‘A bit of paper just large enough to bear the stamp, and covered at the back with
a glutinous wash’
A pictorial stamp is a stamp with a picture! No problem there. It doesn't commemorate
anything special, it may well be the kind of stamp that is used on everyday letters
and cards. But the main thing is that the people who issued it wanted you to see
and learn more about their country, its history and heritage, arts and crafts, science
and industry, wildlife and tourist attractions and sometimes - of course - they just
hoped you might simply buy more stamps!
To see a much larger version of the images below, please hover your cursor over the
Where to next?
Pictorial stamps started in the era when printing was by the intaglio process - line
engraving - or by typography. Both of these processes have their strong points, but
neither of them is ideal for reproduction of pictures - they lack the ability to
provide subtlety and shade. So the early pictures lacked a bit of immediacy.
Being a bilingual area, these stamps from South West Africa, now Namibia, occur alternately
with inscriptions in English and Afrikaans. But whatever their merits, it has to
be said that the stamps lacked wow factor.
If colour can add wow, then the Bahamas certainly tried with this interesting view
of a 'sea garden.' Oddly, it was also the Bahamas, in conjunction with William Beebe,
the oceanographer, which opened the world's first undersea post office. We're not
sure how they managed to get the stamps to stick, though.
Sometimes, of course, it wasn't the scenery which featured, but an invention. Early
aeroplanes were interesting machines, and created great popular interest. The famous
Flying Jenny from the United States, issued in 1918, usually appears flying the right
way up (or should it be the Wright way up?) but on a few stamps, the pilot seemed
to be having a much more interesting time than usual. Rather rare and expensive like
this - perhaps all the letters dropped out?
But pictorial stamps really took off, so to speak, with the coming of photogravure.
For now, photographs could be reproduced by the million. The early examples were
in one or two colours at best, but from the 1960s onward, improved printing techniques
and better ‘registration’ meant that the magic word 'multicoloured' started to appear
in the catalogues.
United States 24c stamp of 1918 - the famous Inverted Jenny
Seychelles 2c stamp printed by photogravure
This set of Christmas stamps from the Isle of Man features stained glass windows,
and almost all the colours which can be reproduced on a stamp!
Where next? Well, in recent years we have seen stamps with holograms, with ground-up
bits of oak from HMS Victory, with encapsulated scent, and most recently with a lenticulated
surface, which gives the image an illusion of movement as you change the angle of
view. None, perhaps, strictly or solely pictorial, but then....
Austrian stamp issued in May 2009 featuring lenticular printing of 48 separate images