Professional Stamp Experts

Out In The Universe . . . Stamps: Fame Makes Fortune

Michael O. Nowlan - November 23, 1999

Are you a collector of celebrities on stamps? If so, why? Is it a form of hero worship carried over from childhood? Or is it a special feeling about what that celebrity represents today? Should postal administrations approve the creation of celebrities on postage stamps?

Whether we like it or not, the age of the celebrity stamps is upon us. For good or ill, we are the creators of our own heroes, often capturing a large portion of our lives. For instance, when Lady Diana died in a fiery car crash in France 31 August 1997, the world rallied in a manner that, in my opinion, has never been seen before. The tremendous outpouring of grief from the average person was incredible. Even more amazing, was the outcry that came from those who days before the tragedy would not have given second thought to the Princess.

We seem to like to pin our hopes on those central figures whose lives have always been in the forefront. It is a human trait. Movie stars, especially, seem to get an exceptional portion of our attention. Tourists are always eager to take tours through Hollywood and Burbank, hoping to catch a glimpse of a favorite star. It is the worship of celebrity itself.

This week's column was inspirated by a recent tragedy that affected the United States, which witnessed a major spin-off for much of the world. The sudden death of John F. Kennedy, Jr. in July of this year, separated a great and upcoming individual from his admirers. He was a light. Like his father before him, he had charisma that attracted a large following, placing him 'above' as it were because we believed that he was destined for great things. His youthful celebrity made for an instant philatelic topic.

It seems that the first country to offer Kennedy stamps is Guyana, who cooperated with the Inter-Government Philatelic Corporation by producing the memorial postals in sheetlets of six different $80 stamps and three different $160 stamps, on sale as of October 4 of this year. The first sheetlet depicts the Kennedy family in various historic photos, especially the one with President Kennedy at his desk in the Oval Office and John, Jr playing under his desk. Other images feature JFK, Jr.'s mother, father, and sister. The second sheet highlights the life of the junior Kennedy in more recent years.

The life and passing of John F. Kennedy, Jr., will be the topic of numerous countries' stamps in the coming months. Collectors will be able to put together albums of material including stamps, covers and other postal memorabilia -- and there is nothing wrong with that.

How many collectors, even people who are not stamp collectors, have albums of Diana material? The numbers probably reach into the millions. What about Elvis Presley? How many millions of U.S. printed Presley stamps sold, compared to the number found that were postally used? The buying frenzy was remarkable for that stamp. The Diana stamps created a similar frenzy in the marketplace, driving up prices. The original Diana stamps, which were created to honor her wedding to Prince Charles lay, for the most part, on dealer shelves, until the tragedy. Suddenly, there was a market, and a good one at that! One dealer I know of, probably made the equivalent of a year's salary on a hoard of Diana material, that he had thought would never see anything other than his dusty storeroom shelves.

The celebrity postage stamp is big business today. Collectors have created a demand for this type of material. Often postal administrations get the blame for producing too many stamps, for the sake of their profits. Let's be realistic -- why would a postal administration or stamp-producing agency going to bring out stamps for which there is little or no market? The answer is an unqualified NO!

The demand for celebrity stamps is so great, that checklists and guides have been published to assist with cataloguing and data gathering. The American Topical Association has produced handbooks on Abraham Lincoln, worldwide Stamps, George Washington, and John F. Kennedy on Stamps. There are checklists on Lady Diana, Elvis Presley, and numerous other celebrities.

I doubt if there is a collector in the audience who does not have at least one stamp, a series of stamps, or a complete omnibus that honor a celebrity/hero of some dimension, of national or international stature..

One of the most distinguished ladies of this century will be a key topic of stamps for next year. Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother of Great Britain turns 100 in August. As we get closer to August 2000 and her centenary, stamps honoring her life and this important milestone, will abound. In fact, it will drive collectors, especially newer ones, to seek sets of the 1937 Coronation issue, when her husband King George VI was crowned king of the British Commonwealth. Dozens of countries have issued very attractive stamps of their monarchs, which have retained their desirability. Some are especially valued because of the printing processes of the time.

Several nations have already marked the Queen Mum's 100th year in a 12-nation omnibus, created for British Commonwealth countries by Crown Agents Stamp Bureau in Britain. It is an attractive series with souvenir sheets and stamps.

The parade will go on. Nations will issue stamps that relate to celebrities, and collectors will buy them. They are natural collectibles because of our innate desire to emulate or idolize the highly successful, the extremely tragic, or the wonderfully delightful personalties in entertainment, politics, literature and music.

I have amassed several 'collections' of celebrities on stamps, and in a future column I will expand on one of those because he remains a celebrity almost 200 years after his death. In the meantime, let's hear it for celebrities.

Why do you collect a certain celebrity, even if you know that your collection will never be a great investment or even attractive to most dealers? Who is the most desirable celebrity? Let me know your choices and I will develop a column on them for all readers of "Out in the Universe". Remember this is your cyberspace forum! Don't miss out!

Michael O. Nowlan was born in New Brunswick, Canada where he has lived all his life. He spent over 30 years in the public education system before he retired in 1994. During his years a a teacher, he often freelanced his writing to publications in Canada, the United States, and Great Britain.

He has authored 16 books, many of them anthologies for schools and some of his own poetry. His philatelic writing, which has won several silver medals at both national and international levels, includes a monthly column in Canadian Stamp News, a biweekly column in The Daily Gleaner, and features in American Philatelist, The Canadian Philatelist, and other publications. He has been an avid stamp enthusiast since he was 12 years old.

Michael O. Nowlan was born in Chatham, New Brunswick Canada. He grew up on a nearby farm, was educated, and became a teacher. In retirement, he follows his life-long avocation of writing. His credits include 16 books (four books of poems, two children's titles, and anthologies for schools). In recent years, he has written extensively about stamp collecting for CANADIAN STAMP NEWS, GIBBONS INTERNATIONAL STAMP NEWS, and other philatelic publications.

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