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Poster Stamps

by Bonnie & Roger Riga

Tiny posters popular collectibles

Early in the last century, before World War I, there was an extremely popular collectible - the poster stamp. Used as a poster in miniature, it performed all the functions one associates with the poster. It promoted, propagandized, pleased and best of all, was small enough to collect in albums. Beginning in the late 1800's and gathering momentum, the production and collecting of poster stamps reached a peak in the years just before the world went to war. A modern day equivalent is the sticker, but the artistry and advertising aspects of the earlier stamps have pretty much been lost in the passage of time.

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fig. 1 The earliest poster stamps were issued to advertise exhibitions. Stamps here publicize an 1896
pharmacy exhibition in Prague, 1he 1900 Paris Universal Exposition, and a 1926 Dresden Horticultural Expo.

From its inception, it was viewed as both a miniature poster with all that that implied and a collectible as well. From early on, there were poster stamp societies and clubs devoted to the hobby of poster stamp collection. There were poster stamp exhibitions as we have stamp shows. There were poster stamps promoting poster stamps and poster stamps promoting the printers of poster stamps and poster stamps promoting the clubs collecting poster stamps. It was organized, popular and pervasive. And then it all but disappeared.

So popular was the poster stamp as a collectible, that it is hard to believe that the hobby was virtually neglected in the post -WW II period. It's as if all the collections were locked up in granny's attic waiting for their rediscovery and resurgence in the past five to ten years. Some of the material has always been there, but recently both renewed interest and greater availability has led to a renaissance of interest in the acquisition of these miniature works of art. Much of the interest may be attributed to the publication of the book "Lick 'em, Stick 'em; the Lost Art of Poster Stamps", by H. Thomas Steele, which appeared in 1989. It rapidly became the Bible of this facet of the hobby. It is an overview and history of the poster stamp as a collectible. The book, unfortunately, is now out of print, but may be available in some of the bigger bookstores in the Art and Collectibles categories. The book has attracted many graphic artists, among others, into an area of collecting they had not known existed.

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fig. 2 While the preponderence of poster stamps were issued in European countries and the United States,
they can be found from other countries as well such as these from Argentina, Algeria and the Cameroons.

Graphically, the poster stamp covers the whole spectrum of artistic styles from classic to modern, but because of the era in which it flourished, it is particularly strong in Art Deco styles. Strong and innovative color usage and design elements speak to the artist in many of us. That explains the appeal to the collector of graphics. How about the other collectors of this material? They include the country collector adding spice to his country collection; the topical collector branching out into another area featuring his topic; the nostalgia buff for obvious reasons. Not dissimilar to trade cards or advertising covers in their appeal, poster stamps are a rich source for collectors of some specific areas.

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fig. 3 Two German advertising poster stamps for coffee and safety pins.

Collectors of material from expos, war and political propaganda, sports (especially Olympics), aviation and other modes of transportation, and, of course, products and services of almost all types will find the poster stamp an extension of his specialty with a variety comparable to postage stamps themselves. To show you the variety and scope of the poster stamp, let's take some of those areas and expand a bit.

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fig. 4 Two U.S. advertising poster stamps for candy and flannel shirts.

Expositions were about the first institution to utilize the poster stamp. "Exposition" is used in the broad sense of the word to include everything from the World's Fair scale of a Paris 1900 to the small German town's autumn Harvest Fest. Paris, for instance, showed up with a stamp for every pavilion in a veritable rainbow of colors, resulting in a collectible of hundreds of items for this one event, as did the Pan-American Expo in Buffalo in 1901. Interestingly, the World's Fair of 1904 in St. Louis was also the site of the 1904 Olympic Games. While poster stamps are available for the fair pavilions and events, none are known to exist promoting the Olympics that year.

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fig. 5 Two poster stamps created as collectibles, generic fairy tale stamp depicting Cinderella
and a Swiss chocolates premium stamp depicting a reptile.

That omission was soon remedied and poster stamps appeared for all the games since, including games not held due to war as happened in 1940. Sports as a general topic provided many poster stamps, promoting a given sport in general, a given sport in a specific event or venue, or a sport as an advertising premise for another product, such as Hinds Honey and Almond Cream who produced a series of 24 stamps showing various activities enhanced by the use of their product.

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fig. 6 Two "Poster Stamp" poster stamps, one advertising a 1914 poster stamp exhibition in Budapest,
the other a logo stamp of the National Poster Stamp Society, an organization founded in 1935
to promote the publication and collection of poster stamps.

Propaganda soon became a constant user of the poster stamp, for what is propaganda but the advertising of ideas. Wartime and political campaigns each produced a wealth of material. The nationalism, rampant in Europe in the early part of this century is clearly visible in many poster stamps from the time. World War I created patriotic outpourings from both arenas. Gemany called upon God to strike Great Britain , France railled against German atrocities, swearing never to forget, while in the U. S. Germ an influences promoted the concept of peace.

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fig. 7 Two philatelic exhibition poster stamps, one for the 1936 TIPEX
show in New York, the other for a 1914 Munich stamp clubs exhibition.

Not surprisingly, Germany was a massive producer of the poster stamp, in the main because the German presses were among the world's best and most countries depended on German technology for printing. This is certainly one of the reasons that WW I was devastating to the hobby. German presses and inks were unavailable for the world's poster stamps. Post-war production of the poster stamp, while it still went on, was just a shadow of its former self. Added to the fact that advertising had moved beyond the poster stamp technologically - the radio was common as were colored photos in magazines - and it becomes obvious why the poster stamp evolved in this period to become more frequently the advertising premium, such as the Snow White stamps issued by Armour or the Let's Get Associated stamps put out by the Associated Oil Co. which featured tourist spots all over the U.S.

Advertising was the driving force of poster stamps from the earliest time, whether it was advertising the local fair, the great new automobile, or a trip on the Graf Zeppelin, poster stamps did the job with flair and style. Not to mention that people kept them and looked at them again and again in their albums. It was a dream made on Madison Avenue.

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fig. 8 Art Stamp League of America poster stamp used as a decorative logo on on album cover.

Albums are no longer produced for poster stamps and, in fact, there is little hard information available for the collector. A good stock book is a fine showcase for your collection and can always be rearranged to accommodate a new find. Like almost all aspects of cinderella philately, poster stamp collecting is very free-form. Make your collection what you wish and have fun. There are lots of directions you can go in collecting poster stamps. Explore a few and make it your own. There are no right or wrong ways in this area. As a shoe manufacturer might put it - Just do it.

This column first appeared in Stamp Collector and has been edited for online presentation.
This page was last updated July 11, 2016.
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