Germany 2007, Germany again displays the Brandenburg Gate in honor of it’s master builder

When a national symbol is shown over and over again on stamps, the challenge becomes how not to be repetitive. So this one is about it’s builder Carl Langhans. So slip on your smoking jacket, fill your pipe, take your first sip of your adult beverage, and sit back in your most comfortable chair. Welcome to todays offering from The Philatelist.

The Brandenburg Gate was constructed as a symbol of peace. As with the Arc de Triumph in Paris, previous centuries had a different idea of peace. Don’t think peaceniks, but rather the celebration the successful completion of a war. Thus when there is an unsuccessful war outcome it becomes a symbol of taunting. Napoleon marched under the Brandenburg Gate when he conquered Prussia. He even removed the Quadriga statue relocating it to Paris. Prussia later occupied Paris and took it back. The Soviet Union flew it’s flag from the gate for 12 years after the war until finally yielding to the East German flag. When American President Kennedy taunted the Soviets for walling off Berlin and closing the gate, he was greeted by a giant Red Banner covering it. The opening of the wall in 1989 was centered at opening the Brandenburg Gate with lots of flag waving.

Todays stamp is issue A1259, a 55 Euro cent stamp issued by Germany on December 27th, 2007. It was a single stamp issue. According to the Scott catalog, the stamp is worth 80 cents used. Being so modern there is also a self adhesive version, that inexplicably does not effect the value.

The site of the Brandenburg gate was already a gate as part of an earlier customs wall. Prussian King Frederick William II commissioned the Gate in the late 1770s. Carl Gotthard Langhans the Royal Court superintendent of buildings, was in charge. He had started his career in Silesia. Langhans was ethnically German but most of his life and buildings are today found in Poland, a reflection that war isn’t always victorious and reflective of the German peoples shift westward. Like the English architect Inigo Jones, the subject of the first stamp we covered at The Philatelist, see Langhans was the recipient of much Royal largesse that allowed him to study the architecture of ancient Greece and Rome. This inspiration allowed him to construct buildings in the neoclassic style. This was much desired by the Royals of the day. The Peace Gate, as it was then called was in the style of the Propylaea, the ancient gateway to the Acropolis in Athens. The Quadriga statue on the German gate was Victoria, the Roman God of Victory on her 4 horse chariot. At first, only Royals were allowed to pass through the center columns but this was a special honor granted the family of Ernst von Pfuel, who had seen to the Quadriga statue’s return from Paris.

Despite the devastation of the bombing and the Battle of Berlin in 1945, the Brandenburg Gate survived mostly intact. The devastation around it and the division of Berlin limited the amount of Allied victory parades around it then. The Gate was closed in 1962 upon the construction of the Berlin wall and lay in East Berlin. The East German government saw to it’s refurbishment, perhaps surprisingly still in the Imperial style. It was a fixture on many East German stamps. The opening of the gate was symbolic in 1989 when the West and East German Chancellors were the first to cross and shake hands. Today you will see much new construction around it as it is a favored view of important embassies relocated to Berlin. Unfortunately the new construction is somewhat less than neoclassic architecture. At least the area is now a pedestrian street.

Well my drink is empty and so I will pour another to toast Carl Langhans. If  peace had been as long lived as was then hoped, the Royal Building superintendent would have seen the buildings around his gate were still neo classical and perhaps even Prussia and Silesia not now be Poland. Come again tomorrow for another story that can be learned from stamp collecting.

Mauritius 1969, transitioning from creoles and coolies to coolitude

These isolated colonies and their sugar cane plantations. Will we ever fully come to grips with what was done. So slip on your smoking jacket, fill your pipe, take your first sip of your adult beverage, and sit back in your most comfortable chair. Welcome to todays offering from The Philatelist.

Todays stamp is not the Mauritius issue everyone lusts for. They got their first stamp early in 1847 with a pretty standard portrait of Queen Victoria printed locally. The printer however could not remember what he was supposed to say on one side and just wrote post office. These were very popular with 19th century stamp collectors and very valuable today. This stamp shows the typical transition to independence. This is a standard Commonwealth issue with Queen Elizabeth and the local sea life. Also available at the post office of the day were stamps with Lenin and Gandhi on them. So pick your politics with your stamp. Suspect the locals would have stuck with Gandhi. Perhaps not the creoles if today’s Ghana news about taking down his statue is an indication.

Todays stamp is issue A57, a 40 Cent stamp issued by newly independent Mauritius in 1969. It was an 18 stamp issue in various denominations showing the local sea life, in this case a sea slug. According to the Scott catalog, According to the Scott catalog, the stamp is worth 40 cents mint. The Gandhi and Lenin stamp are worth even less, being for local use. They are interesting as both men are pictured as not easily recognized young students, Gandhi dressed as a young English swell in London.

Mauritius passed to Britain in the Napoleonic Wars. There was already a system of French planters of sugar cane using African slave labor. This system remained in place and the islands continued to mainly operate in French. When the British banned slavery, the freed Africans no longer desired to work the plantations. To keep them going, large numbers of contract Indians were brought in. These workers were known derogatorily as coolies by the left over French, Africans, and increasingly Creole as the groups intermixed. There really were not many British and there was little loyalty to them. A French speaking, British organized, Mauritius Regiment was sent to occupy but not fight in Madagascar during World War II and promptly mutinied. Over time more and more Indians came in until they were the majority. After the war, the British set up the process of independence as quickly as possible.

Even under British Rule, the French were favored in politics. Then toward independence a new left wing Indian party started to win elections and there has been much agitation since. Both parties are left wing, but they divide on racial lines.

The task of building a coherent country out of different peoples who don’t get along has proved difficult. Recently a Mauritian poet and essayist of mixed Creole and Hindu background named Khal Torabully has been promoting something called coolitude. He is trying to change the word coolie into something positive. He harkens back to the scary sea journeys taken by the Indian, European, and African ancestors as something that unites Mauritius. This fear of crossing the seas is common to African tradition as well as the Hindu taboo of kala pani, a fear of dark seas.

Well my drink is empty and I will pour another to toast Mauritian poet Torabully. If he can get people to move past their racial and tribal identity he will have accomplished a great thing. With more and more of mixed identity, the need to move past will only grow. Come again tomorrow for another story that can be learned from stamp collecting.


Australian Antarctic Territory 1984, Home of the Blizzard

Here we have a situation of  going from true adventure with real danger and real knowledge expansion to superficial people and their bucket list. This is not to insult modernity, but perhaps just the way of the world. So slip on your smoking jacket, fill your pipe, take your first sip of your adult beverage, and sit back in your most comfortable chair. Welcome to todays offering from The Philatelist.

Todays stamp shows the dramatic scenery nearby Mawson station, the oldest continuously year round manned station in the Australian Antarctic territory. The scenery is a natural for the stamps but does much to attract tourism, which risks the last pristine and mostly unoccupied continent.

Todays stamp is issue A15, a 33 cent stamp issued by the Australian Antarctic Territory in 1984. It was part of a 15 stamp issue in various denominations. Stamps of the territory are valid for postage both in the territory and in Australia. According to the Scott catalog, the stamp is worth 45 cents.

The pioneering expeditions to Antarctica occurred early in the twentieth century. An early one happened in 1912-1913 and included a young geologist from the University of Adelaide named Douglas Mawson. Three men attempted to stay two years in the area around modern day Mawson station. Of the three men on the expedition, only one survived. One man fell into a crevasse and died while carrying much of the expeditions supplies. The second man died after being poisoned eating a dog’s liver. Mawson persevered not just to save his own life but to be able to provide the myriad scientific findings. Upon his return, Mawson was knighted and published many scientific papers and a popular book titled “Home of the Blizzard.” Among his findings was that windspeed averaged 50 mph and could go as high as 200 mph. He hypothesized that Antarctica was the windiest place on earth.

After WWI service and other Geology work in Australia, Mawson organized the much larger BANZARE expeditions of 1929-31. The expedition involved sea and air and was funded by three countries, Britain, Australia, and New Zealand with additional private funding. This expedition claimed the territory explored for Great Britain and occupied the rest of Mawson’s life editing 13 volumes of data. When he died in 1958, the work was not done and his eldest daughter Patricia took over the work only completing it in 1975. In 1933, Britain and Australia agreed to divide the territory claimed between themselves. See this American stamp I did a while back that goes into Antarctic treaties that governs various scientific stations now.

Sir Douglas Mawson in 1914

Australia organized a permanent year round station named after Mawson in 1954. The Australian station consists of about 500 during summer and 80 during winter. There are more than 50 permanent buildings. There also now cruise ships that allow tourists to set foot on Antarctica, so far at least staying on shipboard. To show how reckless and unserious even the scientists have become lets recall a recent expedition organized by an Australian university. The university chartered a Russian icebreaker and took not only scientists but spouses and even some tourists who paid there way on. The ship got stuck in the ice and the call went to the Australian armed forces for rescue. These perfumed princes then demanded extra dangerous helicopter flights so they could leave the ship with all their luggage. Remember the wind? I hope none of these losers were knighted on their return, but today who knows. The Russian crew elected to stay with the ship till spring when it could be saved.

Well my drink is empty and I will pour another to toast Sir Douglas Mawson. Come again tomorrow for another story that can be learned from stamp collecting,


Belgium 1902, a royal, catholic, conservative government is still able to paper over how industrial and socialist the country is becoming

Sometimes the capitalist aspect of conservatives can lead them to empowering their socialist rivals. A new class of industrial workers is fertile ground for socialists. So slip on your smoking jacket, fill your pipe, take your first sip of your adult beverage, and sit back in your most comfortable chair. Welcome to todays offering from The Philatelist.

If you knew nothing of Belgium but a little about stamps you could make some good guesses by examining todays stamp. A royal, conservative country is implied by the formality of todays stamp. The use of emblems is a sure sign of a new country trying to stake out a separate identity. What the stamp doesn’t show is how quickly the country was changing from how it still presented itself. The cities were growing and the new class of industrial worker would not have seen Belgium the same way.

Todays stamp is issue PP3, a 1 Franc parcel post stamp issued by the Kingdom of Belgium in 1902. It was a 20 stamp issue in various denominations over a 10 year period. According to the Scott catalog, the stamp is worth 25 cents whether it is mint or used. Given the high denomination, I am surprised at the stamps low value. A similar parcel post issue from 7 years before is today worth $175 in the 1 Franc denomination. Later than this issue share the low value so I must conclude that sending parcels through the mail got much more common at the time.

After a series of long wars, Belgium achieved independence from the Netherlands in 1830. The majority of the people were Walloon who are Catholic and speak a dialect of French. At the time the area was mostly rural and agricultural. The government was democratic but conservative and heavily influenced by the Catholic Church. The task at hand though was to build a separate country and so a big priority was building infrastructure such as railroads that connected the country including the small outlet to the North Sea at Antwerp. This new infrastructure and advances in agriculture that freed up workers and the Catholic tendency at the time for large families allowed for rapid industrialization in the growing cities. Coal mines, iron works, and textile factories quickly grew up and added a great deal of wealth to the new country.

Such a change brought huge and perhaps unintended effects. New factories tend to start out with low wages. The workers came to the city for a better life and the low wages became a source of dissatisfaction. Cities always being a hotbed of liberal thoughts, it is no surprise that a socialist trade union movement got going. The electoral system favored property owners so the socialist were not able to get in to the government. Even the Catholic based school system that served the elites far better than the working class was protected by the government.

The socialist showed themselves most in the cities. With King and government building in the neoclassic style, socialist architects such as the influential Victor Horta offered a very different art nouveau style. His house of the people was built directly for the socialist party. It was torn down in the 1960s to make way for a characterless high rise. By then both political sides had given up their style and so the least common denominator prevailed. This architectural trend was actually called Brusselsization.

House of the People by Victor Horta

Strikes quickly became the preferred method to enact liberal change. Strikes were called not only over wages but to demand specific reforms from the government. The industrial output of the time was less about consumer goods so there was no blowback from the labor strife on the countries reputation as with, for example, 1970s Great Britain. If World War had not come in 1914, Belgium might have been the site of a communist revolution before to long. Oddly enough the German occupation might have saved the conservative government.

Well my drink is empty and so I will open the discussion in the below comment section. Come again tomorrow for another story that can be learned from stamp collecting.

Great Britain 1962. The PM pontificates to the Queen about productivity

Sometimes a stamp issue can be overly optimistic about the future. A little bit of optimism is a good thing, but at some point credibility is lost. So slip on your smoking jacket, fill your pipe, take your first sip of your adult beverage, and sit back in your most comfortable chair. Welcome to todays offering from The Philatelist.

Every week, the British Queen sits down with the Prime Minister and receives a report on the state of things. As with question time in the House of Commons, this potentially is a useful way to hold the PM to account. Queen Elizabeth II has been on the throne so long that her first Prime Minister was Winston Churchill all the way through to Theresa May, assuming she is still Prime Minister in a few weeks when this publishes. I have often wondered what these meetings were like. This stamp is how I picture it. The Queen siting there while the PM gives a report that is long on sunshine and perhaps short on reality. Get real Mr. Prime Minister, turn this stamp upside down and tell the real story.

Todays stamp is issue A157, a 2 and  one/half Pence stamp issued by Great Britain on November 14, 1962. It was a three stamp issue celebrating national productivity year. According to the Scott catalog, this stamp is worth 25 cents whether mint or used. There is a rare version of the 1 Shilling 3P stamp of this issue that mistakenly omits the portrait of Queen Elizabeth. It is worth $16.000.

The reality of British industrial productivity was somewhat less rosy than it appears on this stamp. In 1961, Britain was the ninth most productive nation on earth. By 1978, it had fallen to number 18th. Both Labour and Tory governments of the period had radically increased social services spending. Though the spending was not spent as efficiently as would be hoped, there was a marked increase in the income of the lower class. The spending however created inflation and caused the Pound to be devalued from 2.8 USA dollars to the Pound to 2 for one. This understates the depreciation as the US$ was itself depreciating.

The improvement in the lot of the lower class unexpectedly devalued the value of work  to the next higher working class. This class was heavily unionized and so their devaluation resulted in more radical demands for wage increases. These could not be met and the result was large levels of labor strife, most famously a coal miners strike. Other factors played into this like the stock market decline and the Arab oil embargo.

Britain was ready for a change in 1978 but of course not everyone will approve of any big change. The productivity in 2015(the newest I could find) has Great Britain at number 15. Luxembourg is number 1, the USA number 5. China and India do not figure high on such list as the GNP output per employed person is quite low.

Well my drink is empty and I am always willing to pour another to toast Queen Elizabeth. Imagine the number of hot air sessions she has had to sit politely through over these many years. Come again tomorrow for another story that can be learned from stamp collecting.

Mongolia 1932, Remembering Sukhe Bator, the axe hero of Mongolia

In a new government with an ever changing cast of characters, it is often useful to pick one who has already fallen as the ideal to strive for. He is no longer competing for power himself, and has no risk of disappointing in the future. So slip on your smoking jacket, fill your pipe, take your first sip of your adult beverage, and sit back in your most comfortable chair. Welcome to todays offering from The Philatelist.

Axe and hero are usually not two words that fit together, outside the world of the firefighter. This is however Mongolia we are talking about. The communist People’s party of Mongolia was put in power by action of the Soviet Red Army. That does not sound particularly independent or patriotic. So the role of one of the Soviets collaborators is emphasized, with just enough truth to be credible. To his credit, he does look the part of a young Asian revolutionary. Wonder if Stalin looked at pictures of dead Mongolian collaborators, and picked the guy who looked the part and whose given name meant axe hero to be elevated. The actual head of Mongolia was a Buhdist Monk, good communists would not want to talk of him. Remember the old communist joke. The future is certain, it is the past that is always changing.

Todays stamp is issue A10 a 40 Mung stamp issued by the Mongolian People’s Republic in 1932. It was a 13 stamp issue in various denominations that showed the sights and people of Mongolia. According to the Scott Catalog, the stamp is worth $2.00 mint.

Sukhe Bator, then done as one word was born in very poor circumstances in 1893, the son of an itinerant day laborer. Both parents often abandoned the big family seeking work. Bator a street kid, befriended Russian children from the nearby Russian embassy, and learned some Russian. Mongolia of the time was a vassal of Imperial China but in reality had strong  connections to Russia. When the Imperial Chinese government fell in 1912, Mongolia declared independence under a Buddhist Monk named Bogd Khan. His government offered national service to street teens and Bator spent time in Khan’s army and civil service. During this time Bator married a woman of higher station than his own. The benefits of a steady job in a poor country.

The steady job became less steady. Chinese Manchurian warlord Zhang Zoulin, whom some may remember from the other days Manchurian stamp, invaded Mongolia and brought it under his government. Bogd Khan was put on house arrest and his army and civil service dissolved. Many of these people including Bator then joined left leaning organizations that sought help from the Soviet Union to dislodge Zhang and restore Bogd Kahn. Bator succeeded in sneaking a letter from Kahn to the Soviets in the hollowed handle of a horsewhip. The Mongolian group, formalized as a peoples party and received military training. At first the only military action allowed was at Khiagt, where Chinese had crossed the Soviet border. At this time a separate Czarist white Russian force crossed into Mongolia and pushed out the Chinese. This was not acceptable to the Soviet Union and the Red Army invaded and defeated the already running white Russian force. The People’s Party was put in charge with Kahn as a figurehead and Bator put in charge of the armed forces. He was still in his 20s.

There was much jockeying for position and many were executed for coup planning. As head of the armed forces, it was Bator’s job to prevent this. He was not up to this pressure and suffered a mental breakdown in 1923. He died under mysterious circumstances a few days later. Some think he was poisoned and others think pneumonia got him. His memory was raised highly after his death and his statue still stands in the capital Ulan Bator. After Bator’s death, his wife received further training at the Communist University of the Toilers of the East in Moscow. What Asian wouldn’t want to attend that? Deng Xiaoping and Ho Chi Minh were also there.  She was later a politician in her own right, rising to Chairperson of the Presidium and for a short period acting President of Mongolia.

Well my drink is empty and I will pour another to toast myself for not making a gay prostitute joke over what Bator’s name sounds like in English. Come again tomorrow for another story that can be learned from stamp collecting.


Manchu Empire 1935, an old Dynasty is new again in the co-prosperity sphere

Between 1850 and 1950, China was beset with outsiders trying to strip China of it’s national wealth. The last Quing Emperors discredited themselves by not preventing it. The ultimate discreditment occurred when the last Quing Emperor Puyi allowed himself to be named Emperor of the Japanese puppet state in Manchuria. So slip on your smoking jacket, fill your pipe, take your first sip of your adult beverage, and sit back in your most comfortable chair. Welcome to todays offering from The Philatelist.

Back in 1935, this must have been a scary stamp to the Chinese. An area labels itself the Manchu Empire and displays an ancient pagoda. Not so scary sounding and a pretty typical Chinese stamp. However all the Chinese tradition is just a front for Japanese military occupation. It would still have been a real question in 1935 if this was the future of all of China. The last puppet state stamp declared that Japan’s progress was Manchuria’s progress, there were actually two versions of the stamp, one with Chinese characters, one with Japanese characters. By then the mask was off.

Todays stamp is issue A7, a 3 Fen stamp issued by the Manchu empire in 1935. It was part of a 15 stamp issue in various denominations. There is an earlier version of the stamp issue from 1932 with 5 characters across the top from before Puyi was declared emperor. They have higher values. According to the Scott catalog, this stamp is worth 70 cents used.

Manchuria was eyed covetously by both Japan and Russia. Russia desired more warm water ports south of Vladivostok. The Japanese wanted to expand into China from their new bases in Korea. Both used railroads as a way to stake claims and demand rights of their citizens to work them. After the last Emporer Puyi  was forced to abdicate, China entered a period of division being ruled by regional warlords. Manchuria came to be ruled by Zhang Zuolin. His army was unusually strong by Chinese standards as he acquired a stock of French Renault light tanks left over from the French intervention in Vladivostok during the Russian civil war. This allowed Zhang to defeat the Russians and expand his territory to include Beijing. He had close ties to the Japanese and to Puyi the former emperor. Manchuria was then the richest part of China

In the mid twenties he came into conflict with Chiang Kai-shek’s forces and was defeated. The Japanese were upset at his defeat and murdered him as he made his way back to Manchuria by train. They thought they could better control his son Zhang Xueliang. This proved not to be the case as the son resented the murder of his father and had sympathy with Mao’s communist rebellion. He worked with both the Nationalist and Communist forces to oppose the Japanese. However, when Japan invaded Manchuria, he decided to not contest in order to keep his army intact.

Zhang Xueliang is famous for an incident that happened the year after this stamp.  Communist diplomat Chou en Lai met with Chiang Kai-shek to negotiate a temporary truce so efforts could be combined to fight the Japanese. When the negotiations dragged on, Zhang kidnapped Chiang and held him until was willing to agree. For this, he is remembered as a hero in both Chinas.

The Japanese held Manchuria until it was taken by the Soviets at wars end and turned over to Mao’s forces. Puyi was taken by the Soviets and held for a period until being turned over to China. After a period of reeducation. Puyi was allowed to live out his days. Chiang Kai-shek had expressed the desire to have Puyi shot.

The stamp features the White Pagoda in Liaoyang. It was built during the Kin Dynasty in 1189. It is over 200 feet high and built on a large stone foundation. It is called white for the chalky paint that decorates it. The pagoda still stands today.

Well my drink is empty and I will toast the Renault tank. It fought in both world wars and made surprising differences in battles all over the world when tanks were new. Come again tomorrow for another story that can be learned from stamp collecting.

Renault tank in Zhang’s army service


USA 1943, Korea is listed as a country to be liberated

The USA issued a series of stamps that listed 13 countries overrun by the Axis during World War II. This implicitly promised USA help in the liberation. Quite a task. It is perhaps a surprise that Korea was included on the list. So slip on your smoking jacket, fill your pipe, take your first sip of your adult beverage, and sit back in your most comfortable chair. Welcome to todays offering from The Philatelist.

Initially neutral, the USA was brought in to World War II by the Pearl Harbor attack and the subsequent German war declaration. A few years of tough fighting later, this stamp issue sets out the liberation of 13 countries as a requirement for peace. A direct manifestation of the principle of unconditional surrender the Allies agreed to. In a democracy, it is quite surprising that such a government decree received no push back. It shows what a different time it was and the kind of sacrifices countries were demanding of their people.

Todays stamp is issue A368, a five cent stamp of the USA issued in 1943-44. The thirteen stamps of the issue each had a separate country flag and all were 5 cent. According to the Scott catalog, the stamp is worth 25 cents whether it is mint or used.

Korea had been annexed by Japan in 1910. This was the last step of a process over the previous 60 years that had weaned the Korean Empire from being in the Chinese sphere to the sphere of Japan. At first the Korean monarchy agreed to the forced upon them Japanese concessions but over time Japan wanted more direct control and less say by China. The final annexation was agreed by the Korean Prime Minister but not the last Korean Emperor, who refused to sign and was banished.

In general terms, the Japanese treated Koreans better than they treated occupied Chinese but it was not a friendly situation. There was no draft of Koreans to serve in the Japanese forces till near the end of the war but many volunteered. The was also much movement throughout the empire of laborers, some conscripted. There was no fighting in the area during the war, and as stated above, only volunteers fought for Japan.

As such, it is surprising that Korea was listed as a place to be liberated by the USA. Japan was to be punished. This was to prove very costly for the USA. The Soviets shared a border with Korea and although they had not fought Japan till the month before, they were available to take the surrender of Japanese forces in northern Korea. Rushing to be a part of the “liberation”, the Americans rushed forces in southern Korea in late 1945. A division of Korea was agreed at the 38th parallel between the Soviets and Americans.

The Soviet puppets in North Korea sought to unite Korea by invasion in 1950. Another war and 58,000 Americans died over the next three years to prevent a united Soviet puppet Korea. We see today what a horror show North Korea turned out to be, but I wonder if the USA realized the sacrifice necessary. I wonder how much thought was given to including Korea on the list to be liberated. Perhaps not enough?

Well my drink is empty and I may poor a few more to toast the sacrifice of the USA in regards to Korea. Come again tomorrow for another story that can be learned from stamp collecting.

El Savador 1940, Celebrating the Pan American Union, a League of Nations that actually worked

With migrant caravans heading north from Central America, it is hard to argue that tiny nations such as El Salvador are anything but sad failures. That does not mean there was not a style, even a grandiosity. When that was lavished on an organization that actually worked, what a great stamp. So slip on your smoking jacket, fill your pipe, take your first sip of your adult beverage, and sit back in your most comfortable chair. Welcome to todays offering from The Philatelist.

In 1940, El Salvador celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Pan American Union. An angel smiles down on the Western Hemisphere’s half of the globe while a big modern airliner speeds our mail from place to place. The angel holds a fig leave conferring peace on the blessed below. The stamp was printed by the American Bank Note Company in America. I wonder if their designers did a double take when they heard what the Salvadorans wanted.

Todays stamp is issue C71, a 30 Centavo airmail stamp issued by El Salvador on May 22nd, 1940. It was a two stamp issue. According to the Scott catalog, the stamp is worth 25 cents used. If a stamp this dramatic is still only worth the nominal value for any stamp at nearly 80 years old, I suggest the Salvadorans leave their stamp collections behind when they pack up to head north.

The Pan American Union was first suggested by Latin American independence hero Simon Bolivar at a conference in Panama City, Gran Columbia in 1826. He imagined a Western Hemisphere with a united foreign policy and military and a legislature drawn from all the member states. USA readers will understand how such a thing would favor small states over big ones like the Electoral College and the Senate. This is by design because how else to get small states to join just to be dominated by larger neighbors. The idea went nowhere as soon Latin America was breaking apart with civil wars and instability.

In 1890 a new conference was organized in Washington with more modest goals of international cooperation and conflict arbitration. Thus the Pan American Union was founded and a headquarters building was built in Washington out of the generosity of Andrew Carnegie. The true genius of the organization  came in when it was agreed that a conflict between two members would see the neutrality of the rest. Thus avoiding the real prospect of  alliance continental wars that the League of Nations was not able to prevent in Europe.

Post World War II, the Pan American Union was refashioned as the Organization of American States and took on an added goal of fighting communism. This was at the instruction of the USA, and probably had some people in the smaller states pining for Simon Bolivar’s electoral college. At age 80, the OAS continues, still in Carnegie’s Pan American Union Building. The current leader is Luis Almagro, a Uruguayan diplomat who is active in promoting migration and by extension economic equalization. This potential conflict with USA President Trump might prove an interesting test as to whether big states or small states currently  hold sway at the OAS. That presumes of course that the OAS even has a seat at the table.

Well my drink is empty and I will pour another to toast the grandiosity of 1940s El Salvador. Sometime even if the reality is something less, it is worthwhile to dream big. Come again tomorrow for another story that can be learned from stamp collecting

Malaysia 1974, Remembering the tin industry during it’s Malaysian sunset

We have often covered here how colonial periods often bring in new ethnicities into a place. In Malaysia’s case, Chinese came in to then Malaya to mine for tin. So slip on your smoking jacket, fill your pipe, take your first sip of your adult beverage, and sit back in your most comfortable chair. Welcome to todays offering from The Philatelist.

Todays stamp shows a gravel pump tin mine in Malaysia. Water is sprayed forcing up the gravel and allowing the tin to be filtered out. It is a fairly old tech, low cost way of mining for tin. Showing an older way harkens back to when the industry was started in the 19th century by Chinese emigres. This activity is what made many of them rich and indeed the capital Kuala Lumpur started as an important tin mining town.

Todays stamp is issue A50, a 15 cent issue of Malaysia on October 31st, 1974. It was part of a three stamp issue in various denominations that displayed the local tin industry in honor of that years International Tin Conference in Kuala Lumpur. According to the Scott catalog, the stamp is worth 35 cents used.

Tin mining was started by Chinese emigres in then Malaya in the early nineteenth century. At the time, tin mining was extremely labor intensive as it mainly consisted of manually digging and separating out the tin. The importation of the Chinese laborers was handled by the Chinese themselves. While some deals were struck with local Malayans and their Sultans, there were also some turf wars as the Malayans sought their share of the bounty. There was also trouble between various Chinese Tongs over who would control the opium trade and brothels that grew up around the mines.

The British used this instability as an excuse to formalize their control over Malaya. This allowed the Chinese to become more entrenched in Malaya and enjoy their new found wealth in more stable and fast growing Kuala Lumpur. The British saw the opportunity to install more modern dredge style tin mining, that had higher yields and was less labor intensive. The Chinese did not have the capital to install their own dredges and so fell behind.

Over time tin mining has become less important. The easily recovered tin is mostly exhausted leaving reserves that are more complicated to exploit. Tin prices on the world market are quite cyclical, favoring low cost producers. There is also the issue that it would be no longer possible to import large numbers of Chinese to work new mines. It has reached the point that Malaysia is a net importer of tin.

Well my drink is empty and I will pour another to toast the Chinese in Malaysia. It must have been quite a challenge to go to a new land and build a new life with the Malayans and the British always trying to take their share of any accomplishment. Come again tomorrow for another story that can be learned from stamp collecting.