Wednesday, July 28, 2010

South Atlantic Design: Posted from Stanley

As a young boy, one of the things that attracted me to geography, and travel, was postage stamps - I was an enthusiastic collector. I was never particularly systematic about collecting, but the illustrations of foreign landscapes, peoples and wildlife instilled a curiosity that survived into adulthood. One placed that intrigued me - though its stamps were so rare that I only saw them in catalogues - was the Falkland Islands, in the remote South Atlantic ocean.

Falkland postage stamps have long been at a premium, because authorities have always issued them in relatively small quantities, so they preserve their value. At one time, postage stamps comprised one of the Islands’ main sources of revenue, though that has long been eclipsed by more lucrative pursuits, particularly fishing.

Commemorative issues almost always deal with local history, landscapes, and wildlife - the stamp depicted above, for instance, illustrates the ruins of Port Egmont, the first British settlement on westerly Saunders Island, established in 1765. In fact, the only non-local figure consistently on Falklands stamps is Queen Elizabeth II, who always appears in silhouette and occasionally in her own commemorative set.

Whenever cruise ships steam into Stanley, in fact, one of the most popular attractions is the Stanley Post Office and its Philatelic Bureau, from whose website it will soon be possible to purchase stamps directly without visiting the Islands. At the same time, the Bureau continues to promote its stamps abroad, as it did in May’s London Festival of Stamps.

What’s really interesting about Falklands stamps, though, is that the government often contracts local rather than overseas artists to design its stamps. Despite a population of only a few thousand, the Islands can boast many talented painters and illustrators. James Peck (pictured above in his Stanley studio), for instance, has done a series on the history of sheep farming, while Tony Chater has contributed a series on scenic landforms of small offshore islands and one on albatrosses, among others. Ian Strange, a naturalist who has contributed to many issues, has recently joined forces with his daughter Georgina to portray the Islands’ seasonal landscapes. Together, all these locals have helped create a memorable philatelic heritage.

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