The Nativity — The Manger

Not many nations — even those with a strong Christian base — put an image of the Nativity on their stamps much before the 1970s. As we saw in our Christmas Firsts blog, Hungary first put Nativity imagery on a stamp in 1943. (For argument’s sake, we’re calling the Nativity as depicting the Holy Family — Mary, Joseph, and the Baby Jesus in a manger-like setting.)

The 2016 stamp with a silhouette design was just the third U.S. stamp showing a manger scene.
The 2016 stamp with a silhouette design was just the third U.S. stamp showing a manger scene.

The United States has rarely put an image of a manger scene or Holy Family on a stamp, instead for a religious motif at Christmas opting for master artworks of the Madonna and Child, along with the occasional angel. The first full Madonna and Child stamp was in 1966, followed quickly by a second in 1967. Two more were issued in 1973 and 1975, and in 1978, the Postal Service started a run of 22 consecutive years showing a Madonna and Child master artwork. No Christmas stamps were issued in 2000, and although it’s been more sporadic, the Madonna and Child imagery has appeared on 10 more stamps.

In 1970, the religious U.S. stamp showed a manger scene, presenting Nativity (1523), by Lorenzo Lotto, and in 1971, the stamp showed a detail from Adoration of the Shepherds (c. 1505) by Giorgione, followed in 1976 by Nativity (c. 1777), by John Singleton Copley. Not until this year, did another manger/Nativity scene show up on a U.S. Christmas stamp. Interestingly, this year also saw a new Madonna and Child stamp.

It’s interesting to see how other nations present the Madonna and Child, some in traditional forms, sometimes in modernized images, and some depicting the Holy Family in that country’s traditional stylings.

Christmas Stamps by Children in Great Britain

Children, of course, are synonymous with Christmas. Great Britain has embraced the holiday joy of youth by sponsoring stamp-design contests resulting in three seasons of Christmas stamps — which are considered “special” stamps by Royal Mail — designed by young people.

4-great-britain-4794-great-britain-478The first contest was held in 1966 resulted in two stamps created by artwork from two 6-year-olds. Eight professional designers judged the 5,000 entries and awarded the honors to Tasveer Shemza and James Berry. Shemza’s design features King Wenceslas, while Berry’s shows a snowman. Nine-year-old Ann Belshaw’s design of Santa Claus on a rooftop by a chimney was used on an official cachet.

4-great-britain-960In 1981, Royal Mail sponsored a second contest, which resulted in five stamps, four of a religious nature and one showing a picture of Santa Claus. A stamp designed by Samantha Brown, 5, shows Santa with a rather charming smile. The contest was sponsored by the BBC and drew 74,000 entries. Artwork for the other stamps was created by Tracy Jenkins, Lucinda Blackmore, Stephen Moore, and Sophie Sharp.

4-molly-2013The third children’s stamp-design competition led to two Christmas stamps in 2013. This time, 239,374 schoolchildren between the ages of 4 and 11 responded visually to the question “What does Christmas mean to you?” The two national winners, whose designs are on first- and second-class stamps, were selected by a panel led by Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales, and that included Shemza, one of the winners of the 1966 contest.

The 2013 winners were Father Christmas, designed by Molly Robson, 7, and Singing Angels, by Rosie Hargreaves, 10.

At the time of the contest, news reports quoted Prince Charles as stating: “I am delighted to be helping judge this wonderful competition which gives children from across the United Kingdom the amazing opportunity to share their creativity and have their designs on this year’s Christmas stamps.

The children’s names appear on all the stamps, though the 1966 stamps include just their last names and first initial. The winning designs for all the contests needed the approval the prince’s mum, the queen.

National Postal Museum Opens “From Royal Mail to Public Post” Exhibition

[NPM October 21 Press Release]

National Postal Museum Opens
“From Royal Mail to Public Post” Exhibition

Observing the 500th Anniversary of the United Kingdom’s Royal Mail

“From Royal Mail to Public Post” opened today, Oct. 21, at the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum. The exhibition, open through Jan. 16, 2017, chronicles postal reform in the United Kingdom.

The United Kingdom’s postal service, Royal Mail, observes its 500th anniversary in 2016. To mark the occasion, the National Postal Museum is presenting a temporary display of original documents from 1635 and 1840, pivotal years in the expansion and evolution of the country’s postal network. The exhibition includes the earliest known example of the world’s first stamp, the Penny Black, dated April 10, 1840, from the archives of leading British postal reformer Robert Wallace. These important documents chronicling postal reform in the United Kingdom are on loan from the private collection of British businessman and philatelist Alan Holyoake.

First Proof of Penny Postage Stamp Cover. Presented to Mr. [Robert] Wallace by the Right Honourable the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Francis Thornhill Baring, April 10, 1840. Loan from Alan Holyoake. Photo courtesy National Postal Museum.
First Proof of Penny Postage Stamp Cover. Presented to Mr. [Robert] Wallace by the Right Honourable the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Francis Thornhill Baring, April 10, 1840. Loan from Alan Holyoake. Photo courtesy National Postal Museum.
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