Topical opportunities at every philatelic corner

By Jesse Robitaille

There’s arguably never been a better time to be a topical exhibitor.

As noted by CSN Consulting Editor Ian Robertson in his recent story on the Royal Mail’s unveiling of a 10-stamp issue featuring David Bowie, these kinds of stamps are popular around the world.

“Commemoratives featuring entertainers are popular and several small countries have issued stamps featuring Bowie,” wrote Robertson, who’s also vice-president of the West Toronto Stamp Club.

The 10-stamp set was unveiled Jan. 25, nearly a year after Bowie died following an 18-month battle with cancer. Although Royal Mail has previously honoured bands and groups – namely the Beatles in 2010 and Pink Floyd in 2015 – this is the first time the British postal service has dedicated an entire issue to an individual musician or cultural figure.


And like Royal Mail, Canada Post has dabbled in commemorating Canadian musicians with its biennial “Canadian Recording Artists” series, which ran from 2007-13.

In 2007, Canada Post issued its first four-stamp booklet pane (Scott #2222) in the ongoing series. This first set featured Gordon Lightfoot (SC #2222a), Joni Mitchell (SC #2222b), Anne Murray (SC #2222c) and Paul Anka (SC #2222d).

The second set (SC #2333) was issued in 2009 and featured Robert Charlebois (SC #2333a), Édith Butler (SC #2333b), Stompin Tom Connors (SC #2333c) and Bryan Adams (SC #2333d).

In 2011, the third four-stamp set (SC #) was issued featuring Ginette Reno (SC #2479), Bruce Cockburn (SC #2480), Robbie Robertson (SC #2481) and Kate and Anna McGarrigle (SC #2482-83).

Finally, in 2013, the series returned with a four-stamp souvenir sheet (SC #2655) featuring Canadian bands, including The Tragically Hip (SC #2656), Rush (SC #2657), Beau Dommage (SC #2658) and The Guess Who (SC #2659).


David Piercey, who serves as chair of The Royal Philatelic Society of Canada (RPSC) National and Regional Judging Program, said topical issues can inspire self-proclaimed non-collectors to begin collecting stamps.

“There’s always been this anecdotal evidence that people save stamps because they find the designs attractive,” said Piercey, whose responsibilities include selecting the juries for each of the RPSC’s annual conventions and approving the juries and prospectuses for any Canadian national-level shows.

For those who already collect stamps, topical collecting could be the gateway to exhibiting.

“Exhibiting is always evolving, and creativity should be rewarded with acceptance,” reads the recently revised APS Manual of Philatelic Judging and Exhibiting, which saw the addition of both topical and experimental exhibits.

“The key success factor with a topical exhibit is to have a well-defined purpose, scope and organization of the subject matter as illustrated by your material. As the exhibitor, you have the flexibility of using whatever subject you wish, as well as any logical organizational structure,” reads the manual, which was released in August 2016.

“So if you want to do rock and roll entertainers, you’ll show all your stamps showing rock and roll entertainers,” added Piercey. “If I’m a Bowie freak, I’ll show Bowie on a page, and if I’m an Anne Murray freak, I’ll show her on another page.”


Piercey said with a topical exhibit, it’s necessary to demonstrate both philatelic knowledge as well as thematic knowledge (in addition to treatment; rarity; importance; personal study and research; condition; and presentation, which comprise the seven-part evaluation outlined in the APS manual).

“That’s two sides of the same coin,” said Piercey, of thematic and philatelic knowledge. “If I’m going to show David Bowie on stamps, then I can demonstrate my thematic knowledge by identifying the album covers being presented or by telling more about the life and times of David Bowie.”

“But if I’m talking about the philatelic knowledge, I’m looking at the printer or how many have been printed; where the first-day ceremony was and what was issued; what is the perforation gauge; what is the gum; and is it a part of a series,” he added.

“I have to know more about the stamps for the philatelic knowledge, but I also have to know about David Bowie and his generation and what he did to transform rock and roll.”


Piercey said the popularity of topical collecting could be owed to its accessibility. There are, after all, enough topical stamps to meet the interests of virtually anyone.

“Part of it is it helps us reminisce about what we enjoyed as kids,” he said. “A bunch of us are baby boomers, and we grew up listening to the music of the ’60s and ’70s, but whatever stuff we grew up liking might spur us to collect in that area. You enjoy it because maybe it resonates with how you’ve grown up, or what you’re interested in, or what you want to do. If that spurs us to exhibit, then it’s good.” 

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