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The Southport
Stamp & Postcard
Founded in 1930
The Southport Stamp & Postcard Club

Pictorial Stamps

‘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 thumbnail

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

Bahamas 4d ‘Sea Garden’