I am currently reading the latest thriller by Steve Berry, The Malta Exchange, and just came across a passage mentioning stamps. The main character, Cotton Malone, is in Italy where he had a violent encounter with somebody he has discovered is a member of the Knights of Justice.  In the passage, Malone is thinking about what he has learned about the organization:

One hundred and four countries maintained formal diplomatic relations, including an exchange of embassies. It possessed its own constitution and actively operated within fifty-four nations, having the ability to transport medicine and supplies around the world without customs inspections or political interference. It even possessed observer status in the United Nations, issuing its own passports, license plates, stamps, and coins. Not a country, as there were no citizens or borders to defend, more a sovereign entity, all of its efforts focused on helping the sick and protecting its name and heritage, which members defended zealously.”

Palazzo di Malta, Via dei Condotti 68 Roma, headquarters of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. Note the flags flying at half-staff after the death of the Grand Master Andrew Bertie. Photo taken by Willtron on February 11, 2008. Used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
Sovereign Military Order of Malta – Yvert et Tellier #184: Baptism of Christ (June 25, 1980). Image sourced from active eBay auction.

Upon reading that, my first thought was, “I have never heard of ‘Knights of Justice’ stamps” but then I realized that Malone is referring to the Knights Hospitaller (founded in 1050 in Jerusalem) which are now officially called the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes and of Malta and better known as the Sovereign Military Order of Malta (SMOM). It is a Roman Catholic order based in Rome.  A postal administration called the Poste Magistrali was set up for the order under a Decree of the Grand Master on May 20, 1966, with first stamps issued on November15 of that year. I have seen these referred to once or twice but always thought they meant the stamps of Malta, either as a British colony or independent republic.

Of course, now that I know about this issuing entity, I need to seek out some of their stamps. Unfortunately, postal agreements have been established with only 50 or so territories which allow mail sent, provided it is posted at the Magistral Post Office at Via Bocca di Leone 68, Rome. The United States doesn’t have such an agreement with the Sovereign Military Order of Malta nor is the order a member of the Universal Postal Union. As a result, many catalogues view these as Cinderellas or local post stamps and simply do not list them. In fact, the only two major catalogues for which I have found SMOM listings are the Italian-language Unificato and French-language Yvert et Tellier catalogues.

Australia – Queen Victoria Bicentennial gold coin

May 24 marks the 200th anniversary of Queen Victoria’s birth and a number of entities are planning stamp issues as well as commemorative coins. In searching for new stamps in this topical, I came across a number of coins that I would love to obtain as well. I found the designs from the Perth Mint in Australia particularly beautiful. Oddly, I cannot find an announcement picturing the designs for Great Britain’s upcoming stamp set other than the one that accompanied press releases last December that described this year’s stamp programme.  However, there are several online dealers advertising their first day cover cachet designs picturing the stamps. One example is shown below:

Great Britain – Queen Victoria Bicentennial (May 24, 2019) first day cover
Jersey – Queen Victoria Bicentennial (May 24, 2019)

The set from Jersey is another of my early favorites. This is an island I began collecting about the same time I started my childhood collections of Pitcairn Islands and Tristan da Cunha (sometime around late 1978 or early 1979). My other great interest at this time was North Atlantic ocean liners and I had just started a correspondence with Noel R.P. Bonsor, an author who had a series of books that profiled virtually every passenger ship that had steamed across the Atlantic since the early days of Samuel Cunard’s beginnings. Bonsor divided his time between a residence on Jersey and a villa in Alicante, Spain, and we traded letters back and forth for many years. Eventually, he began sending me stamp issues (mostly in presentation packs) from Jersey. I stopped actively collecting the bailiwick’s releases sometime in the 1990’s when they began releasing far too many stamps to keep up with (or afford). However, I will try to add the Queen Victoria set. The souvenir sheet is particularly striking:

Jersey – Queen Victoria Bicentennial (May 24, 2019) souvenir sheet
Thailand – Coronation of King Rama X (May 4, 2019)

Here in Thailand, everybody is getting reading for this weekend’s Coronation of King Maha Vajiralongkorn, usually referred to in the West as King Rama X. There have already been a plethora of ceremonies and events associated with the event and the King himself got married Wednesday afternoon to the head of his Royal bodyguard detail (his father, the much revered King Bhumiphol Adulyadej, similarly married Queen Sirikit just prior to his own coronation back in 1950). The actual coronation ceremony occurs tomorrow (May 4) but the grand procession through the streets of Bangkok is scheduled for Sunday afternoon and Monday is a special holiday for the Kingdom.  All government employees (myself included) are to wear the Royal color of yellow every day for the entire month of May. Thailand Post’s stamp for the Coronation will be released tomorrow; while there are special postmarks available from many of the post offices in Bangkok, I doubt any of the post offices here in Phuket will be open. I have to work all day anyway and it won’t be until next week that I will be able to buy any of the new stamps (and there are several due for release next Friday so I may just wait until then).

Canada – Sweet Canada (April 17, 2019)

I have a fair amount of stamps that make me hungry looking at them, particularly those from Thailand, Malaysia, and New Zealand that portray the wonderful fruit we have in this part of the world.  I now have the opportunity to add a few picturing sweets thanks to delectable sets released by Canada and Singapore, coincidentally (?) both on April 17.  The Sweet Canada set has received some controversy as confectionary “experts” claim the proportions of chocolate, custard and crumb crust are pictured incorrectly on the design featuring the famed Nanaimo bar. It still looks tasty to me!  The stamps in Singapore’s Traditional Confections set are just as mouth-watering.

Singapore – Traditional Confections (April 17, 2019)

I haven’t spent much time on the stamp blogs lately but I did read an excellent article by John M. Hotchner on the Virtual Stamp Blog about “Collecting On A Tight Budget“, something I totally relate to.  I also came across an essay that was originally broadcast on CBC Radio discussing “The Lost Art of Writing Letters“.

“May 5, 1862 and the siege of Puebla”, a 1901 image from the Biblioteca del Niño Mexicano, a series of booklets for children detailing the history of Mexico.”

Sunday is, of course, the 5th of May — a date which is celebrated in Mexico and the American Southwest as Cinco de Mayo. The date is observed to commemorate the Mexican Army’s victory over the French Empire at the Battle of Puebla, on May 5, 1862, under the leadership of General Ignacio Zaragoza. The victory of the smaller Mexican force against a larger French force was a boost to morale for the Mexicans. Oddly, the holiday has taken on a greater significance in the U.S. than in Mexico, and has become associated with the celebration of Mexican-American culture. These celebrations began in California, where they have been observed annually since 1863. The day gained nationwide popularity in the 1980s thanks especially to advertising campaigns by beer and wine companies. Today, Cinco de Mayo generates beer sales on par with the Super Bowl. I plan to celebrate in my own way with a nice meal of Mexican food, a real hit-or-miss affair in Phuket, Thailand. Luckily, one of the island’s best restaurants serving Mexican food in located not far from my home.

Mexico – Children’s Day (April 26, 2017)

I am also thinking about putting together a Cinco de Mayo article for the long-hibernating A Stamp A Day blog as I have several stamps that commemorate the Battle of Puebla. Over the past several months, I have added quite a few Mexican stamps to my collection, many are modern stamps commemorating various holidays and other annual celebrations, something I think they do consistently well (much better than some of the other entities I collect). There are a number of other Mexican holidays in May for which I have stamps including the birthday of Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla — the initiator of the Mexican Independence War — on the 8th, Día de las Madres (Mother’s Day) on the 10th, and Día del Maestro (Teachers’ Day) on the 15th.

Aside from articles for A Stamp A Day and updates to my New Issues page, I had a relatively stampless week. Part of the reason is that we are currently in the midst of a heatwave — I cannot recall a hotter period of time since moving to the tropics (at least since my body adjusted to constant high temperatures). It is not weather conducive to working on one’s stamp collection: my home doesn’t have air-conditioning and the sweat soon begins dripping off my forehead into my eyes and down my nose. I can cool my workspace with fans but fans and stamps don’t mix no matter how careful I am. During such times, most of my philatelic activity is entirely digital.

Thailand - Symbol of Love (February 7, 2019)
Thailand – Symbol of Love (February 7, 2019)

Today, Thailand Post is releasing its annual “Symbol of Love” issue a week before Valentine’s Day. In recent years this has been a single 5-baht stamp (regular first class domestic rate is 3 baht); they used to issue a pair. I will stop by the post office after work to buy a pane (of ten) and a first day cover or two, perhaps adding a Phuket postmark to the latter (they usually allow me to cancel my own).

The holiday itself is quite popular in Thailand yet the giving of Valentine’s Day cards is rare. Chocolate is a relatively new addition but the giving of bouquets of flowers, usually red or pink rose replacements, is quite common. In schools, students of all ages (and some of the Thai teachers as well), purchase sheets of love-themed stickers and paste them onto each other’s shirts and faces.  The more stickers you are covered with, the more “loved” you are. The stickers are cheaply made so they tend to fall off during the course of the day so you can be progressively less loved as the afternoon wears on.

The only stamp news that I noticed all week concerned new issues. Quite frankly, I have tired of Chinese New Year releases and am amazed at some of the nations who put them out. I doubt that places such as Gibraltar and French Polynesia have a large enough Chinese population to warrant much of a celebration and certainly don’t need multiple stamps and souvenir items to mark the holiday.  However, a lot of stamp, cover and postcard collectors in this part of the world are avidly seeking out and exchanging Year of the Pig stamps with others in some of these far-flung countries and territories.

Åland - Sailing Ships (February 1, 2019)
Åland – Sailing Ships (February 1, 2019)

My favorite stamp issue this week comes from Åland, a Finnish territory in the Gulf of Bohnia which I have avidly collected since they began issuing their own stamps in 1984. The sailing ships Vineta and Parma are featured on a pair issued on February 1, the second to last in the series of stamps utilizing painting by the artist (and sea captain) Allan Palmer. The slideshow below includes the stamps, sheets, first day covers and maximum cards.

In U.S. stamp news, the National Postal Museum reopened on January 29 following the government shutdown and a new edition (the 17th) of the Scott Catalogue of Errors on U.S. Postage Stamps has just been published. Linn’s Stamp News had an interesting article about the past twelve years of the “Forever”-denominated stamps.

United States - Marvin Gaye (April 2, 2019)
United States – Marvin Gaye (April 2, 2019)
United States - Post Office Murals (April 10, 2019)
United States – Post Office Murals (April 10, 2019)

This week, the United States Postal Service announced dates and locations for two previously-announced forthcoming releases: The Marvin Gaye stamp will be issued on April 2 in Los Angeles, California, on what would have been the singer’s 80th birthday. The small town of Piggott, Arkansas, will be the location of the first day of issue ceremonies for the set of 5 Post Office Murals stamps, scheduled for April 10. Located in the northeast corner of the state, Piggott is the northern terminus of the Arkansas segment of the Crowley’s Ridge Parkway, a National Scenic Byway, and is perhaps best known for its association with Ernest Hemingway who made frequent and lengthy visits to there to visit his second wife’s parents and wrote portions of A Farewell to Arms and other works while staying there.

Following the onslaught of rate-change stamps on January 27 (and the Gregory Hines stamp on the 28th), plus a few issues in February (10 Cactus Flower stamps on February 15 and an Alabama Statehood single on the 23rd), it appears the USPS is giving U.S. collectors a well deserved break for nearly a month with the next currently scheduled stamp, the Star Ribbon issue, due on March 22.

Great Britain - Leonardo da Vinci (February 13, 2019) Royal Mail announcement
Great Britain – Leonardo da Vinci (February 13, 2019) Royal Mail announcement
Great Britain - Leonardo da Vinci (February 13, 2019) 1 of 12
Great Britain – Leonardo da Vinci (February 13, 2019) 1 of 12

The next big issue by Royal Mail in Great Britain will be a set due on February 13 marking the 500th anniversary of the death of Leonardo da Vinci, the designs of which were revealed over the past week. I am quite enamored with these and it is difficult to pick a favorite, but 12 stamps (for a face value of £8.04 PLUS a prestige booklet (costing £13.10), not to mention the attendant first day covers, PHQ cards, and more, does seem a bit excessive for such a decidedly non-British subject (oh, the Queen does own these drawings and they will be displayed around the UK in the year to come).

Great Britain - Birds of Prey (April 4, 2019)
Great Britain – Birds of Prey (April 4, 2019)
Great Britain - Queen Victoria Bicentenary (May 24, 2019)
Great Britain – Queen Victoria Bicentenary (May 24, 2019)

On the same date as the da Vinci stamps, the recent Stamp Classics mini-sheet will see a re-release with an exclusive inscription for the STAMPEX show and will be sold exclusively at the three-day exhibition. Release dates have also been announced for the Birds of Prey (April 4), British Engineering (May 2), Queen Victoria Bicentenary (May 24), D-Day (June 2), Curious Customs (July 9), Forests (August 13), Music Giants (September 3), Royal Navy Ships (September 19), and Christmas (November 5) issues, making for some interesting topics this year. I wonder if the “Music Giants” issue will have some tie-in with the U.S. Woodstock anniversary stamp. At any rate, no images for any of these have been revealed other than the two initial images of a Birds of Pray and Queen Victoria stamp when included with the original Royal Mail subject-matter announcement back in December. I imagine these will both be multi-stamp releases, probably in blocks of four.

A Stamp A Day underwent a design change last weekend, the first since I started the blog on July 1, 2016. I hope you like it. Since the last installment of “Weekly Phila-Bytes”, I have published the following articles on A Stamp A Day:

  1.  January 30, 2019:  “Claude Lorrain and the Seaport at Sunset” (France – Scott #3395, 2008) 4,067 words
  2.  January 31, 2019:  “Franz Schubert” (Austria – Scott #391, 1947) 1.541 words
  3.  February 1, 2019:  “Royal Canadian Mounted Police” (Canada – Scott #223, 1935) 3.977 words
  4.  February 2, 2019:  “The Real Robinson Crusoe is Recued!” (Chile – Scott #349, 1965) 4,790 words
  5.  February 3, 2019:  “The Immortal Chaplains of S.S. Dorchester” (United States – Scott #956, 1948) 3.942 words
  6.  February 4, 2019:  “The Federated States of Micronesia & the Last Raider of the Confederate States of America Navy” (Micronesia, Scott #C12, 1985) 5,454 words
  7.  February 5, 2019:  “Chinese New Year 2019 / วันตรุษจีน 2562 ประวัติวันตรุษจีน” (China, New Year Greetings stamp released on January 10, 2019) 373 words
  8.  February 6, 2019:  “The Treaty of Waitangi” (New Zealand, Stanley Gibbons #MS3662, 2015) 3.496 words

Today’s topic will be a literary one, either about Charles Dickens who was born on this date in 1812 or Laura Ingalls Wilder, born 1867. It all depends on the stamps and I will begin working on it in the late afternoon (following my classes and a trip to the post office).

Have a great week….