Sorry for my long absence from the blog, folks! You’d think a hired assassin working for top dollar would be offered a decent wifi connection, but covert black ops budgets aren’t what they used to be. A big welcome to new followers. I promise not to hit you with a ninja star from behind a tree before you even know I’m there.
So, I’m home now and back to the hobby of punks. If you, like me, were a kid collecting stamps in the 70s or 80s or 90s – or even if you’re collecting now, in which case: hello! I thought you were dead – your album was probably brimming with big, colourful stamps from developing countries that had little relevance to the issuing nation. Because who’s to say that Equatorial Guinea can’t celebrate the centenary of Japanese railroads?
The motivation for this phenomenon is money. Dirt poor countries around the world supplement their national income by releasing stamps on popular themes that they hope will appeal to collectors: flowers, animals, trains, planes, sport, space, and celebrities. Case in point: if Marilyn Monroe ever went to Chad, it would surely have only been in a barbiturate-induced fever dream.
(If you clicked on this link because of the ‘hair and the tortoise’ line in the blurb, this is the ‘hair’.)
This practice continues today. Some countries even outsource their stamp issues entirely to foreign companies like Lithuania’s Stamperija, who then make some sweet coin from marketing the stamps to gullible collectors.
This practice smells, but it’s legal, unlike the next level down: the dodgy operators who make money churning out ‘stamps’ from actual or made-up countries and selling them to even more gullible collectors. These stamps are known as ‘bogus stamps’ by collectors, because duh. This blog page might even be full of bogus stamps, because I didn’t have an African catalogue handy to verify which ones were legit.
So, I’m afraid your kiddie collection of Chadian Marilyn Monroe stamps are worth sweet FA. But I won’t judge. The stamps are often pretty, and anything that gets kids into the hobby is all right by me. And these countries are desperate for money. No one ever said “I only have to visit Guinea-Bissau and then I’ll have ticked off my bucket list.” On the other hand, someone probably said “That Guinea-Bissau tribute to Marilyn Monroe is quite tasteful. I think I’ll buy it!”
(Nice hair, Marilyn.)
And who am I to judge that Marilyn Monroe collector? In the process of writing this scathing takedown of third-world wallpaper issues, I came across the Central African Republic’s hot-off-the-presses David Bowie tribute, and now I want it. Well, I say ‘Central African Republic’, but it’s 100% Eastern European. As a collector, I wouldn’t touch it with a bargepole; as a Bowie fan, I’m sickened by the grubby cashing-in on the great man’s passing; but as a fan of pop culture design, I think it’s a cracker. And what hair!
(There’s more of such rubbish here. Give them your hits but not your money, that’ll teach ’em.)
But it’s not all bad. During my downtime between popping caps in dictators’ asses, I Google random countries to see what their stamps look like. Yes, I am that impossibly cool. That’s how I stumbled upon Namibia. And blow me down if Namibia isn’t that rarest of pearls: an African country whose stamps reflect the actual country and the stuff in it.
Namibia’s stamp issuing program for 2016 is available as a downloadable PDF from NamPost’s website. The schedule reads like the index on Namibia’s Wikipedia page: Whydahs of Namibia, Herons and Egrets of Namibia, Forestry in Namibia, the biologically specific Large Canids of Namibia, and an issue marking the centenary of Namibia’s oldest newspaper. There’s also Tortoises of Namibia, and I simply have to track down this minisheet when it comes out in May because I adore tortoises and CHECK IT OUT YOU GUYS ALL THE TORTOISES ARE BEING CARRIED BY A GIANT TORTOISE!!!
(And in case you’re wondering, that’s the ‘tortoise’.)
Issues from recent years include Beetles of Namibia, Scorpions of Namibia, Aloes of Namibia, Lighthouses of Namibia and, delightfully, two separate issues on Large Antelopes of Namibia and Medium Antelopes of Namibia. You have to love a people pedantic about the size of their antelopes. I also love the warm hues in this Traditional Wooden Vessels of Namibia issue, seen here on first-day cover.
Learning about foreign countries’ histories, culture and biology through my kiddie stamp collection inspired a lifetime of fascination with language, culture, politics, and the wider world. That’s why it’s such a pleasure to come across a country whose stamps don’t serve as irrelevant cash cows, nor as propaganda for the neighbourhood junta.
Namibia’s not the only country in the developing world to maintain a relatively pure stamp issuing policy, but it’s worth applauding when you find one. (Before bigging it up on my blog, I even took the precaution of checking where Namibia sits in the Freedom House rankings. It does pretty well, by African standards, with room for improvement. Phew.)
NamPost’s website is clunky, but they run a pretty great Pinterest page. On the other hand, if learning real things about an actual country isn’t your thing, then I have good news for you. Benin’s just put out a Marilyn Monroe stamp… *
* Reader Stewie has confirmed my suspicions that this is not a legitimate issue from Benin and vouches that Benin is one of the good guys (see his comment below). It’s one of those bogus stamps I warned you about! Thanks Stewie!
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© Philatelic product images remain the copyright of issuing postal administrations and successor authorities, except for the fake ones in which case the copyright probably lies with their creators but I wouldn’t want to be them in a court case
Very interesting, thank you for sharing!
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Thank you for clearing up a mystery that has plagued me for years: “Why do I have astronaut stamps from Equatorial Guinea, and ice-skating stamps from Yemen?” But cashing in on dead celebrities takes that mercenary practice to a whole new (low) level. Like you, I’d much rather collect the Large Antelopes (and Beetles and Turtles) of Namibia — because at least they’re somewhat *related* to Namibia. Though if anyone comes out with a tribute to Prince I may just have to swallow my words and pounce. 🙂 Thanks for another wonderful read.
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Yes, let us brace ourselves for the onslaught of Prince tributes… and I’m guessing some of the cash-strapped Western postal administrations might get in on the act too!
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I had wondered what had happened. Namibia has typically had pretty good stamps, a left over remnant of their days under RSA rule I suppose. My favorite fakey stamps were the 3-D ones from Bhutan and the coin ones from Qatar. Although it did teach me where Qatar is…..even if I still don’t know how to pronounce it 🙂
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Just read up a bit on Bhutan – seems some of those crazy early issues were driven by one man’s genuine drive to help raise money for the country, rather than pure philatelic profit. Thanks Wikipedia! I had a bunch of misprints from various actual and fake Gulf emirates that I thought must be worth a fortune… turns out the marketers printed deliberate ‘errors’ alongside the rest of their rubbish!
Here’s another Elvis-free African country: Nigeria. A lot of their stamps are PSAs (“National Youth Service Corps,” “Don’t catch TB!”) and the pictorials are of plants and animals that Nigerians can actually see without catching a flight to Japan. Sure, the print jobs leave something to be desired, but the subjects are excellent, and the bonus is that they’re printed to be used, so if you’re really lucky you can see postmarks from towns you’ve absolutely never heard of in your life.
You’re right, Eddie. Perhaps among African countries, the British Commonwealth nations try to maintain some standards befitting their philatelic past…
Hey Punk excellent blog post as usual and nice to see you back! Sad to see Benin back under the control of the wallpaper producers, since it seemed until recently that it had been trying to follow a more local-interest postal issuing policy. But then these things seem to come and go, some nations in Francophone Africa go with a wallpaper producer for 2-3 years, then do not renew the contract and go to a more localized new issue program, and then “fall off the wagon” again. Right now if someone asked me to recommend any Francophone African countries, I would recommend Senegal, Burkina Faso, Gabon, Cameroun, Madagascar, Mali and Mauritania. The last I checked they were not using wallpaper agencies for new issues. Some other sub-Saharan African countries worth checking out are Cape Verde, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria (as mentioned), Botswana and Zimbabwe (though if you have qualms supporting the philatelic issues of the Mugabe regime, that might be an issue). North Africa as well (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt..Libya does not seem to have a functioning PO at this time) is generally kosher and the Maghribi countries (Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia) issue some lovely stamps.
I absolutely love this comment Gene! Excellent tips! Though I suspect the North African countries are more likely halal than kosher… 😀
Touche, Punk 🙂 (And I should know better, as I have a Masters Degree in Islamic history! 🙂 )
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Great post! FYI the Benin sheet is an illegal issue. Benin quit issuing junk like this 15 years ago. I’m happy Benin still hasn’t fallen into the hands of one of those greedy agencies.
Thanks for the tip! I thought something smelled. I will update my post!
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