Thursday, 27 September 2012

The Observers Book of Postage Stamps

A few weeks ago this marvellous little pocket-sized book turned up in my mailbox - a delightful bit of postal love from my dear friend, the wonderful Ms Flamingo Rover. The Observers Book of Postage Stamps, its introduction tells us, is not meant primarily for the collector, "but rather for everyone who would accept stamp design as one of the minor arts." Hey! Minor? Well, ok then. That places me... and I am guessing you, my dear readers, clearly in this book's primary demographic. Stamp design: Hoorah!

The book starts with this handy chart of world history as it relates to the development of communications and postage stamps. So in handy table format we find that the Crimean War was raging in 1854-56; telegraphy was demonstrated by Morse in 1844; and the first perforated stamps were issued in 1850. Cool.

The contents of this book are fascinating and varied, and it covers everything from the genesis of stamp design (the story of the infamous penny black), to the principle of lithography (which involves the mutual repulsion of oil and water).

It contains a brief overview of stamps from all over the world, and I love what it has to say about Australian stamp issues in the 19th century which were "a depressing procession of Queen's portraits, many of them quite unrecognisable, in increasingly hideous frames with coarse lettering. The colony of Victoria was the worst offender." Coarse lettering! How hideous. And Victoria, my home state doing me proud. The author doesn't get nicer and comments on "ghastly multi-coloured stickers" produced by New South Wales in 1897 and while congratulating the Colony for producing one of the earliest commemorative issues, puts the boot in by noting that it may have been one of the earliest, but it was also one of the ugliest! Brilliant.

On contemplating Australian stamp design at the dawn of the twentieth century the author states:
"Ugliness begets ugliness, and with such a dreadful half-century to look back on, stamp designers for the Australian Commonwealth could hardly have been expected to create sudden masterpieces". Oh dear. Apparently we got better as the twentieth century wore on though. Phew! I have some of my own thoughts on ugly stamp design of the 21st century... but I will save that for another time.

Thanks for the book Sandy - I love it! xx


  1. that is my pleasure H. Couldn't resist it. Had no idea it was full of Aussie bashing though!

    1. Ah, it wasn't Aussie bashing... it was a critical eye cast over Aussie stamp design. In wonderful language, what's more. And to get a bit passionate over stamp design, well, full respect from me!! x


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