COVID-19 presents topical, thematic, postal history exhibit opportunities

By Jesse Robitaille

Like most other businesses, postal services around the world are doing their best to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Affecting everything from capital markets to supply chains and day-to-day business operations, the pandemic unfolded with little warning or time to prepare.

It’s posing significant challenges for Canadian businesses, not the least of which is the postal service, which people are relying on to deliver essential goods now more than ever. Faced with unprecedented logistical challenges, including the all-important delivery of mail during a pandemic, many postal services are working hard to ensure service continues throughout the crisis.

COVID-19 PHILATELIC MATERIAL

Of interest to collectors (specifically topical, thematic and postal history collectors), some postal services are going above and beyond by quickly producing stamps, postal markings and other philatelic material with a pandemic theme.

While these items are created to commemorate frontline workers, they also present important opportunities for topical collectors and exhibitors.

Since mid-March, when Iran unveiled the world’s first COVID-19 stamp, more than a dozen countries have followed suit with similar issues—Vietnam, Switzerland and the Isle of Man on March 31, April 5 and May 4, respectively; Morocco, the United Arab Emirates and China on May 7, May 10 and May 11, respectively; Uruguay on May 13; New Zealand on May 20; Ukraine on May 29; Monaco on June 3; Bosnia and Herzegovina on June 9; Oman on June 14; the Czech Republic on June 23; Macau on June 24; and Taiwan on July 21.

That’s not all: the United Nations Postal Administration is also slated to issue a six-stamp mini-sheet on July 24 to raise money for the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund.

And it’s not just stamps—collectors and exhibitors should also be on the lookout for postal markings (like Canada Post’s bilingual slogan cancel, “Personnel soignant, merci / Thanks, healthcare workers”). Dozens of other commemorative cancels have also been issued to raise awareness or show thanks. There are also special admail cachets, pre-paid postcards and more, all of which can become elements of a future COVID-19 exhibit.

If anyone wants to add to their collection a cover featuring Canada’s “Thanks, healthcare workers” slogan cancel, all you have to do is mail a letter to yourself in a regular #10 envelope.

Coupled with COVID-19 stamps, these postal markings tell a story about the ongoing pandemic—not just the health crisis but also its postal impacts and how countries have worked to maintain mail service. Like all postal history, it tells the story of the mail system at a specific time.

Perhaps even more interesting for postal historians are markings and labels highlighting service interruptions.

Since March, Canada Post has suspended service to more than 150 international destinations and is returning the mail to the sender—complete with markings, some reading “Return to Sender / Temporary Suspension of Postal Service.” We reported on this returned mail in CSN Vol. 45 #2 (“Canada suspends mail service to 150-plus countries”), if you’d like to read more.

Other mail, including from China, has been disinfected by the senders’ postal service and stamped with a label – or wrapped with plastic – reading “DISINFECTED.”

‘SOCIAL PHILATELY’

This material all ties into the relatively new concept of “social philately,” according to philatelist, postal historian and author Gary Loew, who’s a long-time expertizer with the American Philatelic Expertizing Service.

Social philately highlights “the interaction of the postal system with society, events, commerce or the historical geography of an area and the effect the postal system has on humanity and humanity on the postal system,” according to a definition – one of many – provided by the Fédération Internationale de Philatélie Postal History Commission.

Loew spoke on this topic – “Philately in the Time of COVID-19 – in a “Stamp Chat” that aired on March 28 through the American Philatelic Society YouTube channel.

More recently, Toronto philatelist and award-winning exhibitor Jean Wang spoke on “COVID-19-Related Philately” in a virtual presentation for the North Toronto Stamp Club.

Both presentations are available for free via the links provided above.

To read more about COVID-19-related philatelic material, check out the first and second stories of a three-part series published in recent issues of CSN. The stories follow Jean Wang’s June 11 virtual presentation.

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