News sources remind us that 2020 marks many anniversaries -- 500 years since Magellan sailed from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific, 500 years since Raphael’s death, 400 years since the Mayflower landed on Cape Cod, 250 years since Beethoven’s birth and 200 years since Florence Nightingale’s, 75 years since Franklin Roosevelt and Anne Frank died.
Although these people and events will likely be commemorated with new stamp issues in 2020, as they have many times in the past, the 100th anniversary of the League of Nations’ founding (January 10) is of far greater significance for classical era stamp collectors. The sheer number of League-related issues -- both the official stamps Switzerland provided for the League and the stamps resulting from League-sponsored plebiscites and mandates throughout the world -- warrants such a claim. Sadly, the anniversary will be observed with few new stamp issues. Despite all its efforts, the League failed to prevent a second world war and, so, it was dissolved in 1946. The United Nations has, nonetheless, issued a 10-pane 1.70-franc stamp honoring its predecessor’s centenary.
When Jim visited me last fall, he admired my League of Nations collection and invited me to serialize it on this blog spot. I’m pleased to do that in honor of the League’s 100th.
A few years ago, through the mediation of a dealer, I acquired the bulk of Brian Wickland’s League of Nations stamps. Wickland, an avid and intelligent collector, worked for the US State Department. During the 1970s, he was loaned to the United Nations, becoming an executive officer at the UN Refugee Agency in Geneva. His interest in the League and his collection can be traced to his time in Geneva. His stamps, covers, postcards, photographs and other material comprise most of what will be shown in subsequent posts; I have added only a few items. The organization of the collection and the commentary, however, are mine.
Brian Wickland, 1938-2013
All League of Nations and listed with major numbers in Scott’s catalogs will be included in this series of posts, along with most of the minor numbers, an assortment of anomalies, and specimen-overprinted stamps. Related covers, League-sponsored convention cancels, and postcards will also be included, as will other artifacts with connections to the League. In all, there will be more than thirty posts, spread over the entire anniversary year and beyond. These posts are listed in the Table of Contents, below, which is based loosely on the categories used by the United Nations for their League of Nations collection in Geneva.
Curiously, Big Blue Volume I omits entirely the Swiss League of Nations official stamps. An oversight? Perhaps. Perhaps the editors thought, given the League’s nervous fragility in its later years, it would have been impolitic to include them. The omission was partly corrected in 1949 when Volume II came out with spaces for some catalog numbers.
I dedicate this League of Nations album to my father, a veteran of World War I whose enthusiasm for the League faltered as the League itself faltered and a second world war became inevitable. Hope for peace died, but not the love of it. The album is also dedicated to Woodrow Wilson, another man of peace.
The key resource for studying League of Nations stamps is a small volume by Charles Misteli, Etude sur les timbres-poste et oblitérations de la Société des Nations, du Bureau International du Travail et des Conférences Internationales. Published by Club Philatélique et Aéropostal de Genève, 1943. I will refer to it often in subsequent posts. A partial English translation exists.
As expected, the more expensive League overprints have been faked, often crudely, sometimes dangerously. Resources for identifying forgeries and strategies for avoiding them are available. These will be discussed throughout the posts.
Best wishes to all who select League of Nations stamps as a casual or serious interest. The search for them will yield many insights about good and evil in the 20th century.
When I visited Bud this past October, and saw his League of Nations album, I asked him if he would be willing to include it in the Big Blue Blog postings.
He agreed, and I am thrilled.
The reader is in store for a treat!
League of Nations (SdN)
Table of Contents
Table of Contents
Industrielle Kriegswirtschaft(Switzerland War Board of Trade), a precursor of SdN and BIT overprints: Stamps and covers
5. whole sheets (
6. sponsored conferences, cancels and covers: Lausanne, Locarno
7. Lugano, 53rd Session, 1928, rare cancels
8. Grilled gum issues, 1930, variations and anomalies
9. Coat of Arms over the Matterhorn issues, variations
10. World Disarmament Conference, Geneva, 1932-34, Lausanne Reparations Conference, 1932
11. 1930s conference cancels and covers
12. Landscape issues,
13. Landscape issues,
14.1938), covers related to the site donor
15. Switzerland History issues, symbolic subjects, high denominations, stamps and covers (1939)