• Vol. 09
  • Chapter 12
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Postage Stamp

Governments design postage stamps
to reflect the national story
they want to portray.

Each is a miniature of bureaucratic vision
filtered through the lens of an artist.

As such, they shed light on history,
not just as we understand it now, but
how people long dead thought about
their world.

As national symbols, animals can be tricky, because
iconic ones don’t only live in one country.
The Canadian moose and the Norwegian elk
look identical.
Caribou and reindeer are also similar, but
not as popular.
Australian animals are more distinct, so
text isn’t necessary to identify the
intended country.

Historic figures are also thorny.
Alexander Graham Bell is
embossed on multiple countries stamps.
He is claimed by both sides
of the 49th parallel and likely Scotland.
Few discount his historic significance, even
though he has been repeatedly accused of
plagiarizing parts of the telephone.

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Postage Stamp

The invention’s impact, however,
is obvious just check your pocket.

Other historic persons such as Viola Desmond,
who’s on the Canadian $5 bill, are less well known.
An icon of the Canadian civil rights movement,
her inclusion is likely in response
to activism by individuals and organizations, who
value her contribution, not as a result
of a unilateral government decision.
This shows that even something as simple as a stamp
can highlight the national story, that
a country’s citizens want to portray.

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