Professional Stamp Experts

Canada Post Announces Traditional Trades Series Depicting Hands in Stamps

Michael O. Nowlan - April 21, 1999

The focus of an eight-stamp set scheduled for release April 29 by Canada Post is the human hand. Titled the Traditional Trades series, the stamps portray hands of craftspersons developing their particular work of art.

The new Canadian stamps are low-value definitives to replace the Edible Berries series. They will attract interest as to how the hand has been used in trades for centuries.

The stamps depict the respective skills of an artistic book-binder (one cent), a decorative ironworker (two cents), a glass-blower (three cents), an oyster grower (four cents), a weaver (five cents), a quilter (nine cents), woodworker (10 cents), and a leather worker (25 cents). Although oyster growing may not seem to fit the list, Canada Post says that the grower "practices a trade that relies on old oystering techniques long used in North America." The cachet for the Official First Day Cover has an impressive hand image as does a rather unique cancellation. The cover has all eight stamps.

Many countries have issued stamps that picture various uses of the hands, so it is surprising that the human hand does not get more attention in philatelic literature.

To be topicals, hands on stamps should not be the mere appearance of a hand as an adjunct to the body at the end of each arm, but as a truly meaningful symbol of the importance of hands. Two categories of hands would qualify for such a collection. First, there are the working hands, like those in the just-announced Canada set and those often found on sports stamps. The second would include all stamps that have hands reaching out (helping) or communicating with others.

A good example of working hands among sport stamps is the United States Postal Service (USPS) 1992 Winter Olympics set (Scott 2611-1615). It offers five stamps that show how hands can create success in sports of hockey, figure skating, speed skating, skiing and bobsledding. Another USPS stamp that has a beautiful hand image is Scott 2560, the stamp issued to honor the 100th anniversary of basketball.

The helping hand category is probably more extensive and certainly more explicit. The 1990 Argentina Salvation Army centenary stamps (Scott 1721-1722) nicely demonstrate helping hands, and Burma celebrated International Cooperation Year with clasping hands on three stamps (Scott 190-192).

Canada's stamps offer several fine examples that will enhance any "helping hand" collection. The 1996 Canadian Literacy (Scott B13) stamp has an adult's hand giving the missing piece of a puzzle to a child's hand. In 1979, Canada reminded people to use their Postal Code with a two-stamp set (Scott 815-816) featuring a male hand and a female hand, each with a string tied around an upturned finger. For Christmas in 1966, Canada used "praying hands" in its two-stamp (Scott 451-452) set.

Great Britain marked the 50th anniversary of World War II in 1995 with a five stamp set, three of which had designs using stylized hands to symbolize peace and freedom. A 19-pence (Scott 1611) value shows hands depicting the role of the British Red Cross in providing impartial care to people in crisis while a 25-pence stamp (Scott 1613) details a dove and an outstretched hand to portray the concept of human freedom. A 30-pence (Scott 1615) value has a pair of hands suggesting the world at peace with itself, a goal of the United Nations since its formation.

The USPS stamp featuring Uncle Sam (Scott 3183i) issued as part of the Celebrate the Century series is emphatic with "I WANT YOU" punctuated by a pointed finger. Another wonderful image of hands on stamps is the U.S. 1993 American Sign Language (Scott 2784) with its "I love you!" message.

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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