Souvenirs, novelties, party tricks…

India 2017 100R scented coffee stamp(And yay to you if you know which film lent me that headline.)

I’m excited today, and not because I’ve been snorting lines of this coffee-scented stamp from India. It’s a big day. I’m launching a new category on this blog.

I get very easily excited.

As the use of snail mail for letter post continues to fall off a cliff, postal authorities around the world look more and more to stamp collectors to fluff up their bottom line.  Thus opens a new and technologically marvellous chapter in an old book: that of the novelty stamp.

Tonga 1969 banana 1s stampNovelty stamps have been around for a long time, from Tonga’s banana-shaped issues to the brightly-colored playable vinyl record stamps issued by novelty stamp pioneer Bhutan. (You can listen to one over at The Vinyl Factory!) It was Bhutan who first issued a scented stamp, too, in 1973. Now you can Google ‘scented postage stamps’ and take your pick of jasmine, sandalwood, rose, chocolate, and sweet and sour pork. India’s coffee issue this year wasn’t even the first ever coffee-scented stamp (e aí Brasil?).

Bhutan 1972 9nu playable vinyl record stampNovelty stamps are made to be collected. Only a small proportion of them make themselves postally useful by being stuck on envelopes (fewer now than ever.) They rarely go on to be rare or particularly valuable.

So why would anyone collect them? Because they’re fun. I don’t usually collect them myself, in the same way that I’m not one of the people who stands in the road dousing their money in kerosene and setting fire to it. But when novelty stamps come my way by accident, I keep them, in the same way that I would keep cash I found in the road that smelled of kerosene.

Faroe Islands 2016 50kr fish skin stampAnd that’s the thing about these stamps. Modern scientific wizardry produces masterpieces of interactive art that evoke tiny moments of delight in the most hardened of hearts. The Faroe Islands probably always wanted to put tanned cod skin on a stamp, but before 2016, the technology simply didn’t exist. Now they have been able to delight people who are into fishing, or at least the smell of cod.

In August 2017, all American eyes were on the solar eclipse – viewed through protective lenses, of course, unless you’re some kind of idiot. Am I talking about Donald Trump? Or the people who were treated for putting sunscreen on their eyes? You be the judge. And don’t hold back. Judge like you’ve never judged before.

The USPS released a stamp in June to mark the impending eclipse. It came in a sheet of 16 and featured a big black circle:

USA 2017 Eclipse Forever eclipse stamp

But that’s not just any big black circle. That stamp was printed with thermochromic ink. When pressed with a finger, the ink reacts to the heat, and turns transparent, revealing… A FULL MOON! Allow Instagram user danimaslan to demonstrate:

#thegreatamericaneclipse #eclipse2017 #kansascity #usps #eclipsestamps #solareclipse2017 #solareclipse

A post shared by Dani Maslan (@danimaslan) on

That is the classiest reveal of a full moon I’ve seen since Tim Hartford ‘dropped’ the certificate he’d just received at Speech Night and bent over to pick it up, only to experience a wardrobe malfunction in front of the whole school and their parents. He was suspended for a week, but he won five bucks from me and everyone else in our class.

USA 2017 Eclipse Forever Moon stampWhen the stamp ink cools, it reverts to black, which interestingly is not something I can say about Tim Hartford’s arse.

This is, of course, a gimmick, albeit an impressive and completely appropriate one. Respect to astrophysicist Fred Espenak for his full moon, and to designer Antonio Alcalá for his art direction.

For mine, the best part of gimmicks like these is seeing reactions like this from people who are probably not nerds:

Welcome to the greatest hobby in the world, my friends! PLEASE STAY COME ON JUST FOR A LITTLE WHILE WE WON’T HURT YOU LET’S BE FRIENDS

Ahem. This post inaugurates my new category, Gimmick alert! Keep your eye on it for future philatelic nonsense. Australia’s wooden stamps of 2015 – not even the first wooden stamps in the world – have previously been mentioned on this blog, as was New Zealand’s glow-in-the-dark glowworm issue. I’m retrospectively adding them to the new category.

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Hello and castles

Liechtenstein 2017 Europa 1.50f Gutenberg Castle stamp

Well, hello internet! Long time no see. Apologies to the regulars for my absence. Every now and then, in my day job, I get caught up on the kind of project that requires way too much commitment, and steals all of the little moments I normally use to jot down my philatelic fancies. And then, I took a holiday. Back now. Hi! Continue reading

Introducing tiresias1000: mint, unhinged

When I started this blog, I always intended to point readers to corners of the internet where crazy people are doing interesting philatelic things. I haven’t done much of it yet, but now one Instagram account has forced my hand.

If you know Instagram, skip two paragraphs. If not, and if you like design, or art, or stamps, you should investigate. This is not a How-To-Instagram post, but in brief: people go there, share pictures, and like and/or comment on each others’ pictures. That’s it.

The Instagram cliche is to post a restaurant meal, cocktail, bikini body or holiday snap to make your friends jealous. But lately I’ve been delighted to see an increasing number of philately-related users popping up. Some are so basic that they’re downright dull, but many are vibrant and fun, and some are nothing short of works of art.

You can decide for yourself which category my Instagram page belongs to, but for once I’m not here to talk about me. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you tiresias1000.

Mr Schqperia – ventriloquist. 'Say something mate' shouted the crowd. 'A gottle of geer' said the substandard entertainer. 'Yer lips are moving mate' screamed the restless mob. 'Ha ha ha' retorted the vegetarian stage act, 'what's your point?' 'Get off, your shit mate' replied the frantic assembly. 'Well your grammar and punctuation leaves something to be desired' came the testy reply from the lazy performer. Mr Schqperia's beard was twice as bad. He died with his hand inserted. 💀💀💀⚰⚰⚰#stamps #philately #pimpmystamp #mate #sayings #bottle #beer #entertainment #lips #moving #scream #mob #vegetarian #point #theshit #leave #desire #sharp #vegetarian #lazy #performer #beard #moustache #hairstyle #lifestyle #shoes #pose #portrait #art

A post shared by Tiresias (@tiresias1000) on

OK, this is going to take some explanation. Continue reading

How exhibitionism stripped me bare

Melbourne 2017 Stamp Exhibition entrance banner

If you’re the kind of reader who usually comes here for the pretty pictures and naughty words, be warned: I am hitting max geek with this one. Street cred be damned.

So a few weekends ago I popped into the Melbourne FIAP Stamp Exhibition, held in my hometown. It led to a rather unexpected journey of personal discovery that may affect the very blog you are reading. More on that later.

I can’t pretend a stamp exhibition is anything but exactly what it sounds like on the lid, but let me talk you through it so that if you ever accidentally find yourself at one, you won’t panic.

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Rhodonites are a girl’s new best friend

Australia 2017 Rare Beauties $1 Rhodonite and $1 Golden Sapphire stamps

Smacking my lips at this issue from Australia Post. Rare Beauties, they’re calling them. They’re all gemstones from the collection of the Australian Museum in Sydney, and what a stunning tribute to the lapidary’s art they are.

The golden sapphire and pink diamond are used in jewellery. The fluorite and rhodonite aren’t, but that’s OK, you can still buy them for me. I simply adore that rich red in the rhodonite.

Australia 2017 Rare Beauties $2 Fluorite stampThe photography of the stones is stunning to start with, but the ‘shadow’ across the geometric background adds a 3-D feel that really makes them pop right out of the stamp.

Y’know what I like about this set the most? The simplicity. When stamp issuers start eyeing off gemstones, for some reason there’s a compulsion to show them in the context of the geological environment in which they are found, or in fugly uncut form (everything is fugly when uncut, amiright ladies), or in the context of an end product like jewellery or industrial product. But there’s no fucking about with this issue. You want gemstones? Fine. Here are some fat fucking gemstones. Straya!

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Bowie’s latest release

UK 2017 David Bowie album stamps

UK 2017 David Bowie 1ST Aladdin Sane stamp

Well this is the most exciting thing to happen this year since I accidentally swiped right on Tinder and he turned out to be a match, a babe, and leaving for overseas two days later.

The UK is releasing a set of David Bowie stamps today!

David has been on a UK stamp before, as part of a Classic Album Covers release in 2010. (You can also spot a wild Bowie issue hiding in this post about tortoise stamps from Namibia. Yes, you read right.)

Now Royal Mail is releasing this fabulous set of six iconic Bowie album covers, plus four photos from live tours combined in a stamp sheet.

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London’s burning

UK 2016 Great Fire of London stamp setHere’s a stamp issue I just have to share with you before 2016 becomes too tiny in the rear view mirror. It was undoubtedly my favourite release out of any that caught my eye last year. And you don’t have to be a stamp nerd to love it, though it’ll help if you are a history buff, comic book geek, or pyromaniac. Continue reading

Australia’s best (and worst) of 2016

Australia 2016 Jewel Beetles $1 Stigmodera gratiosa stamp

…In which I attempt to cover a year of review and bitching in one fell swoop.

Each year, Australia Post holds its annual survey in which stamp collectors can vote for their favourite – and least favourite – issue. This used to be an exercise on paper, with a few variations on a simple ‘What was your favourite?’ ‘What was your least favourite?’ type arrangement, with prize giveaways for random winners. Now it’s gone all high-tech, with a detailed SurveyMonkey page, in which all issues must be ranked in order from 1 to 32.

Australia Posts's Survey Monkey Stamp Poll 2016

On the upside, I enjoyed the OCD-triggering task of putting every single issue in its rightful place. On the downside, no prize giveaways. I guess AP has to pay for its CEO’s $4.8 million pay packet somehow.

I could swear I saw the final results somewhere, but I can’t seem to Google it anywhere, and the survey I’ve linked to above still seems to be open. Surely I’m not so lame that I dreamed it? I saw it in such detail! Maybe I was shown the running tallies when I finished the survey? Anyway, this isn’t your problem. The important thing is that I am going to tell you which were the best stamps and which were the worst, as judged by my own brain, so survey results don’t matter. Why Australia? Because I live there, silly.

In no particular order (and with each issue’s title linking to the extremely commendable Australia Post Collectables blog site for more info), Australia’s unquestionably best issues were: Continue reading