Aztec courier (1)Bud's Big Blue
Mexico bears an enduring reputation, at least partly deserved, for poor stamp designs. The earlier issues particularly merit this dishonor. Forgers’ slew of fakes and counterfeits are usually uglier than the legitimate.
The Hidalgo issue of 1872, for instance, receives heaps of scorn. Even Wikipedia’s article on Mexico’s stamps disdains it (2). The designs of earlier Hidalgo series, there are four of them, fare somewhat better (see page 1 below). Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a progressive priest, launched the struggle that ended Spain’s colonial rule of Mexico (1810-21). Of the 241 major numbers that Scott Catalog assigns to Mexico stamps prior to 1895, half (120) bear Hidalgo’s likeness.
Hidalgo, Scott #s 81-83, 86
As an anti-theft measure, district names, dates, and invoice numbers were commonly affixed on the Hidalgo stamps and other early issues (1856-1883) -- a popular collecting focus for specialists. The wide variety of cancellations also attracts interest.
Designs improved greatly beginning in 1895 with the mulitas (little mules) issue. These stamps show the ways Mexican mail was transported and delivered -- a rural letter carrier wearing a sombrero, pack mules (the mulitas) with a rider, a stage coach, and a mail train with a small sail boat (in left background).
Scott #s 243 // 289
The mulita series has many variations. Scott Catalog lists 50 major numbers and 44 subordinates for the six designs, plus an assortment of imperfs and other peculiarities. Although indistinct on many examples, I’m particularly fond of the rural mail carrier, enlarged below.
Scott #244, orange brown
Although not apparent as first glance, the connection between postal delivery and the blue 5c mulita (#247 et al.) harks back to the Aztec era. Up until the Spanish conquest (1519–21), the Aztec Empire was connected by an elaborate network of postal runners. The blue monument on the 5c represents Cuauhtemoc (d. ca. 1525), the last Aztec ruler. Mexico’s postal service follows in the pathways of the Aztec runners. Some current patrons complain that the runners probably delivered more quickly than the postal service.
Scott #c203, Aztec courier competing favorably, red orange
Mexico’s best early 20th century stamp designs draw their subject matter from two main sources: Spanish colonial architecture and indigenous Mexican American culture, both ancient and contemporary. As for the rest: scenic and historical designs are too cluttered, overprints are too pervasive, politicians’ faces are, well, just politicians’ faces.
Am I an art critic? Hardly! My whims about stamp designs come merely from my own likes and gripes. As a certified curmudgeon, I have a large collection of such. So, clearly, my biases won’t decide the merits of any particular stamp design, Mexican or otherwise. But…
Weakness of stamp design ordinarily crops up in countries with massive turmoil, as was the case of Mexico in the early 20th century. On the page scans shown below, on can trace the havoc wreaked by the Mexican civil war, world wars, earthquakes, terrorists, economic depression, and the forced repatriation of Mexicans in the 1930s by the USA.
Nevertheless with these disclosures posted and readers forewarned, here are some late classical era Mexican stamps that I really like.
Scott #s o99, 628, o223, 648
Vera Cruz Lighthouse, Mexico City Post Office, Palace of Fine Arts,
Communications Building (now the National Art Museum)
Spanish colonial architecture, with its luscious baroque/rococo garnishes, continued to thrive well into Mexico’s 20th century when it successfully merged with neo-classical and Art Nouveau styles. The stamps capture the power of these architectural triumphs without becoming too cluttered -- a philatelic feat worth noticing. Even with “official” overprints (of which Mexico has many, see supplement pages), the buildings’ exterior beauty remains in clear view.
The interiors of the above four buildings are even more spectacular. Travelers have posted many pictures of them on the internet.
Scott #s c108-10
Michoacan University of Saint Nicholas of Hidalgo, Morelia
Brimming with unspoiled colonial architecture, the entire city of Morelia is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. UNESCO has designated 35 World Heritage sites in Mexico, most of which feature architecture. The United States, by comparison, has 24 sites, very few of which feature architecture. Brazil has 22 sites; Argentina has 11. I’m not, apparently, the only one who likes Mexican architecture.
Temple dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe, Guadalajara, 1781
Architecture, a major source of Mexico’s national pride, adorns more Mexican classical era stamps than it does for any other country -- not a surprise, because it’s lively and continues to evolve. Its magnificence inspires hope during troubled times. In the early 20th century its exuberance shaped domestic and public architecture from Kansas to California.
Indigenous Mexican American culture, the other inspiration for Mexican stamp designs that I particularly like, does not come to full philatelic blossom until after 1950. However, traces of it can be found in the classical era. For example, #c73 and #e5-6, although rather generic, pick up the motif.
The 1934 Pro-Universidad issue, with ten vignettes of native Mexican life, provides the best examples. Themes include archery, pottery making, the arts, and worship. The high values of this set have become extremely expensive. Even the 20c to 50c denominations have rather high CVs. I’m not, apparently, the only one who likes them. My collection goes up to one peso, all with cancels. The one peso, depicting a craftsman, is shown below and again in the supplement pages, while the lesser seven values are in normal BB-provided spaces.
Scott #s c73, 704, e6
Mexico has handsome postal eagles, too.
Certification, circa 1930, rouletted and cancelled
Census: 369 in BB spaces, nine tip ins, 514 on supplement pages (plus another 100 or more added after scans were made). The “un real” Guadalajara provisional stamp in Supplement section -page 14 is not authentic.
Mexico and it's history, both real and philatelic, is very complex, to say the least. Arguably, it's stamps show the most philatelic twists of any Latin American country.
Bud has done brilliant work here with the great discussion (above) and the 28 pages shown of Mexico's stamps. Enjoy!
Mexico Blog Post & BB Checklist