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Vanity keeps Philately alive!

“It’s true that young people don’t write letters or really know what stamps are, and that, generally speaking, stamp collecting is for an older generation that is slowly dying out, so far fewer people collect stamps nowadays than they did in the past,” says Douglas Muir, senior curator of philately at The Postal Museum in London. “But people are still extremely honoured if they appear on stamps, and you get far more publicity about stamps in newspapers these days than you ever used to.”

Etching your way into history by Royalty; Politicians and by those genuine accomplisher is something we have accepted, much like many other unquestioned impositions.

However over the last few decades, vanity by the commoners ( like me) have infested both the digital and real world.

If you are not on LinkedIn, and/or Facebook, and/or Twitter and/or Whatsapp and/or etc etc. You are probably non-existent ( and if I can be audacious enough to say irrelevant) as far as the digital world is concerned.

And if you are, well, of course you are. You are reading my blog. You have a reign and rein on your digital presence. You would have possibly and surely succumbed to this plague which is called vanity.

It strikes quietly uncontrollably and unconscious to many, to others it’s merely a competitive response.

And how it grows, triggers are everywhere must have been your surprise birthday party ( you had no idea you ruled so many hearts ) or your newly minted certification at a course ( latent genius ) or a recent acquisition ( hope we are taking Tesla and not Lamborghini). Or just a change of partnership ( personal or professional – everybody cares).

We post, and we share and we like and we go viral with this infestation of our glorious feet’s and hourly and weekly sense of dis appropriate accomplishments with the unfailing assumption that the world won’t “live another day” till they applauded to your blessed existence ( even if they don’t)

Well, who am I to preach, who in this crazy world doesn’t want the love ( as fake as it might be) ! It’s human to be vain.

So here I am sharing the opportunity for you to continue your persuasion in vanity into the glorious pages of history, or should I say sheet, ahem- may be just say, adhesive paper.

Many lovely desperate ( for commercial viability) postal departments of a few countries have found your sweet spot.

Vanity and they are at your service to flame your fire.

Getting on a stamp

Until quite recently, appearing on a stamp used to be something of a double-edged honour. In most countries, unless you were the head of state, one crucial condition for being so honoured on a postage stamp was that you were dead – and have been that way for at least five years.

In the UK, the birthplace of the postage stamp, the first living recipient of this honour was Sir Francis Chichester, whose boat Gipsy Moth IV, featuring its skipper’s definite if unidentifiable image as a small figure on deck, appeared on stamps in 1967 in celebration of the sailor’s singlehanded circumnavigation of the world.

Until then, the ban on picturing living people on stamps was an unwritten Post Office rule in the UK, and therefore the commonwealth stamp world and one that is still broken only rarely, and not always overtly. 

A stamp in 1999 honouring Freddie Mercury, the singer with the band Queen, who had died eight years previously, also featured in the background the unmistakable figure of the band’s drummer, the very-much-still-alive Roger Taylor.

But the tribute of the first starring role as a living subject on a stamp was reserved for cricketers Michael Vaughan and Freddie Flintoff after England’s victory over Australia in the Ashes series in 2005.

In the US, a statutory restriction on the use of portraits of the living on currency, dating from 1866, was also applied to postage – until in 2011, the United States Postal Service announced it was “dropping a rule that currently requires an individual to have been deceased at least five years before being honoured on a stamp”. 

In a move that looked suspiciously like a cynical effort to make philately both cool and commercially viable again, members of the public were urged to use social media – ironically – to nominate “acclaimed musicians, sports stars, writers, artists and other nationally-known figures” for consideration as subjects for stamps.

Well, now that was a start, but not quite so enamouring to the younger generation ( who we are counting upon to carrying on the baton of philatelic pursuits and not render our vintage collections worthless)

So how do we solve a problem like Mariaaaa… as the song goes.

Aha! #HarryPotter is summoned and #Avengers are called in #Starwars and #StarTrek collide while #lordoftherings vibe with #GamesoftheThrones and of course the #Pixar and #Disneyland characters have there own special commemoratives to ensure everlasting place in #philatelic history.

All this efforts to lure the young into stamp collecting. A win-win commercial arrangement.

Well if you are famous ( and saleable) anybody and nobody who has earned instant fame over the last few quarters are now on an adhesive paper which in other words is called a collectors item.

I have this uncanny premonition that publicists and advertising agencies will soon feel very threatened about their livelihood. Superstars shortcut to the hearts, minds and albums of their fans are just a call away to the post office stamp artists team!

Well, do we stop here. Oh no! We don’t. Vanity is much much more personal.

It’s not good enough that I have the entire collection of #wonderwoman stamps. I am wondering woman – why am I not on a stamp!

So, voila the not so artificial intellect of our friendly neighbourhood post office just went into a eureka nebulous state.

Selfie Stamps wave.

Postage stamp with your own ( or family) picture is the latest missile launched by postal offices of various countries such as USA, UK, Australia, Austria, Bhutan, Canada, Finland, India, Indonesia, New Zealand and a few more.

For example, The United States Post Office allows you to make custom postage stamps from your own photos, but you must use one of the organization’s approved third-party vendors. As explained on the U.S.P.S. website, custom stamps can be designed and purchased from PhotoStamps, PictureItPostage and Zazzle.

You can get your personalized stamps in a variety of sizes and monetary values. Most vendors also offer a collection of stock images you can use for your stamps. You can use your own logos and graphics to create postage, postcards and envelopes as well — which can come in handy for wedding announcements, family reunions and other events.

Custom postage stamps cost more than the standard versions available at the post office. Prices vary by vendor, stamp size and amount.

So as you can read, we are been nudged to remain self indulgent and in our family history be itched as the first’s to be on a postage stamp.

I wonder, if this doesn’t do the trick for keeping philately alive…. what will !

Yours truly vain,


The 1st ever Stamps that Stick Without a Lick

Getting stamps to stick hasn’t always been a simple task. Most stamps made after 1840 came with an adhesive gum on the back. But the gum—made from various plant products such as cornstarch, sweet potatoes, gum Arabic, and sugar—wasn’t always of the highest quality, meaning stamps often fell off letters. The U.S. Postal Service tried various gum formulas to remedy the situation, including special “summer gum” that was resistant to humidity, and “winter gum”that resisted cracking in cold, dry winter air.

The Banana Stamp

Finally, in the 1960s, the South Pacific island kingdom of Tonga broke the mold when it printed a series of self-adhesive stamps. Not only did they not require licking, they came in odd shapes—the most famous of which was this 1969 stamp shaped like a banana. These unusual stamps were a big hit and, for a time, became a significant source of revenue for the country. Collectors went crazy for them. In fact, they became so popular that one dealer ordered more copies of a particular stamp than had been printed. Most countries followed Tonga’s lead, and today, the die-cut, peel-and-stick stamps are the most common type of stamps in the United States.

A brief history on Tonga:

Map of the Tongan Island Group

The island of Niuafo’ou is a volcanic island and is surrounded by steep lava cliffs and it is almost impossible to approach the island by ship. The first Tin Can Mail was initiated by W. Travers in 1882, when he convinced the Tongan postal authorities to place the incoming mail in a ship’s biscuit tin and have it thrown overboard to be retrieved by swimmers. Similarly, outgoing mail was placed in water-proof greased paper and carried on the end of a stick by the swimmer to the ship. Beginning in 1921Charles Stuart Ramsey, a copra trader became involved with the Tin Can Mail Service. Ramsey swam the mail himself and made 112 trips. He was the only white man,who actually swam the mail. Walter George Quensell, who arrived on the island in 1928 began receiving requests from stamp collectors for examples of letters canceled by Tin Can Mail. Mr. Quensell then began applying special cachets in several languagesto the face and reverse of the covers on both incoming and outgoing mail.

A Tonga-Niuafo’ou 42-seniti Swimmers with Mail stamp issued in 1986

The Tongan Island Group was first settled by Polynesians around 3000 years ago and from the 10th century, it has been ruled by a line of hereditary Kings and Queens. The current ruling family began it’s reign in 1845Siaosi Taufa’ahau Tupou Maeakafawa established the line and became King of Tonga in 1845. He later adopted Christianityand in 1875 established a constitutional monarchy under the name of King George Toupu IQueen Salote Toupu, thegranddaughter of George I was the third in line of the Toupu Monarchs. She ruled Tonga from 1918 to 1965 and her sonTaufa’ahau Tupou IV is the current ruler.

In 1901, in order to prevent German encroachment in the area, Great Britain established a protectorate over the Islands which lasted until 1970 when Tonga became an independent member of the British Commonwealth

The first Europeans to discover the islands were Dutch Mariners in 1616. Captain James Cook visited and charted the Islands in 1773. The islands were also the site of the Mutiny on the Bounty.

Have a heart (or two)

The above picture shows a combination franking of the heart-shaped 3d x 2 and regular 2d from the 1953 Pictorial series, used from Nukualofa to Samoa in June, 1966. 8d was the ½oz airmail rate and the correspondence was between the local and Apia offices of Morris Headstrom Ltd. The self-adhesives are cancelled by the bold ‘NUKUALOFA / TONGA / FRIENDLY ISLANDS ‘ handstamp, wisely introduced to facilitate cancelling of the embossed gold foil self-adhesives.

Old and new currency combination

The second series of self-adhesives, issued in 1964, was heart or map-shaped, as seen in the picture on the left for the Pan-Pacific South-East Asia Women’s Association Meeting in Nukualofa. Absolute domination would appear to best describe the relationship between the coin-stamps and the cover in picture below. Issued in 1967 for the Coronation of King Taufa’ahau IV, the 2 seniti denomination x 5 in combination with 1966 Centenary of Tupou College and Secondary Education 1/2d on 2d overprint, another old/new currency item, was for the ½-1oz airmail rate, on this occasion for a 14 Jan 1969 article of correspondence between two houses of commerce. 

King Taufa’ahau IV gets his head on a coin and stamp simultaneously
The first Tongan stamp, 1 penny, issued in 1886, that depicts George Tupou I of Tonga

The beginnings of the postal history of Tonga can be traced to the Wesleyan missionaries, who landed in the islands in 1826, and sent regular communications back to London and Sydney from the day of their arrival. The Tongan Post Office was established in 1887, but even before then postage stamps featuring the image of King George Tupou I were produced in New Zealand.

On 23rd December, 1886, King George Tubou I of Tonga agreed to the establishment of the Tonga Post Office but even before this date, a request was made to the Postmaster-General in NZ to produce stamps for use in Tonga.

King George Tupou I died in 1893 at age 96. Having outlived both his son and grandson, he was succeeded by his great-grandson, George Tupou II (in Tongan, Siaosi Tupou II). The first stamp to bear the new king’s image was issued in 1895 (Scott 29), but the monarch did not like his appearance on the stamp. The stamp was redrawn and reissued, but the king still didn’t like it. Two years later, a new set of 15 attractive engraved stamps was issued (Scott 38-52). 

The first stamp bearing the image of Tonga’s King George Tupou II appeared in 1895. He didn’t like it.

King George Tupou II’s new portrait graced several denominations of new stamps, and this time he was pleased.

After his earlier disappointment, King George Tupou II was pleased with the new stamps issued by Tonga in 1897 with his portrait.

On June 1, 1899, the king married Lavinia Veiongo, and the royal wedding was commemorated with a postage stamp (Scott 53), perhaps the first royal wedding to be depicted on a stamp. 

The marriage of George Tupou II and the new Queen Lavinia in 1899 was celebrated with a stamp

The 1d ovava tree-design stamp was overprinted. “T-L”: the “T” for Taufa’ahau, the king’s family name, and the “L” for Lavinia, along with the wedding date, written as “1 June, 1899.” 

In 1900, Lavinia gave birth to a daughter, Salote, but Lavinia later contracted tuberculosis and died in 1902. George Tupou II chose a husband for Salote: a chieftain of distinguished lineage named Viliami Tungi Mailefihi, and they married in 1917. The king died the following year and was succeeded by Salote, only 18 years old. She became the first (and, to date, the only) queen regnant of Tonga.

Nine stamps were issued for the new Queen Salote Tupou III in 1920.

The young Queen Salote began appearing on Tonga’s stamps starting in 1920. She was 20 years old.

Queen Salote died in 1965, shortly after Tonga had begun issuing die-cut, circular, embossed metallic stamps that displayed images of Tonga’s new coinage and the nation’s beloved ruler. Most of the citizens of Tonga would say Queen Salote could not be replaced, but the eldest of her three sons took the throne in 1965 as King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV.  King George Tupou VI is the current monarch of Tonga.  Long live the Tongan monarchy? Maybe, but there are Tongan citizens who are requesting the elimination of the monarchy and feudal system as a whole.

Time will tell if the royal days are numbered for this last outpost of South Pacific monarchy.

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