Oh my stars!

Portugal 2019 Christmas €3.50 nativity LED stamp

Hello readers! Just a note to kick 2019 out the door and let you know that I’m still alive. I’ve had a busy few months, but sadly zero to do with philately. I was stuck in one of those chained-to-the-screen, too-much-work-and-not-enough-time, OH GOD WHEN WILL IT END kind of freelance jobs on which late capitalism thrives. My free time was then spent working out which dirty dishes can go into the washing machine with the clothes while I make a flying visit to my family so that I still remember everyone’s name come Christmas time.

So the blog’s been a bit quiet, sorry about that. There are a few posts in the works, but I haven’t managed to finish anything to a publishable standard! My apologies to a couple of individuals that I’ve been in touch with over the last few months, who have probably given up on wondering if I’ll ever post that piece I assured them I was working on. But I’m now unshackled from the helldesk, so you should hear more from me in coming months.

Thank you all for your ongoing support. It’s wonderful to read your comments or see the pieces shared here on WordPress or on other social media. Although it’s been around a few years, this blog is still in a discovery phase – I enjoy waking up to find I’ve had 76 hits from Norway, breaking down into one per article. That tells me that someone has found the blog and is enjoying it enough to scroll through the back-catalogue.

Even in my busiest times, I’m still chatty on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. And when this blog goes quiet, don’t forget that there are plenty of other sites to poke through. Look for my Read more! list, which appears next to this article if you’re on a desktop. (On a smartphone or tablet, you’ll find it by scrolling to the bottom, but first you’ll have to scroll through all the other autoloading articles. I think I just realised that those 76 hits from Norway may have been someone desperately looking for a different blog to read.)

The most EXCITING development of the last few days is that I’ve booked my flight to attend the London 2020 International Stamp Exhibition in May! I hope it presents the chance to meet some of my British and European friends in person. I mention the Brits separately, of course, because by then, they will no longer be ‘European’. Some sort of minor administrative adjustment apparently.

To take us out this year: a couple of festive additions to this site’s catalogue of novelty stamps. Portugal’s Christmas issues included the miniature sheet seen at the top of this article, featuring a traditional nativity scene. A less traditional inclusion is the light-emitting diode (LED) embedded in the star, activated by a smartphone using near-field communication technology. Apparently it illuminates the whole scene; I watched the video, and I gotta admit, I’m struggling to see much going on beside a blinking star. Maybe it looks better in person:

Meanwhile, Austria embedded a crystal on top of a Christmas tree. Austria likes to chuck Swarovskis on its stamps. This one evokes the spirit of those frugal, crafty-type people who use old CDs as Christmas decorations and because it’s Christmas, visitors have to smile and pretend it doesn’t look hideous.

Austria 2019 €2.70 Christmas tree with crystal ornament stamp

These high-tech Christmas stars triggered a memory from long ago, when lots of my friends were travelling abroad. It was a world where — it’s hard to imagine — social media was yet to exist. Email was around, but it had not yet entirely killed the art of letter writing.

Back then, I had encountered the work of a local artist who illustrated envelopes by incorporating the stamp design into the surrounding scene. So I thought, why not give it a go? I reached for the pencils, and a friend who was living in the UK soon received my own Christmas masterpiece. And if you’re thinking, ‘Sorry Punk, but I’m only interested in historical anecdotes if they are accompanied by a scan of a poorly-focused, poorly-lit photograph from twenty years ago’, then do I have news for you!

Punk Philatelist Christmas 1996 illustrated cover

It’s cartoonish, but that’s as good as you’ll get from me. The Star of this show is the Diamond stamp from Australia’s 1996 ‘Pearls and Diamonds’ issue, which features an impressive, big-arse hologram. And thanks to the Australian territory of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, we have a couple of quarantined alpacas standing in for the stable animals. Somewhat anachronistic in 0th-century Bethlehem, sure, but at least I didn’t have to chuck a kangaroo in there. And just for good measure, the navy blue Australia Post Air Mail cachet, with its Southern Cross, adds a few background stars into the night sky.

Cocos (Keeling) Islands 1996 Quarantine Station 50c llamas stamp and Australia 1996 $1.20 Diamond hologram stamp

Here’s how those stamps look when they’re not in a blurry collage (don’t be confused, I made the diamond one bigger). Apart from being almost perfect for a nativity scene, in philatelic terms they were contemporaneous, and made up the correct postal rate of the era. I wonder what the commercial cover aficionados would make of it these days. I reckon that at auction, this could now sell for as many as a dozen dollars.

Looking now on that effort, I am filled with wonder. Not so much at the philately, nor the magic of Christmas. No, I mainly wonder: how did I ever have the time?

See you in 2020! x

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© Philatelic product images remain the copyright of issuing postal administrations and successor authorities

Choo the fat with ‘Mainline Railway Stamps’

Mainline Railway Stamps, Howard Plitz

A few months ago I received a new book: Howard Plitz’s Mainline Railway Stamps. As I’ve made clear on the blog, I am bang up for receiving free stuff, so I’m delighted to return the favour with this site’s first ever book review!

Howard is a lifelong philatelist and railway aficionado, and this book is the sequel to his Narrow Gauge Railway Stamps of 2018 (which I haven’t seen). He has chosen a dangerous path in life. What if he made a minor error? The consequences of incurring the combined wrath of philatelists AND trainspotters are too gruesome to contemplate.

Continue reading

Storytime! Weekend at Punkie’s

There’s a new post on the way shortly, but let me put the reviews and rants aside for a moment and tell you about my weekend. It was exciting, but in a way that only my people will understand. (Philatelists are much like those who like fishing: we LOVE telling you all about our big catch.)

So I’d I popped into a local club auction to check out a set of commemorative covers. One of those not-strictly-what-I-collect-but-maybe-I-could-have-it-around kinda deals. In the end, I decided I didn’t need them. Game over for me. I began to mosey through the rest of the viewing tables on my way out.

And that’s when I spied them.

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It’s getting steamy in here

Lots of collectors like trains on stamps. But there are trains on stamps, and then, to paraphrase Samuel L. Jackson’s character Neville Flynn from Snakes on a Plane: there are motherfucking trains on motherfucking stamps.

Have a look at these beauties marking the 150th anniversary of the completion of the first transcontinental railroad across the USA:

USA 2019 150th Anniversary of the Intercontinental Railroad stamp strip

There’s some cute design work going on. The Transcontinental Railroad was built across the United States from each direction, with the ceremonial meeting of the tracks taking place at Promontory Summit in Utah in May, 1869. The two engines depicted each hauled a trainload of dignitaries to the ceremony – Jupiter from the west, and No. 119 from the east. The so-called golden spike was then driven into the ground between them to ‘finish’ the railroad. This significant engineering feat cut the time it took to cross the nation from months down to about a week.

American pop culture gives us a certain depiction of an old steam engine: the bulbous chimney, the cattle-grid cowcatcher, a giant headlight, a colorful paint scheme and brass trim all over. It’s only when I see old American locomotives that I’m reminded that they actually looked like that! If the framing was a bit wider, you’d see a moustachio’d villain tying a damsel to the rails. It’s a shame they went for the golden spike in the middle stamp, instead of two runaway convicts pumping one of those see-saw handcars. Continue reading

Circuit books: WTF?

Circuit book and catalogueHello and welcome to the new occasional segment I just decided to launch! Here’s how it works: you ask ‘WTF?’ and then I explain a thing. Got that? Great.

So a few years back I joined a local philatelic society. A stamp club. I hadn’t been in a stamp club since primary school, and it’s not something I mention to my normal friends, because we all know how it sounds (except for people who join stamp clubs, many of whom do not realize how it sounds). I also joined the club’s circuit book list.

Stop right there! “Circuit books” – WTF? Continue reading

Fondue is big this year

Switzerland 2018 Fondue CHF1 fondue caquelonSo I look away for one moment and suddenly everyone is putting fondue on their stamps. And by ‘everyone’ I mean mostly Switzerland, but also Jersey.

Switzerland can be forgiven. Fondue as a mainstream dish is a surprisingly recent development in cuisine, but it’s theirs, and it’s a thing of national pride. Back in the 1930s, sitting around dipping stale bread into a pot of melted cheese must have been a fun way to pass a cold Alpine evening while discussing in four languages how the nearby rise of fascism left you feeling completely neutral. Continue reading

The 12 Stamps of Christmas

UPDATE! I’ve added a couple of reader’s nominations to the bottom of the list! Read on…

It’s the 12th day of Christmas. The Christmas tree withers in the corner, unwatered for days. The batteries on the toys have expired. The gurgling remnants of Christmas lunch are in a fight to the death with New Year’s resolutions. So it’s the perfect time for me to give you my 12 Stamps of Christmas! After all, I am your true love.

As mail revenues continue to plummet, for the postal administrations of Christendom, Christmas offers one last chance to hear the bells jingling on their cash registers. (Do you know how many Christmas cards I got in the mail this year? None. That’s a first. It might be that I’ve been crossed off multiple lists. But I choose to blame The Pace of Change.)

So which countries brought their festive philatelic A-game in 2018? These are my favourites of the stamps that crossed my radar. Continue reading