Tiny posters popular collectibles
Early in this 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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
An attempt to regenerate the Poster Stamp Society has met with some success.
Membership, which includes a bulletin or newsletter, is available through Walter Schmidt,
3654 Applegate Rd., Jacksonville, OR 97530 for $15.00 a year. Other sources of information
include the aforementioned "Lick 'em, Stick 'em", which gives a very nice
overview. A source listing Timbres Commeratif (poster stamps) from the 1800's until 1914
is an unillustrated French language catalog by Cazin and Rochas, "Catalogue des
Timbres Commeratifs" which describes the stamps and assigns a value in 1914 French
gold Louis. It is, however, quite complete ( nearly 500 pages long) and useful for stamps
of that era. I'm uncertain of its availability.
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 reedited.
Copyright © 1997-2001 by Rigastamps. All rights reserved.