Riding the sheep’s back… or is it a goat?

Once upon a time, the Lunar (or “Chinese”) New Year was just a thing that Asians did. Whitey went to Chinatown to watch the firecrackers and eat yum cha, but that was about it.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the 21st Century.

Asia got richer, and China boomed. As the Chinese (and Indian) middle class grew, it reawakened the cobwebbed hobby of stamp collecting. It’s a very middle-class hobby, which appeals to people who are really, really into their country. And Chinese people are really, really into their country. Because if they’re not, they get sent to prison camp.

Then someone invented the Internet, and people stopped sending mail. Meanwhile, old people insisted on dying, game consoles turned children into zombies, and the supply of new stamp collectors to Western postal authorities stopped dead… just when their cash-strapped governments started demanding impossible profit margins.

Then Chinese stamps started to attract ridiculous figures at auction.

And that’s when the West decided it should issue Lunar New Year stamps.

Australia Post disguised its cash grab by suddenly remembering that there are lots of ethnically Chinese people on the Australian territory of Christmas Island (no, not in the immigration detention centre). Naturally, they deserved a stamp, and in 1994, they got one. Or two, actually. (And a mini-sheet if you want to go looking for it.)

Australia Christmas Island 1994 Year of the DogIn 1996, AP began a 12-year cycle in which all the Lunar New Year stamps complemented each other, often with colours of red and gold. I wasn’t too interested in these at first, but over the course of the zodiac, I must admit, they won me over with their riotous vibrancy and playful cocks.

Australia Christmas Island 2005 Year of the RoosterAP recognized the lucrative potential of Lunar New Year. Its issuing policy went as mental as me when I saw my first Chinese dragon, with each year’s issue soon accompanied by a slew of “collectible”, postally uncalled-for, often-overpriced and totally made-up accoutrements.

2002 included the first ‘Zodiac sheet’, which not only featured that year’s Horse stamps, but 12 other stamps of many denominations with every zodiac creature depicted on them.

Australia Christmas Island 2002 Year of the Horse Zodiac SheetNerd note: These sub-base-rate stamps cannot have been used much for postage. If you come across any on a commercially used cover, do NOT soak them off on pain of death! Cover collectors will probably pay handsomely for it.

Australia Christmas Island 2007 Lunar New Year Calendar SheetletIn 2007 they reprinted all 12 Lunar New Year stamps in one circular minisheet. It’s quite gorgeous to behold in the flesh, with gold foil and all. They must have sold well, because AP decided to release one every three years from then on.

Australia Christmas Island 2008 Year of the RatThe Rat kicked off a new 12-year cycle in 2008. More stark and modern than the first cycle, I give AP points for doing something quite different, but I’ve struggled to buy into these designs emotionally. Then again, judging by my visceral reaction to the décor in my favourite local Thai takeaway, perhaps Asian tastes and I were never meant to get along.

And so it is that we come to the Year of the… what exactly? The related Chinese character 羊 (“yang”) is ambiguous, so there is some conjecture as to whether it’s the Year of the Sheep, the Year of the Goat, or the Year of the Ram.

One thing everyone seems to agree on is that it’s always the Year of Cashing In On The Fastest Developing Philatelic Market In The World. Thus we enjoy Lunar New Year releases from such traditionally Asian corners of the world as Lithuania, Gibraltar, Estonia and the Isle of Man. Here are a few horse stamps from the Baltic in 2014…

2014EstoniaHorse      2014LithuaniaHorse

… and some of this year’s efforts. Notice how no one can agree what animal we’re celebrating. (Diplomatically, the US doesn’t take a position in English – it’s gone for a Chinese character and an indistinct horned animal).

2015CIGoata   2015USARamW  632641-Pane_Horse_MR_00   Slovenia 2015 Year of the Goat2015GibraltarGoatW

2015IsleOfManSheepLiechtenstein 2015 Year of the GoatLiechtenstein’s gone overboard with with that sheep-shaped minisheet. Meanwhile France has opted for ‘Année de la Chèvre” which, if my French is correct, means Year of Goat’s Cheese. I approve.

France 2015 Année de la Chèvre Year of the Goat

For New Zealand it was like Valentine’s Day all over again.

2015NZsheepYeah! I went there bro! Again!

Amid this international orgy of thinly-disguised postal desperation, China seems to think it has a right to celebrate its own culture. The very nerve! Actually, as you’d expect, China’s New Year stamps are generally quite beautiful.

2015ChinaGoatW

Meanwhile, Australia Post has again brought its profiteering A-game. You can buy the stamps, the mini-sheet, the blank cover, the prepaid envelope, the postcard, the international prepaid envelope, the stamp pack, the zodiac sheetlet (use those sub-rate stamps on your mail and make me a happy Punk), a pack of five minisheets, a prestige booklet, two different stamp-and-coin covers, and something called a ‘silk minisheet pack’ which includes three minisheets, one of which is printed on silk, all of which are embossed with a turquoise foil. There are also two gutter strips – each year the gutter strip for the 70c stamps features a parade of zodiac animals marching up and down a hill, with that year’s mascot usually embossed. I have to admit, it’s pretty cute. Head to the Aussie Post website to spent YOUR $138.35 on dubious collectibles today! DID YOU HEAR ME, CHINA COLLECTORS? IF YOU’RE NOT BUYING OUR IRON ORE ANYMORE, THE LEAST YOU CAN DO IS BUY ENOUGH STAMPS TO SAVE OUR ECONOMY!

The best of luck, big kisses and Kung Hei Fat Choy to any readers celebrating Lunar New Year today. x

This blog is brand new! If you enjoy my work, feel free to like, link, share, and generally big me up to your friends. I’m on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Tumblr. Thank you! x

2015CIGoatb

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7 comments on “Riding the sheep’s back… or is it a goat?

  1. Oh my gosh, this post is awesome. Also: Somebody in Liechtenstein needs to send me some of those stamps YESTERDAY.

    (PS thanks for the follow!)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. this post cracked me up!! I just bought a sheet of the USPS lunar new year stamps – I always like theirs, with the gold accents and bright colors.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. jimwentzell says:

    I love the blog! Didn’t realize how much the various nations’ agencies are milking collectors!

    Like

  4. […] the Chinese New Year can instigate its own global philatelic revolution, you have to wonder why the Sri Lankan one can’t? Admittedly, we are neither a ginormous […]

    Like

  5. […] the Chinese New Year can instigate its own global philatelic revolution, you have to wonder why the Sri Lankan one can’t? Admittedly, we are neither a ginormous […]

    Like

  6. Irene says:

    This is so true. I vacillate between buying this stuff and cursing AP for tempting me with all these “gorgeous issues”. Don’t even mention all the mini sheets with a combination of local and international stamps that does not pay (read: too overpriced) the correct postage.

    Liked by 1 person

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