Exhibition shows off ‘miniature masterpieces’

Exhibition shows off ‘miniature masterpieces’ A blue tinted stamp of an angel flying over Cashel from a design by Richard King (1948).

Miniature Masterpieces: Cultural identity, artistic expression and a century of Irish stamps, by Stephen Ferguson (National Print Museum, €12.00; also available from the GPO Archives & Museum)

The first Irish stamps of the Free State were standard British stamps, adorned with King George’s head, over-printed for Irish use temporarily in the new domain.

But soon stamps of Irish designs were produced. These were for the most part of a very high quality, and so they remain to this day.

It is to be remembered that stamps are not only for use in the post; just as import from the very beginning was the purchase of stamps and first day covers by collectors.

We tend to think of such collectors as boys about the ages of 11 or 12; but in fact there were large numbers of adult collectors.

Currently the history of modern Irish stamps is on display in the Printing Museum, Beggars Bush Barracks, in an exhibition put together by Stephen Ferguson, who is the leading expert in all things relating to Irish stamps from the earliest days.

These days a great deal of effort goes into the selection, design and production of stamps. But printing technology is constantly changing, and this means that the stamps themselves inevitably change in style.

When I was interested in stamps, Colonial stamps of all kinds were my favourites; I was a sucker for Pacific palm trees, and crocodiles on African rivers, and the sands of the West Indies.

However, seeing what are called in this show ‘miniature masterpieces’, I have come to see the great virtues of Irish stamps.

Everyone will have their favourites in this show but the one that really appeals to me is one from the 1948 showing an angelic figure flying above the ruins on the Rock of Cashel, bringing symbolically news of Ireland to the wider world. It was the work of noted religious artist of the day Richard King.

In my mind this image is tied up with the Ireland of de Valera. Radio had begun under the first Irish government, but he it was who created a short wave service so that he could speak directly to the Irish scattered around the world at Easter time. I love this stamp, and would give the very highest marks.

The figure was inspired in the artist’s imagination by the angel Victor who appeared in a dream to St Patrick as the voice of Ireland calling him back to Ireland once more to walk among them.

It implies that the voice of Ireland in the modern world of air flight would give expression to ancient Christian values.

But readers can judge for themselves what their favourites are by going along to see the wonderful exhibition in Beggars Bush, curated by An Post’s archivist and museum curator Stephen Ferguson.