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.
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!”
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, fuck me, it’s a cracker. (There’s more of such rubbish here. Give them your hits but not your money, that’ll teach ’em.)
So here’s why I’m gobsmacked. 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 bugger me 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!!!
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!