Exploring the north

9 12 2008

Canada, 1957, Scott 370, 34mm x 23mm

Canada’s great geographer, David Thompson, is honored on this issue. He appears in the foreground sighting through what appears to be an octant, with the background dominated by a curly-cornered map of the western section of the dominion. This is one of those striking  juxtapositions of features in contrasting scales which we have seen before.

The figure is not a detailed likeness of the man’s face, choosing to emphasize instead the details of his traditional garb. The map has its own emphasis not on the mountains or forests but rather on the watersheds of the major rivers and lakes of the western provinces, which ties into the search for a passage to the Pacific Northwest that was a major motivation for Thompson’s explorations. The way in which the various headwaters twine around but stay separate almost seems to express a note of frustration that this did not work out as hoped.

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.

The route to Africa

20 07 2008

Liberia, Scott C43, 1942, 39mm x 24mm

Once again we have a stamp issue commemorating the air supply route from North America via South America to western Africa in the middle of World War II. Only three countries are depicted (the United States, Brazil, and the issuing country of Liberia). An outsized 4-engine transport plane (possibly a C-108 Flying Fortress) is shown alongside the coast-hugging path southward.

I am not sure that the business of transport is considered to have enough charisma to show up much on stamps nowadays, relatives to the most popular topicals.


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

The aeroplane age

7 05 2008

3 airmail stampsUnited States, Scott C10, 1927, 47mm x 20mm
United States, Scott C8-C9, 1926, 47mm x 20mm

Look! It’s Lindbergh’sSpirit of St. Louis” flying from New York to Paris under the helpful sculptural inscription Lindbergh Air Mail. And on the other two airmail stamps, pairs of mail biplanes on a collision course. In each one, forced perspective makes it appear as the final outcome for good or for ill should occur within one or two seconds, at most. These come from a time where air travel was still new and daring, an exciting human achievement the same way the early space age felt.

Unlike the simple outlines of the countries at the edges of the North Atlantic on the Lindbergh stamp, the biplane stamp maps emphasize the geographical features of the Lower 48, not the political outlines so much, except for the southern border in bold.


12 03 2008

CabrilloCabrillo with added infoUnited States, Scott 2704, 1992, 22mm x 38mm
The design depicts the 16th century Spanish-Portuguese explorer Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo wearing a breastplate and a helmet in the Morion style backed by a galleon and the outline of the California coast near San Diego. I am showing it here both as a traditional plate block of 4 and as a strip of 3 with attached selvage, which reads:

On September 28, 1542, explorers representing Spain landed at San Diego Bay, California.

Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo led the expedition. He named the area San Miguel and claimed it for Spain.

If he was Portuguese as many believe, his name would be spelled João Rodrigues Cabrilho.

The plate block just has registration numbers along the edge. The map content is pretty minimal, lacking labels definitively identifying the location within California.

For me the main interest in this issue is not so much the map but the portrait. Cabrillo is tan, virile, visionary. He looks like Jonathan Frakes in costume and makeup. To me he looks nothing at all like his portrait, making me suspect that some parties in the office of the U.S. Postmaster General of sexing up this subject to entice the collecting public. This is perhaps not a bad thing in itself, just a bit of warning on using philately as a source of historical fact.

The other point of interest for me is the street name mentioned in the Wikipedia article. Convienently, this fellow’s last name falls nicely in the alphabetic sequence of the avenues out near where I grew up in San FranciscoAnza, Balboa, Cabrillo up in the Richmond district up against Golden Gate Park, down through the Sunset including Santiago where my parents still live, all the way down to Wawona and Yorba. Not all of these were featured on postage stamps, of course.