Bleeding over the edges

1 10 2008

Lebanon, 1961, Scott C296, 20mm x 36mm

Here we have a somewhat anonymous-looking strip of land with boundaries to the east and west but extending to the bounding pane at the north and south. Topographically, a number of waterways are depicted along with a central ridge feature running to the northeast. And who is the gentleman shown in profile to the left?

It turns out that the land is the central coast of Lebanon, with the coastal cities (for the western border is the Mediterranean Ocean) of Sidon, Beirut, and Jbeil indicated in script. The western border is with Syria and is somewhat altered from its present shape owing to subsequent conflicts in the region. The central mountain range is Mount Lebanon itself, home of the famous cedar trees. There is no indication on the map to the south of where Lebanon ends and Israel begins, although the composition suggests an emphasis not so much on that border which loomed so large in later years but perhaps with domestic concerns in the capital. And the portrait situated right by that capital is that of President Fuad Chehab.

The year this stamp was issued was in the interval between the bloodletting of the 1940s and that of the mid-1970s, during a Presidential mandate marked by factions seeking to gain the upper hand in the nation. Perhaps some of that shows through too.



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.

Not yet determined

13 08 2008

Pakistan, 1961, Scott 122, 39mm x 23mm

The text in the upper region in white reads Jammu & Kashmir (Final status not yet determined). And in the lower section of the stamp, next to the denomination, Junagarh & Manavadar which were once also disputed areas between India and Pakistan. The most prominent features shown in Pakistan are the waterways: the five rivers of the Punjab and River Ganges flowing through East Bengal.

The overprint in red marks the Lahore Stamp Exhibition of 1961, along with the national symbol of the Minar-e-Pakistan also depicted on the emblem of the city of Lahore.

As of the time of issue, the stamp was inaccurate as it postdates the accession of the two Gujarati seaside states to India in 1947, however the division into East Pakistan and West Pakistan which was the situation at the time. And, of course, the controversial status of Jammu and Kashmir which continues to this day.

Links under the waves

28 05 2008


Malaysia, Scott 42, 43, 1967, 70mm x 23mm
Back before there was broadband, even before there were satellite links to every part of the world, there were telephone and telegraph cables. This pair of stamps commemorates the completion of undersea links between Hong Kong and Malaysia as part of the the South East Asia Commonwealth network SEACOM. They are diptych designs, showing a detailed view of the route of the cable running from Singapore to eastern Australia, with a world map in projection on the right showing how that segment connects via New Zealand to North America and Europe. The jagged red line tracing the cable network illustrates well the vast distances required to ensure telecommunication around the globe. Only the colors of the inscriptions and of the background of the world map differs between the two. They were issued just a few years after Malaysia was constituted as an independent nation.

This portion of the international submarine cable network also linked Australia, New Guinea, Guam (not a Commonwealth realm), North Borneo, Singapore, and New Zealand. Since that time, of course, Hong Kong has ceased its status as a British Crown colony to become a special administrative region of China.

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.

Far eastern defense

14 03 2008

Taiwan stampTaiwan (Republic of China), Scott 1237, 1959, Engraved, 42mm x 24mm
In commemoration of the defense of the Republic of China’s Quemoy and Matsu islands, the two areas shown here precariously close to the mainland, we have this issue with a perspective view of the Taiwan Straits. Taiwan itself is featured prominently with the curve of the horizon looming over it ominously.

From a decade earlier, we have these stamps from the other side of the struggle.


East China, Scott 5L35, 1949, 31mm x 22mm
This is the aftermath of the pivotal victory of Hwai-Hai (Hwaiying and Haichow) during the Chinese Civil War, with what appears to be a map showing the order of battle along with jubilant throngs. The map is skewed, as if overlaid on the scene. The date “1949-1-10” is the date the Communist forces destroyed those of the Nationalists.


East China, Scott 5L62 5L63, 1949, 32mm x 23mm
A pair of stamps showing the major cities of of Nanking and Shanghai presented without regional context, but with the year they were added to the mainland side.

I still remember how shocked I was on the occasion of Mao‘s death, because such a long-term player on the geopolitical stage had seemed immune to a normal fate like that. And now so much has changed in that corner of the world and one wonders what the key figures of that time would have thought about burgeoning capitalism (of a sort) in mainland China today.

The Trojans and their successors

1 03 2008

DardanellesTurkey, Scott 571, 1919, 32mm x 23mm
Here is a somewhat plain-looking stamp with many historic resonances for those who care to look for them.

It is a 1 piaster stamp featuring a map of the Dardanelles, black overprint “Accession to the throne of His Majesty, 3rd July 1334-1918,” the portrait on the right hand side of the frame of the last sultan Mehmed V heavily obliterated. This strait was of strategic importance during World War I because it controlled traffic between the western allies and Russia, and was the site of pitched naval battles and the Battle of Gallipoli remembered to this day especially among the Australians and New Zealanders. Only four months later, the war ended with Turkey and the government of the new sultan on the losing side along with the Central Powers. Also, one year later saw the beginning of the Turkish War of Independence (the victor being one of the Turkish generals at Gallipoli, Kemal Atatürk) which gave rise to the current system of government in that country.

The ancient city of Troy, often destroyed and rebuilt, was located near the western end of the Dardanelles, right at the bottom of this map. Visitors to the area can see a modern re-creation of the Trojan Horse.

The identification of the issuer of this stamp, which lacks any inscription in the Latin alphabet, is made easier for me by the star and crescent of the Ottoman empire in the upper corners. The language is Turkish, written in an old, ornate Arabic-based script predating the republic.