The history of Rotary is illustrated in stamps – around 4,000 of them, enough to fill 14 albums, as the collectors in the International Fellowship of Rotary-on-Stamps have discovered. Take conventions. Both the oldest and one of the most recent Rotary stamps commemorate RI conventions: the 1931 convention in Vienna (see below), and the 2012 convention in Bangkok. Countries have honored many RI anniversaries with stamps – even those without Rotary clubs, such as Maldives, which in 1980 issued four stamps paying tribute to Rotarians’ work to fight hunger on the islands. And with the advent of personalized postage stamps, Rotary clubs have issued stamps to raise money for projects such as literacy and polio eradication and to celebrate their own anniversaries. More than 200 people belong to the Rotary-on-Stamps fellowship, which publishes an encyclopedia and newsletter and maintains a website to keep philatelists abreast of the latest Rotary stamp finds. The fellowship’s Bulletin editor, Emmanuel Serrière – who is 40 stamps away from a complete collection – will walk us here through some highlights.
The Rotary Club of Tampere - Kaleva , Finland, issued a personalized postage stamp in February 2010 and 2012 to raise money to help children with dyslexia. Translated from Finnish, it reads: “Hi. You got good grades?” “Yep, don’t have dyslexia problems anymore.”
The most valuable Rotary stamp was on sale for only two hours. In March 1981, Great Britain and Guatemala agreed to a plan to grant independence to the Central American colony of Belize. That spring, Belizeans staged violent protests over the terms of the agreement, which they believed gave too many concessions to Guatemala. In the midst of the political unrest, on March 30th, Belize issued a set of eight stamps to commemorate Rotary’s 75th anniversary. But one of them, showing a map of Belize along with the anniversary logo and three Rotary emblems, appeared to give the Belizean district of Cayo to Guatemala, owing to the similar colors that delineated them. The postal service withdrew the entire series and destroyed the map stamp. “Today, it’s worth US $1,200 – if you can find it,” Serrière says. The rest of the stamps in the series were reissued in May 1981, and again in September, this time overprinted with the date of Belize’s independence.
Cyprus was one of the 98 countries to issue stamps commemorating Rotary’s 100th anniversary. Anniversaries are a common theme in Rotary stamps. In fact, it was the myriad stamps marking the organization’s golden anniversary in 1955 – among them, the only Rotary stamp issued by the U.S. Postal Service – that prompted the formation of the Rotary-on-Stamps fellowship. Lauren Januz, of Illinois, who was not a Rotarian, suggested to the American Topical Association that it launch a “study unit” for the commemoratives. Dan Lincoln, of Jamestown, N.Y., was the first Rotarian to join.
Japan marked Rotary’s 100th anniversary by issuing a stamp that highlighted the organization’s polio eradication efforts. The stamp bears a photograph by Jean-Marc Giboux (whose work has been featured in The Rotarian), showing children holding up their pinkies, colored purple to indicate they had received the polio vaccine. An illustration of the photograph was used as a special cancellation on the stamp’s first day of issue. Several Rotary clubs have issued personalized stamps to raise awareness of the campaign to wipe out polio. In the Netherlands – see further down - Rotarians have raised $120,000 for Rotary’s US$200 Million Challenge through the sale of a 44-euro- cent End Polio Now stamp. Designed by Anthony van Vliet, a past governor of District 1600, the stamp has been sold since January 2009.
Rare stamps figure into the plot of the 1963 movie Charade, starring Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn, and a Rotary stamp from Monaco makes a cameo appearance. (Watch for the scene in the outdoor market about an hour and a half into the movie.) Monaco issued the stamp in June 1955 in honor of Rotary’s 50th anniversary. B. Minne, the designer, also created a souvenir card for the occasion.
Even an imaginary country put its stamp on Rotary’s 75th anniversary. Redonda is little more than a rock covered in bird droppings that belongs to the real country Antigua and Barbuda, but at least three people claim to be king of the uninhabited island, a title passed down since a mariner landed there in 1865. In trying to find out more about the history of the stamps, Serrière found the e-mail address of one of the three, Robert the Bald, who said: “I have never seen these stamps before now. So, in ignorance and from what I was told by this government, I don’t know how they came into existence!” (He also said that if Serrière owned a boat, he could register it as part of the island’s naval fleet for $50.) Another of Redonda’s would-be monarchs, King Leo, has a website on the island’s eccentric tradition – www.redonda.org. During a very long postal worker strikes on Corsica in 1988 and 1989, members of the French island’s chamber of commerce decided they wanted a way to keep mail moving to the mainland. One of the chamber’s key members was a district governor, and he made sure that Rotary had a prominent place on the resulting temporary stamp.
[NOTE: The following text was added by Rotarian Emmanuel and was not part of the Rotarian’s article]
It all started at the 1931 International convention in Vienna. They didn’t issue a rotary stamp, they used an existing series of stamp, ran it through the press one more time adding a rotary wheel of various colors, and selling it at twice the original price to raise money for the foundation.
“Excuse me, don’t you have to be dead to be on a stamp?” asked Rick King, Past Rotary International President when he and his wife Cherry were invited to a special presentation of their face on a stamp at the International Convention in Salt Lake City. Well, yes, but only if issued by the US Postal Services. Nowadays, anyone in the USA and many countries like the Netherlands, Japan, Australia, France and more can create a stamp with a design of their choosing. Rick King has been featured on two official governmental issued stamps one from Grenada and one with his wife from Uruguay. He is not the only RI president on stamp with a rotary wheel on it!
And since anyone can create his or her own stamps in many countries, we will see plenty more of great men and women and actions and projects. Polio PLUS, water, Interact, International projects, they all now appear on stamps. It is a matter of sharing what we do. Rotary achievements are the least publicized of success and the best-kept secret in the world until… members discover the power of the stamp as a publicity medium. Look at the numerous celebrations envelops from India, the District Governor in France issuing his own stamp to advertise his year, his achievements, to increase the rotary awareness in his country, the Rotary on Stamps fellowship creating and using their own issues at every convention, the Netherlands promoting Polio PLUS and raising $120,000 with it.
Rotary on stamps is a fellowship comprised of over 300 members worldwide collecting the over 4000 stamps with the Rotary Wheel on them, as well as collecting cancellations and cachets on pieces of mail. Rotary Fellowships are groups of Rotarians, Rotarian spouses, Inner wheels and Rotaractors who join together to share a common interest in worthwhile recreational activities (sports, hobbies, etc.), to further their vocational development through acquaintance with others of the same profession, to make new friends around the world, to explore new opportunities for service and to have fun and enhance their experience in Rotary.
For more information and for help on rules and how to create your own Rotary Stamp please visit www.rotaryos.com (contact firstname.lastname@example.org for temporary access) and www.rotaryonstamps.org.
The opinions expressed by the authors of each Make-up Article do not necessarily represent the opinions of Rotary eClub One and its editorial staff.