Politics and human rights abuses aside, I love propaganda stamps. When I was very young, almost everything I knew of life behind the Iron Curtain came from my kiddie stamp collection. Countries like Poland, Romania and Hungary must have earned some sweet forex coin getting their stamps into the Western collector market. Eastern Europeans, I knew, were mad for Lenin, space, the Winter Olympics and military hardware.
This stamp isn’t the most propaganda-y of my propaganda collection, but it was always a fave (despite the damage at the bottom, marking this as a genuine Punk Philatelist artefact of the era).
I looked into it this week, and found that it was one of a 1973 set marking the thirtieth anniversary of the Polish People’s Army. That’s the kind of thing they called armies when the Soviets ruled the roost.
Look at that stamp again: it’s so action. It says more than “We have tanks.” It says “We have tanks and they are coming for YOU!”
The issue also featured a plane, a ship, and a missile, all of which are also coming for YOU.
What makes them so dynamic? Sure, there are streaks of color representing the dust being kicked up, and the turbulence caused by the various aircraft, and there are the foamy breakers against the battleship’s hull.
The answer lies in one simple design feature: the placement of the military hardware on the diagonal.
In practical terms, it gives the weaponry plenty of room to breathe within the frame. But in psychological terms, it adds power.
If you’ve ridden a bike up a hill, you know it takes effort. A tank driving along the flat could be going to the shops. To get a tank up a hill, you just know the driver must be GUNNING IT.
Same goes for the plane and the missile. They’re not cruising. They are ASCENDING with all that scary Warsaw Pact propulsion behind them. (And we know why they’re ascending, don’t we? Because they’re coming for YOU. Keep up.)
By the way, nice Barbie-pink border on the cruise missile stamp, Communist Poland! You sure know how to coax a flirty wink from the ladies.
Even the ship manages to pull off this image of dynamic propulsion, though one might logically question the existence of this remarkable ocean that lies at a 30 degree angle.
I’ll probably never know who you were, Polish Communist philatelic designer propagandist, but hey, you had a job to do, and you did it well.
I hope you’re still out there to read this, because as scary as the Cold War was at the time, this young stamp collector thought your tank stamp was cool.