Wednesday, 29 April 2015

1. Philatelica Vexillogica. Iceland National Flags.

  I have been fascinated by national flags since the age of about six years old when I used to visit our local newsagents shop where packets of bubble gum were sold. Each pack of gum contained a picture of a national flag against a background of a colourful depiction of local scenery. The flags fascinated me - they were colourful and exciting to a young child - and pretty soon I knew the names of 50 countries around the world and could identify their flags. I remember particularly liking the card depicting the old Egyptian flag with, if I remember correctly, an exciting background depicting the pyramids and the sphinx  as well as the intolerable torture involved in trying to obtain card no. 26 - Great Britain's own Union Jack - which never seemed to appear in the vast number of bubble gum packets which I purchased at a cost of 1d each.

  When I was 8 years old, I was given a stamp album for Christmas and after a slow start I was spending every penny or so that I amassed on 3d packets of large and colourful stamps to place in my lovely new album. I particularly liked collecting dinosaur and animal stamps (I recall that about that time Poland issued some spectacular sets featuring dogs and cats and especially dinosaurs) but I do not remember that stamps which featured flags came my way very often. 

  In the early 1960's the children's television programme, Blue Peter, began to feature regular items on new British Post Office issues the face values of which at that time, with a bit of help from their parents and some saving up of pocket money, were within the financial reach of a keen stamp collector child. I remember the lovely National Nature Week pair of 1963 giving me great delight and I recall the worry of trying to obtain the 1964 Shakespeare set with its terrifyingly expensive 2/6d value which was obtained with a little help from some adult family members. But flags did not feature too often on these early 1960's GPO stamps.

  The first set of stamps I ever bought in a "proper stamp shop" Included a wonderful flag stamp - the 1/3d value of the 4 value Malawi Independence set of 1964 - but it was all a very nerve-wracking affair since I think the total price of the set amounted to 5/- - I remember that my grandmother who had accompanied me to the shop was scandalised that I should have spent so much money on stamps but she indulged me and again I think family members chipped in. The 1/3d flag stamp was glorious to me and, for a while, was a true gemstone in my collection. How I cherished that particular stamp.

Malawi 1964 Independence 1/3d stamp.

  For the rest of my life I was a stamp collector and retained my interest in national flags. I was only ever an interested flag enthusiast and nothing more but in 1991 I became a member of The Flag Institute - an excellent time to gain access to William Crampton's Flag Bulletins in view of the numerous national flags which were being introduced due to the fall of The Soviet Union and the changes in Eastern Europe. Soon afterwards even more flag information became available as I came to terms with using the Internet. And finally, I started a little sideline thematic collection of stamps which featured national flags. 

  So, here in this Blog I shall mention interesting new flag-themed stamps which come along as well as interesting previously issued stamps on the subject. I do not intend to mention every stamp which appears with a flag on it but simply those which give excellent depictions of the flags they are portraying - less satisfactory versions will be included if they represent the best depictions available on stamps. The Blog will mostly concentrate on national flags but will not exclude other interesting or significant flags.
  So to start, an excellent new issue from Iceland Post, the national Post Office of Iceland, which was released on 30 April 2015 to commemorate the centenary of the national flag of Iceland. 

  Iceland was a territory belonging to Denmark from 1381. The first flag of Iceland dates back to 1809 when a Danish adventurer, Jorgen Jorgensen, usurped the government in Iceland and proclaimed himself "Protector". He adopted a blue flag with 3 stockfish (split and dried cod). The flag was first raised on 12 July 1809 but used only for about 2 months until Jorgensen's arrest by the British who landed in HMS Talbot and returned the territory to Danish rule and the Danish flag was once more used in Iceland.

Flag of 1809

  In 1870, Sigurdur Gudmundsson, an Icelandic artist, designed a new flag for Iceland which took the form of a silver falcon on a blue field. This had no official status but became popular particularly among Icelandic students and was used during the Icelandic millennial celebrations of 1874 and the silver falcon appeared in the national arms of 1903 to 1918.

Gudmundsson's flag

  In 1897, the poet, Einar Benediktsson, suggested another design for a national flag which took the form of a white Scandinavian cross on a blue field and this grew in local popularity especially after the incident in 1913 in which a young Icelander, Einar Petursson, was arrested for rowing around Reykjavik harbour flying Benediktsson's flag - his arrest resulted in local outrage and many Icelanders flew the blue and white flag in protest.

Benediktsson's flag.
  The King of Denmark, Christian X, declared that the territory had the right to adopt its own national flag for use on land and in territorial waters on 22 November 1913. A National Flag Committee was established in early December 1913 and on 1 July 1914 the Committee submitted 2 proposals for the design of the flag. The proposed flag designs consisted of a red Scandinavian Cross fimbriated white on a dark blue field while the second took the form of a blue Scandinavian cross fimbriated white on a blue field. The blue and white were derived from the arms (a silver falcon on blue, as described above).
King Christian rejected the flag with the blue cross because he felt, so it is claimed, that it was too similar to the flag of Greece.
  On 19 June 1915 a royal decree established the red cross flag as Iceland's national flag. On 1 December 1918 Iceland became a separate realm of the Danish Crown and the use of the national flag was extended to that of merchant ensign for use in all waters. Iceland became a republic on 17 June 1944 but retained its national flag.
  The new stamp issue consists of a single 50g stamp and accompanying 2000g miniature sheet which features the national flag and the members of the Flag Committee. It is a fascinating issue for vexillologists and a must have for a thematic flag stamp collection:-
2015 Centenary flag stamp.
  In addition to the new issue of 2015, another important stamp of Iceland which depicts the national flag is that which was released in 1930 as part of a set of 15 stamps which commemorated the 1000th anniversary of the first meeting of the Althing, the Icelandic Parliament:-

1930 stamp.

    A stamp was also issued in 1930 which depicted the swallowtail form of the flag of Iceland. This form of the flag is only used for official purposes:-

1930 stamp.
  The same form of the flag was also depicted on 2 stamps which were issued on 1 December 1958 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Iceland's existence as a separate realm of the Danish Crown:-

Stamp of 1958.

Stamp of 1958.

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