01 December 2016
Frank Spencer explains the intricacies of stamp issues of the Netherlands in this guide to collecting stamps by country.
In 1990 the Dutch celebrated 100 years of rule by the women of the House of Orange with a special stamp (SG1581) depicting portrait photographs of the four female rulers, the most recent being Queen Beatrix, who was invested on 30 April, 1980.
Despite spanning over a century of history, all four of these women were once alive at the same time.
• Queen Emma died in 1934 (SG442) and her great-granddaughter Beatrix was born in 1930. This illustrates not only longevity, but the practice of voluntarily standing down as Queen, a practice rare in other countries.
• Emma handed her Queen-Regent’s powers to her eighteen-year-old daughter Wilhelmina in 1898, Wilhelmina abdicated in 1948 but lived until 1962.
• Juliana abdicated in 1980 but lived until 2004.
The ceremony investing Beatrix as Queen was marked that same day by two stamps (SGs 1336-77) carrying a portrait of the new ruler taken by her husband Prince Claus, and a view of the New Church (Nieuwe Kerk) in Amsterdam.
As a republic, The Netherlands had its ‘golden age’ of prosperity in the seventeenth century, with the world’s largest merchant and naval fleets.
In the Republic of the Seven United Provinces (there were actually eight), each Province had its government of citizens presided over by a Stadtholder – but the Stadtholder was frequently a Prince of the House of Orange-Nassau, particularly in wartime. Economically, the most powerful province was Holland (now North Holland, capital Haarlem and largest city Amsterdam) and South Holland, (capital Den Haag, largest city Rotterdam).
Male Dutch monarchs on stamps
Dutch Kings are generally called William (Willem), and so the order of the monarchs can become confusing.
• William IV, the first hereditary stadtholder in Holland who died in 1751, ruled before William I, William II and William III and is nothing to do with William the First (The Silent) or William II of England.
• William III, whose face appears on the first Netherlands stamps of 1852, reigned from 1849.
• William III was also Grand Duke of Luxembourg by inheritance, and he appears on their inaugural stamp issue of 1852 (SGs 1-5).
• Upon William III’s death in 1890, Princess Wilhelmina, still a minor, became Queen of the Netherlands.
Since Luxembourg didn’t permit female rulers, the Duchy passed to William’s cousin Adolphe, the former Duke of the abolished Principality of Nassau (annexed by Prussia in 1866), as Grand Duke Adolf. Emma became Queen-Regent of the Netherlands and hers is the first portrait on the 1990 ‘Four Queens’ stamp, but other than that, she has only occasionally been depicted philatelically (SGs 355, 442).
From 1884, when William III’s remaining son Alexander Frederik died, to 1908, the House of Orange faced extinction.
The young Wilhelmina (the 1891 stamps show her as a nine or ten-year-old) was its only direct representative. Her investment with full monarchical powers in 1898 gave rise to what is sometimes regarded as the first Dutch commemorative stamp (SG166), the 1g blue-green. The subsequently issued definitives (SGs 167 etc) similarly depict Wilhelmina in her coronation robes, but are redrawn and re-engraved. From 1895, Wilhelmina’s birthday, 25 August, was celebrated as Koninginnedag, or Queen’s Day.
Wilhelmina had several miscarriages, so the Dutch were on tenterhooks over the royal succession for many years, even after the birth of Princess Juliana on 30 April, 1909. Wilhelmina and Juliana appear as the second and third of the Four Queens on the 1990 stamp issue – when Juliana formally became Queen on 6 September, 1948.
A photograph of Beatrix (who during the war attended a state school in Ottawa) makes up the fourth portrait on the 1990 stamp. It is taken from a photograph by Vincent Mentzel. Subsequently this portrait entered the digital age, when in a very early piece of computer art, it was turned by artist Peter Struycken into the familiar ‘dots stamp’ (SGs1594, etc) which is still appearing in new versions and values.
It should be noted that the Netherlands also has a tradition of numeral-design definitives used in parallel with the royal portrait, such as SGs 167 to 172 of 1899 and the 1976 series (SGs1226, etc).
Three Queens appear together in a 7-Euro miniature sheet issued on 28 April, 2009 with a stamp-on-stamp theme. The portraits of Wilhelmina come from a 1923 Silver Jubilee issue (SG259), of Queen Juliana from a stamp of 1969 (SG1103). This sheet had a limited print run due to potential wear on the copperplate engraving of Wilhelmina.
Dutch stamps are full of interest, if you can relate to the extremely modernistic designs.
The Netherlands has consistently insisted, right from the 1920s, upon using avant-garde designers for its stamps, commissioning them from (mostly young) creative artists and Agencies. This generally results in strange typefaces, and multiple motifs on the same stamp. The viewer is frequently called upon to puzzle over the meaning of an image, which can have hidden or double meanings as well, many only accessible to those familiar with Dutch culture.
The NVPH (Dutch Association of Stamp Dealers) was founded in 1928 (SG2324), and works to promote philately. They publish a full colour catalogue of the stamps of the Netherlands and its associated territories and colonies, with every stamp illustrated. Until recent years, NVPH also had tight control over the issue of first day covers.
Far-reaching changes were made to the postal system during 2010, and this had an effect on stamps.
Instead of bearing a denomination, stamps issued from 1 July, 2010 are being numbered, for example ‘1’ for lowest weight domestic letters, at present costing 44c, and ‘2’ for slightly heavier letters, to 50g, costing 88c. Queen Beatrix ‘dots’ designs containing self-adhesive stamps printed by Walsall were released in booklets of ten and five stamps respectively. A host of other ‘1’ stamps also appeared on 1 July.
The number system is also being applied to stamps for overseas mail. A ‘EUROPA 1’ bicycle design (with hemispheres of the world for wheels) sells at 77c and a ‘WERELD 1’ heart stamp sells for 95c. Both have ‘PRIORITY’ labels attached even though there is just one class of overseas mail.
For the topical collector, the rich historical background leads to a vast range of subjects on Netherlands stamps.
For the ‘details’ collector, there exist frequent varieties of paper, perforation and shade, all well documented, and stamp series with a long life exemplifying such changes. Amongst the most popular thematic sets are those commemorating Dutch Nobel prize-winners.
An extremely cheap wartime set (but though cheap not always readily obtainable) featuring Naval Heroes provides a good starting point for Dutch maritime history. It includes that great scourge of the English (and French) Admiral Michiel Adriaenszoon de Ruyter (see also SGs 211-213 and 848-849). He was buried in 1676 in the Nieuwe Kerk, Amsterdam, having been fatally wounded in the naval Battle of Augusta, off the east coast of Sicily, when a cannonball smashed his left leg.
A ship named after de Ruyter is depicted on the wartime Dutch Forces issue (SG598) – but which ship?
Could it be the light cruiser built in 1935 and sunk in the battle of Java Sea in February 1942, or possibly the cruiser laid down in Rotterdam in 1940 but whose construction was stopped by the Nazi invasion – it was finally commissioned in 1953, and later sailed with the Peruvian navy. Since neither of the above seem relevant to the war effort, apart from brave and deliberate sabotage by shipbuilding workers, does the 5c illustrate another vessel entirely?
With inconsistent designs and a host of themes seen on Dutch stamps, collectors are often left a little puzzled by some issues. Yet this diversity is an attraction to many, and collecting the stamps of the Netherlands could never be described as being dull.