The Humble Postage Stamp Reveals A Lot About A Country

July 9, 2016

For 27-year-old Adnan Hussain Nanjee of Karachi, Pakistan, postage stamps are more than just postage stamps: They tell the history of his country.

“Take a look for yourself,” says Nanjee, who was in New York last month to take part in the World Stamp Show, a once-a-decade international convention that welcomed approximately 250,000 stamp collectors and enthusiasts, eager to display, view, buy and sell everything philatelic.

He takes out his phone and opens a slideshow of brightly colored stamps, decorated with scenic backdrops and distinctive geometric patterns. He shares a British India postage stamp from 1947, with the word “Pakistan” boldly printed in caps over the top. It served as an announcement that the newly independent country now had its own independent postal service.

Similarly, Peter W. Van Der Molen, in from Johannesburg for the show, shares examples of old stamps depicting Queen Victoria and recent stamps celebrating Nelson Mandela and South African music legends.

But in the developing world, stamps aren’t just about history. They also provide insight into a country’s concerns.

For instance, this 1991 stamp was issued by Pakistan to mark the 25th anniversary of the Asian Development Bank, which helps member countries increase access to education, public health, trade and finance.

Agriculture is a prominent theme: This 1976 stamp from Nigeria publicizes its Operation Feed the Nation program, which encouraged greater food production and fewer imports.

Health issues are common. This 1976 stamp from Cuba was issued in honor of the World Health Organization’s World Health Day, themed around the prevention of blindness.

Cuba has traditionally taken great pride in its universal health system and its medical care, says Dr. Yamil Kouri, a practicing physician and stamp collector visiting the show from Lexington, Mass. “They have a long history of issuing stamps for multiple causes, not only political but social and world health issues.”

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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