Wednesday, May 16, 2012
The Wednesday Post
"The Stamp Collectors Stockbook": Page 5
From the Estate of Grandpa5000
It's the final page of this apparently random set of stamps from my grandfather's old collection!
Hmm, isn't "Upper Silesia" a location that comes up occasionally in history books? Some quick-and-dirty research shows that it's one of those areas of Europe that sits uncomfortably on the fringe of the established powers. It looks like it was knocked around between Bohemia and Poland in the Late Middle Ages, was under the Hapsburgs after 1526, got claimed by the Prussians in 1742 and so became part of the German Empire when it coalesced in 1871.
With a mixed population of Germans and Poles, Upper Silesia didn't fit comfortably into the attempts to draw lines separating ethnicities that were all the rage after World War I. After World War II, though, the German population was simply kicked out (as they were from almost everywhere in Eastern Europe) and the territory was given to Poland, except for a little chunk that's in the modern Czech Republic.
OK, but why and when would the region issue stamps? And why in French?
Some quick digging shows us that these stamps were used in 1920-1922, when the postwar (ie. post-WWI) status of the area was still being sorted out. And this gives us a pretty good working theory for why they would print stamps as "Haute Silesie." During this period, elections were being held with the hope that the region would vote decisively to merge with Poland or with Germany (the vote, predictably, split down the middle). Issuing stamps as "Górny Śląsk" or as "Oberschlesien" wouldn't do; that would appear to be predetermining the results of the election (only now do I notice that these those Polish and German terms for Upper Silesia are shown on little scrolls framing the little scene of rural prosperity). French was useful as a neutral language, because nobody in the area spoke it.
Hey, Karolinen and Deutsch-Sudwestafrika are totally copying from each other! Parsons cites plagiarism!
Here's the story: after Germany unified in the late nineteenth century, there was much disappointment in Berlin that the subjugation of non-European peoples had already been pretty much completed by the French, British, Spanish, Portuguese, Russians, Dutch, and Belgians, and maybe the Italians. And Danes. Since this made Germany look like a second-rate power, it became official policy to collect whatever places were left. These were, as you would expect, generally considered pretty harsh and forbidding except by the peoples that lived there. German Southwest Africa (Deutsch-Sudwestafrika) was the arid stretch between British South Africa and Portuguese Angola, and although it wasn't densely populated the Germans did their best to emulate the horrors perpetrated on Africans by the veteran colonial powers. (Think I'm exagerating? Look it up. But cf. the Belgian Congo.)
Karolinen, which I've never heard of, was the German name for the Caroline Islands, which I've still never heard of. They are, apparently, a widely-spaced archipelago northeast of New Guinea that Germany was able to pick up from Spain at fire-sale prices after the United States claimed its own overseas colony, the Phillippines, after the Spanish-American War.
Since I've been reading a lot of Agatha Christie lately, it's tempting to crack wise about the "Teutonic efficiency" with which the Germans used a single stamp engraving for multiple colonies. But whatever. They weren't issuing those stamps for long. After World War I, Germany's colonies were split up among the victors. German Southwest Africa, unluckily, was given to increasingly independent South Africa; it eventually became independent as today's Namibia in 1990. The Caroline Islands were handed to Japan, which in turn had to fork them over to the United States after World War II. They are now part of the Federated States of Micronesia, which became independent (as these things go) in 1986, and Palau, independent since 1994. (The Philippines, meanwhile, became independent in 1946)
Hey, speaking of U.S. territorial acquisition in the Pacific! It took me quite a while to confirm my hypothesis about what's up with this nineteeth century stamp. You probably have the same hypothesis.
It's a stamp from still-independent Hawaii, shortly before it -- as they say -- "became a U.S. territory."
After those relatively obscure issues, here's another example of an incredibly common stamp. It's from the Helvetian Republic, or as you and I usually say, "Switerland." If you've spent time with stamps, you've seen dozens of these. But I like them for their simplicity, fine engraving, mid-century vibe, and celebration of local detail.
That leaves only my puzzle for the philatelically ambitious, which is: who is this dude with the awesome facial hair, and what was he up to that was so special in 1915-1917? Feel free to just make something up; I have no idea...
That was the last page of the stockbook! I hope you enjoyed looking through some of Grandpa5000's stamps with me!