By Michael Baadke
Have you ever visited Helvetia? Have you ever even heard of Helvetia?
These are all countries around the world that have issued stamps; you can see examples in Figure 1. However, you probably know these lands better by the names Switzerland, Albania, Ireland and South-West Africa (which is now known as Namibia).How about Shqiperia, Eire or SWA?
If you aren't familiar with the name Helvetia, you may wonder why the stamps of Switzerland don't have the name Switzerland printed on them.
That's because many countries call themselves by names we might not recognize. Switzerland is one of them.
Switzerland has three official languages: German, French and Italian. The name of the country is "Schweiz" in German, "Suisse" in French and "Svizzera" in Italian.
Helvetia is the Latin name for Switzerland, and it is used on the country's postage stamps and coins.
As if that isn't confusing enough, the name of Albania in the Albanian language is Shqiperia, as shown on the 1975 stamp at top right in Figure 1.
However, 10 different spellings of that name have appeared on various Albanian postage stamps and overprints. Fortunately, they all begin with the unusual letter combination "Shq," which makes it a little easier to identify them all.
Identifying postage stamps from around the world can be a monumental task.
Some stamps are very easy for Americans to identify because they come from countries that speak English, or because the names on the stamps closely resemble the English-language names used to identify the country.
At the top of Figure 2 are two stamps that have easy-to-identify names: at left is an issue from Canada, and at right is a stamp from New Zealand.
Some of the other countries whose names on stamps are spelled the same as we spell them in English include Argentina, Bahamas, Chile, Costa Rica, Malta and Mexico.
Can you figure out which countries issued the three stamps shown at the bottom of Figure 2?
The stamp at bottom left is inscribed "Belgique-Belgie." The name is close to the English-language name "Belgium," and that's where the stamp is from.
The stamp in the center bears the name "Ceska Republika," which some collectors will recognize as the Czech Republic.
The stamp at right is a pretty easy one if you know your Baltic nations: "Latvija" on the stamp is the name for Latvia in northeastern Europe.
Although these names are fairly easy to interpret, there are plenty of names like "Shqiperia" and "Eire" to trip us up.
Fortunately, stamp collectors can find some helpful resources to figure it all out.
The Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue lists many unusual spellings in the Index and Identifier section near the end of each volume.
Checking the 1999 Vol. 5 (which covers countries alphabetically from P-Sl) for "Shqiperia," the collector discovers that the index lists some of the 10 spelling varieties and identifies the country as Albania, which is found in Scott catalog Vol. 1.
One reference work is particularly helpful for identifying worldwide stamps: Linn's Stamp Identifier, published by Linn's Stamp News.
The Stamp Identifier, shown in Figure 3, is a 130-page softcover reference guide to the stamp inscriptions and overprints found all over the world.
It starts with a seven-page introduction that defines what a postage stamp is, because many of the items collectors try to identify are actually something different.
The book cites as examples revenue stamps, local stamps, postal stationery imprints, essays and proofs, and cinderellas, which are stamplike labels, charity seals and similar items.
A number of these nonpostage stamps are illustrated throughout the book, and there are sections listing locals, seals and labels, and telegraph stamps.
One 54-page section of the book provides an alphabetical listing of stamp inscriptions, including overprints.
There are hundreds of other listings that help the collector figure out where his postage stamps are from.
The last two pages of the alphabetical listing include inscriptions in Greek and Cyrillic characters. The letters of the Greek and Cyrillic alphabets are quite different from the Roman letters used in the English alphabet.
Greek letters are used not only on the stamps of Greece but also on the stamps of the Aegean Islands, Crete, Epirus and Eastern Rumelia.
Cyrillic letters are used in many Slavic countries, including Russia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Serbia, Yugoslavia and Montenegro.
The Stamp Identifier also includes a 65-page section illustrating difficult-to-identify stamps. This section is particularly helpful for locating stamps with Arabic and Asian inscriptions.
Both of the stamps shown in Figure 4 are illustrated in the book. They may seem impossible to identify at first look, unless you're a specialist collector in these areas.
The stamp at left in Figure 4 is an issue of Saudi Arabia, according to the Stamp Identifier, while the stamp at right is from Japan, although it doesn't have on it the inscription "Nippon" that normally identifies modern Japanese issues.
Overprints and surcharges on stamps can also be confusing, and the Stamp Identifier provides a key to many of these as well.
One overprint example is shown in Figure 5. Many 1918 issues from Ukraine are stamps of Russia overprinted with a trident shape that appeared in the arms of the Grand Duke Volodymyr.
A note in the Scott catalog lists Ukraine as one of a dozen countries that overprinted these Russian issues in one way or another, but the Stamp Identifier concisely pins down the proper country.
For more information about Linn's Stamp Identifier visit www.amosadvantage.com and search for Linn's Stamp Identifier.
It is also available from many dealers in philatelic literature.