United Nations Souvenir Cards and SOS, By Harry Skallerup



In an earlier article I attempted to describe a collecting interest which seems to be neither fish nor fowl in the realm of philately but is perhaps of possible appeal to SOS members. It was about United States souvenir cards. Now I am continuing by taking a very quick look at United Nations souvenir cards in general, and then focusing on two of its cards that depict stamps on stamps, and two that salute the Universal Postal Union.

The United Nations Postal Authority has been issuing souvenir cards since 1972. Its cards, like those of the United States, are not valid for postage, but differ from them in several other respects. They are issued in recognition of some United Nations interest, event, or theme. The stamps reproduced on them are solely United Nations issues, as opposed to true United States souvenir cards which were produced for philatelic shows or events and mostly featured previously issued relevant stamp designs, some being reproductions of foreign countries stamps.

Figure 1 - UN Souvenir Card #4 issued in 1973

United Nations cards are issued on the first-day observance of certain new stamp issues and may depict one or more images of other previously issued United Nations stamps germane to the new issues topic in combination with the new stamps. Usually a short explanatory message or salutation in English by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, along with his signature, make up the textual content. Figure 1 shows a card issued in 1973 that highlights one of the many international concerns of the United Nations, human rights, and contains images of ten stamps on this theme that were issued between 1952-1973.

The United Nations souvenir cards are listed at the very end of Scotts 2001 Specialized Catalogue of United States Stamps & Covers. As of August 1999 there were 54 cards identified and numbered, containing a total of about 388 stamp images. The cards exist in a canceled as well as a mint state and are issued in New York, Geneva, and Vienna. Mint souvenir cards in some sets sell for about the same price or more on the market as the canceled cards. In the canceled state, the newly issued United Nations stamp is affixed to the card and bears a first-day of issue cancellation. New stamps issued at the New York headquarters are canceled in that city, and the complementary stamps of the United Nations Geneva and Vienna offices are canceled on the same date on separate but identical souvenir cards. Since 1980, a complete set of cards consists of four cards, one mint, and one canceled at each location with its own stamp design and denomination.

Figure 2 shows a full set of cards with the theme, "Tribute to Philately," issued in 1997. It is deceptively laden with SOS reproductions, for in effect, it reproduces two generations of stamps on stamps (SOSOS) by depicting six stamps which feature stamps on stamps issues from 1968, consisting of three designs. The first, on UN #714 and UNG #312 is that of a partially magnified image of a stamp (a third generation of that design) which shows a mother and child (UN Type A16, also shown full-size in Fig.1 as UN #29). The second design, on UNG #313 and UNV #228, at first glance looks more like a miniature aerial photo of a rural landscape than stamps; but on closer examination, a "sheet" of stamps can be seen. In fact, six of the stamps have been identified in the SOS master checklist as UN #30 (Type A16 again) and UN #420, UNG #100,114, 128, and UNV #45. The third design is that of a man examining a pseudo stamp under glass on UN #715 and UNV #229.


Figure 2 - A full set of cards themed "Tribute to Philately," issued in 1997

The SOS on the "Tribute to Philately" card lead back to the year of their release and to UN card #29, "Philately -- The International Hobby," issued in 1986. Figure 3 shows three of the then-newly issued stamp designs as UN #473, UNG #147, and UNV #63. Also reproduced on the card is a previous UN SOS of 1976 showing a magnifying glass over a grid of pseudo stamps (UN #278) along with its complementary Geneva stamp, a stylized post horn (UNG #61). Both of these stamps had been issued on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the United Nations Postal Administration.


Figure 3 - "Philately - The International Hobby," issued in 1986


The direct connection of SOS images on the cards ends with the "Tribute to Philately" card. However, the Geneva 1976 post horn design links up with another card issued in 1974 that honors the centenary of the Universal Postal Union (Fig. 4). It featured new stamps with a different post horn design honoring the UPU along with two UN stamps (#17-18), issued in 1953, which show the back of a transparent envelope in their design. Now, in the spirit of April Fool, if only the front of the envelope had been shown instead, and if a dot of color had been put in the upper right-hand corner of it, the result would have been a Type SY SOS! Well, anyway, souvenir UN cards #29 and #51 contain almost all of the Type A authentic SOS issues of the United Nations. If you dont have the stamps, you can always opt for reproductions of them in their true colors and sizes on just these two cards. And if you like Type SYs, you will be happy to find at least a dozen of them dotting envelopes and parcels on the card in Figure 5!

Figure 4 - Card #5 honoring the centenary of the Universal Postal Union


Figure 5 - Souvenir card #54 with canceled UN #767a in the upper right hand corner