How exhibitionism stripped me bare

Melbourne 2017 Stamp Exhibition entrance bannerIf you’re the kind of reader who usually comes here for the pretty pictures and naughty words, be warned: I am hitting max geek with this one. Street cred be damned.

So a few weekends ago I popped into the Melbourne FIAP Stamp Exhibition, held in my hometown. It led to a rather unexpected journey of personal discovery that may affect the very blog you are reading. More on that later.

I can’t pretend a stamp exhibition is anything but exactly what it sounds like on the lid, but let me talk you through it so that if you ever accidentally find yourself at one, you won’t panic.

Almost the first thing I noticed when I entered: women. Not in the majority, but more than I think I expected. Also more bogans than expected, and even some young people. Well, younger than retirement age, which is always heartening. And not all anoraks, either. I spotted a lip ring and some outré hair colourings and I could tell they knew their stuff. Is the revolution go? Are we retro-cool yet? I wait with bated breath.

First stop: the exhibits. If a collector decides that they want the world to see their collection, and want judges to tell them how good it is, they exhibit. Imagine writing a school project on your favourite thing, and then it gets displayed next to other school projects, but everyone’s a grown-up, and supernerds fly in from other countries to judge whether your school project is the best. That’s exhibiting.

Just because I wouldn’t show my own collection to my dog doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the efforts that other nerds collectors put into theirs. I wandered the rows of exhibition frames and marvelled at what drives a person to study something like Postal History of Turmoil in Manchuria. I mean sure, there’s only so much a modern girl needs to know about Cancellations, Postal Markings and Correspondence of Country Post Offices Moreton Bay 1850-1860, but it pleases my heart to know that someone, somewhere is just REALLY INTO THAT SHIT and this is the forum where they are celebrated.

But there are more accessible gems to be unearthed. I got stupidly excited to spot a letter that was recovered from the Hindenberg, and has the burn marks to prove it.

(You’re probably wondering which exhibit won the most prestigious award, the Grand Prix d’Honneur. It was Prasarporn Eksombatchai’s ‘Siam 1899-1910: The Giesecke and Devrient Printings’. Nice one Prasaporn. I love me some Giesecke and/or Devrient printings. *THROWS NINJA SMOKE BOMB AND LEAVES BEFORE HAVING TO PROVE KNOWLEDGE OF WHAT GEISECKE AND DEVRIENT PRINTINGS ARE*)

Australia Melbourne 2017 Daily Pass prepaid postcard

Nerd note: the entry passes were actually pre-paid postcards, making them official postal stationery, which means that in years to come, some nerd will exhibit this

Next stop: the stands, or as I think of it, shopping. Local and international dealers set up shop in rows of temporary stalls, allowing serious collectors and casual browsers to elbow each other in the ribs to get to whatever it is they’re after. It’s like a farmer’s market for your accountant uncle. There’s a generally friendly vibe. If what you’re after isn’t on view, a polite enquiry can see a box of the good stuff pulled out from under a nearby trestle. Apologetic denials are usually accompanied by suggestions from the dealer or fellow patrons as to which stall might have what you’re after. I didn’t go too nuts, but I picked up a few nuggets that either matched my interests or delighted me in other ways.

Also: Postal administrations. The bigger the expo, the greater the number of official post offices flogging their latest issues. Collectors can buy limited-edition products issued especially for these shows, often available on only one day of the show, so that you need to attend every day to ‘collect the set’. The queues at the Australia Post stand were ridic. People were even lining up for hours before the doors opened to ensure they got their goodies (which this year were variations of the Rare Beauties issue I featured in my last post). Why? Maybe because the ‘full set’ of limited edition Jewel Beetle sheetlets sold at a show in China in 2016 with special cancellations are now fetching upwards of $1000, and a similar set of 8 minisheets with commemorative cancels from New York 2016 are so scarce a market price is difficult to find because so few exist. That’s why.

I’m not into that contrived scarcity nonsense, but Australia Post had another booth where I was definitely planning to queue as long as was necessary: the meet-the-designers table where fans (I guess that’s who we are) could meet designers from the AP studio. I heard from a reader that they were even signing autographs, and I was quivering with excitement at the thought of meeting some of the legends I’ve name-checked on this blog. That was, until I neared the table. And then a funny thing happened.

It suddenly occurred to me: I don’t just name-check legends here. Sometimes I tee off on the designs I don’t like. I don’t shame designers by name, because I always assume that bad designs are the result of too many chefs, meddling from the suits upstairs, and just The Man in general. (GOOD designs, of course, are entirely thanks to the artist. 100%.) Nonetheless… what if I met the designer of a stamp I’d slagged off? I wasn’t planning to declare myself, but if anyone mentioned the blog I’d turn bright pink. They’d know. And I would know that they’d know. And I would turn pinker. And they would hate me.

One of the reasons I started this blog was because I hated so many modern stamp designs from my native land. This was to be a vent in which I could take on the might of the corporate, government-owned Australia Post and its ridiculously overpaid head honchos (who, by the way, still remain despite the fattest cat recently resigning). Yet here I was, looking at the people who work at the coalface, who no doubt try to maintain creative drive amid soulless mission statements and useless notes from the powerful and the clueless. Have I ever taken aim at the AP behemoth but shot one of these good folk through the heart?

Suddenly confronted with the real-life ramifications of my life as an anonymous internet sniper, I felt like the biggest arsehole in the world.

I turned heel and ran. Well, actually, I went and got a coffee.

This is a serious issue, readers. I might have to stop being an utter bitch. Lately there hasn’t been too much bitching, anyway. I tend to mainly highlight the issues I like, and only when I find the time around my terribly important day job. And I must say, I think Aussie Post’s output has vastly improved since I was a fuming little firebrand.

If any of the AP designers are reading this, I’m sorry I couldn’t bring myself to say hello, and I’m sorry if I ever mocked your designs too heartlessly (especially if you were just doing your job under orders). Maybe by the time the next exhibition comes around, I will feel less ashamed.

Here is some other stuff you’ll see at a philatelic exhibition: food, coffee, information stands for various things, meetings for clubs and special interest groups, a kids’ area, and someone remarking “He died last year.”

Highly recommended, as long as you know what you’re getting yourself into.

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Rhodonites are a girl’s new best friend

Australia 2017 Rare Beauties $1 Rhodonite and $1 Golden Sapphire stamps

Smacking my lips at this issue from Australia Post. Rare Beauties, they’re calling them. They’re all gemstones from the collection of the Australian Museum in Sydney, and what a stunning tribute to the lapidary’s art they are.

The golden sapphire and pink diamond are used in jewellery. The fluorite and rhodonite aren’t, but that’s OK, you can still buy them for me. I simply adore that rich red in the rhodonite.

Australia 2017 Rare Beauties $2 Fluorite stampThe photography of the stones is stunning to start with, but the ‘shadow’ across the geometric background adds a 3-D feel that really makes them pop right out of the stamp.

Y’know what I like about this set the most? The simplicity. When stamp issuers start eyeing off gemstones, for some reason there’s a compulsion to show them in the context of the geological environment in which they are found, or in fugly uncut form (everything is fugly when uncut, amiright ladies), or in the context of an end product like jewellery or industrial product. But there’s no fucking about with this issue. You want gemstones? Fine. Here are some fat fucking gemstones. Straya! Continue reading

Australia’s best (and worst) of 2016

Australia 2016 Jewel Beetles $1 Stigmodera gratiosa stamp

…In which I attempt to cover a year of review and bitching in one fell swoop.

Each year, Australia Post holds its annual survey in which stamp collectors can vote for their favourite – and least favourite – issue. This used to be an exercise on paper, with a few variations on a simple ‘What was your favourite?’ ‘What was your least favourite?’ type arrangement, with prize giveaways for random winners. Now it’s gone all high-tech, with a detailed SurveyMonkey page, in which all issues must be ranked in order from 1 to 32.

Australia Posts's Survey Monkey Stamp Poll 2016

On the upside, I enjoyed the OCD-triggering task of putting every single issue in its rightful place. On the downside, no prize giveaways. I guess AP has to pay for its CEO’s $4.8 million pay packet somehow.

I could swear I saw the final results somewhere, but I can’t seem to Google it anywhere, and the survey I’ve linked to above still seems to be open. Surely I’m not so lame that I dreamed it? I saw it in such detail! Maybe I was shown the running tallies when I finished the survey? Anyway, this isn’t your problem. The important thing is that I am going to tell you which were the best stamps and which were the worst, as judged by my own brain, so survey results don’t matter. Why Australia? Because I live there, silly.

In no particular order (and with each issue’s title linking to the extremely commendable Australia Post Collectables blog site for more info), Australia’s unquestionably best issues were: Continue reading


Australia 2016 Nostalgic Fruit Labels stamp setHelloooo! Sorry it’s been a while since my last post. I’m going to make up for my stony silence with loads of pretty pictures, inspired by Australia’s Nostalgic Fruit Label stamps, over which I’ve been soiling myself since their release in June.

They celebrate the paper labels that used to be slapped onto the wooden fruit crates in the olden days before Styrofoam boxes.

What I love about these stamps is that they retain the microscopic details of the original labels. I wonder how many of the three people still using stamps will take a moment to appreciate the artist’s work seen, for example, on this River’s Pride label, and take in the fenceposts, the orchard and the veining on the half-peeled orange.

Australia 2016 Nostalgic Fruit Labels $1 River's Pride stamp

If you, like me, are a little fascinated by oldey-timey culture, it’s not out of the question that something would appeal to you about both these designs and also ye olde schoole world of stamp collecting. You may have been given the impression that it involves a lot of old stamps with kings and queens and presidents on them that cost a lot of money. Well, I have good news. There are no rules. We collect whatever the fuck we want. And one could do worse than start with collecting vintage graphic designs on stamps, because it’s so hot right now. Continue reading

Queen: 1. Punk: 0.

Australia 2016 $1 Queen's Birthday stampHer Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, turned 90 on April 21st, but she’s stretching celebrations out all the way from April until June, because She’s The Queen So Suck It Plebs.

Last year I wrote about Australia’s tradition of marking Her Majesty’s birthday with a stamp issue. In that post, I may have inadvertently given readers the impression that I’m not a fan, with ambiguous phrases such as “pointless allegiance to Empire”, “another country’s monarch is irrelevant to a nation half a planet away in the 21st century”, and “reliably some of the dullest Australian stamp issues each year”.

Well, didn’t I have to swallow my republican tongue with this year’s issue. I didn’t mention it here when it was released, but I keep seeing it at the Post Office, and it is no less stunning for the delay.

Australia 2016 Queen's Birthday $2.75 Golden Wattle Diamond BroochIt’s all about this Australian Golden Wattle diamond brooch. Continue reading

Aussie Post touches my Special spot

Australia 2016 Love To Celebrate partial stamp set

Thanks mainly to the recent postal rate hike, Australia Post has been churning out new issues faster than I can keep up with them, albeit still faster than is necessary given that no fucker sends letters these days. Recently we saw a new set of what are known as Greetings or Special Occasions stamps, these ones titled ‘Love to Celebrate.’ Six of the ten are up the top there.

Australia 2016 Love To Celebrate heart stamp

You’re meant to stick these on your mail when you’re celebrating something. Cue birthday cakes, wedding rings, baby toys, lovehearts, and the like. There’s also a strong line in flags and maps and national icons that scream “Look! I’m in/from AUSTRALIA!” which must come in handy when writing to people too stupid to work out why the word AUSTRALIA appears on any other stamp you could have stuck on your mail.

I was a cynic at first. I’m old school. I like stamps to say something about the country they represent, and what shits me to this day about these stamps (and their equivalents from any country) is that they tell you nothing about the nation except that someone is having a birthday/wedding/baby/party/patriotic orgasm in it.

But I’ve softened over time. Most of the designs manage to capture some of the joy of whatever is going on. I even swallowed my pride and stuck champagne stamps on my own wedding invitations. (Yes, sorry boys and girls, I’m taken. For now.)

Australia 2016 Love To Celebrate golden wattle stamp

What’s more, their appearance on the mail usually means someone’s gone to a bit of thought with their postage, which is a rarity in this age of dreary peel’n’stick definitives and boring cash register receipts where stamps used to go on parcels.

Australia Post’s latest lot really caught my eye, which is saying something, because I tend to sniff at minimalist designs. The roses, champagne and rings are all a bit same-old, though I appreciate that they have to look a certain way to appeal to the lucrative wedding market. (And I wouldn’t reject such items so quickly in the flesh. Send them to me c/o WordPress). And to be honest, I’m still trying to work out what the hell that disjointed map is trying to say.

But the balloon stamp is fun and joyous, and the eucalyptus flower makes a refreshing change from the usual cricket-bat-to-the-face jingoism of the Australia themes.

Australia 2016 Love To Celebrate handprints stamp

Took me a little while to work out what was going on in the yellow-and-green stamp, and then I realised it was golden wattle, and then I realised it did a great job of capturing the downy texture of the round, beady flower and its feathery leaf, and then I decided I really liked it, and then I felt like a complete idiot for not seeing it in the first place.

But my favourite is the stamp with the handprints. I guess it means ‘kids’, though one could read some indigenous culture into it without too much trouble. But mainly, it just looks like the kind of fun you’re not meant to have as an adult.

There’s one stamp missing from the illustrations on this page. If you want birthday cake, check out this post.

Respect to Australia Post. Congratulations to design agency Sierra Delta for making me like these stamps, and also for having a name like a classy porn star.

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Another day, another dollar (and fifty cents)

Happy 22 days into the New Year, readers!

Sorry I buggered off there at the end of 2015. I was caught up in one of those day-jobs that subsidise my decadent lifestyle choices. Then I just surfed on through the festive season and enjoyed the break. Hope you enjoyed yours, if you’re in any of the countries that had one.

Australia 2015 $1 Love To Celebrate Birthday stampThis site just turned one year old! Thank you for your readership and contributions during 2015. I wasn’t sure if there would be an audience for this odd combination of geekdom and mildly foul-mouthed opinion, but WordPress’s stats wrap-up of 2015 tells me that if this blog were a show at the Sydney Opera House, I would have sold out three nights. Watch out for Punk Philatelist Live In Concert, coming soon to a venue near you! It will be riveting stuff.

Speaking of WordPress, I was chuffed to return from the break to find that I’d scored a mention in The Daily Post, WordPress’s in-house inspiration-meisters, as one of the editors’ favourite blogs of 2015. Aw shucks, thanks Michelle and thanks WordPress! You guys are too kind.

So on into 2016, and there are exciting times here in Australia. Let me explain Australia Post’s recent hi-jinks to international readers and see if you still believe me at the end.

Faced with falling revenue, like all postal administrations, AP just jacked up the domestic letter base rate from 70 cents to a dollar – by far the biggest domestic stamp price rise in our history. But get this: in a stroke of marketing genius, that price hike came with a promise of slower delivery!

Australia 2015 Wildflowers $1 stamps

Continue reading