48. Come to that, what’s in a Postage Stamp?
Well: the answer is simple. History is embodied in them, just as it is in coins & all sorts of other artifacts. Here is a 7 kopeck stamp from Russia, which I believe was current in 1894, when the ill-fated Nicholas II became ‘The Tsar Of All The Russias’. (I have always preferred the archaic ‘Czar’; but there is a point beyond which it becomes fatuous to cling to these obsolescences.) Unlike our pioneering British stamps of 1840, which carried from the first a distinguished profile of Queen Victoria, it bears no likeness of Nicholas; indeed, no postage stamp of Imperial Russia had ever borne the Tsar’s portrait since their introduction in 1858. Doubtless the Imperial Visage was considered too Sacred to appear upon such a lowly item as a postage stamp? Instead, the Imperial Arms of Russia always appeared as the focus of the design.
However, 1913 represented the 300th Anniversary of the Romanov Dynasty. And, as you will be well aware, things were not going too well in Russia at that time. Accordingly, a large set of commemorative stamps was then issued, which were calculated to appeal to the mass population. There were (I think) 16 different stamps in the set. A portrait of Nicholas II (and of many other famous Tsars, plus 2 or 3 historic sites) finally appeared on Russian stamps. I don’t actually collect stamps (any more than I collect coins) but the possession of just a few of these items serves to reflect & amplify the historical period which gave rise to them? I have about 11 of the set of 16 & that’s fine; I don’t worry about the missing ones, especially because they are the most expensive ones!
Nicholas appeared on the 7 kopeck & 10 kopeck values. There came the outbreak of The Great War in August 1914, in which humanity was to suffer as never before. The Russian Empire disintegrated, slowly & agonizingly. The above 10 kopeck ‘postage stamp’ is actually printed on card rather than paper, and these (with 2 other values: 15 & 20 kopecks) were put into circulation as a substitute for coinage. Metal was no longer available to mint coins…
This is the reverse of such a ‘card money’. It reads to the effect that this item ‘is equivalent in value to the denomination of the stamp’, or something similar. So: in just four ‘postage stamps’, we may roughly chart the peak of a vast Empire, followed by its decline & eventual fall. No wonder philately & numismatics &c. are so universally popular. As it were, we can experience history from our own living room!
Page written 13th August 2012.