The U.S. Postal Service announced today it will return to producing only soakable stamps by next year and it expects postage rates to drop 10 percent!!! Haha! April Fools!
I don’t suppose we caught too many of you with that one. How about the return of the penny postcard? Maybe stamps that are mini-drones and will fly special delivery letters to their destinations? Hey, we tried.
How about this: With the multitude of castles, knights and heraldry on stamps, we wondered if perhaps the best known symbol of April Fool’s – the jester – is found on our commemoratives.
Like fools, we rushed into our hunt and started scanning page after page of our favorite catalog. You can call us foolish, but we found a few. (If you like the idea of jesters or fools on stamps, don’t forget this year’s American Philatelic Society StampShow in Columbus, Ohio will be co-hosted by the American Topical Association, the go-to society for ALL collecting themes.)
So let’s get to our jesters. The jester – the king of fools – was the one character in a royal court that could get away with clowning around about the monarchy and its ways. But he’s not a real clown, so we disregarded clown stamps. Medieval court jesters wore bright, gaudy clothing – the color of the leggings are often different – and often wears a signature three-point Fool’s Hat with a bell on each point. He also carries a mock scepter called a bauble, which was adorned by a carved head or the inflated bladder of an animal (yuck, no foolin’).
We start with a couple of real-life jesters, the first from Spain. A masterpiece painting by Diego Velázquez (1599-1660) – Portrait of Sebastián de Morra (1645) – appears on a 1999 stamp (Scott 3009) from Spain. De Morra was a court dwarf and jester in the court of Philip IV of Spain. The painting is in the Prado in Madrid.
Let’s stick to masterpieces, where we turn to a Polish stamp issued in 1968. The stamp features the 1862 painting known in short as Stańczyk, or The Jester, by Jan Matejko (1838-1893). Stańczyk (c. 1480-1560) was a popular figure who was jester to three kings. The painting shows the jester at a ball where he has just learned that the Russian army has captured Smolensk. Matejko created at least one other painting of him and there is a monument of the jester sitting on a bench in Niepołomice. The stamp (Scott 1607) is part of a set of eight stamps featuring Polish artworks.
In 1959, Belgium issued a semipostal (a charity stamp) featuring a jester and cats (B658). The stamp raised money to fight tuberculosis. (Yes, we noticed the single-pointed hat; he’s a true fool to be misdressed.)
We may be foolhardy but we think Germany is king of jester stamps.
In 1970, Germany released a set of four marionettes semipostal stamps with one of them (B463) depicting a jester puppet.
Next comes the 1977 issue (Scott 1230) showing Scenes from the Till Eulenspiegel Folk Tales (c. 1350). Four scenes are shown with the jester-like Till in all four. In 2011, Germany commemorated the 500th anniversary of the first printing of the Till tales with another stamp, this one showing a jester in the center of the diamond-shaped stamp (Scott 2633) surrounded by other iconic items from the stories.
Germany in 1988 issued a stamp (Scott 1544) honoring the 150th anniversary of the Mainz Carnival. The character does look a bit more like a clown than a jester, but we’ll accept him because of his Fool’s Hat.
In 2000, the 175th anniversary of the Dusseldorf Carnival, is honored with a jester doing a cartwheel (Scott 2070).
Great Britain may have been home to several foolish monarchs over the centuries, but we really couldn’t find any pure jester stamps from the Brits.
Britain has, however, honored the jester-like figure of a puppet – Punch, from Punch and Judy fame – on a few occasions.
The famous puppet and his cast of characters date back to 16th-century Italian commedia dell’arte, where it eventually moved and morphed. The figure who later became Mr. Punch made his first recorded appearance in England on May 9, 1662, traditionally reckoned as his birthday in the U.K. His outfitted like a jester, though his hat has but a single point with a tassel that flops over the front.
In 1990, Mr. Punch is one of eight stamps (Scott 1306) in the Smiles set, which also includes the Queen of Hearts and Stan Laurel. In 1991-92, an image of Punch showed up on the covers of a couple of booklets marking the 150th anniversary of Punch magazine. Mr. Punch is featured along with five other puppet characters on Punch & Judy set of 2001. Punch is listed as Scott 1987. The stamps came in various formats, including a presentation pack.
Thanks for playing along with our fool’s game. Next time we’ll tell you all about…