World Stamps

By Denise McCarty

American Topical Association has study units for more than 50 topics

September 15, 2015 01:00 AM

  • Great Britain’s stamp for the American Bicentennial pictures a bust of Benjamin Franklin. The stamp was issued June 2, 1976.
  • A 2008 stamp from Belgium celebrates the 80th anniversary of Disney’s Mickey Mouse.
  • In 1984, Denmark issued a stamp commemorating the 300th anniversary of the Jewish community in Copenhagen.
  • This semipostal stamp issued by Afghanistan in 1960 marks the 11th anniversary of the World Health Organization’s malaria control program in that country.
  • A West Berlin Stamp Day stamp of 1972 pictures the printing of postage stamps.
  • Early postage stamps, including Great Britain’s Penny Black of 1840, are pictured in the stamp-on-stamp designs in this pane of six issued July 31, 2008, by Montserrat.

By Denise McCarty

The American Topical Association, with almost 3,000 members worldwide, is the largest philatelic society devoted specifically to topical collecting. It provides many benefits to its members, including a checklist database with more than 400,000 stamps, and its journal Topical Time, published six times per year. And, for those collectors who wish to learn more about specific topics, it has more than 50 study units.

These units range in alphabetical order from the Americana Unit to the Wine on Stamps Study Unit. A complete list, including contact information and websites, can be downloaded in PDF format from the ATA site.


As American writers, both Irving and Poe also fall under the collecting scope of members of the Americana Unit, who specialize in Americana subjects on U.S. and foreign stamps. In addition to honoring presidents and other prominent Americans, numerous stamps from around the world feature the U.S. flag, the Statue of Liberty, and other national symbols and famous landmarks.

Americana themes were especially popular in 1976 on stamps commemorating the United States Bicentennial. The commemorative stamp issued June 2, 1976, by Great Britain features an 18th-century marble bust of Benjamin Franklin (Scott 785).

In 2010, Great Britain honored Franklin again on a nondenominated first-class stamp (Scott 2749) in a set marking the 350th anniversary of the Royal Society. Franklin was elected a fellow of the society in 1756.

Founded in 1951, the Americana Unit is one of the ATA’s oldest and largest study units. It keeps members up to date on the Americana topic and new issues through its quarterly journal, Americana Philatelic News. Dues are $6 in the United States, and $12 in other countries. 

Disney, Judaica, Malaria

Three of the ATA’s study units offer free membership: Disneyana on Stamps Society, established in 2012; Judaica Thematic Society, which became an ATA study unit in 2007; and Malaria Philatelists International, 2007. All three also publish electronic-only journals: Disnemation, Judaica News and Miasma, respectively.

The Disneyana unit deals with stamps, meters, cancels and other philatelic items related to Walt Disney and his legacy. For example, Belgium issued a nondenominated stamp May 19, 2008, to celebrate the 80th anniversary of Mickey Mouse (Scott 2293). More recently, Poland issued a souvenir sheet June 1 featuring characters from Disney’s 2013 animated blockbuster film Frozen.

Gary Goodman founded the Judaica Thematic Society in England in 2005 for collectors of worldwide stamps honoring Jewish people, as well as Jewish traditions, culture and anniversaries.

In the December 2012 issue of the society’s newsletter, Goodman said that the 1984 stamp from Denmark marking the 300th anniversary of the Jewish community in Copenhagen (Scott 766) was one of his favorites, explaining that it “sums up what the Jewish religion and Judaica really is all about.”

He wrote: “The stamp depicts the familiar Friday night scene, of the woman of the house, lighting the Sabbath candles, and the goblet (“Becher”) of wine, and the “Challah” cloth covering the loaves of bread. Hebrew wording, ‘Shabbat Shalom’ is also depicted on this cloth.”

For information about the Judaica Thematic Society, e-mail Goodman at

Malaria Philatelists International describes itself as an “organization of philatelists devoted to collecting stamps, essays, proofs, errors, slogans, first-day covers (FDCs), commercial covers, and other special memorabilia relating to malaria — its treatment, history, control and eradication campaigns.”

A handbook for the topic is included on the website. The entry for Afghanistan’s 1960 50-poul+50p and 175p+50p semipostals (Scott B29-B30) reports that the stamps were issued for the 11th anniversary of the WHO (World Health Organization) anti-Malaria campaign in Afghanistan; that they were printed by offset in panes of 30 by the State Printing Office in Vienna, Austria; and that each stamp measures 34 millimeters by 24mm with rough gauge-12 perforations. The design, which is the same for both semipostals, includes a mosquito, a sprayer and a swamp. Imperforate examples also exist.

Graphics, Stamps On Stamps

Because of the subjects they concentrate on, the Graphics Philately Association and Stamps on Stamps Collectors Club may appeal to a wider range of stamp collectors, whether they are topical collectors or not.

The Graphics Philately Association focuses on the topic of printing, which includes everything from books on papyrus to eBooks, as well as the printing of postage stamps.

A stamp printing press is pictured on a 1972 commemorative issued by West Germany for use in West Berlin (German Occupation Scott 9N334). This stamp promotes Stamp Day and a national youth stamp exhibition.

The Graphics Philately Association says on its website: “Without printing, the art preservative of all arts, there would be little need for, nor the ability to produce, postage stamps. These fascinating little ‘posters,’ often works of art in their own right, reflect nearly every subject you can think of, and literally thousands are related to the history of graphic communications.

“Are you connected with the graphic arts or communications? Then we have a hobby for you — stamp collecting! Or, are you a stamp collector not involved in the graphic arts? Then please consider the history of graphic communications as represented on the stamps of the world as a topic to collect.”

The association publishes its journal, Philateli-Graphics, four times a year. Dues are $15 in North America, $25 elsewhere.

The Stamps on Stamps Collectors Club also points out its appeal in its website introduction: “The topic of stamps on stamps is one of the most diverse of all topicals. Ever since Sir Rowland Hill first advocated the use of prepaid pieces of paper to be adhered to letters to expedite their delivery, the postage stamp has fascinated people. It should come as no surprise, then, that the postage stamp is being used as a stamp motif, and that topical collecting of stamps on stamps is popular.”

Rowland Hill and the world’s first stamp, Great Britain’s Penny Black (Scott 1) are depicted on one of the stamp-on-stamp designs in Montserrat’s 2008 Early Postal History pane of six (Montserrat 1204).

The club’s bulletin SOS Journal is published three times per year. Dues are $15 in the United States, $18 elsewhere, and $9 for electronic only.

Thanks to Vera Felts, ATA executive director, and Denise Lazaroff for their help with this review of topical study units.