Human Flower Project
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
Lick an Ambassador: Floral Stamps
Can’t afford to send flowers? Give your postal carrier a thrill and leave your correspondents panting for more.
We wandered into a philateletic Eden yesterday and now return with tongue hanging out – ready to lick and send flying hundreds of floral stamps from around the world. Who cares what’s in the envelope? This Congolese acanthus bloom could take the sting out of an eviction notice, don’t you think?
A Polish website for stamp collectors offers thousands of familiar and exotic blooms. Every nation on earth, it seems, has issued floral stamps of some type. And in every case, we see how flowers serve as ambassadors to humankind.
There are some very elaborate presentations, like this example from Lesotho: a native orchid sits (with perforations around it) below a waterfall. Just one stamp, but you feel as if you’re getting a whole landscape, a smart way to show a local plant in its habitat and, one would assume, boost sales.
For shaped stamps, Mongolia has gone to great lengths, scrunching flower images into triangles and leaning parallelograms. (To its credit, Mongolia is also the only nation we’ve seen that honors the dandelion with a stamp.) But Bulgaria’s set of flowers and honeybees is the most witty and elegantly shapely design, a cone dweller’s view with six sides.
Liechtenstein: Cornflower and Cattails
Flower stamps necessarily put local aesthetics on display. We were especially taken with two art nouveau sets of stamps from Liechtenstein, proof that good things come in small principalities. These are the most stylish of the many hundreds of flower stamps we surveyed. (And you may note that among all this website’s topical stamps, there are three times as many floral varieties as cats or sports or anything else.) From Scandinavia are many fine muted duotones. This Swedish set is especially lovely. And for some reason, this group from Finland, with their looming red crosses (signifying a tuberculosis charity) was delightfully eerie.
In stupendous contrast to the Nordic designs are candy-colored sets like these from Nicaragua. Other rainbow-robbing flower stamps have been issued by Zimbabwe, Surinam, and these beauties at right, from Cambodia. Planning to write a Dear John letter? Well, at least have the wherewithal to hunt down cheerful postage.
Some countries have not only living flowers but floral art to boast of in the mail. The most gorgeous examples we spotted were these from Germany, with details from illuminated manuscripts in Deutschland collections. Would somebody please mail us a letter with one of these affixed? Paraguay also has issued several floral stamp sets featuring international works of art.
Monaco: Concours International
de Bouquets (1974)
All you florists out there need to start lobbying your national postal services to keep up with the Joneses in Monaco, Malaysia and Romania. Each of these countries has issued special stamps featuring flower arranging. Monaco appears to have hosted the Concours International de Bouquets several years running, and on each occasion has issued a set of stamps showing a range of fine floral designs.
Our tongue’s getting dry…too much to mention. The photographic flower stamps of Cyprus (other examples from Turkey and Tanzania) don’t strike our fancy but may appeal to shutterbugs. Micronesia may have produced the most educational Human Flower Project stamp set – showing four native flowers and how each one is used in traditional leis and crowns.
Homage to Kimjongilia
But remembering that stamp designs are always chosen by someone in government – to reflect the administration’s interests, even in such a marginal matter as national floral imagery— we must end with a bow to blatantly political, gummed ambassadors. These flower stamps from Yemen are tiny collages of plants and national emblems, both overseen by someone important looking (We’re not sure, but would guess this to be longtime president Ali Abdullah Saleh in his younger days).
Most stamps from the United Kingdom, even these without one letter of type, still include the silhouette of QE2. And North Korea, of course, offers Kimjongilia, the red begonia named for Kim Jong Il; the North Korean issue includes quite a lot of supporting material, including what appears to be a musical score, for those ardent types who sing about dictators and flowers as they mail.
The most wonderful political stamp set we’ve seen yet is this collection from Cuba (much in the news this week, with Fidel Castro’s announcement that he’ll be stepping down). In colors as vibrant as the Mexican loteria, each stamp shows a hero of Latin American history with a tropical blossom – as charming a human flower postal project as we’ve discovered on any envelope. (Make sure to see the entire set for full loteria effect.)
Cuba: Historia Latinoamericana
There are many hundreds more interesting examples on the site, ahem…so dear Cuban readers, and all others within licking distance of floral stamps, we aren’t too proud to beg. Please write.