How to travel at home: see world's national parks on stamps

May 1, 2021, 6 AM

By Janet Klug

It is the time of the year when multitudes of Americans get in their cars and head for a national park. Millions will visit Yellowstone, Yosemite, the Great Smoky Mountains or any of the 59 Congressionally designated parks that are scattered throughout the United States and its territories.

Even if you are not visiting any of the national parks, buying the passports and labels is a fun way to learn about the parks as an armchair traveler. More information is available online at National Park Service has a passport program, begun in 1986, that allows the holder to paste a stamplike gummed label (poster stamp) on the appropriate page of a booklet and then have it "canceled" at the park. New stamps are issued each year, so return visits to the same park can be commemorated with new stamps.

Some readers might say that "poster stamps" are not real stamps. That is true, you cannot mail a letter with them. The national park poster stamps are part of a branch of the hobby called "cinderellas," adhesives that look like stamps but have no postal validity.

If you love national parks but not poster stamps, you can collect actual postage stamps that bear images of national parks.

The United States issued a set of stamps for National Parks Year in 1934, beginning with Scott 740 (Figure 1), which depicts El Capitan in Yosemite.

Ten single stamps showing scenes in as many different parks were issued individually between July and October 1934. Two souvenir sheets (750-51) were also issued that year at stamp shows in Atlantic City, N.J., and Omaha, Neb.

In 1937, a third souvenir sheet (Figure 2, Scott 797), for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, was issued at a stamp show held in Asheville, N.C.

Things got complicated when collectors discovered that Postmaster General James A. Farley had provided imperforate examples of certain stamps, including the National Parks issues, to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was a stamp collector, and a few other people.

Making amends, the U.S. Post Office Department reissued the imperforate stamps and made them available to the general public. The reissued "special printings" are collected in a variety of formats including gutter pairs and blocks, arrow blocks, line pairs and so on. These stamps have become known as "Farley's Follies."

The U.S. Postal Service has issued other stamps for America's national parks. The Scenic American Landscapes airmail series, for example, which began in 1999, has included iconic images from the Grand Canyon, Acadia, Great Smoky Mountains, Bryce Canyon, Zion, Voyageurs and Glacier National Parks, among others.

The 85¢ Glacier National Park stamp, issued Jan. 19, 2012 (Scott C149), is pictured in Figure 3.

A national parks collection can be international, as the United States is not the only nation that has philatelically honored its parks.

Japan established its first national parks in March 1934: Setonaikai, Unzen and Kirishima. There are now 30 national parks in Japan and 56 quasi-national parks, which have national protection but not the formal status of a national park.

Japan issued its first National Parks stamps in 1936, with four different views of its most famous natural wonder, Mount Fuji, in the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park (Scott 223-26). Figure 4 illustrates the 10-sen dark blue stamp from this set, depicting Mount Fuji as seen from the city of Mishima. Other Japanese national parks and protected parklands also have graced their stamps throughout the years.

France has nine national parks, and in 1996 three stamps (Scott 2514-16) were issued that feature Cevennes (Figure 5, 2514), Vanoise and Mercantour. This set was followed in 1997 by four more National Parks issues: Parc des Ecrins, Guadeloupe Park, Parc des Pyrenees and Port-Cros Park (2569-72).

Australia has an astounding 500-plus national parks. Uluru-Kata Tjuta a National Park contains the most famous and most photographed landmark in Australia, Uluru/Ayers Rock (as it was officially designated in 2002), an enormous sandstone formation sacred to the indigenous Australian people and located almost in the center of the Australian continent.

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Uluru is shown in Figure 6 on Australia Scott 1311.

The stamp pictured in Figure 7, Australia Scott 2627, features Maria Island in Tasmania. All of Maria Island is a national park, accessible only by ferry with no motor vehicles permitted.

There are so many national parks in Australia that finding them all on stamps is unlikely, but collecting those that have been issued so far – and there are many – is a beautiful and interesting introduction to the diversity of the Australian continent.

Extending a parks collection to Asia, Mount Ophir in Gunung Ledang National Park in Johor, Malaysia, appears on Malaysia Scott 1088 (Figure 8), issued in 2006.

Silent Valley National Park, located in Kerala, South India, and considered to be one of the last undisturbed tracts of natural rainforest in India, is honored on a 2009 Indian stamp (Scott 2373, Figure 9). The beautiful image certainly can make you wish you were there.

Gathering the world's national park stamps is a form of topical or thematic collecting, and there are many ways a collection like that can be organized: by continent, by country, by topography, or in any other manner that might appeal to you.

For more information about assembling a topical collection, contact the American Topical Association, P.O. Box 8, Carterville, IL 62918-0008; or visit the ATA online at