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Astound your fellow collectors with some remarkable
and little known stories about stamps!

Which country was the second to issue postage stamps?

It is generally accepted that Great Britain issued the first postage stamp in 1840, the so-called 'Penny Black'.

Great Britain 'Penny Black' of 1840.
Great Britain
Penny Black, 1840
There are, however, several claims for being the second country to issue postage stamps. The two main contenders are Brazil (where they issued their 'Bull's Eyes' stamps in July 1843) and ...

Brazil 'Bulls Eye' stamp.
Brazil Bulls Eye, 1843
... the Swiss Cantonal Administration of Zurich (which first issued stamps in March 1843). Purists consider the Zurich stamps as 'locals', though others argue that they fit the main criteria of being postage stamps by prepaying the rate of postage in the form of a stamp to be affixed to the letter as proof that postage has been paid. It is also pointed out that at the time the Zurich stamps were issued they were an independent canton, and it was not until 1848 that the first Swiss Federal Constitution came into effect and that thus Brazil was the third country to issue stamps and not the second.

Zurich Local Stamp.
Zurich Local stamp, 1843
We must also consider the claim of the first United States local stamps issued in New York in 1842. Again the purists argue that these were local stamps not available country-wide. But they did perform the use of a postage stamp. If this stamp cannot claim to be the second ever issued it can lay claim to being the first to show a man - of course the Penny Black was the first to show a woman!

New York Local.
United States New York Local, 1842
So there it is - you can make your own choice depending upon how strictly you define a postage stamp. Of course there is no dispute about who issued the first postage stamp - or is there ... ?

Illustrated below is a cover bearing the 1831 Greek 40 lepta 'Charity Tax Stamp'. This is claimed to be the first adhesive stamp ever issued. It is rare on cover - only four are known. But was it used to prepay postage? Opinion seems to be divided, but recent research suggests that it is either an adhesive stamp indicating the amount of postage to be paid by the recipient (a postage due stamp) or a local issue having no official sanction. But no doubt the arguments will continue ...

Greek Cover (Front).

This letter is in the Smithsonian National Postal Museum in Washington. It is a folded letter with a circular Piraeus datestamp of 17 June 1848 and a handwritten rate of '40' in red (to be collected from the recipient?) on the front. The reverse bears the 40 lepta stamp cancelled by a single stroke of red ink.
Greek Cover (Reverse).

Which country issued a stamp that expanded the British Empire?

In 1898 Canada issued what is claimed to be the first Christmas stamp. It also increased the boundaries of the British Empire as it was then known by several thousand square miles! Officially the stamp was issued to commemorate the Imperial Penny Postage, and showed what was intended to be a world map of the British Empire at that time coloured red. However, the designer added in a few bits of Africa that didn't belong to the Empire! He painted red over the undoubtedly British territories of the Cape, Natal, the Rhodesias and Nyasaland. But then his red brush strayed over what was then the independent Orange Free State and South African Republic, and also over German South West Africa. We have no record of any 'diplomatic incident' with Germany about the philatelic annexation of German South West Africa. But the designer did have the excuse that he was only trying to indicate Walvis Bay, which was most certainly British.

There was more justification for including the two Boer Republics, though not as part of the British Empire. The foreign affairs of both states were conducted by Great Britain as the Paramount Power acknowledged by convention. Both Republics were included in the South African Customs Union, and both enjoyed the benefits of Imperial Penny Postage. So it was admissible to include them in a stamp commemorating Imperial Penny Postage - though having scrutinised the stamp carefully you will find no mention of this - only a reference to the Empire and the implication that everything red on the map is British! The quotation 'We hold a vaster empire than has been' comes from a patriotic verse by Sir Lewis Morris.

The Canadian Imperial Penny Postage stamp of 1898 in an imperforate vertical pair.

Canadian 1898 Stamp.

Stamps that Nearly Caused Wars!

The 1900 stamps issued by the Dominican Republic showed a map of Haiti, of which the eastern portion was occupied by the Dominican Republic, the western part being the Haitian Republic. The stamp inadvertantly showed part of Haiti as belonging to the Dominican Republic. Dire consequences were threatened by Haiti, and the stamps were withdrawn and burned, otherwise war would have ensued.

Argentine has long laid claim to the British Falkland Islands, and in the 1960's issued stamps showing the Islands as part of Argentine. The Falkland Islanders wanted to remain British, but in 1982 Argentine invaded and occupied the Islands leading to the Falklands War and the restoration of British Administration some two and a half months later. The stamps were not the prime cause of the war, but did much to fuel the Argentine population's misguided belief that the 'British were occupying their territory', and led to popular support amongst Argentinians for the invasion. Argentinian stamps overprinted 'LAS MALVINAS SON ARGENTINAS' were in use during the Argentine occupation.

Errors on Stamps

Over the years many stamps have been issued which show errors. These can be broadly classified as design errors or printing errors. Here are a few errors to look out for.

The seal with paws

In 1865 Newfoundland issued a 5c stamp showing a picture of a seal on an ice-floe. Unfortunately the designer had never seen a seal, and drew it with paws instead of flippers. A stamp of similar design was issued by Newfoundland in 1880, but that time the designer got it right!

Newfoundland 5c Stamp of 1865.

On which side did Robert Burns part his hair?

Great Britain issued two stamps in 1966 to commemorate the Scottish poet Robert Burns. If you examine the stamps carefully you will see that the 4d stamp shows him with his hair parted on the left, and the 1/3d stamp shows the parting on the right. How did he actually part his hair? He parted his hair on the right as shown on the 1/3d stamp, but the designer of the 4d stamp presumably thought that he followed the modern male fashion of parting on the left. Or maybe he was a victim of that common philatelic faux pas - the inverted photographic negative.
Robert Burns Stamps.

Guess the value!

Sweden 20 Ore error.

This Swedish stamp issued in 1879 clearly shows its value as 20 ore in figures. A quick lesson in Swedish will confuse you because the inscription on the stamp reads 'TRETIO', meaning thirty in Swedish. Twenty in Swedish is 'TJUGO', which is the value that should have been inscribed on the stamp.

The mistake arose in the use of the wrong die in laying down the plate. The central value shown as a numeral and the outer part of the stamp with the value in words would have been entered onto the plate using two separate dies which became mixed up.

When the plates for the United States issue of 1916 were being prepared, one of the plates for the 2c value was returned for correction. Three of the images needed to be re-entered on the plate. The 5c die was used by mistake to make the re-entry.

The error passed unnoticed for some time until a disgruntled local postmaster wrote to the Postmaster General saying that he 'wished the Post Office Department wouldn't mix the values on the same sheet as it made the accounting difficult'.

The illustrated block shows the error on the two stamps in the centre of the block.

US 5 cents error.
There are many more design errors. Here are a few to look out for:

On 8 September 1947 Australia issued three stamps to commemorate the City of Newcastle, New South Wales. The two and a half-pence value was intended to show Lt John Shortland RN, but by mistake the portrait showed his son - Sir John Shortland Jnr. The error was not noticed until it was too late, and the mistake was never corrected.

On 21 September 1928 Canada issued a 5c air stamp. The design shows two winged figures, but a careful examination reveals that each figure has only one wing!

The 1938 series of definitive stamps issued by Fiji includes a one and half-pence value showing a native canoe in full sail. It is a modern day Marie Celeste as there is nobody on the canoe! The stamp was later corrected with the addition of a man sailing the canoe.

On 10 June 1937 a 90c stamp was issued to commemorate the 300th Anniversary of the publication of Rene Descartes' work 'Discours de la Methode'. The stamp shows the title page, which is oddly placed on the left-hand page by the designer using artistic licence in order to show Descartes portrait over the right-hand page. A more serious error is the wrong title for the book, shown as 'Discours sur la Methode'. The stamp was re-issued soon afterwards with the correct title, but still showing the title page on the wrong side!

In February 1921 a two and a half-pence stamp was issued with the Union Jack flying up-side-down in the left-hand frame. It was corrected and re-issued in November 1921. The same series of stamps included a two pence value with bananas growing upwards!

New Zealand
This country issued a series of stamps in 1898 which included a two and a half pence value showing Lake Wakatipu and Mount Earnshaw. The inscription was misspelled as 'Lake Wakitipu'. It was re-issued soon afterwards with the corrected spelling.

New Zealand
Another New Zealand error of design can be found on the 2/- stamp of the 1935 series showing Captain Cook at Poverty Bay. It shows Cook and two seamen wearing ratings' jerseys and officers' three-cornered hats. The design also shows a sailor trying to pull a boat up the beach, and another sailer trying to push it off the beach with an oar! No wonder Cook looks a bit annoyed.

Philippine Islands
The 18c value in a series issued on 3 May 1932 is inscribed 'Pagsanjan Falls'. In fact the stamp shows the Vernal Falls in the Yosemite National Park, California. We can only assume the designer was given the wrong photograph to work from. The stamp was never re-issued with a correction.

St Kitts-Nevis
Several early stamps from this country show the badge of the colony of St Christopher with Christopher Columbus looking through a telescope. He made his epic journey to America about one hundred years before the telescope was invented. However, we cannot lay the blame for this error on the designer - he was only copying the badge. The mistake belongs to whoever designed the badge.

South Africa (Transvaal)
In 1894 a designer unfamiliar with the Dutch waggon showed it on a series of stamps as being drawn by a pair of shafts. In fact the waggons were drawn by a single pole or 'disselboom'. Stamps with a corrected design were issued the following year.

Stamps with inverted centres

There are many stamps with inverted centres, and also some with inverted backgrounds. They are usually caused when bi-coloured stamps are fed twice through the printing machine to print the second colour, and the sheet it fed through the wrong way round the second time by mistake.

One of the earliest examples is the Indian 4 annas stamp of 1854. There are four different dies of the head of Queen Victoria , and two dies of the frame. The error occurs on the stamp with the Die I head and the Die I frame.

India 1854 inverted centre.
The invert used and cut to shape.
India 1854 normal stamp.
The normal stamp.

A more recent 'centre inverted' error is the Canadian 5c St Lawrence Seaway stamp of 1959.

You may wonder how more than 100 years after the Indian error, printers are still making the same mistake. Don't - just be thankful that human fallibilty still produces errors for us to look for, making our hobby more interesting!

Canada inverted centre.

The stamps of the United States seem to have been particularly prone to this type of error. Their first bi-coloured issue in 1869 produced three values (15c, 24c and 30c) with inverted centres. Since then they have produced a series in 1901 with three more inverted values, the famous 1918 air mail stamp with inverted 'Jenny', the 1962 Dag Hammarskjold stamp with inverted background (issued in large quantities) and the 1979 $1.00 stamp with the candle flame inverted.

Add to these several revenue issues with inverted centres and it starts to look like an epedemic of inverts. However, they are few in number compared with missing colours from multi-coloured United States stamps, misperforations, imperforates and mis-cuts - too numerous to even attempt a listing!

US 1969 error.
United States 1969 Christmas issue with light green colour missing.
US 1981 missing colour.
United States 1981 Flag Over Supreme Court issue with dark blue colour missing.

 US 1981 imperforate.
United States 1981 Flag Over Supreme Court issue
in an imperforate strip of three from plate #4.

There are many more STRANGE PHILATELIC FACTS to add when
we get the time - so keep watching this site for more to come.

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