02 July 2021
In this special guide, Bob Wilcock, Vice Chairman of the Society of Olympic Collectors, provides an insight into creating a collection of Olympics stamps, from the very first Olympics stamps issued in 1896, to those stamps marking the modern Games.
Your guide to Olympics stamps
The Olympic Games were revived in 1896 and the Greek post office issued a beautiful set of classical stamps, in part to help finance the Games. They did the same in 1906 for the tenth anniversary Games in Athens, and these two issues give much for the classical stamp collector to enjoy.
Olympic stamps did not reappear until 1920, but there have been stamps for every Games since.
London's games in 1948 saw a trickle of issues from competing countries, but it was really from 1956 and the Melbourne Olympic Games that Olympic stamp issues took off.
SIGN UP TO THE FREE NEWSLETTER TODAY and we'll send you news, views and stamp guides direct to your inbox. It's completely free and a great way to keep up to date with the very latest new stamps and enter our latest competitions.
A stamp collecting advocate
The theme was boosted considerably in the 1980s when avid collector Juan Antonio Samaranch became President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). He donated his collection of blocks of four of every Olympic stamp to the Olympic Museum in Lausanne, and inaugurated the first major exhibition, Olymphilex ’85 in Lausanne.
With the new-found interest, stamp issues started to multiply and the IOC has now stepped in to curb frivolous and spurious issues.
The stamps issued for London 2012 are in sharp contrast in style from the Chinese issues for Beijing 2008, and this is one of the fascinations of Olympic philately: each Games sees a new host in a different continent, and the culture of that country is reflected in the stamps.
- Mexico’s Aztec history provided fascinating designs in 1968
- Spain ventured into modern art, and children’s art for Barcelona 1992
- Australia's issues were even more unexpected, as the Opening Ceremony of the Sydney Olympics in 2000 brought singer Kylie Minogue and ‘Bananas in Pyjamas’ into the Olympic arena!
Olympics postal history
Olympic postal history has two aspects to interest the collector. There are always temporary post offices in Olympic Villages and at Olympic venues. The detailed postal arrangements are not always made public and it is often up to collectors, and members of the various Olympic and sporting philatelic societies around the world to research, collect and record the full postal story.
The second aspect is perhaps of much wider interest: the postcards and correspondence sent by competitors, officials and spectators. Some fascinating stories are told, and it is always worth looking carefully at aerogrammes sent from Olympic villages, when they come up for sale.
Athletic collectors often concentrate on their own sport or discipline. There are some who put sports in the background and collect stamps and other items relating to the history and organisation of the Games.
London 2012 Olympics stamps
The story for London 2012 stamps starts with the candidate cities, London, Madrid, Moscow, New York and Paris, but did not finish with the closing ceremony. Countries issued stamps commemorating medal successes of their athletes. The main collection will be formed but for each succeeding Games there are sure to be stamps looking back at the star Olympians of the Games: a good excuse to bring out, update, and enjoy the collection proudly formed.
The best way to start and develop a collection is by joining a specialist society such as the Sports Philatelists International in the USA, IMOS in Germany, or the International Association of Olympic Collectors.
These societies are all linked into the Olympic movement, and liaise regularly with one another: it is a delightful world-wide network.
Olympic philately really is a world-wide interest, you meet fascinating people, collectors, athletes and medallists.