Stamp collecting is a hobby enjoyed by many throughout the world. But did you know that creating stamps is also a well-loved hobby, and in fact an art form, practiced as long as stamps have been used as legal postage? Artistamps have been known through out the years as Seals, Decals, Poster Stamps, Cinderellas, Faux Postage, Postoids and have even been passed off as real postage. But at the post office, they are only known as illegal forgeries. Wikipedia defines the Artistamp as “postage stamp-like art form. It is similar to a Cinderella stamp, in that it is not valid for postage, but it differs from a forgery … in that no intention is made to fool any post office or collector of stamps. The Artistamp is intended to be a miniature art form which can depict or commemorate any subject its creator chooses.”
These art stamps have grown more and more common, first with the Dada Movement in the 1920’s and 30’s and then with the popular explosion of Mail Art in the 1980’s. In 1991, Nick Bantockbrought the world of Artistamps to the more popular reading public with his rich and wonderfully imaginative series, Griffin and Sabine.
Similar to the standard postage of the past, Artistamps will often be perforated, gummed and display a country and monetary value. (these are the basic requirements.) They are often created uniquely or in limited editions. Artistamp creators will often include their work on actual mail, alongside valid postage stamps, in order to decorate the envelope with their art, similar to a Commemorative First Day Cover, which also a collectible.
Techniques for the creation of Artistamps vary greatly. They sometimes include perforations and a sticker or gummed backside to more resemble a traditional stamp, but that is by no means a requirement. Artistamps have been issued in practically every possible format, often mimicking those of the postal services around the world, including souvenir sheets, stickers and more. The artwork can be hand-drawn or painted, lithographed or offset-printed, photographed, collaged, Xeroxed, rubber stamped, or printed with a computer printer. This is usually based on the skills, preferences and tools available to the artist.
Frequently the creators of such stamps will create an entire world, society or political system in which to distribute their mock postage. Others will comment on our own society or commemorate personal or public life and world events. Still others have made a business of creating for you a personalized stamp. Even now stamp.com is offering the creation of legal US postage with your own images and artwork.
So what of collecting these so called stamps? Do they have value? Philately (stamp collecting) is not an artistic activity – mostly it is a kind of investment: collecting monetary values. But Artistamps can not be used as legal tender in our current postal system. So they would have more of an artistic value, based on personal aesthetics combined with the popularity and value of the particular artist’s work.
If, then, you purchase Artistamps what should you do with them? Collecting them and saving them in archival stamp books or plastic protected binders is one option. Using them to decorate your own mail is another. Even framing them and hanging them as a work of art is not uncommon. But whatever you do with them, once you begin you will find it easy to become addicted to this wonderful form of mini-sized art.