Thursday, March 31, 2011

Postcrossing postcard from Vilnius, Lithuania

I guess you all know Postcrossing, the postcards swap project (if not I invite you to check the website : . I’m part of it because I like receiving mails from all over the world. I like when people send a postcard picturing interesting places located in the area where they live. In this case I try to get some information about those places and it is always a pleasure to learn. The only critic I would make to the project is that you can not choose the country from where you will receive cards. This is completely random.

The item I have selected for today’s post is a card I got from Vilnius, Lithuania, through postcrossing. I like it because it’s a sort of thematic card: the sender took care to use a stamp on it which is closely related to the subject of the card. But first let’s have a look to the picture.

The card pictures Gediminas’s tower. This is the only remaining part of the Upper Castel in Vilnius. The fortifications were built of wood by Duke of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, Gediminas. Gediminas (1275-1341) was the ruler of Grand Duchy of Lithuania from 1316 to 1341. Despite the fact that the tower bears his name it was completed much later, in 1409, by Grand Duke Vytautas.

The tower now houses an exposition of archeological findings from the area. It is an important symbol of Vilnius and Lithuania in general. It is pictured on the reverse side of 50 litas banknotes as you can see below.

Another interesting fact to mention is that the emblem called Gediminas columns, because iis wrongly considered as the personal symbol of the former ruler, is part of the logo of Lithuanian post, inside the horn.

Back to the card, let’s see the other side.

As you can see the stamp pictures the tower in the background. It also pictures a statue, which is also pictured on the card, and which is the statue of Gediminas which is also located in Vilnius. The sculpture has a rather interesting style, I think.

The stamp was issued in 2009 to celebrate the fact that Vilnius was European Capital of Culture.

The European Capital of Culture is a city designated by the European Union for a period of one calendar year during which it organizes a series of cultural events with a strong European dimension. The European City of Culture program was launched in the summer of 1985 with Athens being thefirst title-holder. In 1999, the European City of Culture program was renamed the European Capital of Culture.

Below is the list of cities that have been selected. As you can see, sometimes more than one city is selected, as it was the case in 2009 where Vilnius shared the title with Linz in Austria.

• 1985: Athens
• 1986: Florence
• 1987: Amsterdam
• 1988: West Berlin
• 1989: Paris
• 1990: Glasgow
• 1991: Dublin
• 1992: Madrid
• 1993: Antwerp
• 1994: Lisbon
• 1995: Luxembourg
• 1996: Copenhagen
• 1997: Thessaloniki
• 1998: Stockholm
• 1999: Weimar
2000: Avignon, Bergen, Bologna, Brussels, Helsinki, Kraków, Prague, Reykjavík, Santiago de Compostela
• 2001: Rotterdam, Porto
• 2002: Bruges, Salamanca
• 2003: Graz
• 2004: Genoa, Lille
• 2005: Cork
• 2006: Patras
• 2007: Sibiu, Luxembourg, Greater Region
• 2008: Liverpool, Stavanger
• 2009: Vilnius Linz
• 2010: Essen (representing the Ruhr), Istanbul, Pécs
• 2011: Turku, Tallinn

The next to come are Guimarães and Maribor for 2012 and Marseille and Košice for 2013.

When seing the stamp on the card I immediately wondered if each concerned country had issued a stamp to commemorate the selection of one of its cities as European Capital of Culture. And I thought also that it could be an interesting topic for a thematic stamp collection!

I made some research and quickly found a few examples of other stamps issued for this occasion. Like this stamp issued by France for Lille in 2004.

Or this stamp for Genoa also in 2004.

Or more recently these two sheets of eight stamps for Istambul in 2010, and this sheet of twenty five stamps for Pecs also in 2010.

So you see, it seems to be a possible field for collection!

Monday, March 28, 2011

The box of hope

When you are a topical collector you sometimes come across unusual items that fit your collection as the one I will share with you today.

The item I’m speaking about is a pre-stamped postcard from Ecuador that pictures a frog both on the picture side and on the printed stamp. Here is the recto and the verso of the item.

The particularity of this card is that it is part of a program launched by the government of Ecuador in December 2010 and called “Buzon de la esperanza” that can be translated into “The box of hope”. The idea is to provide an easy way for people in jail to communicate with their relatives in the country and in the rest of the world. As part of the program, this card that has been designed by a prisoner is provided free of charge to people in jail. A special mail box (the famous box of hope) is installed in the jail for them to send the cards to their family. I understood that this program started in December last year as a pilot is specific places. I don’t know what the status of this project is now.

I wonder why the frog has been chosen as the subject of this card. Does it carry any specific message?

A second card is also part of the program, this one picturing a hand. Here it is.

On the verso side of both cards there is an hologram picturing the logo of the postal administration of Ecuador (on the right bottom corner, not visible on the scan).

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Letter and stamps from Canada

Time is running so quickly and I have been so busy these last days that I haven't published anything in this blog since ages! What a shame. Today I decided to stop and take the time to write a short post. I wanted to share with you a nice letter that I received from Canada.

Here it is.

The cover is franked with the souvenir sheet issued by Canadian post on the 7th of January 2011 to celebrate the year of the rabbit. To better appreciate it, here is the souvenir sheet put in the write direction.

The idea of the stamp on this mini sheet is to picture a piece of cloth with a traditional Chinese embroidery, with two rabbits running after each other in an infinite loop. I think this is the most beautiful issue I have seen on this subject this year. Don't you think so?

I'm not always a big supporter of these numerous stamps about Chinese new new year that are issued by more countries, I think this is only an additional reason to get money from stamp collectors. But this one is really nice I think. At the same time a single stamp was issued. Here it is (picture coming from Canada post website).

I got this cover through a stamp exchange circuit, so the cover contained stamps of course. I selected two items that I would like to show you also.

First there is an odd sapped souvenir sheet issued on the 3rd of March 2010.

The souvenir sheet is dedicated to African violets. African violet is the common name of the Saintpaulia, a flowering plant native from Tanzania. The name Saintpaulia comes the Baron Walter von Sait Paul-Illaire (1860-1910), the district commissioner of Tanga province who discovered the plant in Tanganyka in 1892. Saintpaulia are widely cultivated as house plants.

I like the idea of having cut the sheet following the shape of the flower. The stamps have aslo been issued as single stamps, both in gummed and auto-adhesive version as often for Canadian stamps.

To be noted that the stamps do not bear any denomination.

The second set of stamps that I found in the cover is this one, issued on the 15th of May 2009.

The stamp on the left pictures a Canadian horse, a breed which is used nowadays mainly for driving. The stamp on the right pictures a Newfoundland pony.

A nice set for collectors of horses on stamps!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Rugby in Italy

I spent the last weekend in Rome, Italy. I was there mainly to attend, on Saturday, to the rugby game between Italy and France as part of the 2011 six nations’ tournament. If you follow a bit the news on rugby you know that I am disappointed since, for the first time in the history of rugby, Italy has beaten France! Congratulations to the Italian team (la squadra azura), who really deserves its victory. And the French team really deserves its defeat. Not a very good sign few months before the rugby world cup that will start in November in New Zealand!
At least this game was an historic one and I can say: I was there.

This trip to Rome has a philatelic twist that I did not plan. In fact, in front of the Flaminio stadium where the game was going to be played there was a booth from the Italian post where you could by stamps and get postmarks related to rugby. Here is a picture of the booth with few people queuing in front of it (I must admit that the queues were bigger in front of the booths where you could buy beers or even get free whisky shots ;-) ).

I bought there a nice philatelic folder dedicated to the stamp issued on the 30th of October 2010 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Mario Mazzuca. Mario Mazzuca (1910-1983) was one of the first pioneers of Italian rugby. A street located near the Flaminio stadium has been named after him in 2007. Here is a picture of a stamp picturing a portrait of Mario Mazzuca and some rugby player in the background.
The folder also contains a FDC and a postal card.

One last item is included in the folder, an item that I would call a philatelic card which is a card having the size of a credit card and containing one copy of the stamp protected with a plastic cover.

This sort of philatelic item seems to be common, as they are available for each and every stamp issue. I think I never saw any similar item from another country than Italy.

To give you a complete view here is a picture of the full folder, recto and verso side. The folder has the size of an A4 sheet.

This will be a nice souvenir of my trip to Rome!

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Fist cover from Syria

I’m glad to be able to add one country to the list of places from where I have received mails : Syria. Here if the cover franked with two large stamps, only one has been canceled.

Both stamps have been issued in 2010. The square one has been issued in March to celebrate the 47th anniversary of the “8th of March revolution” that happened in 1963 and which is a founding element in the story of modern Syria. I am not sure I understand the design of the stamp and I could not really find information on how this design relates to the event.

The second stamp was issued in October to commemorate the international post day.

A nice and simple cover that I am glad to add to my collection.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

The laughing cow

Since few weeks, I have been writing several posts complaining about the French postal administration. I must admit that I’m not very happy because I do not like complaining.

Today I would like to show you that the French post is not really demanding regarding what you use to frank your mail.

Here is a cover I received from a friend (I will respect his anonymity since what he did could be considered as illegal ;-) ).

As you can see the cover is not franked with a valid stamp. He used a label coming from a box of cheese from the very famous brand “la vache qui rit” (the laughing cow). He took this label, wrote “la poste” and 0.58€ (the standard rate for a letter in France) and that’s it. As you can see the cover reached me without issue, without tax and was cancelled normally! Funny, no? This is really strange because the label does not look at all as an existing stamp. My friend even wrote me in the letter contained in the cover: you will probably never receive this letter…

I don’t know if this cheese brand is very famous out of France but it is very well known among French people. I think we all have eaten such cheese when we were kids. This is not really a cheese by the way but a sort of cream cheese made of all sort of old cheese. This is a very old brand, more than 80 years old. The emblem of the brand is the smiling red cow that gives the name to the cheese: the laughing cow. The red cow always wears ear rings made of boxes of the cheese. This is an example of “recursion” because on the ear ring boxes you can see the picture of the cow wearing ear ring boxes… and again and again.

The choice of the label made by my friend is interesting for various reasons.

First because it pictures a cow. This is a tribute to my new topic of collection!

Second reason is more complex. French philatelists (including myself!) complain a lot about the quality of the stamps issued by French post. They complain about the huge amount of stamps with garish colors, picturing stupid topic. They often refer to them as “etiquette de la vache qui rit” (laughing cow labels!).

Third one is because French post will actually issue a stamp in 2011 picturing the laughing cow to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the brand. So my friend is a precursor.

So to conclude this post I would say that now I understand why the French post does not take so much about stamps: because you don’t need them anymore to send your mail! ;-)

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Cattle on stamps

First of all, let me start this post with a big thank you. Thank you to Eric who maintains a very nice and interesting blog. Thank you because he sent me a nice cover that fits into my new area of collections, cattle on stamps. Here is the cover.
The stamp is part of what the French postal administration called a “stamped collector”. Let me tell you some words about this.
Since several years, the French post proposes a service accessible from its website to produce personalized stamps. You upload a picture and then you can order self-adhesive stamps using this picture. I already
wrote about this service. A lot of postal administrations in the world are now proposing similar service. As some others, the French post uses this “trick” to issue pre-personalized stamps that are sold in sort of booklets. These booklets are issued to commemorate an event, to pay tribute to famous people for instance. The French post has also issued such booklets to celebrate the French regions. When you know that there are 22 regions in France, you imagine the number of booklets that have been issued. These booklets have triggered a lot of debates in the philatelic community. They are seen more as additional ways to get money out of the pockets of stamp collectors than as stamps answering a real postal need. The presentation pack with the seeds stamps that I showed in my previous post is an example of such booklet. On the other hand, some of these booklets are rather nice. I think the main issue is, as always, that there are too many!

The stamp that Eric has used on the cover is part of a booklet issued to celebrate Limousin, a French region located in the center of the country. The booklet was issued in August 2009. Here is a full picture of it.

The idea of these collectors is that they picture various aspects of the region: landmarks, monuments, gastronomy, flora or fauna.
On the cover, the stamp pictures an ox from the Limousin breed. Limousin cattle is a very old breed originating from this area. One of its particularities is a heavy musculature.

In 2010 there was a second booklet issued for the same region. Here it is.

No ox or no cow this time…

I would like to take benefice of this post to give you some news about my collection of stamps picturing cows. It is growing slowly. I’m regularly updating my other blog . As you can see on this blog I have oriented my collection towards “cattle on stamps”, more precisely “domestic cattle on stamps” as it is not always easy to see if the stamp pictures a cow or an ox. So far I have mainly gathered the stamps matching the topic from all the stamps I have accumulated over the year. And I am also following the new issues. I realized that the topic is very wide and I fear that this will lead to huge number of stamps. For instance the celebration of the Lunar New Year is a source of big amount of stamps through the year of the ox… Never mind I will keep going on my collection and see what comes out of it. In parallel I’m still following my frog stamps collection, but for this topic there are less and less items that I do not have yet.