Cycling stamps

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30 April 2019
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Christer Brunström presents a range of postage stamps featuring bikes and cycling

The recent reports about global warming predict catastrophic consequences due to rising sea levels and retreating glaciers. It is believed that the ever increasing emissions of CO2 (carbon dioxide) help speed up this process which, in the long run, will make it impossible for people to live in certain parts of our planet. Many of these effects are due to our use of fossil fuels for cars and airplanes.

We need to change the way we travel relying more on transport which doesn’t lead to the emission of greenhouse gases. To start this change in our pattern of getting around locally, the increased use of bicycles will undoubtedly be beneficial not only to the reduction of CO2 emissions but also to our general health and well-being. In many towns and cities all over the world, special lanes or paths have been set aside for the convenience of cyclists.

Celebrating bicycles

Stamp collectors tend to pick up all kinds of information when studying the postage stamps they encounter. A 2017 German postage stamp is a good example. The stamp commemorates the 200th anniversary of the invention of the bicycle by a man called Karl Drais. Karl Drais von Sauerbronn was born into a noble family in Germany in 1785. He trained as a forest warden but made a name for himself as an inventor. On 12 June 1817 he made the first trip using his newly built ‘running machine’ covering a distance of 4.3 miles. The early versions of his velocipede had no pedals.

In 1982 Mongolia released a set of eight stamps spotlighting the development of the bicycle. The 10-mungvalue depicts Drais and his running machine being observed by a baffled couple.

At the time roads were so bad and uneven that it was difficult to use running machines. However, it seems the sidewalks were in much better shape and they were favoured by the early cyclists. In order the avoid collisions with pedestrians, velocipedes were not allowed on sidewalks in a number of countries including Germany, England and the United States.

Karl Drais then went on to make numerous other important inventions including the railway handcar. It is also known as a draisine and obviously named after its inventor. Drais had very liberal political opinions which brought him into serious conflicts with the conservative authorities in the Grand Duchy of Baden. For a few years he had to go into exile in Brazil. In 1848 he renounced his noble title becoming just Karl Drais. He died in 1851. His invention has been commemorated twice on German stamps. 

The first bikes on stamps

The very first 1817 running machine was of course rather primitive and difficult to use. Over the following decades, the velocipedes were continuously modified and developed into the kind of bike we know today.

The Penny-farthing was a particularly curious version. It had a very large front wheel and a tiny rear one. The charming 1959 Spanish Guinea stamp nearby gives us a clear picture of what this kind of bike actually looked like. 

Riding a bicycle became a fast and inexpensive way of travel over shorter distances. Bikes have also been used extensively by postmen delivering mail not only in towns and cities but also in more rural areas. A 1995 German stamps shows a postwoman busily pedalling her bike loaded with letters and small parcels on her delivery round.  It was issued to mark Stamp Day and it certainly is a homage to all those posties who brave all kinds of weather to deliver mail to their customers.

Towards the end of the Second World War in 1944, the CORALIT (Corrieri Alta Italia) Company in Italy was authorised to carry mail between a number of cities using a relay cycle system over four routes radiating from Venice. This service was quite costly as the sender paid the regular postage rate plus a surcharge of 14 lire per ten grams. In 1945 two sets of CORALIT stamps were issued for this service; the stamps either depict the Lion of St. Marco or a cyclist over a map of the region. The latter design fits nicely into a collection of Bikes on Stamps.

In 1900, the Boers besieged the town of Mafeking in South Africa which was defended by British troops under the command of Baden Powell. A local postal service issuing its own stamps was in operation while the town was cut off from the rest of the world. A one-penny stamp depicting Sergeant Goodyear on one of his tours delivering mail was photographically produced by Dr D Taylor. As can be seen he used a bike to speed up the service. This is a very scarce stamp and especially so in mint condition. The stamp exists in different shades of blue. It was in use for a very short period of time from 6 April 1900 until the siege ended on 17 May 1900.

One of the less known local postal services operated in the Spanish city of Barcelona from 1904 until 1907. Called Postal Express, the service delivered mail in the city using bicycles. Stamps were issued showing pictures of beautiful ladies as well as a delivery boy on his bike. Today these stamps are quite scarce and rarely met with.

One of the earliest depictions of a bicycle on a stamps was an 1887 1-pfennig stamp issued by the Drucksachen & Circular Beförderung, a privately operated local post in Frankfurt am Main in Germany. The commemorative stamp was released to mark the fourth Congress of the German Bicycle Association. The design leaves a lot to be desired but it shows a ‘Penny-farthing’ bike in front of the Cathedral in Frankfurt.

In Sweden and many other countries bikes were frequently used by delivery boys in the 1940s. Grocery stores employed teenage boys to deliver the shopping to the homes of people who for one reason or the other were unable to carry it home themselves. The design on the stamp nearby is the work of famous Swedish artist Lasse Åberg. The stamp was issued in 1994.

Cycling stamps

Cycling as a sport is popular in most parts of the world. The annual Tour de France is possibly the most famous event for bike fans. In recent years, British cyclists have been extremely successful in this annual event which attracts attention from all over the world. Completing the race really is a feat as some really difficult hills and mountains are included and it must be a relief for the participants when they reach the goal in Paris. The 2018 winner was Britain’s Gerain Thomas.

There are many other kinds of bike contests such as road racing, track racing and BMX. Shown nearby is a 1964 stamp from Taiwan depicting a bicycle race.

Over the years there have been numerous postage stamps featuring bicycles. Sweden released a very nice set in 2011 showing five different bikes including tricycles. It could certainly be the beginning of Bikes on Stamps collection.

Over the years there have been many gold-medal collections of this particular topic at major stamp shows. It is obviously the ideal subject for stamp collectors who are also keen cyclists, and as the world looks for greener ways to travel, pedal power is becoming a priority.

 

QUICK LINK: Postage stamps featuring the White House