Lost in the System

Well, look who’s come crawling back to her sorry blog! Sorry, punksters, I’ve had a ridiculously busy year in both my top-secret work life and my even more mysterious private life. But it’s time to down tools and return to what I love. I’ve informed Mr Trump that the militia uniform designs would simply have to wait. He still hasn’t paid me for the preliminary design work, anyway, but he assures me the cheque is in the mail.

Given that it feels like I’ve been lost in outer space lately, it seems appropriate to return with one of the many doozies of new issues from 2016 that I missed while I was gone. Regular readers would know I’m mad for a pretty space stamp, and didn’t the USPS fire my rockets in May with its gorgeous Views of our Planets release?

usa-2016-views-of-our-planets-minisheet

No messing about here. The USPS picked some of the sweetest full-disk images of the planets in our solar system and chucked eight of them on stamps (and a minisheet). Viewed up close, they are simply stunning. I have so much more time for Mercury now.

Pluto, of course, was demoted to the cosmic equivalent of the children’s table in 2006. But to keep the Pluto truthers happy, NASA gave Pluto a whole release all to itself on the same day, marking the 2015 flyby of NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft. One stamp depicts Pluto in all her glory, with her now-trademark loveheart on full display, and the other, New Horizons itself.

usa-2016-pluto-explored-minisheet

I’m generally a but meh about photographs on stamps, because I find they’re often used dully. But when those photographs are taken by multi-million-dollar spacecraft through fancy scientific lenses that make heavenly bodies look even more heavenly than they do to the naked eye, then I am all for it.

If you missed the side-story, this Pluto issue put to bed a philatelic grudge. The USPS released a planetary issue in 1991, which featured Earth’s moon and the planets, along with images of spacecraft that had been significant in exploring each celestial body. But back then, we hadn’t got to Pluto yet. Poor old Pluto got a ‘TBA.’

That ‘not yet explored’ post-it note must have stuck in someone’s craw at Space HQ. Not only is this year’s release titled “Pluto – Explored!” in a direct face-slap to the 1991 stamp, but the team behind New Horizons reportedly stuck one of the 1991 stamps on the New Horizons probe. No doubt this got as much respekt from the world as I got from my friends when I stuck a bicycle stamp on my actual bicycle.

NASA released this adorable photo of the New Horizons team using philately to make their point on the day of the New Horizons flyby. I do love it when nerds collide.

pluto-explored-nasa-nerds

That stamp now officially holds the Guinness World Record for the farthest distance travelled by a postage stamp. And it’s still going, heading off to investigate the Kuiper Belt. If I am to achieve my dream of beating this record, I’ve got some cycling to do.

Thanks for indulging my absence. I hope to get a few more blogs away over the next few weeks covering some of my fave issues of 2016. In the meantime, a happy festive season to you if that’s your thing right now, and hopefully we’ll see more of each other in 2017!

People bloody love space stuff on social media. You should share this post on yours, and bask in the Likes. You can follow me on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram!

Retrogasm!

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

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…

…mainstream pop culture themes were only seen on stamps of desperately poor countries who churned out worthless collector-bait. So it was that nations like the Central African Republic and St Vincent and the Grenadines were among the first in the galaxy to bring us Star Wars stamps. The C.A.R. artwork was, admittedly, beautifully evocative of the era, even if they appear to think Han Solo was played by Ted Danson.

1994 CAR Star Wars strip

Fun fact: St Vincent and the Grenadines is my second-favourite Caribbean band after Bob Marley and the Wailers. Continue reading

USA portraits – and the best stamp they never released

Credit where it’s due. How well does the United States Postal Service do portrait stamps?

It’s got a head start, being in America and all. With its entrepreneurial spirit, vibrant cultural scene, and comprehensive disenfranchisement of minorities, the USA is never short of an innovator, an envelope-pusher or a trailblazer to honour on a stamp.

USA 2015 Maya Angelou stampTake the Maya Angelou stamp that’s out on April 7. No frills, just elegance and eloquence. A dignified tribute. I was gobsmacked to read that the image is that of a painting (!) – an oil-on-canvas number by Ross Rossin that resides in the National Portrait Gallery. Look at that face, and imagine the stories it could tell. Continue reading

Holy geekgasm, Batman! Nerds collide!

USA 2014 Batman BatsignalThis probably won’t be news to my American friends (so many of you now! Hi!), but when this ginormous collision of nerd cultures occurred last year, I didn’t even exist.

Postal administrations worldwide are short of a dollar, so they’re replacing worthy topics with themes they hope will appeal to the masses beyond their base of stamp-collector suckers. This can lead to horrendous results, like the use of stamps to report sports results. But sometimes, it totally works.

The US Postal Service reported a $2 billion loss in the quarter to June last year, so come October, they sent up the Batsignal. Happy 75th Anniversary, Batman!

USA 2014 Batman Sheet Continue reading

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. Continue reading