The world’s oldest
Before the start of the Space Age in 1957, stamps
incorporating an astro theme were few and far between.
But they do exist and can be traced back to 1887
SELDOM has a new era of human history dawned as spectacularly as did the Space Age in October 1957, when Sputnik 1 was rocketed into orbit around the Earth by the Soviet Union. Sputnik 1 was ostensibly part of the USSR’s contribution to the International Geophysical Year (IGY). The IGY, which actually lasted 18 months, from 1957 July to the end of 1958, was a global scientific research effort with the aim of improving our understanding of the Earth as a planet. Sputnik 1’s scientific return was minimal, but its impact on human consciousness was immense. It also gave birth to a rich new subject area for thematic stamp collectors.
The purpose of these web pages is to list and illustrate all stamps that can reasonably be said to incorporate an ‘astro’ theme issued prior to the watershed year of 1957. All illustrations are from my own collection except where otherwise noted.
What qualifies as an ‘astro’ stamp must be somewhat subjective. To merit inclusion on these web pages, the ‘astro’ aspect of a stamp must be either its main subject or occupy a significant part of its composition. By this criterion, a few symbolic background stars are insufficient.
I have excluded designs that in my opinion are stylized or allegorical rather than a genuine attempt to depict the real sky. For this reason, flags or coats of arms bearing stars do not make it on to my list. Scientists are included, unless they feature for non-astronomical reasons (e.g. their political activities). Mythological figures are not included, either.
The links on the buttons above will take you to lists of those stamps that satisfy my qualification criteria. The entries are ordered by year, with columns listing the country, Stanley Gibbons catalogue number, and subject. With one exception, I have omitted overprints or surcharges on the grounds that they are not separate designs – the exception being the 1899 Brazil Southern Cross issues, since it is a major series and a very early example. Click on any year to see a scan and a description of the stamp.
Opinions on my choices, plus further information on any of the featured stamps and notification of any omissions, are welcome – but first have a look at my page of Rejects and Red Herrings.
It is a pleasure to thank George Fox and Margaret Morris of the Astro Space Stamp Society for their assistance in compiling these lists and for freely sharing their extensive knowledge of astro-themed stamps.
Email me: ian @ ianridpath.com