is one of those hobbies that is an obsession for some while leaving
others completely bemused that anyone could become interested. A
bit like bird-watching really! There are those, though, who combine
the two pursuits to become ornithophilatelists, using their knowledge
of birds to further their interest in stamp-collecting, and vice
versa, by concentrating on stamps which illustrate birds.
the British firm synonymous with stamps world-wide, not just in
Britain, recognised the interest in the combined hobby in 1983 by
issuing their first-ever thematic stamp catalogue, 'Collect Birds
on Stamps'. The fifth edition of this work is currently in preparation
and is likely to be perhaps 20% larger than the 4th edition which,
published in 1994, included more than 12,500 stamps illustrating
2,400 different species, issued by no less than 350 countries or
Among the earliest
bird stamps issued were three by Japan in 1875. Unfortunately, the
illustrations are somewhat stylised, but are probably a Bean Goose,
a Pied Wagtail and a Goshawk. The following year Colombia issued
a stamp with a very recognisable Andean Condor, while Guatemala
followed in 1879 with a Resplendent Quetzal.
started producing bird stamps in the 1920s and 1930s, but Britain
didn't issue any until 1963, although some of its colonies had done
so earlier, for example Kenya, Uganda and Tanganyika issued a set
in 1935 showing the head of King George V flanked by two Crowned
Cranes, while in the same year the authorities in the Cayman Islands
chose to place a Red-footed Booby alongside the same image of their
bird stamp celebrated 'Nature Week' in May 1963 with a Long-tailed
Tit, a Wood Lark and a Great Spotted Woodpecker, together with a
Badger and a Roe Deer fawn and some flowers, all on the same stamp.
Three years later came a set with showing Black-headed Gull, Blue
Tit, Robin and Blackbird. Bird stamps have appeared with some regularity
since, the last being in January 2000 when a stamp was issued showing,
to everyone's surprise, a colony of Cape Gannets. On being questioned,
a Post Office spokesperson said that they were meant to be "symbolic"
seabirds, but couldn't then explain why there were "symbolic"
seabirds on a stamp that had been issued specifically to celebrate
the Seabird Centre at North Berwick, with its direct camera link
to the nearby Bass Rock's colony of decidedly Northern Gannets!
not least various Pacific islands, have jumped on the band wagon
of "collectable" stamps in recent years, seeing them as
a useful form of income. Stanley Gibbons are strict about distinguishing
between genuine stamps issued for the postal services and those
which, as they state, have been issued in excess of postal needs
or, in some cases, have never been used for the country's postal
service at all. Whether a collector bothers with these is entirely
up to them, of course. A bit like whether or not to add a possible,
or even obvious, escaped bird to one's life list, I guess. However,
without such stamps, many of them showing fine paintings, beautifully
reproduced, who would have any idea of the whereabouts, or even
the existence, of places such as Ajman, Aitutaki, Penrhyn Island
(no, it isn't in Wales), Palau, Tokelau and Tuvalu. Stamp-collecting,
like bird-watching, can be considered mind broadening.
Ogilvie is a natural history writer and editor, formerly a research
scientist with the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, and resident
on the island of Islay since 1986. Until 1997, a member of the
'British Birds' editorial board and also one of the editorial
team which produced 'Birds of the Western Palearctic'.