Editors note: Each thumbnail image links to a larger image. Our thanks to Mr. Roberts for sharing his expertise and collection.
For more than ten years now I have gained a great deal of pleasure from collecting cats on stamps and related philatelic material. I concentrate on domestic cats, although I do have wild-cat stamps too.
First Cats on Stamps
There was only one domestic cat on an actual stamp prior to WW2; it came from Spain and was part of a 1930 set featuring famous aviators. It showed Lindbergh's 'Spirit of St Louis' and in one corner shows his black kitten, Patsy, wistfully watching the plane fly by. Apparently he had planned to take her on his epic transatlantic flight, but thought better of it at the last minute. It adds greatly to the interest of the collection to find out any background stories such as this that may be behind the stamp.
No more cats appeared until 1952, when the Netherlands had a toddler playing with a kitten as part of a child-welfare set. Thereafter there was the occasional cat tucked away in the corner of a painting or a depiction of a fairy tale - cameo appearances, you could call them -- but it was 1964 before a whole set was issued devoted just to cats. It came from Poland, and I still find it one of the most attractive cat sets, despite the hundreds of others that have followed. I picture a cover (envelope) showing three of the stamps and with a cat illustration too.
From the mid-1960s on, cats started to appear more often on stamps and many issues from the 1970s and 1980s include them. In the 1990s there was practically an 'explosion' of cats on stamps - that is, stamps devoted to cat portraits, rather than 'incidental' cats - from a wide range of countries. Some have been produced as sheetlets, with an overall linking theme or background design; many are accompanied by very handsome miniature sheets (or souvenir sheets), without which the set really isn't complete. My example is from the Maldives, showing a Birman cat with a Burmese temple pagoda behind.
Artwork and Fairy Tales
I will give a brief outline of some of the kinds of stamp on which cats are most often to be found. Paintings have been mentioned: there is a huge amount of art on stamps, and cats are not infrequent, although sometimes they form a very small part of the picture. 'Black cat', by Shunso Hisida, is a fine example of modern Japanese art. Fairy tales and children's stories are another rich source, as they often include cats. By far the best-known is Charles Perrault's 'Puss in Boots', and he has been given quite a number of stamp outings. The one shown below is on a maxicard (see later in the article) from Monaco. But I have come across a number of other tales from diverse lands as a result of finding cats on their stamps; one such is the magnificent example of 'Cat and Mice' from Mongolia (also below).
A fair number of Christmas issues have included cats; my example comes from Latvia and shows Santa dozing, with his cat on the back of his chair. In fact, the second US stamp with a cat was the 1982 Christmas one, with a puppy in the snow (yes, we have to put up with accompanying dogs sometimes!) The first American stamp with a cat marked the 1972 centenary of the mail-order business, with a little black cat on the store counter. An amusing printing error on some examples has a shift of black ink, making it look as though the cat has two tails! There are numerous greetings stamps produced for occasions other than Christmas; the picture from Slovenia (part of the former Yugoslavia, now independent) is, of course, a Valentine's Day one.
Cartoon Characters, and Animal Welfare Stamps
Most of the well-known cartoon cats are to be found on stamps from somewhere - including Garfield, Tom (of Tom and Jerry), Pinocchio's 'Figaro', Disney's 'Black Pete', 'The Aristocats', and various others from foreign countries. There are also plenty of examples of children's paintings with cats in; some of these are very good, while others are themselves more like cartoons. I picture one from Taiwan that does at least resemble a cat! And I shouldn't leave out stamps issued on behalf of animal welfare, such as the US 'spay or neuter' ones of 2002; and those in which a cat is included among stamps showing domestic pets, like the El Salvador one shown.
That deals with the actual stamps; but any topical (subject-related) collection worth its salt doesn't stop there. Some stamps come in varieties - perhaps without perforation, or with errors such as a colour missing; the latter are mostly uncommon and consequently expensive, but worth having. Sometimes one can find examples of the original artwork from which a stamp was designed and produced - but these are even more expensive and I have only two or three after 10 or 12 years. More reasonably priced, and more accessible in general, are 'proofs', which come in several forms and are intermediate steps in the production process to check that all is in order before the actual stamps are finally printed. Most modern stamps use a four-colour printing process - sometimes five - and 'progressive proofs' are fun: they show how the separate colours are applied one by one, leading up to the final version. Here I show a proof of the finished version of a Madagascar stamp, which has a signature to approve it and details of the printers in Moscow.
Much cheaper altogether to acquire are covers; a 'cover' simply means an envelope with stamps on. First-day covers (FDCs) are specially prepared for the day the stamp is first released, and cancelled accordingly; the cancellations for cat stamps frequently have a cat design and the cover will often have a cat picture on it as well: both features are on this Polish cover mentioned above. Although I do collect such FDCs, I'm also very keen on acquiring what are known as commercial covers, meaning ones that bear one or more cat stamps but have been used to send mail through the regular postal system. These can be quite hard to come by, but they are satisfying to find.
There are still more items that can be looked out for! Special cancellations (postmarks) that include cats is one, even though there may not be any cats on the actual stamps being cancelled. In earlier years the US went in for what are called 'fancy cancels'; I picture one with a Hallowe'en theme from the 1930s. France has used various cancellations, in connection with an anti-litter campaign, that show a cat sweeping up litter; and there are many, many other examples. I show a 1936 one from Hitler's Germany advertising a Rhine town famous for its 'Black Cat' white wine. The US quite regularly issues cat cancels; pet shows provide one reason for doing so.
Then there are airmail letter forms, which sometimes have cats in the design; other postal stationery items such as reply cards; and 'maxicards' - postcards with a cat stamp affixed to the front and a cat design (and ideally a cancellation, too) reflecting the stamp. I almost forgot booklets of stamps. These might contain cat stamps in them; or they may just have a cat picture on the front, like this one from Sweden. I have found one booklet from France that pre-dates the Spanish stamp - early 1920s - and has some cats inside it on an advertisement; I think these are the very first 'philatelic cats'.
And so on . . .
I hope I have given an idea of the breadth of material available to collect, and of my enthusiasm for finding it. As well as acquiring a large number of beautiful stamps and related items, I have greatly increased my knowledge of all kinds of things while researching the stamps; and also I think most stamp collectors find that, when you're fed up or feeling low for any reason, a browse through an album or two can help to relax you and maybe put things back into perspective.
Note: A series of articles on Feline Philately, from 2000 to date, can be found at www.purr-n-fur.org.uk and is regularly updated. The site includes a quantity of other cat material that readers may find of interest.
Fanc-e-Mews, Vol6 No5, September/October 2005
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This program is supported by
The Cat Fanciers' Association, Inc.
This program is supported by The Cat Fanciers' Association, Inc.