Thursday, 12 July 2012

Elephant No. 284: Cinderella Stamp

I've loved postage stamps since I was a little girl, so I thought I'd try making a "Cinderella" stamp for today's elephant.

Cinderella stamps—or "cinderellas" as they are more commonly known—are defined in philatelic terms as anything that resembles a postage stamp, but which is not issued for postal purposes by a government postal administration. I couldn't find any information on how cinderella stamps got their name, so if anyone knows, e-mail me.

The category includes commemorative stickers, stamps issued by countries or governments without official recognition, local stamps, revenue stamps, railway stamps, propaganda labels, stamps created by artists (also known as "artistamps"), and charity premiums such as Easter Seals.

American Easter Seals, ca. 1930–1941.

Some cinderella stamps once served a genuine postal function. During the early days of postal service, local stamps were often used in areas where national postal pickup and delivery were lacking. The idea was that the local stamp would get the item to a point at which the national service would take over. For this reason, local stamps were often placed on the back of an envelope or package, with official national postage placed on the front. Local stamps were widely used in rural areas of the Russian Empire from about 1860 to 1917, and among the offshore islands of the United Kingdom.

Some cinderella stamps have been produced by artists or political movements as propaganda. Others bore encouraging messages for prisoners of war or overseas troops. Breakaway governments, governments in exile and other unrecognized political entities often issue postage stamps to add legitimacy, but these have no postal validity, and are thus considered cinderellas. Others, like the one below, are issued as a joke.

A stamp issued by the Welsh Indian Ocean Territory.

Governments sometimes issue fee-related stamps and labels, such as the railway letter stamps once issued in Britain. Others simply indicate that applicable taxes have been paid, as in the stamps glued to cigarette packages.

Stamps created by artists are a form of mail art, while also falling into the category of cinderella stamps. Often created as one-off works of art, artistamps are usually collected and traded outside the world of philately. Similarly, although some forms of cinderella stamp are recognized as official competitive categories, many are shared primarily within cinderella stamp clubs.

10-Meows stamp by Elaine, 2005.

As digital technology has become easier and more widespread, postal services have developed a new form of postage stamp which marries official function to the more individual aspects of a cinderella stamp. Both Canada and the United States (and perhaps others) currently allow people to upload a digital photograph, which will then be turned into stamps which can be used as legal postage.

For today's elephant, I wanted to make something that was the size of a postage stamp, rather than something that looked like a postage stamp, but was much bigger. It made me wonder what the biggest postal stamp ever issued might be. Apparently it's the stamp below, which measures a whopping 60 x 81 mm (2.4 x 3.1 inches). I don't think I need to work that big, but it's good to know that I could if I wanted.

The Swedish 50-kronor stamp, issued in 2000.

I decided to work on a piece of artist-quality bristol board, rather than something thinner, to allow me to erase, paint, draw and whatever else I might want to do, without worrying that I'd wear out the paper.

I started by drawing two shapes measuring 3 x 4 cm (1.2 x 1.6 inches) and 3 x 5 cm (1.2 x 2 inches) respectively. This was small enough to be a postage stamp, without being so small that I needed a magnifying glass to work.

Having never drawn a stamp-like object before, I wasn't really sure where to start. I'm not great at incorporating frames and text in drawings, which was part of the problem. If I'd gotten too hung up on where the text would go, I never would have finished this today, so I decided instead to draw the elephant and figure out the text later.

Since stamps usually use fine engraving, I decided to work from photographs to make them relatively realistic. I chose the following two photographs, both of which I've used before.


Asian elephant in a poster that reads, "This Lord Ganesh festival, save the elephant,"
produced for the Jopasana Wildlife Conservation in India.

I started by making light sketches of the elephants within each space, then added a bit of wording in a 4 mm (0.15 inch) border I added around the outside of each.

Because I wanted to give at least a vague impression of engraving, I used a fine pigment liner. I was going to use drafting pens, but I couldn't get any of the finer ones to work today.

Once I was happy with the rough sketches, I filled in the details, using the photographs to guide the crosshatched shading.

When I was finished, I thought about painting them, then decided that I actually liked them better in black and white. I may change my mind at some point, but for now I like the graphic look of these.

This was easier than I expected. Working from photographs certainly helps, and the size wasn't so small that the drawing was difficult. Obviously it helps, as well, to have an idea of what stamps normally look like.

I liked this activity a lot. Thinking up the design concept for each was the hardest part, and I'm not great at making straight lines, square corners or borders. But I'm pleased with both of these, and will probably try it again sometime—next time with drafting pens.

Elephant Lore of the Day
Many countries around the world have issued postage stamps featuring elephants. Most of these are countries with native elephant populations, and most represent elephants in a fairly realistic fashion.

Sometimes they treated elephants as a commodity, as in the two stamps below.

The printing in the background of this stamp from the Belgian Congo (issued in 1923)
certainly leaves no doubt about where an elephant's true value lies.

Nor does this one, issued in Mozambique, likely in the 1920s.

Sometimes elephants evoked imperial possessions, as in the rather pretty block below.

British Indian stamps issued sometime between 1938 and 1947.

And sometimes it was hard to figure out why an elephant was included at all.

Stamp issued in Monaco, date unknown.

The elephant's first appearance in the world of postage was likely around 1865 in British India. Although the stamps themselves featured two-colour images of Queen Victoria, the paper was watermarked with elephant heads.

Interestingly, China's first postage stamp almost featured an elephant. In 1877–1878, an elephant design was one of several submitted for China's "5 cash" stamp. Ultimately, a dragon was chosen, but the elephant design was a serious enough contender that it was subjected to five different design iterations.

Never-issued plate proofs for Chinese 5 Cash stamp, ca. 1877.

In addition to single stamps, a number of countries have issued postal sheets. Some of these depict multiple elephants, or elephants with other species, in a tiled format. Others feature elaborate wildlife scenes with perforated stamps scattered throughout.

Sri Lanka stamp sheet with stamps in multiple denominations.

Indian stamp sheet with two stamps, commemorating the 2nd Annual Africa-India
Summit, 2011.

And some countries have offered special issues depicting elephants, aimed at supporting elephant welfare through organizations such as the World Wildlife Fund. The stamp below is actually an "Intelligent Stamp", allowing smartphone users to scan the stamp in order to view WWF video footage on endangered species.

British stamp issued for the 50th anniversary of the World Wildlife Fund, 2011.

To Support Elephant Welfare
Elephant sanctuaries (this Wikipedia list allows you to click through to information
on a number of sanctuaries around the world)
Wildlife Trust of India


  1. Your blog is amazing. Your posts are amazing. Well done!!

  2. Thanks so much! Your own blog is pretty amazing. 1000 pieces of mail art, and you're already at 970! I don't know how you've done it.

  3. Happy to see a blog on elephants... very attractive. happy to see another elephant lover.

  4. Thanks for your very kind words! I like that you collect elephant stamps and covers. There are many attractive elephant stamps out there, to be sure.

  5. I would prefer the Welsh Indian Ocean Territory stamp described as an 'entertainment' than as a joke :)

  6. and why not choose the Elephant Shark from the same series?