was a little packet. A little packet full of stamps, each one featuring a little map!

Kris had mentioned the maps on stamps thing to her Dad, a philatelist whom I have never met, and lo and behold, he had gone and put together a collection for me. How truly sweet! It made my day - actually, it made more than my day, as that was about six months ago, and I am still smiling when I think about it. Certainly having a little packet of stamps all with maps on them, sitting there, waiting for me on my return to work, made the transition from holiday-mode back into work-mode all the more bearable. Maps and Stamps. What a beautiful combination! Thank-you to Kris and her lovely Dad!

And that, friends, is the story of how I came to have a whole collection of stamps all with maps on them!

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Make it Great in '88

The two albums Grandma gave me
I rediscovered stamps while writing my honours thesis in 2003. I was studying history, and chose to write my thesis on the Australian Bicentenary of 1988. More precisely - without going into too much boring detail - I was writing about ideas of nationhood and identity as they were expressed through the official art exhibitions that were staged, both here and abroad, during that year. And that was a year of my life right there, peeps: up to my neck in slogans such as, "Make it Great in '88" and "Celebration of a Nation".

Now, my thesis may have been less than groundbreaking, but the topic did allow me to look at lots of nice art in the process. And while I was busy thinking about ideas about how and why we commemorate certain events, I thought of my dusty stamp collection from when I was in primary school, and remembered that there had been all sorts of stamps issued in the lead up to the 200th anniversary of the landing of the First Fleet at Sydney Cove.

"May 1787: Departure"
There were quite a lot of stamps issued for the Bicentenary, but the ones I remembered were the ones illustrating a panoramic scene across five stamps, for different stages of the First Fleet's voyage. These stamps are not my  favourite - but they did turn me into a philatelist (of sorts).

But it is possible that I was always going to be a philatelist. That it was written in the stars. Last week I mentioned Pa Bert on my Dad's side of the family. Well, last weekend I visited my Mum's parents, and Grandma Nellie gave me her two stamp albums full of the stamps she had collected during the 60s, 70s and 80s. So stamp collecting, it seems, is in my blood from both sides of the family.

"June 1787: Teneriffe"
Grandma's albums are pretty great, and hold lots of treasures inside, which I am sure will be the focus of many a future post on this blog. And on the very last page of the second album of her stamps, I discovered Grandma had the mint set of Bicentennial stamps which kick-started my stamp collection. Yay!

The Bicentenary, marking 200 years of white settlement of Australia, was in many ways politically fraught. It marks a beginning, but it also marks an end. While the landing at Sydney Cove is an event at the foundation of the society that I live in (and am thus grateful for), it marked a tremendous, distressing, murderous, grievous upheaval for the indigenous peoples of this country. The violence of that history is not displayed in this picturesque set of stamps that commemorates the voyage, rather than the colonisation.

The story told in the stamps stops at the raising of the Union Jack. And to me that is interesting. What comes next is murky and hard to celebrate, so the story is chosen carefully. These stamps are every bit as much about 1988 as they are about 1788. Stamps as historic documents: I heart post.

Grandma's mint strip illustrating "January 1788: Arrival"

My used stamps - Aborigines watching the ships come in; The British hoisting the Union Jack

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

FDCs from PNG

While visiting my parents at Christmas time, my Mum gave me a white plastic bag with "Stamp collecting is fun!" emblazoned on it, which was full of stamps and envelopes. She couldn't really remember the details, but given that it was postage paraphernalia, she assumed that wherever it had come from it was meant for me. I took a bit of a look inside it, and then proceeded to stash the bag in the boot of my car (alongside other miscellany that I have yet to find a home for, including a blue glitter cowgirl hat and a picnic rug).

Last weekend I remembered the bag of post from my Mum and I took it out to explore.  To my delight, it was a veritable treasure chest of post, and post-related items. Mainly it was a bag of First Day Covers. My own stamp collection does not encompass FDCs, which I always thought of as basically an empty envelope with a fancy postmark from the first day of a stamp's issue. But it turns out that FDCs are way cooler than I had realised, and the ones I discovered this weekend are pretty special for a number of reasons.

The first reason is that many of the First Day Covers are addressed to J. H. Kiddell, my Dad's grandfather, my great-grandpa, who was always referred to as "Pa Bert".  Pa Bert passed away well before my time, but it makes me pretty happy to think that he was a bit of stamp nerd, just like me. Or rather, in this respect, I am just like him.

The second reason this collection of FDCs are totally cool is that they are all from "Papua and New Guinea" - and date from the late 60s up until the early 70s, when Papua and New Guinea was still a Territory administered by Australia.  I am completely besotted with 'post' in a large part due to the history inherent within stamps (and other postage related items!). This is beautifully exemplified by one of the FDCs within the collection: a 1972 issue commemorating "constitutional development". Papua New Guinea eventually became independent from Australia in 1975.

The third reason that this collection of FDCs totally knocked my socks off, is because within the envelopes were delicate little brochures explaining the stamps. The decorative envelopes! The graphic design! The history! And to top it all off there are brochures inside! Wow. I heart FDCs.

My favourite of the FDCs from Pa Bert is an issue from February 1970. It stands out amongst the crowd because the stamps feature two things that, if I were Maria von Trapp, would be incorporated into a song about brown paper packages tied up with string:
  • A map - more precisely an antique map from 1606 (on the 25c)
  • An archaeological artefact (a prehistoric amulet on the 5c)
Maps, artefacts, stamps: these are a few of my favourite things. And they are all combined into one perfect First Day Cover.  Thankyou, Pa Bert.

Department of Posts and Telegraphs!