What are Back of the Book Stamps?

The term “Back of the Book Stamps” generally refers to those stamp issues that have appeared in the back of the Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue’s country sections.  The catalog itself is released in volumes, each covering a set of stamp issuing nations.  U.S. “back of the book” stamps appear at the end of the United States section.  These stamps also have one or more letters appearing before their catalog number.  An example of a regular postage stamp issue would be U.S. 4119.  An example Back of the Book stamp would be U.S. C7.  The “C” is the notation for Airmail stamps.

they require special categorization

So, why do they appear in the back of the catalog?  Are they not as popular, valuable, or collectible?  No. They are more seldom seen by the general public.  But the reason they appear in the back is that they require special categorization.  Their use differs from regular issues.  And their costs are applied differently.  For example, Semi-Postal stamps were and can be used for sending a regular letter to a regular U.S. destination.  But they carry a special surcharge that is donated to charity.  Recently we wrote a bit about a couple of semi-postal stamps — the 2001 Mongolia B27-28 Unity Against Terrorism Stamp and the U.S. B1 Breast Cancer Research Stamp (which has raised an astounding $83.9 million for breast cancer research).

One shouldn’t think of the back of the book as synonymous with bottom of the barrel.  Nor should one think of all back of the book stamps as particularly rare.  After all, over 1 Billion of the Breast Cancer Research Semi-Postal Stamps were sold!  But while all postage stamps are unique and fascinating, back of the book stamps are just a little more special.  Do you have any in your stamp collection?  Let us know in the comments.

Modern Stamp Design Techniques

The artistry of postage stamp design has certainly gone through many evolutionary changes over the last two centuries.  What began with mere text and numerals became portraits and reproductions of famous paintings and photographs.  Today we see a wide range of bold artwork and design elements such as holographic imagery and embossed lettering.

Of course, the available production equipment determines what can be achieved in final designs.  What used to require manual printing presses now utilizes more automated machinery.  Today, with the aid of computerized equipment, more minute details can be reproduced on the tiny canvas that is the final postage stamp.

some artists achieve results the old fashioned way

With all the advances in design and production equipment, one would think that all modern postage stamp design techniques involve specialized graphic design software.  However, some amazing artists choose to produce their artwork the old fashioned way–with some modern twists.  And the results are truly awesome.  Stuart McLachlan is one such artist.

Mr. McLachlan has mastered and made famous the art technique known as “paper-cut”.  His artwork featured in Australia’s 2016 Christmas Stamp series shows the elegance of paper-cut artwork.  I do a little computer graphic work here and there.  So, at first glance, I thought the designs shown above were computer generated.  Yet somehow they seemed more lifelike…had more depth.

his effect is much more realistic

As I read the article on the Australia Post Web site about Stuart McLachlan’s paper-cut Christmas Stamps, I was truly amazed at how these designs were created.  See, most computer graphic designs that attempt to display depth involve shadowing behind an object.  Likewise an embossed “feel” is often created with mathematically generated shadowing around areas intended to appear raised or textured.  McLachlan’s work clearly doesn’t have this; yet his effect is much more realistic.  (See the Australia Post site link above for larger images which show the texture in more detail)

the results speak for themselves

So how does Stuart pull this off?  Well, it’s not with computer software.  Instead, McLachlan’s paper-cut designs are achieved with wire, water color paper, an Xacto knife, a camera, some lighting, and many hours of effort.  The only parts of the process that involve software are final coloring and conversion to digital artwork for reproduction.  If I had to paraphrase the technique as I now understand it, I’d say that the procedure is like photographing a diorama containing only silhouette figures and objects.  He cuts the silhouette figures by hand.  The entire process is manual, by-hand, work.  And the results speak for themselves.

Why does it look so real?  Because it is!  Each figure and object is cut by hand, hung by wire in proportional distance from the rest, and photographed as a group scene.  Clearly, smarter use of old-fashioned tools mixed with a passion for beauty can result in truly amazing artwork.


Holidays on Foreign Stamps

In the recent past we’ve talked about Stamp Collecting and its relation to Global Diversity, World Geography, and even Creating Memories.  Perhaps it was with these topics still in mind that I began to research the topic of holidays on Foreign Stamps.  The intention was to research holiday themes on worldwide postage stamps.  I planned to start with Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, and go wherever the research led.  But just as though I were working with an actual stamp collection, the journey had its own plans.

I got stuck on Christmas Island.  No matter how diligently I tried to stick to the plan, Christmas Island kept calling me back.  A stamp image here, a snippet of new information there…I just couldn’t ignore it.  It was when I first began working with Jamestown Stamp Company that I learned of a place called Christmas Island.  Now, more than 16 years later, I’ve realized that my research on it and its stamps was nowhere near complete.  And THIS is exactly why I find stamp collecting rewarding and fascinating.

Apparently back then I was like the first discoverers of the little island in the Indian Ocean and unable to scale its steep shoreline to learn more.  Christmas Island wasn’t even named until nearly 30 years after its discovery on Christmas Day.  And it remained unsettled for approximately 200 years more.  But like the curious stamp collector, explorers, scientists, and miners could not ignore the call of the 12 mile island to the north and west of Australia.

Christmas Island is no less philatelically fascinating.  Today, Christmas Island’s population of just over 2,000 people use stamps issued by the Australian Postal Corporation.  But it has used postage stamps issued by the Strait Settlements, the British Military, and under its own authority as well.  Perusing Christmas Island stamp art is like taking a tour of the island.  They highlight its flora, fauna, geographic features, and of course its people.

How can you have an island named after Christmas and not have an abundance of holiday themes?  If you love the holidays, enjoy philatelic discovery, and have even a shred of historical curiosity, then Christmas Island is worth looking into.  Happy Holidays.  And Happy Stamp Collecting from all of us at Jamestown Stamp Company Inc.

(images from the Philatelic Team at the Australian Post)

Geography and Stamp Collecting

It’s National Geography Awareness Week.  Geography is one of the first topics we learn about as school children.  And it is then that we begin to discover that the World  is a much larger place than we were previously aware.  In school, we learn of distant cultures perhaps with special bias toward differences as an educational tactic.  But upon postage stamps, we see first the similarities.  Stamp collecting and geography teach of both cultural differences and similarities.

While some topics may always remain a bit too taboo to adorn a nation’s postage, we see common points of interest like children, national monuments, great leaders, and holiday themes.  Of course, we also see diversity in the art of postage stamps.  But we also find similarities among the values expressed in Worldwide stamp art.

It is those topics with which we identify that help us to learn.  For example, look in any mushroom topical stamp collection and you’ll likely discover new species.  You’ve seen mushrooms.  But you may not have seen those indigenous to a certain stamp’s issuing country.

Why do they only survive in the location they do?  Why do they look so different?  These are the types of questions that begin to entertain and educate the mind.  Geography is just one of the many topics one can learn from World’s most fascinating hobby — Stamp Collecting.

Speak up for Service Day

October 30 is National Speak up for Service Day.  This the day we recognize the importance of good deeds and kind acts that otherwise go unnoticed.  With the constant flow of daily information and the onslaught of what the media calls “news”, it is quite difficult to stay informed about all the little things that matter in big ways.  It is near impossible to stay informed with matters taking place abroad.  And it always has been.  One can always find many of history’s great people on Worldwide stamps.

If you look at any United States stamp collection, you will likely recognize many of the people and places depicted upon them.  You’ll find great leaders, political activists, artists, and more.  But what about a Worldwide stamp Collection?

Who is Alfred Wegener and why is he on a stamp?

Say you were to get our Packet of 50 Austria Commemorative Stamps and were to find Dr. Karl Landsteiner.  Who is that?  Why, he discovered that there were 4 different blood types!  Or how about the 1980 Alfred Wegener postage stamp?  He came up with the theory of Continental Drift.  You may also find the 2002 Bhutan United We Stand stamp and realize there were those that stood beside us we didn’t even know about.  Placing stamps in an album is only part of Stamp Collecting.  Look a little deeper into the stories and great people on worldwide stamps.  The World will become a much larger and more fascinating place.

Politics of Postage Stamp Designs

Discernment of the politics on Worldwide stamps depends a great deal upon when and where you see them…

“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)

Looking at the collectible postage stamp designs of the past, we glimpse history.  We see singular 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?

our politics doesn’t always generate the same fanfare

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”.

stamps have been used to sway public opinion

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 and memorializing a people’s sorrow.  Stamps can even sway the opinion of the masses for better or worse.  For an interesting research project, look up “Operation Cornflakes”.  You’ll see how an American and British fake postage stamp was used as propaganda for German citizens.

That Back to School Feeling

One of my favorite times of the year, back when I was young and later as a parent, was Back to School time.  Sometimes I still get a hint of that feeling when perusing office supplies.  For me, it was the planning and organization of it all that I found exciting.  I’m guessing many a stamp collector shares this feeling.

stamp supplies are like school supplies …

For school there were pens, pencils, erasers, and rulers for the paper; paper and notebooks for the folders; folders for the binders; and binders for the backpack.  For stamp collections there are mounts, tongs, and magnifiers for the stamps;  stamps for the pages;  and stock pages and supplements for the binders or albums.  All this to organize your work by subject.

… and stamp collecting topics are like school subjects

And what do you do about 3 weeks into the new school year?  Re-Organize based on what you learned along the way, of course.  I believe my first stamp collection was comprised of somewhat random foreign stamps that merely appealed to me visually.  A short time later, I organized these into rough topical categories like animals and shapes like triangle stamps.  From there, I re-organized my stamps into Worldwide countries, eventually focusing on Mongolia and Mexico.  All the while, I kept expanding outside these first rough categories.

Do you get that back to school feeling when planning and organizing your stamp collection?  If so, do you stay within the bounds of an existing album?  Or do you let your collection and imagination build itself as you go?  Either way, the experts at Jamestown Stamp Company know how to help.  We’re here to spark your interest in new countries and topics as well as aid your focus on specific time periods or countries. Let us know what you like.  We’ll help you build the perfect stamp collection!