Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Frogs in fairy tales, folk tales or songs (I)

(This post is the first one in a series of articles that I plan to publish in this blog all over the summer).

When I tell to non philatelists that I collect stamps picturing frogs and toads I always get the same reaction : people are surprised that the number of stamps picturing frogs could be large enough to allow a proper collection. “I do not remember having seen a stamp from my country picturing a frog” is a standard affirmation I get during the discussion. But with more than 500 items, my frog stamp collection proves that this is not such an uncommon topic !

An interesting subset is the group of stamps picturing frogs as characters of fairy tales, folk tales, folk songs, poems or other stories. The purpose of this article is to make a (non exhaustive) review of such stamps.

Among the tales that include a frog as a character that is pictured on a stamp, the most frequent one is : The Frog Prince, from the Grimm Brothers.
Jakob Grimm (1785 – 1863) and Wilhelm Grimm (1786 – 1859) were two German academics who are well known for the publishing of collections of folk tales and fairy tales. They also made some research in linguistics on the evolution of German language over the time.The Grimm Brothers are pictured on various stamps as this one from Germany, issued in 1985

Germany 1985, Scott #1434

The Grimm Brothers published their first volume of fairy tales in 1812 under the title : Children’s and Household Tales. They had received these stories from peasants and villagers. Jakob was the one doing the research, while Wilhelm was more dedicated to giving a literary form to the tales. The first edition of their collection included 86 stories in the first volume and 70 in the second one.
The first edition was much criticized : even if they were called children’s tales, they were not really suitable for children, because of the violence and the reference to sexuality that they contained !
They published further editions, applying some changes and also adding new tales, until reaching 211 tales in the seventh edition of their publication.
Among the most famous tales published by the Grimm Brothers, you can find Hansel and Gretel, Cinderella or Little Red Riding Hood.

The Frog Prince is the first tale of the first volume. It is also known as “The Frog King or Iron Heinrich”.
This fairy tale tells the story of a young princess who looses her ball in a well. A frog helps her to get it back in exchange of the promise that the young girl would share her dinner and her bed with the frog. Once she gets her ball back, the girl runs to her house and forgets the frog. But the frog comes to the house to claim what was promised. The king obliges her daughter to keep her promise and so the frog is invited to have dinner with the princess and to share her bed. Upset and disgusted, the princess throws the frog against a wall, and suddenly the frog turns into a handsome prince !
You can read the full text of the
story on my website (you will then understand the reference to Iron Heinrich which appears in the original title).
More modern variations of the same story have changed the way the transformation of the frog is triggered : the princess kisses the frog instead of throwing it against a wall ! This is in this modern form that the story is widely known. And this is in this form that I discovered it when I was a kid.
After re-reading the original story from the Grimm Brothers I realize that it is not very “moral” : the princess seems to be a nasty girl, she kept her promises only because she was forced by her father and she anyway get a reward (a handsome prince) while trying to kill the frog ! Not a very good example to give to the children…

This fairy tale is the subject of a complete set of four semi postal stamps, issued by Germany (and also by Berlin Post) on the 5th of October 1966, bearing a surtax for charitable organizations. Each stamp picture one scene of the tale; the frog appears only on the two first ones.

Berlin 1966, Scott #9NB41. The princess meets the frog.

Berlin 1966, Scott #9NB42. The princess shares a dinner with the frog.

Berlin 1966, Scott #9NB43. The frog turns into a handsome prince.

Berlin 1966, Scott #9NB44. The prince and the princess get married.

The encounter between the princess and the frog is also pictured on a stamp from Austria issued on the 29th of June 1981.

Austria 29/06/81, Scott #1181

The same scene is used on a stamp from Czechoslovakia issued on 2nd of September 1991 for the 13th exhibition of children's book illustrations in Bratislava.

Czechoslovakia 02/09/91, Scott #2834

The stamp being issued in booklet, the cover of the booklet re-uses the same design.

Czechoslovakia 02/09/91, Booklet cover

The dinner shared between the princess and the frog is the subject of a stamp from Ajman, issued on the 24th of August 1971

Ajman 24/08/71,Yvert&Tellier #145

A crowned frog (that we can associate to this tale) also appears on a message stamp from Ireland issued on the 26th of January 2000 and included in a booklet pane.

Ireland 26/01/00, Scott 1223a

Just to be complete, a crowned frog also appears on a stamp from Netherlands issued on 11th of November 1980. This stamp picture a young girl reading “The Frog Prince”, with the crowned frog getting out of the book. I unfortunately don’t have yet this stamp in my collection so I can not show it to you.

The Frog Prince is somehow related to another tale called The Frog Princess, which is pictured on other stamps and that I will mention is a future article.


Anonymous said...

Postbeeld.com seems to have the missing dutch stamp in stock, via: https://www.postbeeld.com/app?component=%24DirectLink_7&page=Freestamp&service=direct&session=T&sp=1980

Jeevan Jyoti said...

It's very interesting to see frogs on fairy tales stamps issued by different countries. It takes us back to our childhood days.

Jeevan Jyoti
Shimla, India