Pen cancel labels for concerned collectors

Jeff Uleau, a U.S.-based “artistamp” creator and the owner of the Perforated Post, has found a simple, stamp-related solution to the pen-cancel problem.

Through his online Etsy shop, Uleau is offering sheets of 30 gummed and perforated stamps, each pin-hole perforated on an antique perforator and featuring the words “Please… / Don’t Pen Cancel Me!”

Uleau’s shop offers nearly 70 other artistamps, including some with a Canadian focus – like the custom return address labels (also gummed and perforated) inspired by Canada’s 1935 six-cent airmail stamp (Scott #C5).

To browse Uleau’s shop, visit etsy.com/ca/shop/ThePerforatedPost.

The pen-cancel artistamps are available in 30-stamp sheets. Each stamp is gummed and pin-hole perforated. Photo via the Perforated Post.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF ARTISTAMPS

Artistamps – a portmanteau of the words “artist” and “stamp” coined by a Canadian – are a type of postally invalid cinderella stamp often used as mail art.

Both artistamps and mail art can trace their roots back many decades to the post-war art boom in the decades following the Second World War.

“The genre of artists’ stamps should be distinguished immediately from both the regular, ‘legal tender’ postage issues of countries and from the mail art phenomenon in which many artists have participated in the last decade,” wrote Peter Frank in the inaugural issue of Art Express magazine in May 1981.

While artistamps lack postal validity, many artists over the years “have pulled fast ones and gotten their mail through with their own stamps (or with painted or drawn replicas of regular stamps),” Frank added.

“As for mail art, artists’ stamps could legitimately be considered a sub-genre of that large (and admittedly overstuffed and perhaps even overtaxed) category,” Frank wrote in 1981. “But it must be emphasized how specific a sub-genre artists’ stamps are; within the dizzying scope of mail art, artists’ stamps are readily isolated. They are designed to function as stamps, in either or both the philatelic and legal tender sense. Whereas makers of most mail art take vast liberties with the forms and functions of their modes of communication – essentially seeking the limit to what the post office recognizes as “mail” – the stamp implies a rigid codification of form and function. At least one of several factors is necessary to identify something as a ‘stamp’ – perforation, denomination, adhesive, affixation to a posted envelope, etc. An artist’s stamp may be round, unperforated, rendered in tempera and as big as a house, but if it has stickum and a stamp-like price as an integral part of its design, it’s an artist’s stamp (despite the fact that the post office won’t go near it).”

A CANADIAN CONNECTION

Karl Schwesig’s circa 1940s artistamps were reprinted for the 1989 International Artistamp Exhibition in Moscow.

James Felter, a stamp artist and the curator of the first major artistamp exhibition, was born in New York but moved to Vancouver, B.C., in 1968 before becoming a Canadian citizen in 1974.

Felter’s research found the earliest known artist who produced their own postage stamps was Karl Schwesig (1898-1955), of Germany. Schwesig was a “vehement anti-Nazi German who wound up in a concentration camp in Gers, France,” according to an August 1981 story by the New York Times.

“He found some perforated margins from an actual postage stamp sheet and produced with colored inks at least 27 handdrawn stamps. He delineated life in confinement on the stamps, giving them various denominations and ‘Gurs’ as the country of origin,” added the Times story, which noted 24 of Schwesig’s stamps were held by the Leo Baeck Institute in New York.

By the 1960s, the artistamp scene flourished, with notable issues from Robert Watts, whose monochrome sheets of ”Flugpost” and ”Yamflug” stamps included a denomination in the lower corner. In the middle of that decade, pop-art icon Andy Warhol also created a sheet of artistamps for the cover of Something 3, a literary magazine.

Bidner organized Artistampex, the first international mail-art exhibition. It was held in London, Ont., in 1984.

A decade later, Felter opened the first major artistamp exhibition – Artists’ Stamps and Stamp Images – on Oct. 28, 1974. It opened at Burnaby, B.C.’s Simon Fraser University, where he began working upon moving to Canada. Attended by a former Canadian postmaster general, the exhibition was well received and began touring British Columbia. Two years later, in 1976, Felter received a Canada Council grant to further tour the exhibition, which was later included in “Timbres et Tampons d’Artistes” in Geneva, Switzerland.

“The Canadian Council grant also allowed the preparation of a catalogue, which included 35 artists and groups from nine countries, who had produced some 3,000 stamps and stamp images,” according to a blog post by New York’s Stendhal Gallery. “In the course of his preparations for the show and the subsequent publicity generated from it, Felter met several artists active in the field, who were to have an impact on his future direction.”

One of those active stamp artists was Michael Bidner, of Canada, who he met in 1982. Two years later, Bidner organized Artistampex, the first international mail-art exhibition, in London, Ont.

“Networking and letter-writing with mail artists in Canada and abroad, Bidner began compiling a groundbreaking database of artists and artwork entitled ‘Standard Artistamp Catalogue and Handbook,'” according to the Art Gallery of Ontario’s Michael Bidner Fonds guide. “Unfortunately, his declining health prevented him from finishing the project. Following unsuccessful attempts to place his collection at a Canadian art institution, Bidner’s personal collection of original postage art was given to the Artpool Art Research Center in Budapest, Hungary, in 1989.”

Before his 1989 death, Bidner would compile a comprehensive catalogue of this material, which he coined as “artistamps,” from about 500 artists.

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