Four colors

19 11 2008

Belize, 32mm x 48mm

I like this map stamp because of the way it illustrates the Four Color Map Theorem, which asserts that any map on a plane (or a sphere) can be split up into areas each colored one of just four colors with no two colors adjacent. Here the districts of the country of Belize (formerly known as British Honduras) and the adjacent countries of Mexico and Guatemala are colored yellow, dark brown, green, and reddish brown with no two of the same color touching. A few moments with paper and pencil should satisfy the curious viewer that it is not possible to render this map with only three distinct colors. Maps on more complex geometric objects such as the surface of a torus or a Möbius strip are not able to satisfy this condition with so few colors. Note that the Caribbean does not touch the district of Cayo shown here in dark brown, so by this construction both could have done in blue as well satisfying the constraints of the theorem.

Off the coast of Belize are islands which take on an unusual shape in this issue, the southernmost island looking like a check mark and the more northerly islands near the Mexican state of Quintana Roo in the Yucatan appearing to be more scattered than they are in reality. These are called the Cayes and sit amongst coral reefs much prized by scuba divers visiting the coast. One mainland province of Belize is disconnected from the rest, making up the southern end of a peninsula (shown in reddish brown here) with the town of San Pedro at its tip.

Outline of the Hawkeye state

23 10 2008

United States, 1946, Scott 942, 38mm x 23mm, plate block

The map on this stamp from six decades ago shows the outline of the US state of Iowa to commemorate the centenary of statehood. The monochrome blue design is adorned with a state flag and with the border showing a flowering stalk of corn to each side. No topographical features, towns or cities, or much of anything else is depicted. In particular, the great rivers, the Mississippi to the east and the Missouri to the west, are in evidence solely by the shape of the state borders there.

The state is at the center of the region that was hit hard by the floods in early summer of this year with several billion dollars of property damage. The recovery is expected to be fairly slow for the most affected areas, perhaps even slower now that the national and global economic situation has been thrown into turmoil. Were it not for this disaster, the news event of the year for Iowa might have been the way that during the first week of the year, the Iowa caucuses marked the first emergence of Barack Obama as a viable candidate for President.


7 09 2008

Japan, 1930, Scott 209, 25mm x 25mm

This stamp is a bit rougher than most of the others I have shown here, but I think still worth a look.

The map area of the stamp depicts the Japanese empire, which included Korea at the time of issue, highlighted in scarlet. Up in the north the portion of Sakhalin island which belonged to Japan also appears highlighted, depicting a state of affairs which also ended at the end of the second World War. On the banner at the top of the stamp is the chrysanthmum seal representing the Emperor, along with an inscription marking the second census taken of the empire’s subjects. More chrysanthemums appear along the left- and right-hand borders, dented at one point where the island of Taiwan puts in an appearance, and it is just barely possible to make out the Ryukyu Islands spread across the broad expanse of the China Sea. If Iwo Jima appears at all on this map, it would be as a small, insignificant red speck to the east.

Two main elements of note here are the use of the color red and the 16-petals of the flower, both of which make up significant parts of the design of the Japanese battle flag during the war.

A quote from the Imperial Rescript on the 1889 Japanese Constitution governing the state at the time:

The Imperial Founder of Our House and Our other Imperial ancestors, by the help and support of the forefathers of Our subjects, laid the foundation of Our Empire upon a basis, which is to last forever. That this brilliant achievement embellishes the annals of Our country, is due to the glorious virtues of Our Sacred Imperial ancestors, and to the loyalty and bravery of Our subjects, their love of their country and their public spirit. Considering that Our subjects are the descendants of the loyal and good subjects of Our Imperial Ancestors, We doubt not but that Our subjects will be guided by Our views, and will sympathize with all Our endeavors, and that, harmoniously cooperating together, they will share with Us Our hope of making manifest the glory of Our country, both at home and abroad, and of securing forever the stability of the work bequeathed to Us by Our Imperial Ancestors.

90 miles

23 08 2008

Cuba, 1971, 40mm x 36mm

The first of these two stamps show how the Atlantic tropical storm tracks seem irresistibly drawn to the island of Cuba, where, fueled by the warm Gulf waters, some of them turn into the “great” hurricanes making landfall. We see the lines of latitude and longitude, along with the neighboring land masses, South Florida, the Yucatán, Jamaica, Hispaniola, and the Bahamas, but no labels on them.

Cuba, 1973, 40mm x 28mm

Here’s an issue from two years later, minus the hurricane paths but plus a few labels and some indications of depth and elevation. The Florida mainland and most of the other islands are cropped away here, and it appears that a few latitude lines chosen are different from the ones from before. The main thoroughfare from Pinar del Rio in the west to Santiago del Cuba in the east is highlighted in red with knots indicating the main population concentrations. Not shown: the Bay of Pigs, Guantánamo.

Time for a puzzle

9 07 2008

Yesterday I received my copies of the last two editions of the journal of the Cartophilatelic Society and was very happy to see the article I had written up. (It seems that my electronic address had gone astray somewhere along the way, so I had not been able to receive word the publication prior to this.) Here I present pictures of the five stamps which I used the illustrate the point of my piece. Incidentally, I notice that one of these stamps was also mentioned in a recent Marginalia column at the website.

Rather than just giving away the subject here, I thought I would try something different and set this up as a challenge for my readers. Can you see what the common theme is for all five of the issues depicted, which sets them apart from over 90% of all map stamps issued? It is something quite specific which any observant reader (or one who happens to have the April 2008 issue of the journal) would be able to state in very few words. When you have come up with the answer, put it into the comments on this post, and the first one with the correct interpretation will receive from me three map stamps from my accumulation.

Good luck!

West Germany, Scott 1009

Argentina, Scott 287

Australia, Scott 276

Jersey, Scott 183

Soviet Union, Scott 3180

The answer has been revealed

Roo on map on stamp on stamp

11 04 2008

Australian National Stamp WeekAustralia, Scott 647, 1976, 22mm x 34mm

Along with cartophilately (see the links on the sidebar), collecting stamps depicted on stamps is a popular topical specialty. This issue for National Stamp Week shows the first designer of Australian stamps, Blamire Young alongside a miniature picture of his own design for Australia’s first issue (Scott 59, 1915). That stamp shows the outline of the country surmounted by a kangaroo or perhaps a wallaby, and is of a much larger denomination. The apple green background of the main issue contrasts with the rose background of the original one and with the portrait of Young, made to look like watercolor, which was his favored artistic medium.

This design raises a question of how much regress one could engineer into the space of a postage stamp – perhaps a map on a stamp on a stamp on a stamp issue could make use of microprinting techniques, the innermost design revealed only under high magnification. Even with the two-level nesting represented here, if the map stamp had been much more detailed, with surface features and legends, one would be pretty hard pressed to be able to make them out even under ideal printing conditions.

The new (old) postal codes

20 03 2008

japan-1402Japan, Scott 959, 1968, 18mm x 23mm
This cheery little number with its cartoon mascot came out bearing the message to Japanese postal customers not to omit the (newly instituted) postal code on the envelope. The map of Japan is made up of the 2- and 3-digit postal codes (in the Latin alphabet, not kana), with only very rough outlines of the country. Still, there is an island feel with the blue of the background suggesting the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Japan.

This item stretches the boundaries of the idea of a map on a stamp owing to its extreme stylization and distortion. If the outlines of the region were much less distinctive (say if it had been for the state of Colorado in the United States), one might be hard pressed to identify it as a map at all, even one representing the postal codes in any kind of accurate or convenient fashion. Specifically, the way the numbers are butted up against one another in the middle of Honshu7462307 – make it really quite impossible to tell where one code starts and the other ends.

Note that since the time this stamp was issued, Japan has changed its postal code system, so this is not an accurate depiction of the current usage anyway.