Monday, 5 April 2010


Eighty years ago my Dad started me on the hobby of stamp collecting. This led to me haunting the town’s Chinese laundries for stamps from China and Hong Kong, and to find pen pals in seven countries in Europe, Asia, and Australasia. Worldwide, postage was cheap and countries issued fewer than five new stamps per year so, over time, good worldwide collections could be built. I remember well the anger caused when Canada raised its rates from 2 to 3 cents to mail a letter anywhere in the British Commonwealth and Empire. A big boost to my collection came when I started working in a bank. Money parcels were sent via registered post that needed 50-cent and $1 stamps. We were supposed to send all these back to bank headquarters so they could be sold to dealers, but somehow a few got stuck in my collection.
Soon I was to know every country in the world, its currency, rulers, history, geography, and culture. Many friends were made among other collectors and we all rejoiced on possessing a stamp or two from Tristan da Cunha, Rarotonga, Pitcairn Islands and other such tiny places. By selling stamps to collectors, the Pitcairn Islands raised enough to build a school so they promptly issued another stamp to sell that depicted the school.
Today countries are killing the hobby by flooding the market with hundreds of new issues per year, by high prices, and now the US and Australia to save money have gone to cheaper paper that tends to disintegrate when you try to soak off stamps. And, of course, e-mails and meter post have robbed us of stamped mail.
Nevertheless countries still issue far too many stamps. But, as many are interesting, let me describe a few:

THE FOUR KINGS: On 19 April Canada Post issued four 57-Cent stamps to honour the four “Indian” kings who met with Queen Anne in London 19 Apr 1710. The stamps reproduce the full-length paintings that were made of them at the time when Queen Anne was not a very happy monarch. At 45 she was widowed with no heir in spite of 18 pregnancies. The 3 Mohawks and 1 Mahigan kings were Tee Yee Neen Hu Ga Row, Emperor of the Six Nations and leader of the group, was given the English name of Hendrick. Ho Nee Yeath Taw No Row, King of the Generethgarich, was named John; Sa Ga Neath Qua Pieth Tow, King of the Maquas, was named Brant (grandfather of Joseph Brant); and Etow Oh Koam, King of the River Nations, was called Nicholas. All four were in excellent physical condition and towered over their European hosts. They had been recruited by Peter Schulyer, Governor at Albany, to help persuade the Queen to grant more resources to the fight against the Hurons and French. The colonies were a drain on the treasury but the queen, who was to be dead in 4 years, was impressed, particularly when they also asked for help in understanding the Protestant version of Christianity. She showered them with gifts, had them attend theatrical productions and banquets over 45 days and took steps to organize an invasion of Quebec. They were granted audiences with the famed painter John Verelst who was charged with the task of depicting them as envoys of respected powers. The four kings escaped the diseases rampant in London. Their speeches were reprinted many times. They were quoted as describing European clothing as stifling and barbarous and romantic stories were written of a supposed contact between one of them and a woman he met on the streets of London.
Hendrick was to return to London in 1740 for a meeting with George II. Joseph Brant became a famed Canadian leader when he fled the US after the revolution. The city of Brantford, Ontario, is named for him.
These 4 portraits were purchased in 1977 by the Public Archives of Canada. More details can be found in Canada’s History Magazine, Apr-May 2010, and the Canada Post brochure, Apr-Jun 2010, as well as for the RCN.

THE RCN AT 100: On 04 May Canada Post will issue two 57-cent stamps commemorating the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Royal Canadian Navy. One stamp depicts HMCS Niobe, the other HMCS Halifax. In WWII the RCH was the 3rd largest of the Allied Navies. It had 100,000 personnel including 7,122 women and 110 of its ships took part in the D-Day operations. Today it has 9,000 personnel and 33 warships.
In 1910 the Royal Navy gave Canada the cruiser HMS Niobe and HMS Rainbow as founding ships for the RCN. Niobe, built in 1897, saw service in the Boer War and WWI and was damaged in the explosion in Halifax harbour in 1917.

STAMP WARS have been numerous. Here are a few: In 1947 a Chilean stamp showed Graham Land, Antarctica, claimed by Britain, to be part of Chile. In 1951 Argentina countered with a stamp showing it to be Argentinian. In 1954 the UK issued 15 stamps depicting 13 different ships each of which had spent over 2 years doing research in the area. In 1958 and 1965 Chile and Argentina continued the stamp war while the UK continued its work. Anticipating the conquest of India, Nazi Germany had stamps ready for Azahind (Free India). In 1959 Greece issued 2 stamps featuring Imre Nagy, Hungarian premier executed by the Soviets. The USSR refused to accept mail using these stamps and countered with a stamp for Glezos, a communist executed by Greece. During the Cold War the USSR re-published its stamp catalogues, removing the wartime stamps that showed Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin together. Egypt continued to use its King Farouk stamps after he was deposed in 1953, but obliterated his portrait.

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