Stamps Stories




A young collector asked an old advanced philatelist how he made his collection so advanced and valuable.

The old guy had a look at the young nuisance and said, "Well, young man, it was in 1940 when I got a bunch of old letters from an uncle, I soaked off the stamps, dried them and put them in a presentation folder. I spent four days on this, after which I sold the stamps at my school for a cool 4 dollars. 

"The next morning, I invested those four dollars in some more stamps on paper. I spent the next four days on them and sold them afterwards for 6 dollars. I continued this system for a month, by the end of which I'd accumulated a fortune of 200 dollars. 

"Then my uncle died and left me his collection worth two million dollars..."

The World's Smallest Stamp (source: Stampworld)

We all know that stamps come in various shapes and sizes, but do you know exactly how diverse they are? This week we are focusing on one particular trait, as we are looking for the smallest stamp ever issued for actual postage.


The search for the world's smallest stamp takes us back to a time before Ford had produced the first Model T. Actually we have to go all the way back to the Battle of Gettysberg to find the smallest postage stamp ever issued.

In 1863, the first stamp was issued by Bolivar - one of the 9 states in the United States of Colombia. The state was formed as part of the United States of Colombia earlier in 1863, after the civil war in 1860-1862.

The first stamp issued by Bolivar, is the one shown here. It carries the Coat of Arms of Bolivar, with stars traced around the Coat of Arms. The stamp exists in two versions - a version with 6 stars below, as shown here, and a version with 5 stars below. Both versions are rare, with the 5 star version carrying the highest catalogue value.


The stamp doesn't look particularly special as seen here, but what makes the stamp special is the size - this stamp is no more than 8mm x 9.5mm in size, which is exceptionally small! A standard American stamp is 22.10mm x 24.89mm, which should give an idea of just how small this stamp must be.

In the South American countries of Bolivia and Paraguay, stamps actually provoked a war!  The conflict began when Bolivia issued a stamp claiming an undefined and long-disputed area of wilderness.  This stamp was simply a map with this territorys possession clearly labeled.  Enraged by this bold claim, Paraguay countered by issuing a larger stamp, which even more clearly showed the territory and labeled-in Paraguays name.   Also on the stamp were the words, "Has been, is, and will be."  Soon afterwards a vicious war over the territory began.  The war raged for many years with Paraguay eventually proving to be the victor.  Several stamps were then issued proudly proclaiming the territory as Paraguays.

See also Stamped with Blood -

Korea, Japan Fight Over Stamps

South Korea's first stamp of the year 2004 was angering Japan. It features an island claimed by both countries, called "Takeshima" in Japan and "Tok-do" or "Dokdo" in South Korea.
It's uninhabited, but surrounded by fertile fishing grounds. Both countries have claimed it since Korea was liberated from Japanese colonial rule in 1945.

The South Korean postal service plans to begin selling a set of four stamps titled "The Nature of Tok-do" on Jan. 16 2004 picturing birds and flowers native to the island.

Click here for a Larger View

There was a demonstration in support of the stamps in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul. Japan's Public Management Ministry sent a letter in September asking South Korean postal authorities to "reconsider" the plan, and the Foreign Ministry repeated the request through diplomatic channels in December, the Asahi newspaper reported.

Japan says portraying the disputed island on stamps violates the spirit of the Universal Postal Union, which aims for international cooperation, the reports said.

Here are details on the stamps, from the Korea Post Web site:

Surrounded by the sea on three sides, the territorial reach of Korea includes more than 3,400 islands of all shapes and sizes. This series of stamps featuring the ecological system of the islands promotes public awareness of the significance of preserving these islands. Introduced in the first of the series is the nature of Dokdo Island.

Making their home on the island of Dokdo are some 50 species of plants including Pinus thunbergii Parlatore, Euonymus japonicus Thunberg, Farfugium japonicum (Linn ) Kitamura, Aster spathulifolius Maxim. var. oharai (Nakai) Y. Lee, Calystegia soldanella R. Brown, Dianthus superbus Linn var. longicalycinus (Maxim.) Williams, Tetragonia tetragonoides (Pall.) O. Kuntze, Cyrtomium falcatum (Linn ) Presl, Portulaca oleracea Linn , Taraxacum mongolicum H. Mazz., Plantago asiatica Linn , Setaria viridis (Linn ) Beauv., Chenopodium album Linn var. centrorubrum Makino, Artemisia princeps Pampans.

Most of these plants are short as an adaptation to withstand the gusty sea winds and the leaves are generally thick and covered with fine hairs for protection against the cold. The island's many steep slopes causes the rainfall to run off into the ocean quickly resulting in a deficiency of moisture and soil that is relatively poor in nutrients. Thus, the number and variety of wild plants on the island is limited. From May to June, Dokdo is covered with Calystegia soldanella R. Brown that bloom pink flowers while in September, light purplish flowers of Aster spathulifolius Maxim. var. oharai (Nakai) Y. Lee enrich the scenery of the island.

Every year from spring to summer, Black-tailed Gulls, Streaked Shearwaters and Swinhoe's Storm Petrels breed on the island. During the migration season, such migratory birds as Red-necked Phalaropes, Ospreys, Dusky Thrushes, and Gray-tailed Tattlers pass through the island. The breeding ground has been designated as Natural Monument No. 336 and is protected as the 'breeding site for the sea birds of Dokdo'. Black-tailed gulls, a permanent resident of Korea, which can be easily spotted on the seashores around the nation, flies to Dokdo every May. Streaked shearwaters and swinhoe's fork-tailed Petrels, both sea birds, lay one egg after digging a hole in the crevices of the rocks or on the soil on isolated islands of Korea. These summer migratory birds leave for Southeast Asia in the fall.


The worlds longest-lived mail delivery system exists to this day in India. Called the Dak or Dawk system, this organization can be traced back to Roman relay runners.   Dak runners carried the mail over long distances by inserting it in a stick, split down the middle. A torch bearer helped guide the runners at night, and another ran along beating a drum to scare off dangerous animals.  Sometime during the seventeenth century, the job of carrying the torch and tom-tom were combined. The East India Company ran the system while Britain controlled India.   During that time, postal inspectors were employed, and time keepers kept the runners on schedule.


Sod House

Around 1898 John McCarthy, a frontier photographer, took a picture of John and Marget Bakken's sod house near Milton, North Dakota. The picture includes the Bakken's children, Tilda and Eddie, and a small dog (under the window of the sod house).

John Bakken sod house

Click to enlarge

The Homestead Act commemorative stamp, based on the John McCarthy photograph, was released at Beatrice, Nebraska on May 20, 1962.

wpe1A9.jpg (13359 bytes)

United States Scott #1198

The picture also was used by Norway on its 1975 postage stamp commemorating the sesquicentennial of Norwegian emigration to America. Even the dog made it to the stamp!

Norway Scott #658-659



The first recorded stamp collector was John Bourke, who served as Receiver-General of Stamp Duties in Ireland.


Dr. John Edward Gray of the British Museum became the first collector of adhesive stamps when he purchased a block of Penny Blacks on May 1, 1840.


The January 1, 1869 issue of Stamp Collectors Magazine showed collectors how to make their own stamp hinges cut from the margins of stamp sheets.  This is the first known example  previously collectors had pasted their stamps directly into their albums.

Gokstad Ship

In 1880 a Viking Langskipet (Longship) was discovered in a barrow at Gokstad farm, on the Sandefjord near Oslo, Norway. The ship was built in the ninth century of oak. It was approximately 76 feet long, 17 feet wide, and 7 feet high from the bottom of the keel to the gunwale. It was clinker-buillt with 16 pairs of oars. It could have shipped 16 tons. The mast was perhaps 40 feet high, with a single sail known as a beiti-ass, made of wool. It had been used for a burial chamber, perhaps for a king, and contained 12 horses, 6 dogs and a peacock.  The remains of the ship were moved from Lahelle (Vestfold, Sandefjord) to Oslo. The Gokstad ship is the first Viking ship to be excavated.
The stamp shows an artist's impression of the Gokstad ship in the style of the Bayeux Tapestry, with a dragon's head on the prow.

The Columbian Exposition was held in 1892 in Chicago to celebrate the discovery of the western hemisphere by Christopher Colombus in 1492. The Exposition wanted, and the Norwegian state agreed, a replica of this ship for display at the Exposition. A replica of the Gokstad ship was built at Christen Christensens Framnes Shipyard in Sandefjord as close to the original as possible. The ship was 24 meters long, 5 meters wide, with a mast 15 meters high, and equipped with a 9 by 12.5 meter sail. It had holes for 16 pairs of oars; it cost 12,000 kroner.

The name Leif Ericson was rejected as too controversial for the Columbian Exposition, so the name was changed to Viking. It sailed from Bergen on April 30, 1893, and arrived on June 13, 1893 at New London, Connecticut (44 days). It was displayed at the Columbian Exposition, and then donated to the city of Chicago, where it exhibited to the public until 1993.

In 1925 to publicize and promote the Norse American Centennial in St. Paul a set of two stamps was issued, one of them bearing a picture based on the Gokstad replica, Viking. taken from a photograph. The engravers even included the American flag waving from the bow, as it was on the replica.

In 1918, the British government counterfeited stamps from the nations of Austria, Bavaria and Germany.  The stamps were then to be used to mail fake propaganda leaflets and postcards to neutral countries, such as Switzerland or Holland, who would believe they were the genuine articles.  It was hoped these letters would win support for the Allies, but the program was abandoned before it could be employed.  However, during WW II the British did successfully circulate German "Hitler Head" stamps.  These stamps were used to spread rumors of dissension among German Army troops.

George Herpin of Paris, a French stamp fancier back in the 1860s, when stamps were a fairly new invention, was the first to use the term philately. Herpin didnt like the term "timbromanie," which means stamp madness, which had been popular in the 1860s.

Before stamps, the recipient of a letter, not the sender, had to pay the postage. Stamps forced the sender to foot the bill, and created a lot of stamp lovers among folks on the receiving end of the mail-and a mania for stamp collecting.

"Timbromania" from the French word "timbre" for stamp- which means stamp madness,  was toyed with as a term to affix to this new hobby.

But when Herpin suggested "philatélie" (anglicized to "philately"), combining the Greek root "phil-," meaning "loving," with Greek "ateleia," meaning "tax-exemption,".,


A collection is like a puzzle: if you have one hundred separate pieces they don't mean anything, It's only when they are put into a context that they tell a story.

    - René Beyer - (

The collector is never finished. You're always looking for anything you don't have that will improve the collection, It's a hobby without end ... for once you decide your collection is complete, you can no longer call yourself a collector.

    - Philippe Stern - (

  You could not own this "gem" forever. No matter for how long you own it, you are merely a temporary holder of this "gem". What really matters is how would you appreciate, enjoy and utilize it while you own it.

    - I.M. Chait - (


Stamps Facts