Culture //

The Art of Queer Stamp Collecting

Stamps are snapshots of time, little vignettes of life.

I think it is fair to say, at the very least, that lockdown does strange things to people. In an attempt to stave off the boredom that comes with staying at home for far too long, many of us have taken up new hobbies to fill the time. As journeying to the post office to collect yet another package became a frequent lockdown pastime, I began to appreciate the miniature art on the stamps more and more as I meandered in line; so,  my lockdown hobby quickly became stamp collecting. 

My collection of stamps is focused on modern stamps – the bright and colourful designs are beautiful to look at and great at telling a story about the subject of the stamp. Stamps are, in a way, snapshots of time, little vignettes of life which have been preserved on paper. The art on a stamp can be appreciated in much the same way that you would appreciate a work of art on display in a gallery – each artist brings their own style to how they portray and capture the image and emotions of their subject. 

There are an incredible number of stamp designs in existence; far too many to even consider attempting to collect them all. I find the easiest way to focus my stamp collection is to collect based on topics. The stamps span a vast range of topics, and you can imagine any theme you want; I guarantee that there is a stamp out there with that design. One theme that I collect is particularly close to my heart, and that is stamps with designs about being queer and queer rights.

Queer themes on stamps are only a relatively recent phenomenon.  The oldest queer stamp that I’ve found was only printed in 2010! Of course, there are older stamps which depict famous or notable people who identified as queer, but I prefer to focus my collection on those stamps which are more explicitly queer in design. This original queer stamp hails from Austria and was issued to commemorate the Vienna pride parade. 

As my collection grows, I have found that many of the queer stamps that have been issued so far play it safe with their designs. Not wanting to push the envelope too much, postal agencies like to focus their queer stamp designs on modern rights we have won like marriage equality and pride parades. Not many postal agencies go for designs that embrace the radical roots of our fight for queer rights. 

Some queer stamps are simple in design, such as stamps issued by New Zealand, Spain and Sweden to commemorate queer rights – all three of these stamps are pride flag patterns across the entire stamp. The Spanish stamp was issued to commemorate the June 1971 raid which was ordered by the Francoist dictatorship on the Pasaje Begoña; a queer neighbourhood in the coastal town of Torremolinos. It is difficult for a single stamp to encapsulate the entire history or the atmosphere of fear surrounding this event, but by commemorating it, the stamp can inspire and encourage us to learn about the significant events that led to the rights we take for granted today.

Pride parades have been the focus of a few queer stamps that I’ve collected – my favourite two that have been issued are ones from Iceland and Liechtenstein. Both of these designs have opted for a cute hand-drawn style that is designed to encapsulate the feelings of joy experienced at the pride parade. In particular, I like that the Lichtenstein stamp has made diversity a core theme of its take on a pride parade, as it depicts people of all backgrounds, reflecting all the people that make up our wide queer community.

Another common theme I have encountered in stamp designs is queer love and queer relationships. Stamp designs that explore relationships are usually very heteronormative in their representation of society, so it is very refreshing when they instead focus on the queer experience. The Philippines and Slovenia have both issued stamps around this idea for Valentine’s Day, which I think is really sweet. Valentine’s Day stamps are often among my least favourite theme of stamps – they’re often either very cis-heterosexual in design or just vapid. These two buck the trend, which I appreciate. The Philippines’ stamp represents the universal nature of love and relationships and is from a set of stamps titled The Love We Deserve. The Slovenian stamp is also very endearing, with the two rainbow birds chosen for this design to highlight the discrimination that queer people continue to face in many parts of the world. I am also just a sucker for stamps that are not shaped like squares and rectangles, like the heart shape here as I think it’s a clever detail that can be incorporated into the art. 

Stamps commemorating legislation of marriage equality have been issued by a few countries now, including Australia, Argentina and Canada. These stamps are celebratory, momentos of the battles fought by queer communities in our path to liberation Australia’s stamp, featuring scenes from when the plebiscite results were released, is appealing to me as it manages to encapsulate the feelings of both jubilation and relief from when the results of the plebiscite were announced. The power of this stamp is its ability to evoke the mementos of the past which gives the stamp a very personal meaning to me.

Of all the stamps in my collection, my absolute favourite has to be one that was issued by Uruguay. The art on the stamp is an adaptation of a French painting, Liberty Leading the People by Eugène Delacroix, which commemorates the July 1830 revolution in France. This stamp cheekily replaces the French flag in the original artwork with a rainbow flag. The effect is quite arresting and powerful; the fight for queer rights is celebrated as a movement of radical activism, and this stamp tries its best to capture the feelings of victory from a long-fought battle for rights. This stamp also serves as a useful reminder that the fight for queer rights is not yet over, as many queer people continue to face discrimination today. 

Collecting stamps has been a fun hobby that has helped keep me entertained during lockdown. The growing number of countries issuing stamps focused on queer themes is heart-warming to see. The vibrant colours and fun designs fit right into place in my stamp album, and I think this is one hobby that will continue even as we move beyond lockdown!