Exploring Exploring Stamps

Exploring Exploring Stamps tnf

A day off work due to illness presents a perfect opportunity to binge-watch a series that you’ve been meaning to see for a long time. So it was that I recently popped a painkiller, snuggled into my bed, and reached for the comforting glow of my laptop.

Which series would see me through the day? A dystopian futuristic drama about women in sexual servitude? One of those quirky Aussie comedies with no jokes in it? A day-trip back to Westeros and Game of Thrones?

Oh no, my friends, I had bigger fish to fry. It was time to explore a YouTube series that had been on my radar for a long time. It was time to explore Exploring Stamps.

Exploring Stamps title board

Exploring Stamps debuted on YouTube at the end of 2016, comprising seasons that are 20 (short) episodes each in length, along with occasional specials. At the start of each regular episode, our host, Graham, plucks a stamp from a trove stashed in a big cardboard box, and uses it as a launching pad for a journey of discovery. Most often this involves the stamp’s history and subject matter, with a bit of philately-for-the-beginner along the way. But his tangents can delight and surprise.

Graham from Exploring Stamps (YouTube) Graham plays with his pomegranates.
Image: Exploring Stamps

Graham has the likeable, cheeky manner of a cool substitute teacher who you wish was your normal teacher, and his narrations would be easy enough for older kids to follow. But the music, graphics (hat tip), camera angles and pace, not to mention the occasional goofy gag, all make the videos engaging for any viewer.

From the first episode, I was learning things about stamps I’ve held in my collection for years. For example (spoiler alert): I had never noticed that Marianne, the symbol of liberty depicted on classic French stamps, wears a Phrygian cap also worn by the Smurfs. Who’da thunk it?

Marianne and the Smurf, Exploring Stamps That’s Marianne on the right.
Image: Exploring Stamps

I realised pretty quickly what I enjoyed the most about this channel. Due to being a grown-up (cough), my hobby mainly appeals to me on academic or financial grounds. Any lingering sense of wonder comes from an appreciation of the skills of the graphic artists (or the prices people will pay for rubbish on eBay).

But Exploring Stamps recaptures for me the simple enjoyment of learning things from stamps. My kiddie collection stoked a curiosity that lives on in both a lifelong fascination with languages and international politics, and also a kick-arse record at office trivia. It’s funny, the things you don’t realise you know until you’re asked.

And yet, I don’t know everything. By the end of Series 1, I’d had my mind blown by a fact about the Cullinan diamond, and enjoyed some detective work into a UK Olympic tae kwon do stamp. I learned the significance of an Indian fighter plane stamp that I’d long largely ignored, and been delighted by the connection between hand grenades and pomegranates. It seems so obvious in retrospect:

Graham sure is committed to his art, if his international airfare expenditure is anything to go by. I only wish I could travel to Dublin as easily every time I wanted to explore some Guinness. I also want his study window that magically transports him to foreign countries with just a flick of his screen blinds.

Graham's window, Exploring Stamps
Nice view!
Image: Exploring Stamps

Season 2 lived up to the promise of Season 1. I learned about the little Fijian man in the boat, and I added the picturesque village of Sandy Hook (not that one) and its lighthouse to my next US travel itinerary. I think I might have even lost a future topic for this blog: I’d been eyeing off North Korea’s insane propaganda issues, but Graham covered it better (and far more engagingly) than I could have dreamed. Nice one Graham. No hard feelings.

I can’t recommend Exploring Stamps highly enough for the casual passer-by or the avowed philatelist. Graham is doing a brilliant job blowing the cobwebs off this dusty old pastime and lifting it belatedly into the 21st century, and taking philately to the parts of the internet where people actually go. (Even – gasp! – young people!) His enthusiasm is infectious, and unlike many online outlets (this one included), he covers an incredible variety of countries and eras. He has truly earned his admission into the Meritorious Philatelic Order of the Punk, which I have just created to reward people who do excellent things for the hobby.

Congratulations, Graham, and long may you rummage through your big cardboard box.

Get stuck into Exploring Stamps here!

PS: In fairness, I am also retrospectively admitting to the Order of the Punk Tiresias1000, an Instagram account that has now deleted itself, rendering my tribute to it almost incomprehensible. But it was good while it lasted.

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A big, BIG issue

Australia 2018 Silo Art $1 Brim Guido van Helten stamp
Brim, Victoria
Artist: Guido van Helten

One of my favourite Aussie issues of recent times was 2017’s Street Art – vibrant, modern, urban and startlingly different from the usual stamp fodder. Not surprisingly, those stunning works were a big hit on my Instagram page. They’re very like-able.

I’m a month late with this update but I still wanted to say how much I loved seeing Australia Post continue the theme with May’s Silo Art issue. Silo art is the rural equivalent of street art, except that it’s painted on grain silos, and it is, as a rule, fucking ENORMOUS.

Australia 2018 Silo Art $1 Weethalle Heesco Khosnaran stamp
Weethalle, New South Wales
Artist: Heesco Khosnaran

Painted silos have sprung up all over Australia in recent years, often depicting local characters, flora and fauna, or scenes of rural life. In some places, you can follow a Silo Art Trail through the countryside, bringing some small relief to many of the drought-depressed local communities. It perhaps says something of the impact of  these works that this issue has been released at all, when the first silo was painted only in 2015.

It’s actually ludicrous to see silo art crammed into the tiny square centimetrage of an ordinary-sized postage stamp. These works are so gigantic, their size can only truly be appreciated up close. For a sense of scale, look for the person standing in the foreground of the Ravensthorpe stamp:

Australia 2018 Silo Art $1 Ravensthorpe Amok Island stamp
Ravensthorpe, Western Australia
Artist: Amok Island

The accompanying miniature sheet does a pretty good job of communicating the sheer size of these works. Bit of a shame that Aussie Post didn’t feature these works on the larger-size stamps that they use occasionally to commemorate giant sharks and more traditional artworks.

Australia 2018 Silo Art $1 Patchewollock Fintan Magee miniature sheet
Feature work: Patchewollock, Victoria
Artist: Fintan Magee

If you’re an aficionado of public art, and these issues have you booking your ticket to Australia, you can at least be assured that the silo art has one advantage over its street cousins: at least one, if not more, of the works featured in the Street Art stamp issue have now been painted over, in keeping with the street art ethos. Good luck painting over any of these in a hurry. They’ll wait for you.

Australia 2018 Silo Art $1 Thallon Drapl and The Zookeeper stamp
Thallon, Queensland
Artists: Drapl and The Zookeeper

Australia Post’s Collectables page gives an excellent background to each of the works depicted in these stamps. If you want to see more silo artwork, a Google image search for for ‘silo art’ won’t disappoint. (Yep, I’m here to offer highly specialised advice like that. Hope I don’t lose you with my technical computery talk.) There are a few Facebook fan pages out there to be found too, with regular updates.

Side note: one of my favourite bits of this issue is the sight of the dark grey storm clouds brewing over the silos at Brim. Those rains’ll be good for the crops.

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Jammin’ and jammin’ and jammin’

Clearly the ‘vintage commercial design’ thing must be making big bucks for Australia Post, because AP have gone back to the well, or in this case, the jam tin, once more. I’m not judging. I’ve made my love of the retro vein pretty clear in the past.

About a month ago (when I was a tad too busy to blog about it), Aussie Post released this lovely set featuring jam labels from ye olden days, depicting a diversity in development, location and the companies involved.

What arrests my attention in this set is the bold use of perspective. Those jam tins sit right fat in the viewer’s face, threatening to burst off the stamp and cover us in their delicious, fruity goodness. It’s a fantastic way to pay tribute to the colour and vibrancy of the original designers’ work.

Australia 2018 Vintage Jam Labels $1 Peacock's stampWhat’s your favourite? For mine, it’d a close-run thing between the Melray and the Peacock’s. I’d probably have to go with the Peacock’s, partly because I love apricot jam, but mainly because “Peacock’s”. For more details on the specifics of each label, you can hit up the Australia Post Collectables website.

Given recent form,  I can only assume Aussie Post is going to keep churning out vintage shit on its stamps. What do you reckon will be next? My money is on biscuit tins.

Now if you don’t mind, I’m off to the kitchen. For some reason I have a massive craving for toast.

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Cold War propaganda stamp of the day

Poland 1973 30th Anniversary of Polish People's Army 1zl T-55 tank stampPolitics 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!”

Poland 1973 30th Anniversary of Polish People's Army 1zl MiG-21 D fighter stampThe 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: Continue reading

Love this retro Jersey

Jersey 2017 Popular Culture: The 1960s - moon landing, language, leisure stamps Jersey is one of those funny little islands in the English Channel that are closer to France, and part of the UK, but get to put out their own stamps.

Jersey 2017 Popular Culture: The 1960s 63p music stampInterestingly, this practice began during the Nazi occupation of those islands, when they were cut off from the mother country. This is just one of the reasons why nerds who are into postal history find them so delectable. (If you think you might be one of those nerds, you should check out the Channel Islands Specialists’ Society.)

I’m not one of those nerds, but I do like how these islands churn out pretty stamps, because, let’s face it, what else have they got going on? I mean apart from tax avoidance schemes.

Jersey 2017 Popular Culture: The 1960s 73p fashion stampRecently Jersey jumped on the retro stamp bandwagon with a 1960s Popular Culture issue.

I love the Hendrix-inspired psychedelic guitar player with his groovy vibes and his remarkable fused fingers on his strumming hand.

The models (or are they just ’60s housewives?) on the fashion stamp take me back to a childhood spent rifling through Grandma’s sewing pattern magazines.

And it eludes me why more stamp administrations don’t honour the cheese and pineapple stick on their postal stamps. Continue reading

Australia Day: an awkward first date

Australia 1979 Australia Day 20c Union Jack stamp

This Friday, January 26, is Australia Day, and that means it’s argument week down under. Crack open a tinny and celebrate with a very rare Punk Philatelist Longread!

Australia Day is Australia’s national day. It’s called Australia Day because obviously the names of all the other countries were already taken. Australia Day has been celebrated on many different dates in different regions in different eras, but it’s only since 1994 that it’s been uniformly observed on January 26.

We maybe should’ve thought that one through. Continue reading

Printer is gumming: UK issues Game of Thrones stamps

UK 2018 Game of Thrones 1st Iron Throne stampHappy New Year, readers! Hoping your year is as bloody awesome as the pun in my headline.

2018 has kicked off with the news that on January 23, the UK’s Royal Mail is releasing no less than 15 stamps commemorating “the significant British contribution” to the production of the TV series Game of Thrones.

Here’s the Royal Mail’s justification for jumping on the GoT band-dragon:

The Game of Thrones production involves a very significant British contribution. Principal filming of the series is at Titanic Studios in Belfast, at the Linen Hill Film Studio in Banbridge and on location elsewhere in Northern Ireland, with additional filming in Scotland and European locations including Malta, Croatia, Iceland, Morocco and Spain.
Additionally, the acclaimed cast is predominantly British and Irish, and British expertise is to the fore in many areas of the production, including award-winning costume design and prosthetic special effects.

And here’s what they might as well have written:

Game of Thrones is huge and we are out to make a shipload of coin.

UK 2018 Game of Thrones 1st Daenerys Targaryen stampUK 2018 Game of Thrones 1st Cersei Lannister stampUK 2018 Game of Thrones 1st Tyrion Lannister stampUK 2018 Game of Thrones 1st Jon Snow stamp

Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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