Mickey’s Stamps and the Power of Imagination

 

88 years ago, one of the most recognizable characters in the world was born: Mickey Mouse. Over the decades, Mickey has been in over 200 television shows and movies, 29 video games, and countless stuffed toys and other merchandise. What many people may not know is that Mickey has also been extremely popular on stamps.

 

 

Starting in 2004, the United States Postal Service released a series of “The Art of Disney” stamps, with themes of “Magic,” “Celebration,” “Imagination,” “Friendship,” and “Romance,” starring some of Disney’s most memorable scenes, and featuring at least one Mickey stamp with each set.

 

 

Mickey stamps were also released in Grenada, featuring scenes of Mickey and his friends playing sports, in school, and in various other settings.

 

 

Many other countries have put Mickey and his companions on stamps; Sierra Leone and St. Lucia even showed them in space!

 

 

In the Maldives, Mickey and friends help deliver the mail, while Mongolia celebrates some of Mickey’s beloved short films.

 

Happy birthday, Mickey Mouse, and thanks for all the magic!

 

(We have a number of Micky and Disney stamps and coins; please click here to see what is available.)

From Maps to Mail: Latvian Map Stamps

You’re in charge of the mail for a newly-independent country following a brutal war and an extended time of chaos. You need to create stamps as soon as possible, but most of the paper was used in the war. What do you do?

 

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This was exactly the problem that Latvia faced after World War I and the Russian Revolution. Originally under Russian control, and then occupied by German forces, Latvia had few resources left. In 1918, one week after the end of World War I, the country declared independence.

 

 

s-l1600 (6).jpgThere was a lot of work to be done to secure stability for the new country, and creating a good postage system was among the top priorities. Before the war, Latvia had been part of the Russian Empire, and used Russian stamps. During the war, when German forces occupied it, the country had used German stamps. Now, they needed their own postage. But stamps need paper, and there was an extreme paper shortage from the war. The Latvian government soon realized that there was one good source for durable stamp paper: the military maps of the occupying German Army.

 

 

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The map stamps came in sheets of 228 stamps, in 12 rows of 19. On the back of the existing stamps, sections of Latvia are still evident, with names and grid positions. The new Latvian government only printed 11,956 sheets; fewer than 5000 were perforated. Only 4750 actually made their way to the new government by 1919.

 

 

The Republic of Latvia was short-lived; in 1939, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact awarded the country to the USSR. During World War II, both the USSR and German armies occupied the country at different times. Finally, in 1945, it became the Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic. After many years as part of the USSR, the Republic of Latvia once again declared independence on August 21, 1991, after a failed Soviet coup attempt. It joined NATO and the European Union in 2004.
There are many photos of Latvia map stamps here. Some excellent in-depth information on the stamps can be found here.

 

When Mail Delivery Was A Series of Tubes

 

The line associated with the United States Postal Service is well known: “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” But what happens when those legendary couriers are replaced by a vast interconnected system of tubes?

 

Pneumatic-tube-mail.pngIt’s mostly been forgotten, but mail was delivered via pneumatic tubes in some urban areas beginning in the 1890’s. Congestion in city streets, with the mixing of cars and horse-drawn carriages, often delayed mail delivery; underground tubes could deliver letters quickly and efficiently. The pneumatic tube canisters, similar to the ones still used in modern banks, could hold up to 600 letters, and sped under city streets at about 35 miles per hour. In 1893, these mail tubes were installed in Philadelphia, with Brooklyn, Chicago, St. Louis, Brooklyn, and New York City following soon after, with over 56 miles of pneumatic tubing in total.

 

This service was put on hold during World War I, and only restored in New York and Boston after the war. By the middle of the 20th century, the increase in mail volume as well as the explosive growth of urban areas had made the pneumatic delivery system impractical as well as expensive, and it was phased out.

 

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Several European cities used pneumatic mail delivery systems as well; such a system was in limited use in Prague until 2002, and was only closed at that time due to flooding. Berlin, Munich, and Paris all had pneumatic mail delivery, and Italy actually issued stamps specifically for the service; 23 pneumatic mail stamps were issued in Italy between the years of 1913 and 1966. (You can see excellent pictures of the stamps here.)

 

 

 

The most definitive pneumatic mail system in the United States was, unsurprisingly, the one in New York City. The pipes were buried about 6 feet below the city streets, and the workers who operated the tubes were known as “Rocketeers.” In its heyday, the system handled 30% of New York City mail, about 95,000 letters daily.

 

Pneumatic-tube-mail-apparatus.pngHowever, the temptation to send non-traditional items through the tubes proved too much for some. When the tube mail system had its grand opening in 1897, the Rocketeers sent a Bible wrapped in a flag, as well as a copy of the Constitution. They also sent a cat. Yes, that’s right, a live cat (the cat was fine, if a little disorientated.) In one documented instance, a sick cat was sent via pneumatic tube to a veterinarian. Kenneth Stuart, in an article titled “Pneumatic Mail Tubes and Operation of Automatic Railroads,” writes that “other animals that were reportedly shot through the underground tubes included dogs, mice, roosters, guinea pigs, and monkeys. And also: fish. At a 1908 demonstration convened to celebrate the opening of a new tube line from New York’s Broad Street Station, postal workers loaded a tube canister with ‘a glass globe containing water and live goldfish.’ To prove, basically, that they could. And they could. The makeshift tank, luckily for its inhabitants, was sent through the tubes without incidence.”

 

11237633933_8c65cc51e0_h.jpgMichelle Young, writing for the Untapped Cities blog, notes that “In its full glory, the pneumatic tubes covered a 27-mile route, connecting 23 post offices. This network stretched up Manhattan’s east and west sides, from Bowling Green and Wall Street, all the way north to Manhattanville and East Harlem. Anecdotal stories indicate that the system may have extended into the Bronx, with sandwich subs reportedly being delivered via pneumatic tubes from a renown subway shop in the Bronx to downtown postal stations. The system even crossed boroughs into Brooklyn (using the Brooklyn Bridge), taking four minutes to take letters from Church Street near City Hall to the General Post Office in Brooklyn (now Cadman Plaza).”

 

Today, very few remnants of any of these systems can be seen, save for the pneumatic tubes in parts of Prague and the series of Italian pneumatic mail stamps. The reliability and flexibility of automobiles and human mail carriers won out over the shiny new pneumatic technology.

 

Friday Odds and Ends, July 22

 

 

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Tom from the Blind Coin Collector blog gave The Stamp and Coin Place an extraordinary review; thank you so much! (You can read our companion piece here.)

 

 

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Check out this great article on Numismaster.com about the benefits and challenges of collecting Seated Liberty coins. (Looking for Seated Liberty coins? We have them!)

 

 

 

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Have you heard the story of “The Ruble for the Czar Who Wasn’t Czar”? Numismtic News has the story, and it’s a doozy. Scandal! Murder! Intrigue!

 

 

 

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Learn some of Romania’s history through its stamps on Linn’s Stamp News. (Don’t miss the part with the elopement!)

 

How to Stop Worrying and Love Technology

 

With interest in coin and stamp collecting on the decline, many collectors have begun to worry that their beloved pursuits could be in danger of falling into the dustbin of history. Government agencies have begun trying to spark interest in these hobbies as well; the Royal Mail recently released an “Animail” design of highly-colored stamps shaped like animals, designed to appeal to children.

 
pexels-photo-largeOne blogger responded, “Personally I think new blood in the hobby will come from older people.  Many young people don’t ‘collect’ anything these days, not even Panini cards, unless it is Apps on their smartphones or pads.  No, the target audience should be anywhere from 25 upwards, but especially the over 50s, even if they don’t get as much opportunity as a few years ago for early retirement and hours of time to fill…Few young people will use them: even the use of email is being overtaken by things like WhatsApp and Skype.”

 
While the author is welcome to his opinion, this is an unnecessarily pessimistic view of the way technology influences collecting. Coin and stamp collecting have been around for centuries, and there is no reason to believe they will disappear or be relegated only to certain age groups because of emerging tech. Change, on the other hand, is inevitable.
Coins and stamps are intrinsically tied to technology. The artistry and technique present in a coin or stamp is a way to gauge the technology of the culture that produced it, and advances in technology inspire collectibles of greater complexity, detail, and uniformity.
Hoard_of_ancient_gold_coinsBut sometimes it can feel like historic fields such as numismatics and philately are out of place in a world of Tweets, drones, and self-driving cars. Some are even advocating digital currencies to replace bills and coins, while historians and others are insisting that all antique coins be removed from sale and returned to their country of origin. More interpersonal communication happens online rather than via written letters.

 

Devotees of cyber currencies, like BitCoin, claim that these new currencies will soon replace traditional funds. Some, like the proposed Hayek currency, are still backed by gold. According to the press release, the Hayek coin will “be valued at 1 gram of gold at the day’s market price, [and] will serve as a more secure store of value than Bitcoin.” CEO of Anthem Vault, the creator of the Hayek,  Anthem Blanchard cites security concerns as a strong reason to support cyber currency. “Talking with friends of mine in the intelligence agencies, they say this is a real threat.” An attack could DDoS the current financial system, causing widespread chaos. Since cyber currencies do not rely on such central systems, they would theoretically be secure from this kind of attack, making them an attractive replacement for traditional cash, for some people.

 

Traditional stamps are also being challenged by websites like Stamps.com, which allow users to print legal, customized stamps for use on letters and other mailings. Many businesses simply use digitally printed postage instead of stamps, and personal mailings of all types have been on a steady decrease with the rise of the internet.
But new technology doesn’t have to mean an end to old traditions. It can not only enhance them, but actually preserve them, and enable current collectors to share their passion and knowledge with new collectors.

 

The sheer amount of information on the internet is staggering. Instead of spending hours paging through books, trying to find the relevant stamp or coin listing, collectors can ask questions on forums, use Google Image Search, or even reach out on Twitter or Facebook for information and help. On CoinLink.com, Doug Winter writes, “The best thing about the Internet for all hobbies has been the dissemination of information. 10 to 15 years ago, if you wanted information about rare coins you had to dig for it. You could open a Redbook and get mintage figures and you could find information about die varieties in various specialized books. But like the man behind the curtain in the Wizard of Oz, in the past, information was strictly controlled. If you were lucky, you were invited into the secret circle and given some of the information you needed. If you didn’t know the secret handshake, you were pretty much on your own.”

 

Elsewhere on CoinWeek, Jeff Garrett writes, “Nearly every successful rare coin company is now a technology company. Most have at least one or more individuals on staff at all times to solve tech issues, post coins online, create digital images, and tackle other computer-related tasks. Many successful collectors have also become more tech savvy in recent years. Quite a few can perform detailed online research, including locating coins and establishing values. A few years ago, I taught a class at the ANA Summer Seminar on rare coin pricing. Much of the class involved how to properly use online tools available to collectors.”

 

The old stalwarts of numismatics and philately aren’t going anywhere, but they will evolve. Coin collecting has seen a move away from collecting by date, mintmark, and other traditional variables; the new trend is collecting by design or theme. Coin design enthusiasts show their collections and finds on Pinterest and Instagram, taking advantage of the visual nature of these mediums.

 
800px-Brick_storefrontCollectors aren’t the only ones facing change: local brick-and-mortar stores will need to adjust to new technology as well. When smartphone cameras became high enough quality to take high-resolution photos of coins and stamps, collectors began sharing photos online for sale and identification, rather than going to their local store. In addition, collectors could purchase directly from the US Mint and Post Office without a middleman. Auction sites like eBay sealed the deal: now anyone could sell to anyone else, anywhere in the world.

 

Pat Heller, writing for NumismaticNews.com, has some pointed advice for local store owners: “Extend your market. If you do not already deal with customers outside your local market, consider developing a regional or national presence. This can be easier to do if you specialize in some market niche. Serve customers online, by phone, or by any means you can.

 

Technology is changing and advancing every hobby, not just collectibles. The rise of “maker culture” and public maker spaces is providing access to new technology for more and more people to build and create everything from toys to costumes to prosthetic limbs. 3D printers are as affordable as inkjet printers were a few years ago, and will soon be just as ubiquitous.
 

sunrise-1371391077dmNIt’s an exciting time to be a hobbyist; the world is opening up to so many new possibilities. Rather than fear change or dismiss tech-focused younger generations, this is a chance to revolutionize collecting, and invite newcomers. Technology is coming to the world of collectibles: it’s only a question of when and how. The “when” is now, but the how is up to us.

These Unforgettable Journeys Display the Best of Human Courage

Exploration has been a part of the human experience from the very beginning, and we have commemorated our journeys in every form of art imaginable. One of the most popular ways to memorialize our journeys has been on postage stamps. Here are a few of our favorites.

 

The 1930 Europe-Pan American Flight of the LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin

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The LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin was one of the most-traveled airships of all time. Built in Germany in 1926-1928, the commercial craft was named after Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin, pioneer of German airships. During its 12 years of operations, it flew more than 1 million miles in 590 flights.

 

The Graf first visited South America in 1930, as one stop on a flight between Spain, Brazil, and the United States. The ship offered passenger service, as well as express freight and air mail between all four countries. The first such flight left from Friedrichshafen on the 18th of May, 1930, before stopping in Seville and subsequently departing Europe.

 

The LZ 127 docked at Campo do Jiquiá in Brazil, to the welcoming shouts of more than 15,000 onlookers. It proceeded to Rio de Janeiro, then flew to Lakehurst, New Jersey; after departing for Seville on June 2, it returned to Germany. Two years later, the Graf had an established Germany-Brazil passenger, mail, and freight service; this route was active from 1932 to 1937.

 

graf zepplinFor many of its journeys, including the Europe-Pan American flights, the Graf found its funding from franked stamps on souvenir mail. Anyone could buy a stamp with the Graf’s design issued by Spain, Brazil, and the United States, which would be good for mail to be sent on one or more parts of the Graf’s route. In the United States, these stamps were issued in three denominations: $0.65, $1.30, and $2.60. However, since the United States was caught in the Great Depression during this time, very few stamps sold at such high prices. 1,135,000 of the $0.65 stamps were printed, with only about 20,000 sold or otherwise distributed. The numbers for the pricier stamps are low, too; for the $1.30 stamp, 1,005,000 were printed with only 30,000 distributed. The most expensive stamp only sold 5,000 of its 1,070,000 print run.

 

The stamps were withdrawn from sale on June 30, and over 3 million unsold stamps were destroyed; this made the Graf Zeppelin issues the smallest of the United States Post Office Department issues of the twentieth century.

 

Despite the low sales of stamps in the US, the Graf proved the feasibility of pan-Atlantic airship service. It offered regular services between Germany and South America in the summers for five years. The increase in commercial airplane service, as well as the high cost of the gas used in the zeppelin, contributed to the decline of demand for airship services, and the Hindenburg disaster made such journeys seem unsafe to the general public.

 

The LZ 127 was grounded the day after the Hindenburg crashed, and removed from service after its arrival in Friedrichshafen on May 8, 1937. In mid June, the Graf was taken to Frankfurt on its final flight, deflated, and opened as a public museum. Attempts to revive the airship program failed due to tensions between the United States and Germany. On March 4, 1940, Air Minister Hermann Göring ordered the ship to be scrapped for salvage, and melted for reuse by the German military.

 
Antarctic Exploration

800px-Mt_Murphy,_Antarctica.jpgAntarctica has been a land of mystery for thousands of years, as early geographical theories relied on a large southern continent to “balance” the land mass of the known world. “Antarctic” was coined in the second century AD, though it was not until the Cape of Good Hope was rounded in the 15th century that it was revealed to be a continent unattached to any of the other known land masses. Explorer Captain Cook and his crew were the first modern Europeans to cross the Antarctic Circle, though they did not see the mainland.

 

In the 1800s, Russian and British crews made claims to be the first to catch sight of the ice surrounding the continent, but it is unclear who actually gets credit. It is thought that American seal hunter John Davis was probably the first to actually walk on the ice. During the early twentieth century, various expeditions attempted to reach the South Pole, only to end in disaster and loss of life. On December 14, 1911, Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen was the first to reach the Pole, after an arduous race with Robert Scott of England. Scott reached the Pole 33 days after Amundsen, and all five members of his party died on the return journey.

 

48759-01__93433.1434408467.1200.1200Sir Douglas Mawson led the Australasian Antarctic Expedition between 1911-1914, focusing on the coastline between Mount Gauss and Cape Adare. The mission concentrated on mapping and surveying the land, and included discoveries such as Ninnis and Mertz glaciers, Queen Mary Land, and Commonwealth Bay. The Australian Antarctic Territory issued its first stamp in 1957.

 
The Journey to Space

600px-NASA-Apollo8-Dec24-EarthriseThe greatest journey humanity has ever undertaken is the journey off our homeworld and into space. The 1960’s were characterized by an intense focus on human spaceflight, especially the race to land a human being on the moon. Russia and the United States both had scientific and political reasons for attempting this feat, but after a slow start, the United States quickly pulled ahead. On December 21, 1968, the Apollo 8 mission launched: it would be the first time human beings had left the orbit of the earth. Astronauts Frank Borman, James Lovell (better known for his time on the Apollo 13 mission), and William Anders were the first human beings to see the entire planet from space, to see the far side of the moon with their own eyes, and the first to witness an earthrise over the lunar surface. The photo of this event is one of the most famous and evocative photos in history.

 

Due to complications with the Lunar Module, the mission was refocused to go without the module, and to leave a few months earlier than originally scheduled. This placed a great deal of pressure on the astronauts as their training was suddenly intensified. The Apollo 8 mission was the first manned launch of the legendary Saturn V rocket as it blasted off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Taking three days to reach the moon, the crew and craft orbited ten times; the crew took this opportunity to share a Christmas Eve broadcast, which was the most watched television broadcast of the time. Upon returning to Earth via splashdown in the Pacific on December 27, 1968, the three astronauts were named Time’s “Men of the Year.” The Apollo 8 mission was crucial to the success of the later moon landing missions.

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The moon race was of interest to the entire human race, not just the countries directly involved. This contemporary gold foil stamp from Dahomey (now the Republic of Benin) shows the Apollo 8 command module, with a cratered lunar surface behind it.

 

Whether we are exploring the furthest reaches of our own planet, or trying to reach the stars, humanity loves to push ourselves further, and to document our journeys in whatever way we can. Whether it’s stamps, coins, fine art, or just graffiti, we know how to say “we were here!” with style.

 

Each of these stamps is available from our store. Please click the links to see more information or purchase!

What are Postal Tax Stamps?

You have your regular stamps and your revenue stamps (stamps used to collect taxes/fees on items), but what happens when you combine them?

Postal tax stamps are few and far between. You can only find these stamps being made outside of the U.S.; they originated in Spain and Portugal, and many Latin America countries adopted tax stamps.

The main function of a postal tax stamp is to raise money for charity or for war. This is not something done through volunteering: participation is mandatory. (Tax stamps are similar to semi-postals, but consumers voluntarily pay for semi-postals.)

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Tuberculosis tax stamps from Cuba, 1941 and 1942.

 

A popular source of charity for postal tax stamps in the past was tuberculosis, a disease that threatened many lives. Tuberculosis stamps usually featured the cross of Lorraine, the symbol of the fight against the disease.

Tax stamps are harder to find and collect because they’re less common than regular stamps. But if you do find them, you will have charming additions to your collection.

Do you collect postal tax stamps?

The Prominent Americans Stamp Series

Between 1965 and 1978, as part of their regularly issued series the Postal Service issued the Prominent Americans series. You can probably guess the faces on the stamps based on the name of the series: famous Americans like Thomas Jefferson, Frank Lloyd Wright, Albert Einstein, and John F. Kennedy are just a few examples of the well-known figures featured on the stamps.

The Prominent Americans Series came after the Liberty issue which featured prominent patriotic figures and locations. The Americans Series emerged from a desire for more modernity in stamp options.

Despite being one series, the stamps had a number of different font and image styles to keep things fresh.

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The original Washington stamp design with the “dirty face”.

The series was not without its own complications: the 5 cent Washington stamp had more shading than necessary on his face, making it look unshaven or dirty. Later issues of Washington had a lighter, cleaned up face.

But despite that the series was popular in emphasizing patriotic, American themes in the world of philately. Looking at each individual stamp emphasizes the individuality of each important character in American history…Even if that individuality meant having an unshaven face.

The First Christmas Stamps

Those who celebrate Christmas traditionally send Christmas cards, so why shouldn’t there be Christmas stamps, too?

It’s a little unclear what country made the first Christmas stamp, but it was most likely Canada, though it’s not the most festive stamp around – it’s only considered a Christmas stamp because of the inscription “XMAS 1898” near the bottom. The stamp features a map highlighting the British empire in red, with the words “Canada Postage” at the top.

The reason for the “XMAS” addition to the stamp reportedly comes from a story of quick-thinking on William Mulock’s part: he proposed the stamp be issued on November 9th to “honor the Prince” (the Prince of Wales). But Queen Victoria asked “What Prince?” in a critical tone, and Mulock countered with “Why, madam, the Prince of Peace.” That’s some quick thinking, Mulock.

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Austria issued its own Christmas stamps in 1937 featuring a rose and zodiac signs. And in 1939, Brazil issued its own, decidedly more Christmassy, stamps featuring the three kings, a star, and an angel. The first Nativity stamp emerged from Hungary in 1943.

The U.S. had its own Christmas stamp debate in the 1960’s. To that date the country had never issued stamps honoring the holiday, and the USPS hesitated due to the separation of church and state. But high demand for Christmas stamps won out. The USPS printed 350 million four-cent stamps with a wreath and two candles. The stamps quickly sold out. By the end of the print run that year, a billion of the stamps had been issued, the most special stamps printed at that time.

Christmas stamps are popular among collectors. There’s no doubt that holiday stamps have made a mark in the stamp world.

Do you collect Christmas stamps?

Encased Postage Stamps

During the Civil War, a shortage of supplies forced people to take strange measures. The shortage extended to gold, silver and copper, which people hoarded for themselves. And many people did not believe that paper money had actual value.

In response, the government passed a law in 1862 that allowed people to use postage stamps worth less than $5 to pay off debts to the government since these gave evidence of having paid for postage. Usually the stamps were worth 1 to 10 cents, used to make exact change.

But it was immediately clear that fragile postage stamps might be more trouble than they were worth. The questionable lasting nature of paper made stamps difficult to use as currency.

That’s where a man named John Gault comes in. Gault was an inventor and entrepreneur who created a solution to this stamp problem.

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Gault proposed a “New Metallic Currency” that held stamps in a less delicate holder. These coin-shaped holders held a familiar coin shape that prevented stamps from being torn, bent or lost. The holder were originally made of silver so they looked more like real coins, but these quickly proved too expensive, so he made the holders out of brass instead.

Gault knew that he could make a profit from his invention. He sold the cases to stores and, in a clever marketing plan, used the back of the holder for advertising. One of the most prevalent advertisers was J.C. Ayer, a medicine business.

The stamp holders only lasted so long. In 1863 the government issued fractional coins that helped with the coin shortage, and stamps were no longer needed. Gault didn’t produce encased postage long after that as there was no demand for the postage anymore.

These encased stamps are quite rare today because most were torn apart to get to the stamp inside. Mint condition cases can sell for up to $4000.