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.

The stamps feature a beautiful gold foil layer that doesn’t come across in the image above. Luckily, here’s my friend Stacy with a demonstration! Thanks Stacy!

American heroes finally acknowledged

This anniversary has differed from the 100th anniversary in 1969 by overtly acknowledging the immigrant labor that was involved. From the USPS website:

A large immigrant labor force — including a majority of Chinese and Irish laborers — carried out most of the backbreaking and often dangerous work that made the achievement possible. The workforce, totaling more than 20,000 at its peak, also included immigrants from many nations — Germany, Italy, Russia, Czechoslovakia, Poland and others — as well as African-Americans and former Civil War soldiers from both the Union and Confederate armies.

The public commemorations of the anniversary and the stamp issue have honored this immigrant workforce (and also noted the costs of the railroad borne by Native Americans). I kinda wish these workers could have been recognized in the stamps themselves. Americans could do with a reminder of how much their prosperity is due to the back-breaking efforts (and, too often, deaths) of immigrants. Especially the Chinese of the time, who were virtually labeled as sub-human by some of those in power. Not that it should remind you of anyone.

Fans of trains on stamps should keep watching the blog. There’s something exciting for you coming down the tracks.

Post office murals are off the wall

USA 2019 Post Office Murals Rockville MD stamp

While we’re in the States, a belated shoutout to USPS for the stamps released in April celebrating the tradition of post office murals.

Beginning with the Great Depression, the US Government commissioned artists to enliven public buildings with morale-boosting works depicting the “American Scene”. A bunch of those works graced the walls of post offices, and are still in situ today. I realize now that I must have seen a few when I was there a few years ago, without knowing the back-story.

Depicting five of these works, this attractive issue is a testament both to the times, and to the aesthetic benefits of getting your stamp proportions just right when depicting artwork.

USA 2019 Post Office Murals Piggott AR and Anadarko OK stampsThese things aren’t a competition, but for the record, my favorite, predictably, is the mural entitled Air Mail, painted by Daniel Rhodes at the Piggott Post Office in Arkansas. It’s got a plane, a postman, a pilot… but there’s something about that foreboding grey sky that I just love. It speaks to the historical determination on the part of postal staff to get the mail to where it needs to go, long before the days of overworked, underpaid sub-contractors leaving a card in your letterbox saying you weren’t home, instead of walking five extra steps to ring your bell and find out that you were.

USA 2019 Post Office Murals Florence CO and Deming NM stamps

Runner-up: Kenneth Miller Adams’ cubist–ish Mountains and Yucca, from Deming Post Office in New Mexico, just ahead of Kiowas Moving Camp from the Anadarko Post Office in Oklahoma.

Kiowas Moving Camp is one of 16 murals painted by Kiowa artists at Anadarko. If you’re passing through Oklahoma later this month, I read in the latest Linn’s Stamp News that these murals will be a feature of the program at the Oklahoma Philatelic Society‘s OKPEX 2019 stamp show, June 28-29. (Update your website, guys!)

I’m not done covering recent US issues. I look away for one moment (well, OK, I’ve struggled two watch for a few years now) and the USPS puts out a whole spate of goodies. But the next issue will get a whole entry to itself. Stay tuned…

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

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

Pedal to the metal

Australia 2015 Bicycles 70c 1910 Ladies' safety bike

Australia 2015 Bicycle $1.85 1930s men's sprung-frame bike stampI’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.)

Australia 2015 Bicycles 70c 1888 penny farthing stampI 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

Happy (not quite) Valentine’s Day

Love2013Australia 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.

Love2014But 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.

Love2014b

Oh! The pink rose means LOVE! I get it now.

So it’s with great delight Continue reading