Today, we take it for granted that stamps are supposed to be relevant to Canadian society.
We even spend a fair amount of time thinking about relevance. While it often boils down to a personal opinion about what is relative, there are certain subjects which are pretty much guaranteed because they touch on our Canadian identity.
Some of those subjects are easy. Nature, wild animals, the flag, national or provincial symbols are all pretty much beyond discussion. Modern Canadian celebrities are another easy choice, we’re all happy to claim great athletes and popular entertainers.
When it comes to history things start to become a bit greyer. For instance the events leading up to Confederation are worthy of commemorating, but events of the First and Second World Wars, perhaps not so much. Granted the two wars stand out in the history of the 20th century, and were seminal moments in developing Canadian identity, but they were also times of terrible suffering and sacrifice. It was also a time of incredible injustice. In both wars Canadian citizens were treated as criminals, simply because they were different.
So far, Canada Post has done a great job of creating stamps that show the good and the positive in our past in an honest, non-judgemental manner.
They have also managed to touch on all sorts of Canadian icons and symbols.
What makes all of this so interesting is that this sort of diversity was unthinkable 100 years ago.
Back then, while commemorative stamps were being made, they were comparatively scarce. For most Canadians, stamps were purely functional.
A handful of definitive stamps existed, and for the most part the same design was used for the entire range of values. All stamps looked the same. The same portrait of the monarch, with just different colours for different values.
Even 50 years ago that landscape was still familiar. Most stamps were the same, such as a young Queen Elizabeth II, but in different colours for various values.
Stamps weren’t ugly. In fact they were often great portraits skillfully engraved. But they were routine, predictable, and functional.
Now before you start writing in, I know that there were special issues, the Jubilees, Quebec Tercentenary, and the 1938 pictorial come to mind. But most working stamps were definitives.
I really doubt a collector of a generation or two ago, would have wasted much time even thinking about the cultural relevance of the Canadian stamps, let alone discuss any stamp in particular.
Today, with new commemorative stamps coming out every few weeks, and Canada Post using picture postage for commemorative envelopes, the issue of relevance is often brought up, usually to mean the stamps we like are relevant, while the ones we don’t like are spurious.
Personally, I have to wonder about some stamp subjects, and I don’t always agree with some designs, but then I’m also often unimpressed at art galleries and museums. What I do like is that collectors and Canadians are now interested in talking about the relevance of stamps.
It means that our collecting is more than just passively gathering stamps. It also means that we are also assessing, and involved with our stamps.
To me that’s a good thing. Of course it may also explain why many of my friends think I’m a bit weird.