Collecting a long stamp series can be challenging — and fun

Jan 9, 2012, 10 AM

By Janet Klug

If you are a collector of worldwide stamps perhaps you have found yourself pondering the very long series of stamps some countries issue over the course of many years or many decades.

The first of such stamps that may spring to mind is the ubiquitous Great Britain Queen Elizabeth II definitives known as the Machins. The queen's portrait on these stamps shows a sculpture by artist Arnold Machin.

Machins made their debut in 1967 when Queen Elizabeth was 41 years old, as she is shown on the stamps.

The same design for Great Britain's definitive stamps is still in use nearly 45 years later. This extended period of use has resulted in an overwhelming number of collectible varieties.

The Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue, Vol. 3, has a separate section of the Great Britain listings that is devoted solely to the Machins. It is well done and serves as a good foundation for attempting to collect the major varieties of the stamps.

For those who cannot get enough of the Machins, a printed catalog by Douglas Myall that is about five inches thick has been replaced by a CD version that is updated approximately every three months(

These listings contain all of the minutiae that a specialist would want, including phosphor bands and bars, gum types, perforations types and aberrations, printing varieties, numeral types, paper types and so much more. It boggles the mind.

I have made many valiant attempts to sort through several shoeboxes full of Machins, with the goal of bringing order to chaos.

The effort was in vain.

I eventually settled on limiting my Machin collection to the pre-decimal period, so my Machin collection runs from June 5, 1967 to Decimal Day, Feb. 15, 1971. It is a nice, achievable collection that anyone can assemble. Figure 1 shows the 1-penny pre-decimal stamp (Scott MH2).

The pre-decimals are instantly identifiable because the numeral is followed by a "D" indicating penny or pence instead of the decimal currency indicator of "P" that is translated into new pence. A decimal currency 1-penny stamp with a "P" is shown in Figure 2 (Scott MH23).

Another long-running series of stamps are the Chilean airmails issued from the early 1940s through the late 1960s. Figure 3 shows a 1-peso airmail stamp (Scott C63) with a plane flying over a caravel sailing ship.

A parade of these attractive Chilean airmails sprawl across album page after album page. The stamps show a variety of airplanes flying over mountains, globes, factories, farms and assorted monuments and landscapes.

Why so many airmail stamps from Chile?

These airmail stamps almost tell the story themselves. At the bottom of each stamp are the words "Linea Aerea Nacional." That translates to National Airlines (of Chile), that transported not only airmail letters but people as well.

Air travel was a boon to a country dominated by the Andes and having 22 mountains that exceed 20,000 feet in elevation. The creation of roads, railroads and telephone lines was costly, time consuming and hazardous. The availability of air travel vastly improved communications in Chile, not to mention the shipping of goods and transporting of people. Thus, the number of airmail stamps exceeded the number of regular stamps issued during that time period.

One of the longest running series is Denmark's wavy line definitive stamps first issued in 1906. Figure 4 shows the Danish 4-ore Wavy Lines stamp (Scott 60).

The design is symbolic, a reference to the waters that surround the three main Danish islands. It is also surprisingly timeless, because the same design continues in use today, only slightly modified over its 105 years in service. The good news for collectors is that one of each face different Danish wavy line stamp, postally used, can be had for a modest price.

But Denmark's wavy lines stamps are not the winner of the stamp longevity award. That goes to Norway. In January 1772 the Kingdom of Norway released new stamps designed by an architect named Andreas von Hanno. The stamps featured a posthorn with a crown affixed to the top of it. The stamp's denomination was in the center of the posthorn and both the crown and posthorn were surrounded by an oval ring.

Figure 5 pictures Norway's 1-skilling Posthorn stamp (Scott 16) issued in 1872.

The posthorn is a popular recurring theme on many European stamps because a posthorn was blown to signal the arrival of a post rider or mail coach. You can listen to the sound of a posthorn being played online at

Norway's posthorn stamp design has had some slight modifications over the years. Collectors have a lot to look for with these stamps. There was a change in currency in 1877, when skillings converted to ore and kroners. In 1997, decimal currency was introduced.

Over time there were many changes in perforation, printing, shades, redrawn numerals, methods of printing, surcharges and formats.

Collectors wanting more information and help in collecting these stamps would do well joining the Scandinavian Collectors Club, Box 13196, El Cajon, CA 92020; or e-mail

Norway's Posthorn series is not an inexpensive issue to collect, and Norway is still issuing posthorn stamps so the quest for completion is ongoing.

In November 2011 Norway released a new posthorn stamp. The design is similar to the earlier issues, but the stamp now has a gold posthorn and a silvery border. Figure 6 shows Norway's most recent addition to its long-running posthorn stamps, a 50-kroner stamp.

It's hard to believe that this modern-looking stamp's basic design has been on active duty for 140 years.

Happy birthday to the Posthorns!