“The postage stamp […] has an ideological density per square centimetre that is probably more concentrated than any other medium of cultural expression.” – David Scott (expert in Textual and Visual Studies)
When we look at postage stamp designs of the past, we glimpse the history of moments before our time, remember profound tragedies, and celebrate great leaps in technology and cultural change. But how would we perceive those images and words during their actual time of issue? For example, the images of the World Trade Center towers in stamp designs around the World brought forth emotional tears and anger, feelings of unity and resolve. These are natural responses for Americans and others alike. But what about a nation with a long held position of neutrality?
Mongolia was among the first countries to contribute troops to the War in Iraq. That was a pretty bold move for a country nestled between Russia and China. While American fashion and entertainment are quite popular in the East, our politics doesn’t always generate the same fanfare. It’s not surprising to see the likes of Bob Marley and Mickey Mouse adorn the postage stamps of nations around the globe. But in late 2001, Mongolia issued two postage stamps depicting the Statue of Liberty, the Twin Towers, and the words “Let’s Unite Against the Terror”.
Most postal administrations the World over are branches of national governments. As such, the designs which are chosen are at least in part what the governments would like to portray to their public and foreigners alike. Take any historical success in a nation’s history and you’ll likely see it portrayed in visual form upon a postage stamp soon thereafter. Likewise, stamp designs have been used to sway public opinion. In fact, the U.S. Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee was formed to limit the level of political propaganda in U.S. postage stamp design.
Postage stamps truly are works of art. They are fully capable of capturing a nation’s pride, memorializing a people’s sorrow, and even swaying opinion of the masses for better or worse. For an interesting research project, look up “Operation Cornflakes” and see how an American and British fake postage stamp was used as propaganda for German citizens.