By Dingguo Dai
Stamps from Hong Kong, Canada, and Liechtenstein won a competition for the best Year of the Ram stamps.
The contest included stamps from 56 countries, or special administrative regions celebrating the Year of the Ram.
The stamps were issued in late 2014 or early 2015. The Year of the Ram began Feb 19, 2015, and will end Feb. 7, 2016.
The contest was organized by the Chinese Shengxiao (Zodiac) Philatelic Society and also sponsored by the weekly newspaper Philately, the Suzhou Shengxiao Stamp Museum, and eight philatelic units. This is the sixth competition for the best Chinese Zodiac stamps.
The Chinese New Year, also known as the Lunar New Year, follows a 12-year cycle with each year associated with one of the zodiac signs. The ram is the eighth animal in the cycle of the Chinese zodiac calendar.
As with the competition held in 2014, voting in the Year of the Ram competition was only open to the members of the Chinese Shengxiao Philatelic Society, not to other stamp collectors.
China’s fastest-growing philatelic society, it has more than 6,000 members, an increase of more than 600 in one year.
Society members and a jury of 25 experts selected the winning designs. Voting took place from Sept. 15 to Oct. 20, 2015, and society members in Mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, the United States and Australia participated.
China’s Year of the Ram stamp was not eligible because the contest focused on stamps from other countries and special administrative regions. The panel gave this 1.20-yuan stamp issued Jan. 5, 2015, an honorary award.
This stamp pictures a happy sheep. Its horns are decorated with flower patterns, and its body is ornamented with peony, lotus, plum blossom, lily and propitious clouds.
The design embodies auspiciousness, prosperity and eternal happiness, symbolizing the best wishes for the New Year.
Each element of the design has a special meaning. For example, the peony’s three layers represent that China has issued three series of Chinese New Year stamps.
The 12 curls on both sides of the ram’s body represent that each stamp series continues for 12 years.
China Post began issuing Lunar New Year stamps in 1980. The 2015 Year of the Ram issue is the last set in the third series of Lunar New Year stamps.
Wu Guanying, among the main designers of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games mascot, designed this stamp. He also designed the Year of Rabbit and Year of the Snake stamps in 2011 and 2013, respectively.
For the fourth year in a row, Hong Kong won first place in this contest. The Jan. 24, 2015, Year of the Ram issue includes four stamps and three souvenir sheets.
The four stamps portray rams in different forms of traditional Chinese arts and crafts: a pastel celadon ram, $1.70; glazed ceramic, $2.90; multicolored clay sculpture, $3.70; and jade carving, $5.
One of the three souvenir sheets from Hong Kong contains a single $10 stamp. Another is a silk souvenir sheet with a $50 stamp, the fourth silk souvenir sheet in Hong Kong’s Lunar New Year series.
According to the certificate of authenticity, this sheet was produced using 100 percent genuine silk made in Italy.
The third Hong Kong souvenir sheet contains two $50 stamps: a Year of the Horse stamp printed using silver foil, and a 22-karat gold-foil Year of the Ram stamp. This sheet also is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity.
Hong Kong Post began issuing stamps featuring the animals of the Chinese zodiac in 1967.
The 2015 Year of the Ram issue is the fourth set in the fourth series (each series continues for 12 years) of Lunar New Year stamps.
The Chinese Shengxiao Philatelic Society’s press release about the competition said that Hong Kong’s stamps have a prominent theme, and that the colorful and happy designs display the rich culture characteristics of the Chinese zodiac.
The press release also noted that the souvenir sheets were elegant and beautiful, bringing festive joy.
Canada’s Year of the Ram stamps issued Jan. 8, 2015, placed second in the contest. It is the fourth time that an issue from Canada has been among the top three. The previous wins were for Year of the Tiger, Year of the Rabbit, and Year of the Snake stamps.
Canada Post traditionally issues a pair of stamps for each Lunar New Year, one for domestic and one for international use.
The design of the nondenominated permanent domestic-rate Year of the Ram stamp represents the Chinese word “san-yang-kai-tai” (three sheep make happiness), and depicts three sheep awaiting the arrival of spring.
The $2.50 international-rate stamp features a green ram on a white background. This stamp was issued in a souvenir sheet.
The image in the selvage area above the stamp is inspired by China’s Danxia mountains. The image shows a rain of gold petals, an idealized landscape and three rams resting under a tree filled with plum blossoms.
Both of these stamps include the phrase “Year of the Ram” written in French, English and Chinese.
Helene L’Heureux designed Canada’s Year of the Ram stamps and souvenir sheets using illustrations by Susan Scott. The calligraphy is by Ngan Siu-Mui.
Liechtenstein issued its fourth Chinese zodiac stamp Nov. 10, 2014, to celebrate the Year of the Ram, also sometimes referred to as the Year of the Sheep or the Year of the Goat.
The intricate silhouette design of a red sheep was created using laser paper-cutting technology. The stamps were sold in sheep-shaped panes of four.
This stamp came in third in the contest. Liechtenstein placed third in the 2012 Year of the Dragon contest, fourth in 2013 for the Year of the Snake, and second in 2014 for the Year of the Horse.
New Zealand, which has a large sheep industry and a substantial East Asian community, issued four Year of the Sheep stamps Jan. 14, 2015. This issue placed fourth in the contest.
Guernsey’s Year of the Goat stamps and a souvenir sheet issued Jan. 28, 2015, came in fifth.
The competition committee printed a postcard picturing the three top Year of the Ram issues.
Everyone who voted in the contest received this postcard signed by the president of the Chinese Shengxiao Philatelic Society, Zhou Zhi-hua.
Dingguo Dai is a philatelic columnist and retired chemist living in Arizona. He writes columns for the Chinese monthly Philately, Shanghai Philately, China Philately News, and Shengxiao (Chinese Lunar Zodiac) Philately. He also was a jury member for the contests for the Year of the Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse and Ram stamps.