Stamp Collectors: Neutrality and “Sanctions”

One of the things that I like most about Stamp Collecting is the manner in which mail is sent around the world. The Universal Postal Union is an organisation of truly heroic standing.

The fact that I can send a letter from Dublin  to the Dear Leader of the Democratic Republic of Korea and it wont be opened by anyone in the Irish Security services is remarkable. It is just one of the many good reasons for being a citizen of a neutral country.

Unfortunately Chairman Kim never wrote back to me. Or perhaps he did….I live in “Northern Ireland” so maybe the British intercepted it. Who knows?

The point is that for the most part, mail sent around the world generally gets thru to its destination.

Ireland is or was unique. A European country which was a colony of an evil Empire. This has given the Irish nation an ethos that is both part of western Europe AND gives us an insight into the post-colonial problems in (say) Cyprus, Democratic Republic of Congo, East Timor and Lebanon. As such, Irish army personnel are acceptable peacekeepers in these nations and almost one hundred have lost their lives serving on United Nations Peacekeeping Missions.

Neutrality is of course honourable. Ireland like Netherlands, Norway and United States of America was neutral in the Second World War. Now you might say that I am wrong and that these countries played a major part in the defeat of Germany and Japan. Yes that’s true but these countries only entered the war when they were attacked.

Neutrality does not mean that we cannot make judgements. For example, Russia has waged war on Ukraine and it is 99.99% certain that Russia is responsible for the poisoning of a former-spy, his daughter and a police officer In England two weeks ago.

Sanctions have been imposed………as indeed sanctions have been applied to PDR Korea, Iran and other nations.

It is generally accepted that sanctions imposed on the minority government of South Africa in the 1970s led to the fall of that evil regime.

The problem with sanctions is that it is a blunt instrument which disproportionately affects poorer people. And does not just affect supporters of the regime.

For example back in 1975, would I have been wrong to engage in trading stamps with a collector in South Africa because of the governments racism? Would I be wrong to trade postcards with a collector in Israel because of that country’s illegal settlements in Palestine? Would I be wrong to trade stamps with a collector in Saudi Arabia because of their sexism and anti-Semitism? Would I be wrong to trade stamps and postcards with a collector in Russia because of the invasion of Ukraine, the war in Syria or the attempted murder of folks in England?

Obviously the individual may or may not support their government. And plainly as a liberal, I respect that people are entitled to hold views different from my own …providing of course they are within generally accepted limits.

I was looking thru some postcards that I received from Russian folks thru PostCrossing and Facebook. As well as seeing postally used stamps on mail, the great thing about postcards is that they offer an insight into life in another country.

What struck me was that in some cases, the postcards showed the military might of Russia and back in 2014 when I received them this seemed like harmless chauvinism. But in 2018, they look a little sinister.

The random trading of mail across the world is a good thing. Previously we could not make judgements. And probably that was a more innocent time.

But the Internet has given us an opportunity (if we want it) to look at potential trading partners before we post off 50 stamps or a postcard. It is a bad sign if a Russian profile features Vladimir Putin. It is a very bad sign if an Israeli profile features Benjamin Netanyahu and the person has an address in Palestinian territory.

And the United States….if a stamp collector has a pic of himself with a red  “Make America Great Again”, or a National Rifle Association bumper sticker or a Confederate flag….then he or she is not likely to be a person with whom I can trade stamps and postcards.

It is not a question of nationality or politics. It is a question of morality.

Is that reasonable of me?

Meanwhile, I look at my mail every day to see if Chairman Kim has sent me a nice postcard from PDR Korea.




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Why Has Trading Stamps Become So Difficult?

As I have often said, I am a serious collector of the stamps of Ireland and I am also collect used stamps of the world …for fun.

A hobby SHOULD be FUN  but sometimes it can become obsessive, there is no fun.

While I get a lot of satisfaction from my Irish collection, I think that the best times I had with stamps was when I was a schoolboy in the 1960s. As schoolchildren we make mistakes with collecting, thematic “cancelled to order” stamps catch our eye but will never be worth anything. And as young adult or novice collectors we make still make mistakes or are exploited by unethical dealers.

Very few young collectors survive to be serious adult collectors. It is not just about any hobby being a passing phase, a rite of passage. More so, there are only so many times that a collector can make mistakes or be exploited.

“Fool me once…shame on you. Fool me twice….shame on ME”.

One of the odd things about collectors is that occasionally names of dealers come up in conversation. And the conversation quickly turns to how trustworthy or untrustworthy the dealer is or was.

Certainly over the last few years, I have enjoyed throwing the name of a dealer into conversation and I have enjoyed the reaction. Every collector and indeed dealer has a story.

Although this is amusing at one level, it is less amusing at another level. For every one of  us who has a story, there are a lot of collectors who gave up simply because they believe that being conned should not be part of the experience.

I am lucky. I arrived at the point where I really only have one dealer and I trust him.

Since I came back to Stamp Collecting in 2012…after a 12 year gap, I have been working on the basis that my “Ireland” collection is serious and my “world” collection is just fun re-capturing the enthusiasm I had as a child.

It seems to me that a good way to increase the number of my world collection is to trade my Irish duplicates…I have literally thousands of stamps which I could send in lots of fifty to collectors in exchange for stamps from their country.

The experience has at best been ok and at worst it has been pretty bad.

Last summer, I placed an advertisement on a trading website. I got over thirty five replies. This should have been a good sign but actually it was pretty depressing. Most of the people who replied to me had list of conditions….catalogue value, large commemoratives, condition, scans…………whatever.

While I acknowledged all the folks who expressed interest, I only sent off stamps to eight people. I got four replies….

This does not imply that the other four had not sent me stamps. International mail can be a problem. Possibly they did not get my stamps.

I don’t really mind that maybe two replies that I got were worthwhile and that two were not a good exchange. It is the nature of trading stamps that you win some and you lose some. It all balances out in the end.

Yet it should be so much easier. Anyone is welcome to my surplus stamps. It is simple re-cycling. If you want them ….you can have them.

But please, please treat the process with respect.

As a consequence, I am suspending trading stamps for a few months. Its just not worth the hassle.


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New Issues 2018: February

Just two issues in February.


The annual LOVE stamp is only sold in booklets. But the Philatelic Counter at the General Post Office sells the stamp in pairs. The “N” indicates national rate postage.

St Patrick’s Day is also an annual issue. In alternate years, the stamp is issued in a religious or secular format.

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Some Cigarette Cards

I picked up some Cigarette Cards at a (mostly) Stamp Fair recently.

It seems that Coins and Stamps have a longevity in collecting terms but Cigarette Cards are effectively set in years between the First and Second World Wars. Rather like Phonecards, about which I recently blogged belong in the 1990s.

Yet I think “conservation” (an excuse for “hoarding”) is an important factor in collecting.

Cigarette cards were free gifts with packets of cigarettes. In the 1920s and 1930s, smoking was socially acceptable. As my father was a boy then, he was a  collector. His main source was male friends and relatives but he used to tell me that youngsters used to hang around stores and ask complete strangers who had just bought a packet of cigarettes for the card.

The first part-set I picked up is produced by John Player & Sons “Straight Line Caricatures” (set of 50).dates from 1926.  It seems an odd set. Genuinely historical figures like English General “Earl Haig” and George Bernard Shaw and some relatively obscure figures like “Sir” Oliver Lodge (the radio pioneer) and “Sir” J Martin Harvey (I have no idea who he is and I cant be bothered looking up Wikipedia or reading the back of the card). It is hard to believe that they caused a lot of excitement when being swapped in the school playground. Still, I suppose they were major celebs…the Kardashians and Kanye West of 1926.


The second part-set is “Flags of the League of Nations” (set of 50) produced in 1928. I actually have a full set and I nearly always buy extra cards when I see them. I like Flags but more so it says something about the years between the Wars. I bought a full set in the 1980s when Soviet Union still existed so seeing Latvia (as you can see I picked up an extra card) , Lithuania and Estonia seemed historic. It did not seem likely that USSR would collapse and these and other nations re-emerge.

Among the cards in the part-set are the old flags of Italy, South Africa and (British) India.


The third and final part-set is “Famous Jockeys” (Gallaher Ltd 1936). Jockeys and Racing colours, as well as Cricket and Football seem to the most popular cards. The interesting thing is that some of the veteran riders were actually winning races over a century ago but the card that caught my eye “E Smith”, (middle in bottom row) is a jockey I recall from TV races in the early 1960s.


In the late 1950s and 1960s, I recall buying “sweetie cigarettes” which were white candy with a red colouring. Children believed that these were realistic cigarettes and adults would think we were smoking. These packets often contained a picture card.

In the more enlightened times in which we live “sweetie cigarettes” are no longer sold as understandably it normalises smoking for a younger generation. It is still possible to buy white “candy sticks” which do not have red markings at the tip.

Cigarette Cards….like Phonecards are time capsules. Cigarette Cards (1920s-1930s) led to Bubblegum Cards (1950s-1970s) and then to modern Trading Cards and Stickers.


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Earlier this week, I was given about twenty Irish phonecards. There was some duplication but I have been able to add most of them to my collection.Phonecards18

Collecting phonecards became a big thing in Ireland in the 1990s. It started around 1991 but by 2001, the bubble had burst. They were sold in most stores in units of 5,10, 20, 50 and 100. They were used in phone boxes and it was very common to see children (and adults!!!) look for used phonecards. Some people even placed litter bins in phone boxes so that the used cards would not get dirty.

The first few years cards had the logo of Telecom Eireann on a blue background along the top of the card. Later cards had the logo at the side of the card. A third design of logo (I have very few of the later cards) was later used.

As always with any form of collecting, the early issues, “Trial” cards are difficult to find.

Cards fall into four categories. Definitive cards such as the Horse Racing card shown above are the easiest to find as millions were issued. Commemorative cards for events and seasons such as Christmas usually had a production of 200,000. Advertising cards had a similar number issued.

There is a fourth category of “customised cards” such as the Tia Maria card. As far as I know, only 10,000 were issued.

Certainly the bubble of collecting burst at the end of the 1990s and these phonecards are now a footnote. For the ten or fifteen years that the cards were produced, collecting them was much more popular than Stamp Collecting.

And while Stamp Collecting is now in terminal decline, the challenge of Phonecard Collecting faded away.

To understand how the bubble burst, it is necessary to understand why the bubble inflated in the first place. This was cutting-edge technology in 1990 in the same way that a postage stamp was revolutionary in 1840. The concept of inserting a chipped card into a phone was very new. A new generation was introduced to collecting and phone cards were readily available and discarded in phone boxes all over Ireland.

But the technology had moved on again by the start of the 21st century. Mobile/Cell phones became widespread and public telephones became almost obsolete.

But I think there are deeper reasons why phonecards are really just a novelty. There is something very “official” about a nation’s stamps…a stamp album is a Greatest Hits album….containing the best of History, Music, Environment, Sport, Literature. Phonecards depicting Burger King, Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, Nescafe do not have the same appeal to National Pride. More so, the advertising of products such as alcohol, should not appeal to children.

Likewise a “collecting” hobby should hold out the prospect of “completion”. So cards, that were only produced in numbers of 10,000 (like the Tia Maria card above) or cards in quantities of  5,000 used as promotions have no real prospect of being found on the ground in phone boxes.

Collectors were turned off by this “limited edition” ploy.

So Phonecards are really no more a quaint footnote, a mirror into 1990s Ireland.


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New Issues 2018: January

Stamps issued in January 2018:

A single stamp (11th January) to commemorate the Bicentenary of the General Post Office in Dublin.


Four stamps and a miniature sheet were issued (18th January) to mark the 50th Anniversary of the death of Chester Beatty. He was an American-born mining magnate who settled in Ireland after the Second World War. He donated his extensive collection of oriental works of art to the Irish Nation and was the first person to be awarded honoury citizenship of Ireland.

The second phase of the definitive series, representing the History of Ireland in One Hundred Objects was issued on 25th January. These are eight SOAR “Stamps On A Roll” and two booklet stamps, one at “N” (National) rate and one at “W” (International) rate. Coil stamps were to be introduced but as at 29th January, they had not been issued.


It is nice to see Treasures like the Tara Brooch, Ardagh Chalice and Book of Kells included.


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The Raven from Westeros Has Delivered Mail

The three Game of Thrones-related postcards which I posted to myself in Belfast (or King’s Landing or Winterfell) yesterday were delivered today.

The Diana Rigg postcard was bought in London over twenty years ago and has a “Olenna” stamp. The locations postcard has a Cersei Lannister stamp. The cartoon “Game of Scones” has a Tyrian Lannister stamp.

The stamps were hand-stamped at the main post office in Belfast.



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