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.

Ireland – Great Irish Songs (May 2, 2019) U2 “With Or Without You”

I don’t have very many stamps in my collection depicting my preferred musical genre of rock and roll and none at all honoring my three favorite performers — Marillion, Bruce Springsteen and U2 — all three of which are still regularly playing shows and releasing great music. That will change a bit on May 2 when Ireland releases a set of four stamps commemorating Great Irish Songs. U2 is included in this set recognizing “With Or Without You” from 1987’s The Joshua Tree. This album, perhaps their greatest, was the first to be released after I’d become a die-hard U2 fan.

My younger sister had gotten me interested in the band by way of their 1983 Live at Red Rocks EP and video; I believe she’d bought the War sometime before that. I purchased The Unforgettable Fire soon after it’s release in the autumn of 1984 but became an super-fan upon witnessing the band’s performance at 1985’s Live Aid (I’d been recording the live radio and TV simulcasts on cassette and VHS throughout that day). I was hooked and finally got to see them play a concert at Kansas City’s Kemper Arena nearly two–and-a-half years later in the midst of The Joshua Tree tour.

By then, I was purchasing their 7-inch and 12-inch singles as soon as possible upon their release (all with B-sides not on the album itself, all of which were as good as any song on the album). For a long time, they just kept getting better and more popular it seemed. One of the things I miss about living in the United States is attending great concerts such as those that U2 produce; of course, my sister still tries to attend as many as she can (most recently being that marking the 30th anniversary of the release of The Joshua Tree.

Ireland – Great Irish Songs (May 2, 2019) Cranberries “Dreams”

I will, of course, be purchasing these stamps. In addition to the U2 stamp, the others recognize “Dreams” by The Cranberries (another big favorite; oddly, their later song “Zombie” is HUGELY popular here in Thailand — one of only two or three Western songs EVERYBODY here knows), “Danny Boy” by John McCormack, and “On Raglan Road” by Luke Kelly.

Fairly early on, I enjoyed collecting stamps from “obscure” and remote islands. Perhaps the first of these was Tristan da Cunha in the South Atlantic Ocean. In late 1978 and early 1979 (and beyond), my other great interest besides stamp collecting was the classic ocean liners that once crossed the Atlantic as well as those big passenger ships that still existed at the time. One of my favorite side-line hobbies was writing to various shipping companies to request brochures (they didn’t seem to be the big collectible they are now and I really wish I had retained those). Chief among these were the booklets sent to me from the Cunard Line with nice foldout cutaways and deck plans of their then-flagship RMS Queen Elizabeth 2.

Thus, I was doubly-interested when I discovered that Tristan da Cunha planned to release several stamps marking the QE2‘s visit to the tiny island on her 1979 world cruise including one picturing the RMS Queen Mary, a favorite due to several visits to Long Beach, California, where she has been moored since 1967, during family vacations. Perhaps what piqued my interest was the fact that a beautiful profile of the QE2 would be featured on what at the time was the world’s widest stamp (or longest, if you prefer).

Tristan da Cunha – Lobster Industry (April 10, 2019)

This was in the days before the Internet made obtaining new issues from such far-off lands as easy as a few clicks of the mouse so I found the address of Tristan da Cunha’s philatelic bureau (on the island itself rather than an agency in the UK or elsewhere) and duly wrote a request for stamps and covers along with a postal money order for what I estimated to be the total amount.  Months later, I received the stamps in a presentation pack (which had been autographed by representatives of each family still living there as well as several first day covers. That transaction began a forty-year love affair with the island and her stamps and I still admire the designs and the conservative issuing policy. The latest release from Tristan da Cunha continues the trend of attractive designs and relevant topics with a set of four due later this week marking the island’s lobster industry, a very important part of the local economy.

Pitcairn Islands – Scott #1-8 (1940-1951)

Another island that I have avidly collected since childhood could be considered the Pacific Ocean equivalent of Tristan da Cunha. I do not recall if I first saw the Charles Laughton and Clark Gable movie or read the books by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall but I became quite interested in the entire story of the Bounty mutiny not long after I turned ten years old. My birthday that year included not only my first stamp album but a copy of Nordhoff and Hall’s Bounty Trilogy (the edition with the N.C. Wyeth illustrations). While I loved reading the events of the mutiny and Bligh’s small boat voyage to Timor, I was particularly enthralled with what happened to Fletcher Christian and the other mutineers once they arrived on Pitcairn Island. A bonus to my budding interest at the time was the fact that the album I received (which had been my mother’s childhood album) contained one or two stamps from Pitcairn, starting another lifelong philatelic (and bibliographic) pursuit. It was only two or three years ago that I finally completed the initial 1940-1951 definitive set of ten stamps by obtaining MNH copies of Scott #5A and #6A which are a bit pricier than the others.

Pitcairn Islands – Paintings of the HMAV Bounty (February 27, 2019)
Pitcairn Islands – Paintings of the HMAV Bounty (February 27, 2019) first day cover

The islands (the name on the stamps including the others in the administrative territory although all but Pitcairn are uninhabited) continue a fairly conservative issuing policy based on local interests. The most recent Pitcairn Islands release appeared on February 27, a beautiful set of four stamps depicting paintings of the HMAV Bounty.

The newly-restored Phuket Philatelic Museum building, AKA the old post office, in Phuket Town, Thailand.

Of course, now that I live in Thailand I avidly collect the Kingdom’s stamps and eagerly await each new issue. Last week saw only the fourth stamp release of 2019 but the schedule will heat up somewhat in May with several issues due.  The annual Thai Heritage Conversation set rarely disappoints and I walked over to the Phuket Philatelic Museum on April 2 to make my purchase. It was the first time I had been inside the old post office building (established in a building previously used as somebody’s home back in the early 1930s) since the roof collapsed during a monsoonal storm in the middle of last year. The redesign looked pleasant enough, although somewhat sparse and I am quite pleased with the new pastel yellow exterior. I was happy to see the Muslim clerk back in her rightful environment (she seemed so out-of-place during the restoration when she sold stamps from a back room in the main post office building next door).

Main post office in Phuket Town, Thailand, directly to the north of the original building.
Thailand – Thai Heritage Conservation Day (April 2, 2019) first day cover with added Phuket postmark

My usual new issue purchase of Thai stamps consists of full sheets of each design (roughly one U.S. dollar each) as well as three first day covers, one of which I get postmarked with the local date stamp if I am there on the release date. However, I wish they wouldn’t let me cancel my own cover as I am hopeless at it having never mastered the very odd dry ink used. On this occasion, I heavily over-inked the device and brought all my weight down upon it making for a rather messy postmark. The clerk was so distraught that she probably would have given me another cover to make a second attempt on had I asked; I simply said mai bpen rai (roughly equivalent to “No problem”) and made my exit.

Thai Heritage Conservation Day 2019 (April 2, 2019). I purchased one of each full sheet (4 x 10 stamps each) and three first day covers for a total cost of 204 Thai baht. This converts to just $6.39 in U.S. currency under the current exchange rate. Thai stamps are very inexpensive to purchase and a lot of fun to collect.

While at the museum, I found the only edition of the Thailand Post new issues bulletin published thus far in 2019. It covers the first three releases of the year, useful in that I was able to gather the names of the stamp designers. I also enjoy reading the English version of the issue information; these are somewhat better than those generated by Google Translate but still produce a bit of humor or puzzlement when reading them. You can right-click to view the images in the slideshow below if you would like to see what I mean.

My other big “pursuit” of the past few days has been to try and get caught up on my New Issues pages. This seems to be a never-ending task as I am constantly finding about stamps that were released months ago.  I was barely finished “celebrating” my completion of the January page when I came across a large batch of first day covers bearing the date of January 1, 2019, supposedly from Madagascar. These are very similar to those “released” by the Republic of Chad on the same date (with probably the exact same CDS device used on those). With these and others from agencies such as the Intergovernmental Philatelic Corporation, I am sorely tempted to NOT include these borderline issues. After all, they will probably never see usage on mail deriving from the entity imprinted thereon and certainly won’t be included in certain major catalogues.

Madagascar – Captain America (January 1, 2019) first day cover

However, somebody must collect this stuff or why spend the money to print them in the first place?  Although I find them quite tedious to add to my listings due to the sameness in their appearance, I have decided to include all such stamps that I can find decent-quality images of. I am aiming for completion on the Stamps of 2019 pages and I hope I can maintain them throughout the year (and beyond?). At some point, I may even add a few local post issues if I can track down a few more of those.  It is hard work but I enjoy (most of) it.

The Punk Philatelist blog

Other than seeing a bunch of new stamp issue announcements (many through my Facebook new feed) and noticing a list of new Scott numbers for recently-issued United States stamps, there really hasn’t been much news in the philatelic world that I have noticed. My favorite stamp bloggers have been fairly quiet and I just got around to reading the latest by The Punk Philatelist among others. Due to changing my Google account, I only just found out that Graham of Exploring Stamps — hands down, the best philatelic channel on YouTube — is already six episodes into Season 3. I will need to do some binge-watching this weekend to get caught up. For those who haven’t discovered the joys of this vlog (and his other forays on social media), have a look at his landing page which has links to each corner of his empire. I wish more of us would do something similar to bring our hobby back to the masses.

Exploring Stamps – on You Tube, Instagram, Twitter, and more…

Have a great philatelic week….

Not here, but on my “other” stamp blog — A Stamp A Day. It just snuck up on me. I published an article a few minutes ago about Trinidad & Tobago, illustrating the ½ penny green Britannia (my copy might be Scott #1, released in 1913, but it’s probably a later issue as the postmark is dated in 1924), and noticed the post count. The amazing thing is that I started the blog just over one year ago — July 1, 2016. I never thought I would be able to maintain daily entries for more than a few months; the blog’s name kept me going — even when it was the last thing I wanted to do on certain days, even when work or the weather or unreliable Internet all seemed to transpire against me. Four hundred posts. Wow, indeed!

By contrast, I started this blog — Philatelic Pursuits — on May 25, 2015. This will be my 97th entry. I’ll have to think of something special for #100, just as I’ll need to pick a significant stamp for ASAD’s 500th post. I can’t let that one sneak past me like this one nearly did….

One of the best things about this wonderful hobby of philately is that I am constantly learning new things — not only about the stamps themselves but about the subjects portrayed upon them, the entities that issued them, and so on. In the course of my daily research for A Stamp A Day, I come across a great number of previously unknown (to me) webpages and blogs, some philatelic in nature, many about history or culture. It can indeed be a bit frustrating as I simply do not have enough time to read everything that I stumble across.

Take blogs, for example.  Just in the past two weeks, I have found (and subscribed) to the following: Barbados Stamps, Executed Today, EWorld Stamps: Worldwide Stamp Collection, My Native Belarus, My Philatelic Passion, and Stamps of Armenia. All are worthy of further perusal. I hope I can find the time someday soon.

One great resource of information on older stamp issues are auction catalogues and I really appreciate firms that archive .pdf versions of their previous catalogues on their website. One such auction house is that of Robert A. Siegel whose catalogue often include introductory essays on the stamps included in a particular auction. Auctions for the 1893 Columbians and Hawaii Missionaries immediately spring to mind. While looking around the site recently, I came across a number of shorter (one- to four-page) summaries of numerous U.S. issues including an excellent timeline of the American postal system from 1632-1792.

Siegel-PostalSystemColonial

One thing that really fascinates me is the beginnings and evolution of stamp collecting itself. While I have never seen a comprehensive work on the subject, I have come across bits and pieces in the philatelic literature of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century and brief mentions on various websites. I just found a nice site with articles on early collecting in the United States. It’s called Stamping American Memory: Collectors, Citizens, Commemoratives, and the Post — and is a scholarly study of philately in the U.S. I’m looking forward to reading all of the pages.

StampingAmericanMemory

A recent article in Linn’s Stamp News reminded me of the Philatelic Truck that traveled around the United States between May 1939 and December 1941, promoting stamp collecting to the youth of America. Because I was never really interested in poster stamps, Cinderella stamps, or local post stamps during much of my philatelic life, I never obtained a copy of the souvenir sheet printed by the Bureau of Engraving & Printing given to visitors to the truck. My collecting interests have, of course, changed over the years and now I am very interested in buying one of these (and will be placing a bid on eBay shortly). It was in my quest to find out more that I came across the Stamping America’s Memory site mentioned above. There is also a book about the truck, the tour and the sheet written by John H. Bruns, a former director of the National Postal Museum, that I’d also like to track down.

Farley and philatelic truck at White House. Washington, D.C., May 9. The Post Office's new philatelic stamp truck which began a tour of the United States today following ceremonies at the White House was given a final inspection by the Post Master General James A. Farely before it started out from the White House. The truck, containing stamp frames of all U.S. stamp issues, a miniature stamp press and souvenir engravings showing the White House, will visit cities and towns in every state of the Union.

There are a number of significant anniversaries coming up in the next few months, including the 75th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the 25th anniversary of the dissolution of the Soviet Union. No doubt these will be commemorated philatelicly (but I have yet to see any announcements). Much sooner than those, actually released today (September 9) for the nation’s Stamp Day, is a four-stamp mini-sheet marking the 25th anniversary of Croatian independence which will occur on October 8. One million of the 11 kuna stamp have been printed, bearing a hologram using a special technique to produce a “real 3D” effect — supposedly the first stamps to bear such an image.

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Another recent issue commemorating an anniversary is that of Poland marking the 75th anniversary of the first airdrop by the Cichociemni, elite special-operations paratroops of the Polish Army in exile that were created in Great Britain during World War II to operate in occupied Poland. Designed by Ewa Szydłowsk, the 3.70 złoty stamps were released on September 1 in sheets of 35.

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Much closer to home is a set of three stamps and a mini-sheet to be released by Malaysia on October 21, commemorating the 200th anniversary of the Penang Free School. I have fond memories of strolling the campus of PFS while on several visits to George Town several years ago. While I did absolutely nothing philatelic (not even the purchase of a postcard) during these trips, I will definitely purchase this set and accompanying first day covers.

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It’s not often that Royal Mail disappoints me with a stamp design for a subject that I’m interested in, but what’s with the graphic novel approach on the recent Great Fire of London set? The really ugly set of four was released on September 2 to commemorate the 350th anniversary of the fire.

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As a teacher, I avidly collect stamps portraying aspects of my profession particularly those picturing students and/or teachers. I am thrilled with the release earlier this week (September 6) of a set of four plus mini-sheet by Hong Kong Post titled “A Tribute to Teachers.” This is just in time for the annual celebration of Teacher’s Day (September 10) in the Chinese Special Administrative Region. The stamps depict chalkboard drawings, something I used to create on an almost daily basis (most Thai classrooms are now equipped with whiteboards which don’t provide quite the same effect). There is a nice range of products (postcards, maximum cards, presentation pack, regular and color cancellations, etc.) available for this issue.

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Finally, one of my favorite stamp blogs — Big Blue 1840-1940, which covers the classic period of stamp issues as collected in the Scott International Part 1 albums or on Steiner album pages — earlier this week contemplated the question “Which Stamp Album is Best for WW Collectors?.” Blogger Jim, by the way, is almost finished with his survey of the “T” countries with an article at the end of August about the Turks and Caicos Islands. He started the blog about five-and-a-half years ago.