Stamp of Approval for the Rule of Six

A tale of two cartoons, two holy men and two Olympics

USA and China in the same boat? Illustration: Craig Stephens, “South China Morning Post” 3 February 2020.

21 September 2020

By Greg Denieffe

Greg Denieffe takes issue with An Post, the Irish Postal Authority.

If the internet is to be believed, there is a Swahili proverb that goes Chombo hakiendi ikiwa kila mtu anapiga makasia yake, which roughly translated means A boat does not go forward if each one is rowing their own way. That is why a popular cartoon image for disunity is a couple of rowers pulling in opposite directions. I included two such images, from 2012 and 2016, in my recent article The Brexit Olimpicks.

This year, that image appeared twice more, but for two quite different aspects of life in 2020. In February, Hong Kong-based English-language newspaper the South China Morning Post forewarned that the USA and China would take opposing positions on how to deal with COVID-19 and in August, the EU/GB post-Brexit relationship got the double-trouble treatment.

America born balatron, Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson and French President, Emmanuel Jean-Michel Frédéric Macron discuss nominative determinism, freedom of movement, and the future EU/GB relationship. Illustration: Steve Bright, “The Sun” 24 August 2020.

That is how the image is supposed to work. Right? Imagine my surprise when this seating arrangement was used by An Post, the state-owned provider of postal services in Ireland, to depict teamwork on an ancient postal route.

Part of Ireland’s contribution to the 2020 Europa stamp issues commemorating Ancient Postal Routes. Picture: An Post.

Delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 Europa stamps from An Post were finally issued on 16 July in the form of a two-stamp set with the designs reflecting this year’s theme for the pan-European series of Ancient Postal Routes. The first stamp depicts a clean-shaven medieval Irish monk writing a letter, as well as depicting another monk and a ferryman, both bearded, on their way to deliver the said letter. The second stamp depicts a monk on horseback riding to a convent where he is seen delivering the letter to a nun. Both the stamps and the First Day Cover (FDC) were designed by Red&Grey from illustrations by Orlagh Murphy.

Taking inspiration from religious art and using a quadriptych, the Irish stamps tell the story of the journey of a letter during the Middle Ages. Inspired by an archival drawing, Orlagh Murphy’s illustration on the FDC depicts the map of the European travel route of Giraldus Cambrensis (c.1146 to c.1223). The route shows how he travelled from Dublin to Rome via Paris. FDC issue date 16 July 2020 with a matching cancellation stamp. Picture: An Post.
Rowing or paddling? One arm or two? Rowlocks or nolocks? Illustration by Orlagh Murphy. Picture: Red&Grey.

 In 1994, Ireland, Iceland and the Faroe Islands issue a similar twinset of stamps for that year’s Europa Issue, the theme being Great Discoveries. The three postal authorities joined together to celebrate the early 6th-century voyage of Saint Brendan to Iceland. Despite not being canonised in his lifetime, Brendan appears on the stamp with a saintly halo. He is the patron saint of boatmen, although Saint Clement I might dispute this. Brendan the Navigator is thought to have travelled as far as present-day Newfoundland and his voyage is celebrated in song by Christy Moore. His transatlantic journey was retraced between May 1976 and June 1977 by a five-man crew from Brandon Creek in Dingle, County Kerry. The resultant film of this historic voyage is available on YouTube – Part 1 and Part 2.

One of the two Irish Europa issues by An Post in 1994.
A FDC issued by An Post with the 1994 Europa stamps of Iceland, the Faroe Islands and Ireland.

Ireland has issued commemorative stamps celebrating its participation in the Olympic Games since 1972. Every four years different sports are selected and eventually my patience was rewarded in 2008 when rowing was chosen for one of the designs. Technique is rarely a consideration when rowing or sculling is being selected for postage stamps and Ireland’s Beijing commemorative was no exception. It and its sister stamp, featuring a shot-putter, are based on illustrations by Graham Knuttel. His designs are true to his unique style of painting which Duke Street Gallery, Dublin, describes as “bold use of colour and form and the narrative tensions which wind their way through all his work, make him a true storyteller. Knuttel’s works are instantly recognizable, making him one of Ireland’s most popular and collectable living artists of our time.”

Ireland’s first Olympic rowing stamp on the official FDC issued by An Post on 15 July 2008 to celebrate Ireland’s participation in the Beijing Olympic Games.

If rowing technique did not top the list of requirements in Knuttel’s commission from An Post, the same cannot be said of Ann Flynn’s design for the 1988 Olympic Games FDC. I have long admired the rowing image and wished it had made it on to a stamp. Looking at it with fresh eyes, I now notice that the three sports depicted are all ‘seated’ sports and perhaps the composition of the two se-tenant stamps, also designed by Flynn, with the competitors facing forward, was all part of her master plan. The cancellation stamp made up of a trio of images: Olympic Rings, Olympic Torch, and a Shamrock, add greatly to the cover.

The An Post FDC with the two Olympic stamps issued in 1988 to celebrate Ireland’s participation in the Seoul Olympic Games. Designed by Ann Flynn and issued on 7 April 1988.

In 1985, the President of the International Federation of Olympic Philately (FIPO), Juan Antonio Samaranch, under the patronage of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), created the Prix Olympia, a competition to honour the most attractive postage stamps issued on the occasion of each Olympic Games. The winners of the II Prix Olympia, celebrating stamps for the Seoul Olympics, was Flynn’s show jumping stamp, but it could easily have been the bowsider in green that graced the First Day of Issue Cover.

Prix Olympia Gold Medal awarded by the Comité International Olympique to Ann Flynn in 1989 for her winning stamp design for the previous year’s Olympic Games. Picture annflynn.com

The above images are reproduced for non-commercial and educational purposes. However, if you own the rights to any of them and would like them taken down, we will do so immediately.

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