Thursday, 10 September 2015

Shangri La

In 2004 the Times Literary Supplement noted that it was not a particularly interesting year for literary anniversaries: they could not think of any notable deaths in 1954, for example, whose 50th anniversary would fall in this year. But in fact 1954 was the year that James Hilton died: and it is not every author who gives a new term to the language. For, whenever we refer to a distant paradise as a “Shangri La”, we are using a name invented by Hilton.

It was his fine novel Lost Horizon (1933) that gave that name to the world. With its Buchan-esque opening words, “Cigars had burned low…”, we know we are in the realm of the gentleman’s club, the story told to a circle of adventurers and cognoscenti, the yarn of daring-do in the far flung corners of the world. And it is indeed a fine tale that Hilton tells, of a lost Himalayan kingdom somewhere between India, Nepal, Sikkim and Tibet, ruled over by a lama of no ordinary virtues and powers, and of how a group of Europeans brought there respond to what they find. Many themes mingle in the book - lost worlds, secret masters, paradise found and lost, invisible cities, the wisdom of the East, high adventure, the quest for immortality, and more. And there were some who believed that Hilton was describing no fictional realm but a real mystic domain…

To commemorate this excellent book and its author, The Lost Club, devoted to unjustly neglected writers, commissioned a commemorative Shangri-La postage stamp. It was issued in a limited edition of 200, depicting the remote lamaserie in its snow-clad mountain range. Eminent SF/fantasy artist Colin Langeveld designed the stamp, and copies were used by the James Hilton Society on the envelopes containing their newsletter to members.

Communications on the astral plane with the High Lama of Shangri La confirmed that the stamp will be fully valid for yak mail in the sacred realm should anyone ever find it again.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

The Upware Republic

A fenland domain with literary connections

In November, 1851, a group of Cambridge University undergraduates founded an independent republic at an old thatched waterside inn near the Fenland village of Upware, with the picturesque name of "Five Miles from Anywhere - No Hurry". Officials - including Consuls and sundry clerics - were appointed, a minute book opened, and inscriptions made upon the walls and windows of the pub.

The members of the Republic included several who were to become eminent in various spheres in later life, including a Master of the Rolls, a Solicitor-General, two co-authors of an authoritative work on the natural history of Central America, a President of the Alpine Club (the mountaineering society), the man who sold Lords cricket ground to the MCC, and many others.

But perhaps the most intriguing name in the Republic's records is that of Samuel Butler, the author of the imaginary-world satire, Erewhon. The student involvement in the Republic seems to have waned after 5 or 6 years, but in the 1860s and later it became a Kingdom under the sway of the eccentric poet Richard Ramsay Fielder MA, of Jesus College, Cambridge, who in "red waistcoat and corduroy breeches", would swig from an earthenware jug of enormous capacity, which he called "His Majesty's pint". Alas, the original pub seems to have long vanished, although there is a modern replacement of the same name.

The Upware Republic was relaunched as an unusual literary society on its 150th anniversary, in November 2001, aiming to research and preserve references to the original Republic and its members, explore its terrain, celebrate Samuel Butler and Erewhon, and revive the traditions of tavern talk, good fellowship and independence of mind associated with the Upwey spirit.

This one farthing commemorative stamp, depicting Samuel Butler, was issued in August 2003 to commemorate the refounding.

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Strange Stamps - A Checklist

A checklist of the fantasy, cinderella, commemorative and British local stamps designed by Mark Valentine and Colin Langeveld.

1 The Upware Republic. August 2003. 10 sheets of 72 unperforated, ungummed, home produced. A stamp for a Victorian literary micro-nation based in a pub, revived in its centenary year.

2 Shangri La. April 2004. 200 copies perforated, gummed, produced by Jordan Printery, Washington State, USA. Used for a mailing of the newsletter of the James Hilton Society, Vol 1, No 14 (Hilton wrote Lost Horizon, about the Himalayan kingdom of Shangri La).

3 Faerie Queene. December 2004. 200 copies perforated, gummed, produced by yourstamps, Berlin [all subsequent issues so produced unless shown]. Poster stamp of Queen Elizabeth I with faerie horns, ears etc.

4 Rockall Post. February 2005, issued June 2005. 500 copies best described as "trials". Produced for a charity fund-raising expedition to Rockall for Mental Health Media. A slightly different version was produced by Discworld Stamps and used on covers.

5 Isle of Axholme. June 2005. 200 copies. Offered free to readers of The Epworth Bells, the local newspaper for Axholme, an inland island in Lincolnshire.

6 Hy Brasil. [July 2005?]. [200 copies?]. Based, with her permission, on the imaginary island nation created by Scottish author Margaret Elphinstone in her novel, Hy Brasil, a fine tale.

7 Dr Nikola. August 2005. 200 copies. Poster stamp, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the death of Guy Boothby, creator of the master criminal Dr Nikola. Reprinted 2013. 200 copies.

8 Lost City of Z. August 2005. 210 copies. Commemorative stamp for explorer Colonel Percy Fawcett.

9 Heligoland. January 2006. 200 copies. Commemorating the island’s period as a British colony.

10 Rayba. March 2006. 500 copies. Celebrating M.P. Shiel’s fictitious North Sea isle, in the form of a fantasy Norwegian local. Issued in association with a new edition of Shiel’s book The Pale Ape (Tartarus Press) and used on parcels of the book.

11 Healey Post. June 2006. 500 copies. Local, accompanying copies of The Hotspur, the parish magazine of Healey, Northumberland.

12 The Bowmen. July 2006. 300 copies. Poster stamp celebrating the book by Welsh fantast Arthur Machen, creator of the myth of the Angels of Mons.

13 The Great Return. August 2006. 300 copies. Poster stamp celebrating the book by Arthur Machen about the return of the Holy Grail.

14 The Inner Hebrides. August 2006. 300 copies. Designed with Thomas A Clark, Scottish poet and artist, for his Cairn Gallery, Fifeshire.

15 Irrawaddy Canoe Expedition. September 2006. 300 copies. Fantasy issue for the voyage of Major R Raven-Hart by canoe up the Irrawaddy.

16-19 Southwold Christmas Post. November 2006. [500 copies each?]. Produced for the Rural Dean of Southwold for a Christmast post delivery service.
Four values.
16 Angel 10p 17 Southwold Church 15p 18 I Saw Three Ships 25p 19 The Magi £1
There were also mini-sheets of the 10p and 15p se-tenant and the 25p and £1 ditto.

20 Ayles Ice Shelf. January 2007. 300 copies. Fantasy for a breakaway Arctic island.

21 Thelema Post. January 2007. 400 copies. Produced by The Olathe Post, Colorado, USA. Issued to accompany the pinpoint appearance of Aleister Crowley on a GB stamp (the Sgt Pepper issue). Franked with an ankh handstamp.

22 Par Imagination. January 2007. 200 labels. Designed with Thomas A Clark, Scottish poet and artist, for his Cairn Gallery, Fifeshire. Air mail style etiquette.

23 Green Monkey Redonda Expedition. February 2007. 306 copies. Produced for a voyage to the island of Redonda, near Montserrat, by the Green Monkey scuba shop and inn.

24 The Copeman Empire. March 2007. 286 copies. Produced for the micro-nation based in a caravan in Norfolk, with the authority of HM King Nicholas I.

25 Kokoarrah. April 2007. C.200 copies. Local for a sandbank near Ravenglass, Cumbria, celebrating Lewis Carroll’s reputed association with the area, and featuring a top-hatted Jabberwock.

26 The Coach Horn. April 2007. 400 copies. Poster stamp celebrating the instrument also known as The Post Horn. Se-tenant design, depicting a Coach Horn booklet and player, the late Duncan Jack.

27 Asia Minor Screw Steamship Co. April 2007. 312 copies. Facsimile version of vintage stamp.

28 Patagonia Motor Expedition 1912. May 2007. 274 copies. Fantasy version of a noted phantom stamp for a crossing of Patagonia by motor car by Mr Lionel Smith.

29 Hands Off 2007. June 2007. 400 copies. Poster stamp issued for the The UK Theremin Symposium, a conference devoted to this electronic instrument. Some copies were used on the symposium’s correspondence.

30 Four Lords Isle. June 2007. 304 copies. Local for a tidal island, four paces wide, at Jenny Brown’s Point, Silverdale, in Morecambe Bay.

31 Esperanto. April 2008. 514 copies. Poster stamp issued for The Esperanto Society of Great Britain to mark the UN Year of Languages, 2008. Some copies were used on correspondence for the society’s annual meeting.

32 The Hidden Place. February 2009. 315 copies. Designed with Thomas A Clark, Scottish poet and artist, for his Cairn Gallery, Fifeshire. Part of an art project for The Hidden Place, a burgh in Fifeshire.

33 Pendragon Society. March 2009. 240 copies. Poster stamp to commemorate 50 years of the Pendragon Society, devoted to matters Arthurian. Used on a commemorative mailing to members.

34 Fast Incoming Tides. July 2010. 200 copies. Poster stamp depicting a National Trust shoreline notice.

35 Sandcastle Island. October 2013. 200 copies. Local, the first and last issue before the island was engulphed by the sea. This ephemeral kingdom was briefly seen on Brancaster Sands, Norfolk, in October 2013 before it fell to the waves. Four shells value. Photograph of the island at sunset by Jo Valentine.

36 Bletting Medlars, With Care. December 2013. 200 copies. Etiquette for boxes of home-grown medlar fruit posted to connoisseurs. The medlar is a fruit best eaten when in decay, known as “bletting”.

37 Lord of the World. October 2014. Poster stamp depicting the cover of R H Benson’s book about the return of the Anti-Christ, to commemorate the centenary of the author’s death in 1914. 200 copies. Issued with a card containing a brief literary note.

38 Bletting Medlars. November 2014. Second etiquette, issued for the 2014 harvest.

[Stamps 34 onwards by Mark Valentine and Jo Valentine]