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.
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:
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
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: Continue reading
I’ve become a bit of a new issues service for Australia Post lately. I didn’t mean to. It’s just that AP has been in great form. Also, I’ve only written about the stuff I love, not the issues that have left me feeling meh. This is the opposite of what writing on the internet is meant to be. You’re meant to ignore good things, while ensuring that anyone in public life who has done wrong knows all about how personally you have taken offence and how much you hate them. (See: many other entries on this site.)
I really like this week’s Bicycles issue. It’s unusual for me to be moved by such stark designs, but that’s just the contradictory kind of gal I am and if you don’t like it, you’re going to have to deal. Continue reading
Australia Post would never release Valentine’s Day stamps. That would be commercial and crass – something Australia Post would never stand for.
But it just so happens that most years, AP releases love-themed stamps just weeks before Valentine’s Day. How amazingly convenient!
I’m not sure when ‘Love’ became so Australian that it deserved to be featured on our stamps. Asylum seekers on Manus Island would surely think we were playing mind games if a Love stamp turned up on a letter delivered to them as they queued up in the sun to ask permission to apply for the tampon raffle or to not get beaten up by guards that week.
But of course, these stamps aren’t celebrating an Australian phenomenon; they’re celebrating a worldwide trend among postal administrations to encourage romantics to put some thought into the stamps that will adorn their love letters, while encouraging stamp collectors to put their hands in their pockets and give postal administrations more money. Collectors are used to this by now, but if the gimmick encourages any thoughtful written communication from Romeos and Juliets in this internet age, then it’s all right by me.
(Australia isn’t the only country in on this game. I’ve mentioned some other countries’ contributions in a separate post here.)
I might be the target demographic, but Australia’s Love stamps often leave me cold. I’m over the girly pinks and the constant barrage of roses. (Not in real life, of course. Keep ’em coming.)
They’re also highly susceptible to a scourge infesting modern stamp design, which is WRITING the THEME of the ISSUE in BIG TYPOGRAPHY so that you KNOW what it’s ABOUT.
Oh! The pink rose means LOVE! I get it now.
So it’s with great delight Continue reading