Friday, June 26, 2015

THE HISTORY OF ARTISTAMPS/ With Comments on the Classic Stamps of Samuel Allen Taylor, a Father of American and Canadian Faux Postage Stamps

poster stamp
advertising his stamp business in Boston


A Father of American and Canadian Faux Postage Stamps

Not many people have heard of Samuel Allen Taylor (1838-1913), the creator of the first stamp newspaper in America, The Stamp Collector's Record, that began in 1864 and ran for forty editions. Taylor is known for having created some five thousand stamps during his lifetime.....many of which are fantasy local courier posts. He was the most prolific fantasy stamp creator of his time.

THIS PROFUSELY ILLUSTRATED STUDY OF CLASSIC US AND CANADIAN FANTASY STAMPS, by Richard Frajola is highly recommended to serious students of artistamp history:

In 1862 George Hussey printed  what was long considered the first recorded fantasy local post stamp: The Winans City Post. This stamp was a sensation to young stamp collectors like J.A. Nutter and S.A. Taylor, who decided that they wanted to become stamp dealers. They both created copies of Hussey's stamp. But the siren call of fantasy stamps was a seed that was planted in both of them. For a time they worked cooperatively on versions of Nutter's Bancroft City Express fantasy; but soon went their own ways. Taylors' first fantasy stamp was printed in 1864.

with Samuel Allen Taylor's imperforate version

Inspired by the fantasy stamps of Nutter and George Hussey, Samuel Allen Taylor tried his hand at a unique postal fantasy for a non-existant city ostensibly in Canada. This was Kers. This was a breakthrough for Taylor. He used a self portrait on this stamp cut from woodblock.

Samuel Allen Taylor
fantasy local post

There however has recently appeared in philatelic auction lots, a set of Nantucket Whaler woodblock fantasy stamps that were tied to cover with cancels. There were ten stamps in this set. They were issued from the years 1851 to 1857.  These certainly predate the Winan's City Post edition. They deserve a place in paraphilatelic history.

woodblock stamp
to date the earliest known example of an American fantasy stamp

See Write Up on the Nantucket Whaler fantasy stamps:

In 1861 a French stamp lover created a series of painted images of fantasy local post stamps. Some were based on authentic local post stamps of the US......notably the Government City Dispatch. Insofar as these images were never translated into printed stamps, Hussey's Winan's City stamp and the Nantucket Whalers stamp probably had historical priority. The French stamps were not printed, but they were cut out and mounted in albums like imperforate stamps.

Hand painted artistamps became popular in the 1960's, one hundred  years later with the work of Donald Evans.

by an anonymous French philatelist

A genuine Government City Local Post stamp of 1851:

Taylor's stamps range from cheap copies of Confederate stamps to unusual items such as fantasy Canadian College Fund poster stamps, loosely based on British College Fund stamp prototypes.As these were collegiate revenue stamps we see that Taylor did not limit himself just to the local courier post fantasy stamps for which he is best known. Taylor was from Scotland, but moved to America. During the Civil War he moved to Canada, but returned to America after the war.



Though a number of  fantasy local courier post stamps appeared in the 1850's and 60's, as far as I know it the first fantasy cinderella stamp was created in 1765 in colonial America.

woodcut of 1765
The world's first cinderella stamp fantasy

The Stamp Act that was developed by the British government, mandated the use of tax stamps in America. Stamps were affixed to merchandise and periodicals. Letters in those days were delivered by private courier as postage stamps had not been invented. These stamps were of major significance in the history of the American Revolution. The Stamp Tax Congress was one of the first of those resistance gatherings that lead finally to the Declaration of Independence.

The stamp depicted above was a periodical tax stamp parody, probably the world's first faux revenue stamp, and as such a cinderella stamp. Wikipedia defines a cinderella stamp as any sort of non-postal stamp with the inclusion of revenue stamps, poster stamps, etc.

Varieties of this design are found today. The British Colonial stamps were rendered as embossings. Revenue stamps from Britain in the 1700's were usually embossed. But the American parodies were
letterpress editions, crudely executed in woodcut. The parodies appeared in the upper right hand corner of colonial publications in the place where the British Colonial embossings were supposed to go.

The fantasy postal stamps that Hussey and Taylor and others created were similarly woodcuts. But it is interesting to see the role that revenue stamps have played in the history of of fantasy stamps.

Wikipedia's definition of a cinderella stamp:

This is an image of a BRITISH COLONIAL TAX STAMP 
used in the American Colonies:


In 1840 when the Penny Black was first issued in Britain, the British Post Office also issued some prepaid postal stationery, the Mulready covers. These were disliked by much of the public as well as the stationery industry of Britain, who encouraged artists to lampoon these items. Insofar as these lampoons were of prepaid postal stationery, they belong to the history of fantasy stamps.

The Mulready Lampoons are now widely regarded as classical Mail Art.

The Mulready prefranked postal stationery of 1840:

by Spooner
classic faux postage art from Britain

A politically motivated lampoon of the
 Mulready prepaid stationery:

The Melton Prior Institute writes in an article concerning the above cover:

The original prepaid Mulready envelope was the world’s first postal stationery, issued in 1840, at the same time as the first postage stamp. It had been decorated by the painter William Mulready with a representation of Britannia at the centre top, sending out her winged emissaries to all corners of the British Empire. Leech and Linton turned this document of Imperial pride into the vision of a total surveillance state with the detested minister as “Big Brother” Britannia, who sends out his winged flock of clerks to violate people’s privacy. The ... envelope followed a favoured radical strategy of using fake documents and bogus money as means of criticism and propaganda .... For Linton, it was a first encounter with the art of creative forgery

Fantasy postal stationery satirizing the Mulready covers:

A contemporary parody of the Mulready cover 
by Gerald M. King, (circa 1960's):


Taylor sold many of his stamp fantasies to collectors as album fillers, as even in his day, the cost of stamps in the philatelic marketplace was exorbitant at times. When I was a kid I had a similar set of Confederate stamp reproductions purchased from a modern stamp dealership; and I bought them knowing full well that they were reproductions. A forgery is a stamp created to fool people into thinking it is an original. But in the 19th century, many stamp collectors had strict ideas about stamps. Thus, with both his innocent fantasy issues complicated by his bogus stamp issues for regular post offices, he came to be castigated as a stamp forger, leading to a general discrediting of his entire output, including his creative fantasies, which has obscured his contributions to paraphilately.

If you compare Taylor's Confederate stamp fantasies with the originals it is easy to see them as caricatures rather than 'forgeries.'

View one of Taylor's Confederate stamp fantasies:

Eric Whollem
laser edition
copyright by the artist


The Samuel Allen Taylor Society, a group dedicated to the study of Taylor's stamps, recognized that many of Taylor's stamps are 'bogus.' Technically a 'bogus' stamp is a faux stamp created to ostensibly represent an issue of a legitimate stamp issuing post office, whereas a 'forgery' is an exact copy of a stamp intended to deceive either a post office or a stamp collector. Today many artistamps are bogus stamps, or pretend issues from various actual countries, but no one can seriously refer to any such fantasies as 'forgeries.'

this is not one of Taylor's stamps; but an issue from the 20th century


Taylor created a faux postage stamp for Paraguay before Paraguay had ever issued a stamp. The French stamp painter similarly created a faux stamp of Paraguay.

And Samuel Allen Taylor even created faux charity stamps...stamps for the non-existant Little Woman's Aid Society. His imagination knew no bounds; and he ventured into many new areas with his phantom issues.

Down's Dispatch
a fantasy local courier post stamp

In his day United States postage stamps were  an absolutely forbidden territory when it came to reproductions, as these would have been construed as forgeries for use in the mail. But Taylor liked printing stamps, so he created a range of fantasy take offs on local city dispatch posts, or local courier stamps. These were not forgeries, but either album fillers, or done for fun. He sold them for pennies.
But the strict stamp collectors of his day thought that these were 'forgeries,' as no one  had ever heard of artistamps, or faux postage stamps back in the 1860's.  Today faux postage stamp creators everywhere create local post fantasies. Taylor was ahead of his time.


One of the most engaging editions of faux postage stamps by Taylor were his Utah Territorial stamps. Now Utah never issued any postage stamps, but over the years, like most states, Utah has issued revenue  stamps.

Utah stamp fantasy
by Samuel Allen Taylor

Taylor had the audacity to issue these stamps when Brigham Young was still alive. Brigham Young was the creator of an idea for a Mormon Nation State which he called Deseret. There never have been any Deseret stamps, but Taylor's Utah fantasy stamps did cause a bit of an inconsequential stir back in Utah.

as concieved by Brigham Young

What is interesting to note is that many of Samuel Allen Taylor's Utah Territorial stamps were forged by stamp forgers! There certainly is a bit of irony here.

Taylor created many color varieties of his Utah stamps, and they are attractive editions depicting Brigham Young.

or A Look at the Chronicles of  the Phantom Cinderella

Does Wikipedia Neglect Classic Fantasy Stamps?
Art Stamps of the Vienna Secession
The Question of the First Perforated Artistamps
Stamps of Prisoners of War
Micronational Stamps
Hand Painted Stamps
Phantom Stamps
Dada, Fluxus and Anti-Art
Mail Art
Political Artistamps and Poster Stamps
Philatelic Mail
Local Posts
Notgeld Emergency Local Currency Stamps
Postal Etiquettes
Stamp Collars
Postal Strike Stamps
Artistamps Today
Other Fantasy Stamp Makers of the 19th Century


If you go today to Wikipedia's article on Artistamps,  Samuel Allen Taylor's name is not so much as mentioned when discussing the classic origins of artistamps. No comments are found about the lampooned Mulready postal stationery of Britain of 1840, nor of the New England Whalers Home Post Express stamps of 1851, nor of the first phantom local post stamp of George Hussey of 1862. Nothing is said of the postage designs of the anonymous French fantasy stamp painter of 1861. Nor is there any reference to the American Colonial stamp fantasies of 1765.

by George Hussey
the world's first fantasy local courier post stamp.

In 1888 a young stamp collector,  named James C. Jay, produced a number of fantasy Iowa local posts including an interesting triangle self portrait stamp. He would use pictorial rubber stamps for cancellations on his stamp covers. Historically his use of rubber stamps is of great interest, as it preceded the rubber stamp craze found in Mail Art in the 1960's. He is another example of a fantasy stamp maker who could perhaps be given credit for his contributions to the history of artistamps.

See the phantom courier post stamps of James C. Jay:

Richwood's Dispatch
by J.C.Jay

for cancel by James C. Jay:

Mention is made however by Wikipedia of Raoul Hausmann, one of the founders of the Berlin Dada group, as probably the first artistamp creator. He is said to have created a prototypical self-portrait artistamp in 1919. This was an imperforate photomontage on a postcard. Hausmann was a collage artist. However, his work was preceded historically by the work of John Tingey.

John Tingey, a British dentist, created a self-portrait stamp that he used on his mail. This was in England in the late 19th century.



Some Dadaists speculate that the first Artistamp Artist was the American, Baroness Elsa van Freytag-Loringhoven. In her performance she covered her cheeks with postage stamps. Whether this makes these stamps artistamps is conjectural.

The Italian Futurists were creating mail art as early as the 1910's. Giovanni Balla created many embellished postcards, etc. Insofar as these covers were created before the performance of the Baroness, they should be given historical credit. Other artists similarly have created mail art over the years. (See my section on Mail Art later in this article.)

Italian Futurist Mail Art by Giocomo Balla from the 1910's:

Interestingly enough the first Dada stamps were not artistamps or regular issues of the government post office, but rather commercial poster stamps for Swiss and German hair cremes and soaps. One soap is known as Hobbyhorse Soap or Steckenpferd Seife. Hobbyhorse is, of course, the literal meaning of the word 'Dada' in French. Many of the Dada products were manufactured in Zurich, Switzerland. 

Steckenpferd is the German word for hobbyhorse, indicating a political or metaphysical agenda, or ideology. A similar concept is found in the English expression 'soap box.'  The term Dada was not a nonsense word, but a precise metaphor. However it has been misconstrued through the years as a form of balderdash, supposedly randomly chosen from the dictionary, according to popular, but erroneous accounts. Richard Huelsenbeck wrote that Dada  was not a random nor nonsensical word: “To be sure, the choice of the word Dada in the Cabaret Voltaire was selective-metaphysical."  

The German Dictionary gives precise 
meanings to STECKENPFERD the hobbyhorse:

In Zurich, a mime troupe at the Cafe Voltaire, motivated by anti-war sympathies, named itself Dada in 1916. These mimes utilized a format developed in medieval Europe, when mimes and minstrels utilized the hobbyhorse as a comic element in their performances. Soon thereafter Hugo Ball developed his Dada Manifesto, in which he referred to Dada as a form of  'lily-white soap.'  The word 'manifesto' itself is a synonym for Steckenpferd. Thus the 'soap box' of Dadaist ideology was born.

This image of a jester astride a hobbyhorse 
typifies the use of the hobbyhorse by the mimes of old:

The DOUDOU, a Belgian festival of 1349. which included a huge number of hobbyhorses, 
may have given us the French word 'dada':

The first Dada stamps, or Steckenpferd stamps, were poster stamps, produced from 1898 to 1914. There are many examples of these Dada stamps. They deserve recognition as parcel of the history of Dadaist stamps. It is also well known that Italian Futurists, as well as artists from what later became the Bauhaus were regular visitors to the Dada performances in Zurich. But Futurist art mail was already extant prior to the inception of Dadaism in Zurich.

showing hobbyhorses in the marginal designs
circa late 19th century

Samuel Allen Taylor's stamps and the stamps of George Hussey, the Nantucket Whaler  and James C, Jay  of the 1800's (and many others) logically should be considered pioneering and historically preeminent phantom local courier posts. Whether or not we should consider their works to be pioneering 'artistamps' is a question that depends on how you define artistamp. There are some who deny that artistamps are the same thing as faux postage stamps. There are others who lump the categories together.

Not all artistamps are courier post fantasies, even some contemporary artistamps are poster stamps, or stamps without denomination or fantasy post office of origin. Is it best philatelically speaking to lump everything into one category, or to speak of changing milieus and approaches? The history of poster stamps is part of the history of artistamps; in fact it is an important part of that history.

See Wikipedia's ARTISTAMP article here:

Ray Peterson of Connecticut Cinderellas gives a definition of CINDERELLA STAMPS:


Also I should mention that some beautiful art stamps were created by artists from the Vienna Secession, years before Hausmann's photo portrait 'stamp.' This 'stamp' by the way, from my interpretations of Hausmann's correspondance available online appears to be just a photo glued to a postcard, nothing like a stamp at all. No perforations or cancellation. The stamps of the Secession are gorgeous multicolored productions issued in full perforated sheets, in contrast.

The Vienna Secession was a group of progressive artists who wanted to break away from the conservative art establishment of that time. In fact early poster stamps were often called 'Art Stamps.' These were popular collectibles. Secessionist art stamps are also found in Germany and Hungary, etc.

There is no question that these stamps were part of a major art movement, perhaps indeed much more famous historically than the New York School of Correspondance Art, which gave birth to the modern Mail Art Movement. Some artistamp theorists seem to like to emphasize the 'fine art context' of artistamps. If they are looking for that they can surely find it in old Vienna. And also in the Munich,  Berlin and Hungarian Secessions etc., which followed in the footsteps of Vienna.

poster stamp of the Austrian Secession

Noteworthy was the Art Stamp League of America of the 1910's that produced stamp albums for art stamp collectors. Wentz, a company in Germany, was influential in developing collector's albums. Film star stamps were just one popular art stamp collectible.



Poster stamp albums first appeared in 1898 in Germany; see this selection of VINTAGE POSTER STAMP ABLUMS:

This Wikipedia article presents a historical view of 

Most poster stamps have been, of course, typically advertisements for products and events, but if you look at some of the stamps of Austrian artist, Bertold Loeffler from 1908 and 1909, it is easy to see that his stamps, are not so commercial as they are motivated by the love of art, which is in the minds of many supposedly the basis of artistamps today.

Hungarian Secessionist style

Some may have observed that not all modern artistamps have fantasy postal denominations as part of their design. Such stamps, instead of being faux 'postage' stamps, apparently could well be construed as poster stamps. Poster stamps are said to be advertisements. Advertisements for artists and art events, for example. As such the example below of a sheet of stamps by E.F. Higgins might stand as an example of a 'poster stamp/artistamp' as opposed to a 'faux postage stamp/artistamp.'

I also give a link below to a contemporary artistamp that is a cross between a classic poster stamp and also a faux postage stamp, a stamp advertising the IUOMA (International Union of Mail Artists) exhibition in 2014. This stamp has a faux denomination.

E.F. Higgins
These Doo Da stamps are advertisements for the artist's work,
and as such poster stamps, as opposed to faux 
postage stamps with pretend denominations

This classic poster stamp seems to have a 
surrealistic Dadaist style to it;

This modern poster stamp/ artistamp was created to celebrate the International Union of Mail Artists

poster stamps 
advertising his fantasy stamp creations


Wikipedia says that the first full sheet of perforated artistamps was created in 1961, stamps created by Robert Watts.  Most philatelists can think of many fantasy stamps created before 1961.

Below is a perforated micronational stamp from Gold Island, printed in the year 1910. Today many artistamp makers consider their stamp output to be micronational, representing fantasy governments.

micronational fantasy stamp

Toy stamps from France were among the earliest toy stamps to appear. These were for children of course. Germany has created many Kinderpost stamps. Also Toyland post  was active in the UK in the mid twentieth century. These covers taught young stamp collectors the fun of making fantasy covers with cancellations.

with faux US stamp and cancel from 1870
My guess is that  this is from a French toy stamp set
created after the turn of the 20th century

In 1925 an attractive set of multicolored triangle stamps called 'The Arctic Air Mercy Flight' were created ostensibly  to send serum to aid an epidemic in Nome Alaska. The stamps were loosely based on a Norwegian stamp with a polar bear and an airplane. No one is sure who created these stamps; but they are certainly early 20th century 'phantoms.' They were perforated.


RKO Pictures released a now rare Skull Island faux postage stamp for the King Kong movie. It was issued in 1932. This is just another example of a fantasy postage stamp, little recognized by philatelic historians, except for Jim Cyzl, who wrote an article about it in Linn's Stamp News in 1983.

King Kong Stamp

The link below shows some fully perforated stamps of Atlantis on a cover from 1935. (These fantasy issued may have been micronational stamps.) J.L. Mott, a Danish sailor, created these Atlantean fantasy stamps.

In 1932 Flavio de Caravalho, a Brazilian artist designed some stamps which he submitted to the Brazillian postal system. They were rejected. They were cubistic and one had a female nude. This artist was often engaged in various socially unacceptable activities. His stamps were unperforated because they were never printed. But he belongs in the history of artistamps. Picasso had created cubist mail art years earlier; so this master had some connections to the world of stamps.

Flavio de Caravalho's stamps:

Atlantean stamps of 1935:

by J.L.Mott
known also as Aage Johanssen Larsen of Denmark

In 1937 a curious 'Girl Pat' 'illegal stamp' was created in British Guiana. It was utilized on souvenir covers. It appears to be a rubber stamp edition....A note from the postal regulators is written on this letter. 'Contravenes Postal Regulations.' A signature and handstamp from the Postmaster General completes the cover.

British Guiana

Newark, New Jersey, issued quite a few faux postage stamps featuring the Whatsits back in 1939. These were fully perforated. Each stamp has a faux denomination. Shown frequently are the Whatsit Girls, etc. These were local issues celebrating the Newark Centennial.

Newark, New Jersey

This site describes one of Newark's Centennial
 faux postage stamps of 1939:

In 1950 the Belgian artist who created the character Tin Tin issued some fantasy Tin Tin stamps with perforations. Later the Belgian government issued postal issues featuring this beloved cartoon character. Insofar as Herge was no doubt an artist, one must include his stamps in the history of artiststamps.

by Herge

Perhaps because Herge was a 'commercial artist' his stamps have been neglected by artistamp hisotrians, some of whom are Fluxists and thus inclined to give credit to museum artists, over and above cartoonists. Except in the case of Mad Magazine. See below:

by staff artist
Wikipedia includes such commercial Mad Magazine stamps as artistamps
while ignoring commercial poster stamps, micronational stamps
and classic courier post fantasy

postally used (illegally) on a British cover
Toy stamps have appeared in France, Britain and Germany from the turn
of the 20th century
Toyland's stamps preceded those of Gerald M. King
whose Alice and Wonderland stamp fantasies appeared in 1963

Such a money order is a form of  'postal currency' or 'postal notes'
which appeared in the 19th century before there were money orders

Robert Watts, the creator of the aforementioned stamp sheet  of 1961 (said by Wikipedia to be the first perforated artistamp, or first artistamp sheet created in a 'fine art' context, i.e. musem exhibit) has many of his stamps in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. The stamps of the Vienna Secession were certainly part of a fine art context, yet insofar as they deviated so much from the anti-art idealism of the Dadaists and Fluxists, they are castigated as mere 'advertisements.' As I have noted, many artistamps today are advertisements for artists.  Klein's blue stamp was used as an advertisement for his own exhibitions, but no matter. The museum today has a Fluxus Intern in charge of the Fluxist art collection which amounts to 10,000 items. Many stamps as well as mail art collages are found in the museum. Fluxists have been among the curators of MOMA.

sheet of painted blue stamps
created before the stamps of Robert Watts
New Realist School of Art

The term 'artistamp' was created by Canadian stamp artist, Bidner in 1982. In subsequent years Fluxist stamps, created in the 1950's have been called 'artistamps.'  And mainstream artist Yves Klein's blue stamp, affixed to invitations to his exhibition in 1957, have subsequently been called artistamps.

Klein's stamps of 1957 are another example of perforated artistamps that preceded the work of Robert Watts. Klein however was not either a Fluxist, nor a Dadaist, but belonged to a French school of art called Nouveau Realisme, or New Realism, but critics mistakenly categorized him as Dadaist.

Decollage technique, the opposite of collage, was first developed by New Realism. Painted stamps did not come into vogue until Donald Evans began his series in the mid sixties. Perhaps because Klein was not parcel of the Fluxist group,which for years dominated the Museum of Modern Art, his work has been downplayed in the historical record.

Yves Klein's blue stamp:

on postcard to H. Hartung

Logically if retroactive labeling is acceptable, one would think that such labeling would extend to more than primarily Fluxist or Dada oriented stamps, but to some of the other schools of art or stamp categories that I mentioned here: classic courier phantoms, Art Stamps, etc. When Watts created his stamps no one had ever heard of 'artistamps.'

Thus we have a case of the quandary of who has the 'authority' to say what stamps are indeed 'artistamps.' This is a question no one wants to answer. It seems to be just a matter of opinion.

Wikipedia mentions that some conjecture that the first real artistamps were drawings done in the blank selvage of a sheet of stamps in a German concentration camp in 1941; but was the Skull Island stamp of 1931 indeed an artistamp? Wikipedia tells us that the commercial fantasy stamps created by Mad Magazine in 1962 are artistamps, why not the Skull Island stamp? This is the problem created by retroactive labeling, which in the long run can create historical absurdities.

National Museums in France, Hungary, Switzerland, and elsewhere have given exhibitions of artistamps. The Smithsonian Institute has a complete collection of the works by John Held on artistamps and mail art. But knowledge about MOMA's artistamp and mail art collection seems not to be very widespread.... for Wikipedia, commenting on Bidner's artistamp definition, etc, makes a somewhat erroneous statement when it says in it's Artistamp article: "Despite the exhibitions, history, number of artists and global sweep of the artistamp movement, the medium had long been ignored by major institutions and derided by the arts establishment." 

by some accounts the 'first perfortated artistamps'
these stamps, as Fluxist creations, avoid beauty as an artistic goal
The term 'artistamp' was created by Bidner in 1982

Read about the Fluxist stamp collection at the 
Museum of Modern Art here:

See Bidner's famous artistamp of 1982:


In 1915, Karl Sessler, an Austrian prisoner of war held on Malta created a series fantasy 'Kamp Post' tamps, which he hand printed himself on a series of covers, sent to Germany and Austria, etc.  The stamps were printed in blue and red and yellow green. They appear to have been made from a somewhat crude drawings, (reproduced by undetermined means). Two entirely different designs are known. This artist's work certainly predates the hand painted German concentration camp stamps of 1941 created by Karl Schleswig.

by Karl Sessler

Karl Sessler's 'Kamp Post' stamp printed in red:

Camp Woldenberg

During World War II a number of German Prisoner of War camps in Poland were allowed to have their own postal systems. The means of production were very limited. Gum from potatoes or flowers was used for affixing the stamps. Perforations were made from a wheel of a watch. Paper was from scraps cut from the edges of newspapers or odds and ends. Woodblock, linoleum cut, as well as metal plates were made for these stamps.  Postal cancellations were fabricated from coins, shoe soles, etc. Unknown to the German overseers, these mails were used to gather donations for victims of war.  These were created in 1939.

A History of Polish Prisoner of War Local Post Stamps:

Camp Murnau

Thus we see that POW stamps created by artists have been with us since WWI, and that Polish POW's created an array of stamps that were actually allowed to be used to frank prison mail, until the time that they were outlawed....all prior to the work of Schleswig, whose work however is notable for it's political commentary.

German concentration stamp artist
hand drawn stamp
from selvage of stamp sheet


Another typology of faux postage stamp, the micronational stamp, has been with us in perforated form from the time prior to when Robert Watts created his first perforated artistamp sheet. Elleore, the famous Danish micronation, which issued fantasy postage stamps from 1947 onwards, created it's first perforated issues in the year 1956.

But Deh Sadang, a 19th century micronation.  issued perforated stamps in the year 1888. This micronation was founded by the Frenchman, Charles-Marie David de Mayrena.

There are two main types of micronation: the classic type, which uses as a base an actual physical location, and the fantasy type of micronation, which is a literary fantasy altogether.

In 1883, The Principality of Trinidad, was established in the Caribbean Sea by James Harden-Hickey. It was shortlived, but created some rare stamps.

James Harden-Hickey

Deh Sedang was a classic micronation established in Viet Nam in the late nineteenth century. Stamps of this micronation saw some limited and quasi-official postal use. But they are considered cinderella material.

Kingdom of Sedang Micronation:


Gold Island was a French micronation that issued two perfortated stamps in 1910. And the Monmartre Commune in France declared it's independence in 1920. It issued stamps, crudely perforated at that time. As such they are a good example of early micronational stamps.

Monmartre Commune micronational stamps of 1920:

J.L.Mott, a Danish sailor created a micronation that he called Atlantis. Mott disappeared at sea in 1934, so very little is known of him. His micronation spanned the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. We can conjecture that his classic triangle stamps were created in the early 1930's or even the late 1920's.

Atlantis micronational stamps of the early 1930s:

A short biographical account of J.L. Mott:

Micronational stamps have much in common with faux postage stamps as well as many artistamps. They are issued by unofficial governments....often denominated in fantasy currency. If one were to include micronational stamps among artistamps, the history of micronational stamps would overshadow those of the more recent Artistamp or Mail Art Movements. J.L. Mott created actual minted fantasy currency for his Atlantis. Exonumia (fantasy coins and banknotes) is commonly found among micronations.

Danish micronational stamp

But Wikipedia's Artistamp article omits any explcit mention of micronational stamps and concentrates primarily on Dadaist and Fluxist stamp developments, which could be construed as a great injustice to another classic genre of fantasy stamps, unless one's definition of artistamp specifically excludes micronational stamps, poster stamps, and classic phantom cinderellas.

a toy stamp for an anti-war organization for boys
a type of micronation with it's own currency, the Talent
Razzi, Italy
with cancellation of 1949
these stamps were created in  1946

What I am aiming at in my short history here is a history of fantasy stamps, in conjuction with speculations on the history and nature of artistamps as they relate to the overall picture, mostly geared to the philatelic perspective, rather than that of Art History.

fantasy micronation
Mevu Independence

Though Wikipedia does not expressly include micronational stamps among artistamps, there are a number of recognized  contemporary artistamp makers, who have assimilated the micronational approach to stamps, creating languages, costumes, etc., for their fantasy countries. But it seems unfair to toss aside classic micronational stamp issues from the historical artistamp timeline, and just include the more recent micronational artistamps.

Wikepedia's Artistamp article, in discussing the types and approaches of artistamps notes:
"Some artists use the form to create fantasy stamps for their own postal administrations or countries – in many cases thereby developing or complementing an imaginary governmental system." Essentially Wikipedia here has included micronational stamps as types of artistamps....But if micronational stamps are artistamps, the notion of what stamp is the first artistamp, rightly and logically should include the stamps of the Principality of Trinidad, or other classic micronations. A major aspect of any history is the timeline.


Australian micronation
It is typical of micronations to create flags and coats of arms, etc.
the 3 cent stamp shows the Hutt River Post Office


In 1861 a French stamp lover painted a series of fantasy stamps based in part on private US carrier post stamps.  In addition, this anonymous fantasy artist created stamps for Paraguay before that country issued stamps. He created fantasy Senegalese, and Cayman Island stamps, besides many more. These predate by a hundred years the painted stamps created by Donald Evans in  the 1960's. If the concentration stamp drawings are worthy of being called artistamps, surely these old French painted fantasies qualify!

by a French Stamp Collector
New North Wales is a place name on Hudson Bay in Canada
This artist created hundreds of designs

On Wikipedia's Artistamp article, the idea is presented that the first artistamps may have been some drawings done by a concentration camp inmate during WWII. His name was Karl Schleswig. I have already noted that Karl Sessler's Camp Post, created in a POW camp during WWI and the creations of the Polish inmates of a German camp during WWII, both predated Schleswig's work. 

The Camp Post stamps and the Polish POw stamps were actually used for local postage use from within the  respective camps, and as such are cinderella stamps.  This was allowed because prisoners' mail is usually posted with free franking privileges like soldier's mail. Thus the stamps were considered decorative like mail art.  Schleswig's stamp designs were never used for mailing purposes.

in blank selvage of stamp sheet
by Karl Schleswig
done in a German concentration camp

During the Six Day War between Israel and Egypt, a number of ships on the Suez Canal had to pull into anchorage in a lake off the canal area. To occupy their time, some of the sailors engaged in a painted stamp project, creating hand painted stamps. These were used to mail paquebot letters...and some of the covers got through the mails without additional actual postage applied. Actual ship's cancels, of course, postmarked the stamps that were used.

hand painted sailor's stamp
Suez Canal

In 1975 E.F. Higgins, who used to create stamp paintings issued full sheets of stamps showing his paintings. He was following in the footsteps of Donald Evans. Higgins paintings were photographed then reproduced by offset lithography for the stamps, as such they are not exactly painted stamps but rather stamps of paintings, but he is known for following in some degree in the footsteps of Donald Evans.

with reproductions of paintings
Donald Evans
printed by offset lithography

Donald Evans
hand painted stamps

it is common for stamp essays to be hand painted


But in a sense it is correct not to lump the classic phantom issues of the 19th century, the works of Taylor and other local courier post fantasy stamp creators, with the modern Artistamp movement, as this movement was inspired by primarily by Fluxists and post-Zurich Dadaists whose ideologies have little in common with archaic local post fantasy stamps.

George Collingridge

A British citizen, George Collingridge, engraved and printed a fantasy stamp as a joke for the New Hebrides post office. It was a cannibalism issue. 'Presbyter Cocidus' means 'Missionary Lunch.' Three known original copies exist, though a number of forgeries have been made over the years.

such stamps were often referred to as bogus
in the 19th century insofar as such fantasy stamps
were not all parodies created for fun

It could be a superimposition of an alien philosophy to characterize Taylor's  phantom stamps as 'artistamps.'  The term 'phantom was developed by Melville in 1923. Melville theorizes three types of phantoms: fantasy country stamps, bogus stamps, and cinderella stamps. The term cinderella refers to such stamps as revenue stamps, and other non-postal stamps.

Herbert Barber's rocketmail stamp of 1937 is described as a 'phantom of the future.' This curious stamp shows a futuristic rocket train. Issued in India, it remains a unique example of progressive phantom stamps.

See the 'Phantom of the Future':

The curators of the Oberlin College artistamp collection, the world's largest such collection, define artistamps as being only those stamps connected with midcentury stamp developments, thus delimiting the historical  range of artistamps: "Artistamps are part of the international "Mail Art" movement (a.k.a. "Correspondence Art") that started in the 1950s."

If this definition from Oberlin College is accurate, Hausmann's 'stamp' of 1919 and the supposed first artistamps created in a German concentration camp in 1941 are not artistamps. Oberlin college presents their opinion, as hard facts are hard to come by in this area of paraphilatelic theorization. John Held maintains that the story of  Baroness Elsa van Freytag-Loringhoven's stamp performance gives her primary recognition in the history of artistamps. Others, who favor Zurich Dada. would perhaps prefer Steckenpferd Seife stamps. And Italian Futurist mail art from the 1910's also seems to have been overlooked by the Oberlin curators, however the Oberlin definition has the advantage of placing artistamps in more recent times, thus establishing them in a format that generally makes sense.

This sculpture by the Baroness, entitled 'God' shows her affinity to nihilistic Berlin Dada:

This image of the Visions of Hildegarde VonBingen, the German mystic, relates to Zurich Dada, where she was a major influence on Hugo Ball, the founder of Dada:

One creator of artistamps told me that he thought the term 'faux postage stamp' does not apply at all to the Artistamp Movement's stamps. He thought the term, 'faux' was perjorative.  He told me 'There is nothing false about our stamps.' He noted that the term faux indicates a sort of inferiority, rather than just an indication that the stamps in question are not valid for postage. This is an extreme view, contrary to opinions of many others.

Thus we see we have opened up an area of many diverse opinions. If faux postage stamps are not artistamps, perhaps classic fantasy country phantoms, or local courier post fantasy stamps are not artistamps, either. And the gorgeous art stamps of the Vienna Secession, though  logically historical predecessors of artist stamps, as Art Stamps, having no anti-Art bias, perhaps would not be acceptable to certain doctrinaire Dadaists/Fluxists as types of artistamp. Here we enter an area of speculation. Dada itself is not a monolithic movement. It has undergone changes: from spiritual pro-art Zurich Dada to  nihilistic Berlin Anti-Art Dada to assimilation into Conceptual Art and Postmodernism, etc. So there no doubt are varying viewpoints.

by Wolfgang Baldus
This stamp maker promoted J.L.Mott's Atlantis issues of the 1930's.
Phantom is an old word for fantasy stamp,
sometimes these were intended to fool collectors.



The term Dada was used in Zurich by Hugo Ball, the author of the Dada Manifesto of 1916, adopting the use of the name of a local musical troupe, Dada, who had named themselves after the hobbyhorse, or Steckenpferd, which incidentally found use as a trade name of a popular Zurich soap product, known as Dada Cream. The hobbyhorse is still used in German as a word for any sort of spiritual or political agenda.  But if you look at some of the commercial Steckenpferd stamps one finds that they included rather conservative propaganda in the context of a soap ad. The Dadaists, who were anti-war, parodied, like the mummers of old, this conservatism, which had brought about the First World War.

In his Manifesto, Ball describes Dada as a "universal" word, having many meanings depending on the language in which it is found (inclusive of a 'lily-white soap,' a metaphor not lost on Hugo Ball's multilingual Swiss audience). Multiple meanings are not synonymous with meaninglessness; which idea was lost on many who were attracted to what superficially appears as nonsense in Ball's Dada.

A historical view of Zurich Dada:

A Steckenpferd Soap Ad stamp with a propaganda image from Schiller's JOAN OF ARC, a play that appealed to the ideals of frustrated militarism found in Weimar:

Later Marcel Duchamp's 'anti-art' movement (dating from 1913) was dubbed Dada. The Swiss Dada movement at the outset was not anti-art. It was Duchamp and Hausmann who borrowed the name of the Swiss art and political movement. In Zurich renowned artists such as Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky, and Arp gave presentations at the Voltaire Cafe where the Dada musical group performed. These artists did not share the same anti-aesthetic attitudes as the later Dadaists, whose center was Berlin. Kandinsky, for example was a Theosophist, and author of the book. 'On the Spiritual in Art,' a text greatly at odds with what later was to become Dadaism.

in his shaman's costume

Zurich Dada was a metaphysical program which incorporated much of Christian mysticism. Some of Hugo Ball's Christian mystery plays were performed at Cafe Voltaire. Hugo Ball's poetry was influenced by Hildegard Von Bingen's mantra-like prayers as well as the spiritual poetry of Kandinsky and the works of mystic, Jacob Boehme. His mention of the Dalai Lama in the Dadaist Manifesto indicates his familiarity with eastern mysticism, notably what is called Mantrayana. He gave a performance at Cafe Voltaire wearing fantasy bishop's garb incorporating what he referred to as a shaman's hat.

Hugo Ball in his SHAMAN'S HAT and BISHOP'S GARB:
These Hopi Indian style dance costumes 
by Sophie Tauber from 1914 typify Zurich Dada:


Hugo Ball incorporated many ideas from Mantrayana into his Manifesto. A good example is his dada mantram, 'dada m'dada dada mhm,'  which is easily interpreted as a take-off on Om Mani Padme Hum, a well-known Tibtetan mantra. Ball calls Dada 'the world soul.' It is not impossible that the word Dada was chosen in part due to it's similarity to Dhamma which is the Pali word for the doctrine of the Buddha (Dharma in Sanskrit). The Dhammapada is the most ancient compendium of Buddha's teachings. (Pali is the ancient language that Buddha spoke.)

Many of the 'words' found in eastern mantrams do not have meanings like conventional words, but are intended as evocations of spiritual energies. They are not meaningless.

As Hugo Ball wrote in his Manifesto: 'How does one achieve eternal bliss? By saying dada.'

Far-reaching speculations on the shamanic origins of the hobbyhorse could be reflected in ancient hymns dedicated to the Horse in the Rig Veda, Sleipnir the steed of Odin, Pegasus, and the Windhorse concept found in Tibet. In India Hayagriva, the horse-headed incarnation of Vishnu. is said to be preeminently the god of wisdom and knowledge.

When Dada reached Berlin metaphysics was exchanged for nihilism....and Dada came to be regarded as a type of  'Nothingness'....concepts greatly at variance with the intentions of the founder of Dada, who wrote that he never hoped to create a movement at all out of Dada. Subsequently many forms of Dada appeared across Europe, each with a different ideology or supposed non-ideology. Other Dada Manifestos (or 'Steckenpferds') appeared in accordance with the ideas of diverse thinkers. The word 'manifesto' in itself perfectly typifies the meaning of hobbyhorse.... which is an agenda, or platform or ruling idea, or as the Buddhists might day, Dhamma.

These mail art stamps from the 'Blessed Father' and his 
'Church of the Right Now' show how nihilism has 
replaced spirituality in contemporary Fluxist art:

After Dada spread to Berlin, the character of Dadaism changed. Wikipedia's article on Dada says:
"According to Hans Richter Dada was not art: it was "anti-art."[7] Dada represented the opposite of everything which art stood for. Where art was concerned with traditional aesthetics, Dada ignored aesthetics. If art was to appeal to sensibilities, Dada was intended to offend."

Duchamp, a co-founder of Berlin Dada, created great consternation in circles of the art world, when he installed a toilet in an art exhibition. He eventually gave up art and took up chess, it is said.

And the modern artistamp creator, Cavellini, well known for his connections to the Mail Art movement, was known to destroy his own art. Towards the end, he exhibited boxes filled with random, unrelated objects. This idea of the art box was invented by George Macunias, the founder of the Fluxus Movement.

These Fluxist boxes were sold and distributed by the Museum of Modern Art in NY for many years.

MOMA also sold some of Macunia's do-it-yourself stamp kits which included a sheet of Watt's stamps plus a cancellation device. Watt's was thus doubly honored by the museum, being the first fantasy stamp creator to have his works both exhibited by a major museum, and also sold through the museum gift shop.

The Doors presented a satirical take on the 'plastic box' in their countercultural hit song, TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX:

Macunias is said to have personally ruled Fluxus with an iron grip, even ordering people out of the movement with whom he disagreed. Fluxism was supposedly a cultural movement ostensibly designed to eliminate a hierarchy of ruling personalities in it's espousal of egalitarianism. But this was in theory rather than practice. Macunias was following suit with the approach of the leaders of Berlin Dada, who similarly decided who could be a Dadaist and who not. Dada, as they conceived it, was a sort of exclusive club, not a movement that anyone could join.

Fluxism was conceived as a movement geared towards the de-commodification of art; but ironically Flux boxes, as a commodity, were not included in this decommercialization.

George Macunias

Fluxism had a big impact on the mainstream 'Art Establishment.' Pop Art and Minimalism are two art movements that were influenced by Fluxism. Not only important art collectors, but museum curators have been Fluxist, leading some to question the idea that Fluxism is somehow anti-Establishment, when it has been so well represented by the art establishent. After Macunias passed away in 1978, Fluxist art saw less representation at MOMA, and the movement fragmented into a variety of independent artists.

In 2015, however MOMA gave the Fluxist, Yoko Ono, a big retrospective, showing the ongoing commitment of the museum to the history of Fluxism. She has also performed at Carnegie Hall.

Read about YOKO ONO's retrospective at MOMA:

The definition of FLUXUS:

The ideology behind Mail Art, a separate movement, was to establish a medium in which all artists were equal....a place outside of galleries and the 'Art World.'  This idea was an offshoot of Fluxism, But when a leading personality dictates who can be a Fluxist and who cannot, we have authoritarianism, not a democracy. As to whether the the Fluxists have unwittingly created an 'Art World' of their own is a matter of opinion. The Fluxists have been honored at MOMA, the Whitney Museum and the Tate Gallery in London. In the minds of many Fluxism is just another modern art movement well represented in galleries and museums.

How Cavellini created a falsified version of Art and Artistamp History, here reported by MOMA:

Curiously Cavellini developed the idea of 'self-historization' as part of his approach to art. This idea seems to contradict the de-emphasis on personal creativity  and individualism found in Fluxus. Many Fluxus art objects or installations are known to be unsigned, which seems to be the antithesis of Cavellini's 'self-historization.'  Nevertheless these contradictions did not stop Cavellini from imitating Macunias' Fluxist box installation concept.


The anti-art bias found in Dada is noted in Wikipedia, which remarks in the Artistamp article that it may be 'counterintuitive' to say that anti-art could give birth to 'artistamps.'  I quote;

 " In 1919, Dadaist Raoul Hausmann affixed a self-portrait postage stamp to a postcard,[1] but given that Dada was determinedly anti-art (at least in theory), calling this an "artist’s stamp" seems almost counterintuitive."

This may be Wikipedia hinting that 'anti-art-stamps' might have been a more appropriate term for artistamps, (at least along the lines of their development from the Dadaist perspective).

Yoko Ono was the famous wife of John Lennon. And it is said by many that her joint issue with Mr. Lennon of an album of sounds of flushing toilets was detrimental to her Beatle husband's music. She was a Fluxist and is known to have associated with Macunias. She appears today on a variety of Fluxist artistamps. Some might conjecture that she is probably a leading contributor to contemporary aversions to Fluxism, as the essence of her contributions have been seen as demeaning to the countercultural movement of the 1960's.


Yoko Ono music:


Mail Art has been with us as long as there have been artists. Van Gogh, for example, was a prolific letter writer and created much in the way of Mail Art. Mark Bloch notes that many artists historically embellished their mail and letters as a matter of course. Picasso gave us Cubist Mail Art. Picasso incidentally had collaborated in collage art with Picabia, the leader of the Parisian Dadaists.

Giocomo Balla gave us Futurist Mail Art. The Futurists in Italy are associated with ideals removed from those found generally in Dadaism. The Futurists hailed war, modern industry and progress in their art. They have been associated by many with what became Fascism. Wikipedia's article on Futurism notes: The Futurist Manifesto had declared, "We will glorify war —the world's only hygiene —militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of freedom-bringers, beautiful ideas worth dying for, and scorn for woman."

Kurt Schwitters, the Cubist collage artist included postage stamps in his collages, which he cancelled with rubber stamps, making him according to some, a Merz Mail Artist. Schwitters had created a short lived art movement he called Merz, which was a word created in one of his collages, wherein he cut the German word for commerce in half. He was not completely accepted by Berlin Dadaists, some of whom regarded his art and poetry as too romantic. It is said he was closer in spirit to Zurich Dada than it's Berlin offshoot.

John Held refers to the Fluxist Ray Johnson as 'The Father of Mail Art.' He established The New York School of Correspondance Art  which gave us Mail Art in the 1950's, followed historically by the International Union of Mail Artists, culminating in what is known as the Mail Art Movement, a movement generally associated with liberal political sentiments. Some might specuate that it might be more accurate to call Ray Johnson 'The Father of the Modern Mail Art Movement.'

It may prove a  very fruitful field of study to explore what sort of drawings and embellishments have been used by artists over the years on their letters and postcards. A complete historical understanding of Mail Art is not complete as of yet. No one school of art or philosophy 'owns' Mail Art, as we can see from the brief outline I have presented here, Postcards designed by artists are another interesting byline of study, as they relate to Mail Art.

It is interesting to note that Henri Matisse wrote 1200 letters during his lifetime, mostly embellished with original drawings. This is just one of a myriad examples of artists who have created mail art over the centuries. Many great masters of art and literature have produced Mail Art.

Frida Kahlo produced some masterful abstract Mail Art postcards in the 1940's.

Insofar as Donald Evans is famous for his painted stamp designs from the late sixties and E.F. Higgins is known for his Doo Da paintings of 1981, paintings of stamps have been regarded as acceptable forms of artistamp. An anonymous French stamp collector created many fantasy painted faux postage stamps in 1861. The link below shows some of his Hong Kong fantasies, created before Hong Kong actually issued any stamps.

French Hong Kong Fantasies:

I have included below samples of heretofore less recognized examples of paintings that show stamps or embellished stamp covers, done by Paul Klee in 1937 and Fernand Leger in the late 1930's. Paul Klee used to give performances at Cafe Voltaire in Zurich, and as an afficionado of Sufism, was attracted to the metaphysical teachings of spiritual Zurich Dada. For this reason it seems, artistamp historians, most of whom are imbued with an anti-art bias towards Fluxus and Neo-Dada, have overlooked Klee's contributions to the History of Mail Art.

Italian Renaissance self portrait Mail Art by Michelangelo: 
some Mail Art theorists include embellished letters 
as an important part of Mail Art:

Preraphaelite Mail Art: A letter from Edward Burnes-Jones
 to William Morris, 1870:

Edward Burnes-Jones
preraphaelite artist

Mail Art by Edward Burnes-Jones, 1883:

Humorous Mail Art by Edward Burnes-Jones, 1884:

Post Impressionist Mail Art by Van Gogh, 1885:

Mail Art by Vincent Van Gogh:

Paul Gauguin Mail Art, circa 1880's:

Chinese Calligraphic Mail Art, Shanghai, 1901:

Mail Art by C.M.Russell, famous
 Montana cowboy artist, 1902:

Italian Futurist Mail Art by Giocomo Balla from the 1910's:

by Balla

A new book on Italian Futurist Mail Art, showing an embellished cover by Balla:

Wilhelm Malevich was a prolific creator of  Russian propaganda postcards. Many date from 1914:

This Cubist Mail Art by Picasso was created in 1918:
Henri Matisse Mail Art, 1943:

Mail Art from India:

Fernand Leger's stamp art painting 
entitled 'POSTCARD'
 circa 1932-48:

Mail Art from Ray Johnson to John Evans, 1981:


Wikipedia's Artistamp article notes that one common characteristic of artistamps is the use of the stamp format for political statements or statements on social issues.

As I showed at the beginning of my article, the first fantasy political stamp may have been created in Colonial  America in 1765.  From the very first, fantasy stamps took on a political character. Even George Hussey's pioneering phantom Winan's local post of 1862 depicted what could be construed as a political image. And without a doubt the lampooned Mulready postal stationery of Britain of 1840 was totally political.

The 19th century stamp creators who produced so many versions of the Winan's City Post seem to have created an unnamed stamp movement, which historically parallels the 'Artistamp Movement' of the 1980's. I hesitate to try to name it. but tentatively suggest 'Phantom Courier Stamp Movement' as a possibility. Richard Frajola remarks that virtually every major North American fantasy courier stamp maker of the 19th century created his version of the Winan stamp.

Every sort of political and social issue has a poster stamp:
trade unions, peace, politicians, etc.

Political statements have been part of poster stamps for many, many years. Poster stamps are often described as a place for advertisements, however these advertisements are not always commercial nor are they all liberal and progressive, as you can see in the selection of vintage political poster stamps seen on the links below:

election poster stamp

See poster stamps from the Peace Society of America, 
issued by Wentz and Co. in 1914:

this stamp both presents anti-Napoleonic propaganda
and advertises commercial products

See a synopsis of John Held's book 
dealing with the political messaging found in artistamps:


Insofar as an important aspect of Mail Art is it's historical relationship to what is known as philatelic mail, we should include it in any history of artistamps, as artistamps arose from Mail Art.  Philatelic Mail is mail geared to stamp collectors. Such mail is usually embellished with cachets, rubber stamps, and postal ephemera in order to create an attractive or interesting cover. These sort of embellishments have been used by Mail Artists for many years.

In that there is so much material of this nature, I will share a only a few examples. Some philatelic mail borders on the paraphilatelic, as in the case of rocketmail popular in the 1930's through the 1960's, some of which utilized privately created rocketmail stamps. First Flight Covers, or stamp covers commemorating the inaugural flight of an aerial mail courier route is another popular genre of philatelic mail. Covers that commemorate new mail routes of ships at sea is popular. First Day Covers are a well known type of philatelic mail.

philatelic mail from a unique courier system
involving postal clerks passing a tin can
with mail from their canoes to waiting ships

As to whether we should regard postally used Mulready cover lampoons as paraphilatelic mail or prototypical mail art is indeterminate; but insofar as these covers parody prepaid postal stationery, they are of great interest in the history of fantasy stamps.

Mail Art should be classified as paraphilatelic mail when artistamps are included. Other forms of paraphilatelic mail are micronational stamp covers, or fantasy local post stamp covers, etc.

A Mulready caricature cover 1840:

First Flight Cover from Liechtenstein, with added Swiss stamps, received in Africa/1926:

The first Rocketmail in the US/ 1930:

Lithuanian Zepellin Mail/ 1932:

Rocketmail from Trieste in Italy to Germany/ 1934:

Rocketmail from Sikkim in the Himalayas/ 1935:
New Zealand Pigeongram commemoration with 
cinderella label tied to cover with cancel/ 1948:

Rocketmail from the US/ 1961:


In the twentieth century, about the time that Correspondance Art began (known now as Mail Art), there arose the Local Post Collectors' Society, a group dedicated to the study of local posts, classic and modern. The  fantasy local courier posts of Samuel Allen Taylor and others are among the classic local posts. 

by an anonymous French phlilatelist

However there have been many real local posts over the last couple of hundred years, in contrast to bogus locals, or prototypical faux postage stamps.

an authentic stamp

Scandinavian local posts are called 'byposts.'  Germany has had many privately printed local post stamps. The stamp below from Bergedorf was created in the 1880's.


Many of the members of the Local Post Collector's Society have created fantasy local posts. One can see that their stamp covers are serious in tone and relate more to philatelic mail in style than contemporary Mail Art, which being mostly influenced by Fluxism, etc., often has generated absurdist stamp covers with odd ball humor. Since these Local Post covers are distinct in tone and style from the aforesaid Mail Art and artistamps, they deserve their own category in the history of fantasy stamps. As contemporary Mail Art is generally exchanged with other mail artists, these Local Post stamps, as private paraphilatelic productions, could best be categorized as something distinct from artistamps.

Some local post stamp makers pride themselves on saying that their stamps are used for small scale personal postal deliveries, much in keeping with what J.C.Jay did in the 19th century with his personal penny post.

by Kevin Blackston
copyright by the artist

Kermadec's Island is an example of a fantasy local post from early in the 20th century. It may not have all the trappings of a micronation, as the island has no inhabitants,  but stands as an example of another early faux postage stamp that does not vary greatly from fantasy posts of late 19th century. There are many genuine 20th century local posts, among which we could mention British Postal Strike stamps of 1971, etc.

Kermadec's Island/ New Zealand fantasy 
local post stamp 1937:

Regensberg Displaced Persons Stamp
a local post for this Regensberg camp

Local Post cover by Joseph Frasketi/ 1971:

Camp Murnau

A compendium of Local Posts studied by the 
Local Post Collectors' Society:

New Hampshire
local post


Germany and Austria-Hungary produced many hundreds of locally issued unofficial banknotes after World War I.  Coins were also minted.

Some of the currency was issued with perforations like postage stamps. Germany and Austria are known for the extraordinary artistic quality of their poster stamps. But Notgeld upholds the same artistic standards.

While poster stamps are not denominated in most cases (charity poster stamps have denominations), Notgeld is always denominated, so this form of local notes, could easily be seen transformed into postage stamps. Most Notgeld notes are imperforate.

local currency

German Notgeld
local issue

by Rudolph Hillebrecht

German art was very progressive in the early 20th century. Expressionism with it's bright colors and often jagged lines was predominant. The Austrian Secession had given way to the Berlin Secession and the Munich Secession. The Notgeld of this period was predominantly somewhat conservative, but there are many shining examples of progressive art among the local currency of the day.

German Expressionism

this piece has the sort of odd coloration
found in the work of Kircher
The bold lines hearken to archaic
German woodblocks of the Middle Ages

this design reflects Secessionist graphics
that began in Vienna with the work 
of Klimt


Postal etiquettes, which include registration stickers, air mail labels and similar stamp-like additions to mail also provide us with another typology which relates to faux postage stamps.Some have similarities to local courier posts, including names of towns and cities in the region from which they originated.

international selection

Many of these are perforated like regular stamps. 'Par Avion' is a common phrase seen on such labels, as French is the semi-official international postal language. The etiquette below is the sort of fantasy postal etiquette one may find on Mail Art today.

The Southern Rhodesian postal etiquette on the cover below from 1949 has the name of the town from which it originated.

Southern Rhodesian cover with postal etiquette:

A French postal etiquette tied to cover with cancel:

by Kevin Blackson
of the Philosateleian Post
a local post out of Texas


Stamp Collars were common around the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. These were often seen as perforated stamp-like advertisements either of a commercial or political nature. The centers of the designs were blank to accommodate postage stamps, which then allowed the stamp collar to be affixed to an envelope and used as a regular stamp.
Jobber and Importer
New York, Denver
with stamp affixed

Stamp collars are found in the USA, France, Austria, England, the Philippines, and Russia. Often stamp collars are printed right on the envelope.

John Dewar & Sons Ltd.
Scotch Whiskey distillers
New York
printed on envelope with faux perforations
with postage stamp affixed.

Stamp collars create a hybrid stamp, half poster stamp and half authentic postage stamp. Very frequently the printed covers include an array of cachets and or advertisements.

various products are advertised after the fashion
of a poster stamp
with postage stamp affixed

Below is a toy stamp collar created by an Italian toy maker. These collars were supposed to hold a regular postage stamp so that they could go through the mail....but the children left the collars empty and just cancelled them with the toy cancel included in the packaged toy set. An unusual item.

with toy cancels
mid twentieth century


Postal Strikes have resulted in a very interesting category of stamp typologies. The British Postal Strike of 1971 is quite famous. But Canada and other countries have had postal strikes, which have lead to the creation of many unique  private local courier posts, created to help deliver the mail

Attleborough, Australia
to Norfolk, England

Some of the postal strike stamps have been total fantasies, never intended for actual use. Thus we have fantasy postal strike stamps, as well as local posts for strike mail.

Colin Ward Enterprises


Not all artistamps today have such extreme anti-art feeling in them as some of the aforementioned examples of Fluxist and post-Zurich Dadaist anti-art. Many of them are charming and colorful. Thus a lot of diversity has arisen within artistamps, despite the conflicting and confusing ideologies of that are the basis of the 'movement.'

all rights reserved

However, thousands of artistamps have been created....many of which have no associations at all with Dada or Fluxism. And the embarassment of Futurist/Fascist mail art has resulted in a general neglect of the historical position of classic Italian Mail Art, aside from it's representation in contemporary Fluxist form in the Mail Art collection at MOMA in New York. Meanwhile the original metaphysical agenda of Hugo Bell's original Zurich Dada has almost been forgotten.

An article by a Fluxist intern at MOMA about  A. Boetti's postal art in the museum collection:

Wikipedia notes in it's discussion of types of more culturally conventional artistamps: " Other practitioners are content to depict more homey subjects like kittens and family members."

UK artist's stamp

It is said by many that the real rationale for why fantasy stamps blossomed in the late 20th century was the development of easy access to Xerox and other photocopying equipment and the use of the computer

French artist's stamp

After long thought, it seems to me that it is best to distinguish the 'History of the Artistamp Movement' from the subject of artistamps and phantoms, etc., in general. It seems to be counterproductive to retroactively label micronational stamps, 19th century phantoms, Art Stamps from the turn of the century, and other classic faux postage stamps as artistamps. Diverse typologies are important aspects of philately. Just as insects are divided into species by biologists, stamps are categorized by philatelists.

Spanish artist's stamp

Many modern faux postage stamp creators, mavericks, scrapbookers, and unaffiliated designers commonly refer to their stamps as 'artistamps, postoids, cinderellas,' etc. remarking that there are many theoretical names for their fantasy creations. These stamp creators do not seem worried about contradictory ideologies or philatelic theories. But also it could be that they have never studied the history of Dada, and the unusual ideologies associated with Fluxus. nor the history of phantom cinderellas, etc. We cannot second guess even in a general way the motivations of myriad of stamp creators.

Ethiopian artist's stamp

Not that many contemporary fantasy stamp makers choose to use the term 'phantom' to represent their stamp creations, but utilize in a general way the expression 'artistamp,'  However, the term 'phantom' created by Frederick Melville in 1923 might be a useful alternative to the term artistamp. Insofar as 'phantom' is a technical philatelic term little known to the general public, it's popularity among stamp designers probably would be limited.

Hungarian artist's stamp

As far as I know no one has ever written a history of faux postage stamps. I do not know when this term came into general use.

Local courier posts of the nineteenth century and what Melville called 'fantasy country phantoms' are an area of research with many interesting possibilities for the historian of fantasy stamps.

This site has a selection of classic books on fantasy stamps,
works by Fuligni, Bourdi, Chapier, Melville and Williams:




Definition of Artistamps by Columbia University:

More about Artistamps by John Held:

Oberlin College article on Artistamps:

Guy Bleus on Artistamps:

Lewis Tauber on Artistamps:

A collection of works from the Smithsonian Institution on Artistamps and Mail Art by 
John Held :


My own portrait stamp of Samuel Allen Taylor is based on a self portrait stamp made by Taylor. Samuel Allen Taylor included his own portrait on a number of his stamp fantasies back in the 1860's. He is overdue for recognition as one of the fathers of Canadian and American faux postage stamps.

fantasy stamp by
Eric Whollem

The fathers of  British fantasy stamps, i.e., the Mulready lampoons, include such artists as William Spooner, Fores, and J.W. Southgate, most of whose works appeared in 1840. These are fantasy prepaid postal stationery.

Historically fantasy postage stamps were first invented by the Canadian, George Hussey, said to have created the first phantom local in 1862. This stamp was copied by many fantasy stamp printers in America and Canada and is found in many color varieties up until the year 1878. The stamp created a sensation among stamp enthusiasts interested in creating fantasy stamps.

J.A. Nutter is known for his fantasy Bancroft Local Post of Montreal.

Wuesthoff, H.W. Beckett, and John W. Scott also are other important figures in this area of paraphilatelic creativity.

by Wuestoff
using an old cover from 1858, Wuestoff added a local post fantasy stamp
as well as a cancel created by himself

Railway Courier Local fantasy issues are common from the 19th century. Craig & Melvin are known for creating the famous Baldwin railway fantasy. There are many other railway fantasy stamps. In fact most early railway stamps in America and Canada were phantoms.

William P. Brown created a fantasy local post 'Browns City Post' in 1876, which was caricatured by Samuel Allen Taylor's parody stamp of 1877 with the denomination of 'three limps to the post office.'

William P. Brown

(This imaginative concept echoes the use of the denomination 'winks' by modern faux postage stamp artist, Gerald M. King, who continues to produce Alice in Wonderland stamps. Gerald M. King began his illustrious career in paraphilately in the 1960's. King's neo-classical stamps are inspired by the many indigenous local posts of Britain, such as the stamps of Lundy which he emulates. King's stamps belong properly to a category of their own, which I dub:  contemporary British local courier post phantoms. It is noteworthy that King drew much inspiration from the classic Mulready lampoon covers of 1840, which gives him a unique place in paraphilatelic history.)

by Gerald M. King
featuring 'Winks' as postal denomination

This list is far from complete. Insofar as fantasy stamps have only gained general acceptance as creative expression in the 20th century, the haze of obscurity is only slowly lifting on the classic faux postage stamps of the world, the phantom posts of the 19th century,

Richard Frajola's informative illustrated articles on 19th century fantasy local stamps from the George Sloane collection is highly recommended:

local post fantasy stamp from Binklish Vuyana
used on a Parrot Relay postcard
Eric Whollem
cyberstamp edition
copyright by the artist


In the spirit of Taylor's fantasy stamps, I created a take-off on a famous British Guiana stamp, as seen on the postcard above. The Latin text on my stamp is completely absurd. and the stamp is denominated at One Scent postage. This is a modern faux postage stamp, or phantom. But if I had created this back in the 19th century, like Taylor I would be considered a forger! LOL*


*I also created a fantasy Binklish Vuyana parrot post stamp, styled along the lines of British Guiana stamps. Scarabeus Binkel, an imaginary figure, was the founder of what I call the Binklish East Merreminde Company. He was a stamp dealer out of his home county, Binkel County. I have many fantasy stamps and maps based on stories of his philatelic explorations of the Barbaru Coast.

See more of my stamps and stories of the 

Read about Binklish Vuyana:


Below are sample fantasy stamp covers created in 2016 and 2017. Many of the cancellations were created by myself....but recently I have been utilizing  modified vintage seals from as early as the 1600's on my Scottish fantasy covers. My use of materials for my stamp fantasies ranges from my own sculptures, paintings and drawings, to collage materials from past centuries.

Letters to the Sea
Eric Whollem
handmade parchment cover  graphically using my own sculptural forms
cancels and postal etiquettes by the artist
copyright by the artist

using 17th century Kirkwall city seals
as well as an Earle's Ferri city seal
Eric Whollem
Here we see vintage Scottish daguerrotypes on the Kirkwall stamps
as well as an old portrait of Queen Victoria on the Cantharidian fantasy stamp.
A vintage image of the British seacoast is impressed on the envelope.
digital collage art, laser printed
copyright by the artist

A letter to Peterhead, Scotland,
using a Peterhead Local Post issue
Eric Whollem
A vintage 15th century map of Britain is collaged on this cover.
Which ironically could be interpreted as locating the position
of the fairy Kingdom of Cantharidia LOL
Stamps of Mary Queen of Scots and Bobby Burns,
collaged from vintage sources.
Laser edition on handmade gray envelope;
collaged cover copyright by the artist

Censored Mail, known commonly as Pirated Pirate Mail
Eric Whollem
A vintage image modified to advertise Sea Dog Pipe Tobacco
is tied to cover by a red seal based on a Spanish Dollar
used for the famous pirate pieces of eight.
This cover is satirically presented as an example of
mail confiscated (or pirated) by the postal examiner. LOL
A seal from the Skag Dog Postal Museum is impressed on the cover.
Collaged stamp cover, laser edition.
copyright by the artist.

with collaged Wind Pill advertisement
Eric Whollem
1841/2017 LOL
The postal cancellation on this cover is a modified version of a 17th century city seal
from the city of Wick.
Captain Henry apparently was seeking medication to put more wind in his sails. LOL
Collaged stamp cover; laser edition
copyright by the artist


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