How to start a books and printing thematic


09 December 2016
1-76084.jpg Algeria cave paintings, 1981
Explore the history of communications, from cave paintings through to glossy magazines, with our guide to five top stamps on the subject of books and printing.

Explore the history of communications, from cave paintings through to glossy magazines, with our guide to five top stamps on the subject of books and printing.

With thousands of stamps dedicated to the subject of books and printing, the history of written communications is a fascinating subject which encompasses ancient technology, the dawn of the age of printing, developments of the Industrial Revolution, and on to the age of mass media.

Countries around the world have celebrated their role in the history of the written world, as well as the people, anniversaries, inventions and artefacts connected to the subject. A collection of stamps can form a pictorial history of how communications have developed over thousands of years, bringing us through to the modern-day technology which is part of everyday life we now take for granted, but which would have amazed our ancestors of even a century ago.

1. This 1981 stamp from Algeria takes us back to the earliest days of written communication, with cave paintings. These early cave paintings were a move away from relying entirely on the oral tradition to communicate information and pass on a community’s rules and values. The next significant step came with the use of clay tablets and then papyrus in Ancient Egypt, where a hardened reed was used as a stylus, allowing scribes to keep records and the royal dynasty to celebrate its military and civic achievements.

2. We next move on to more portable communications. The word ‘paper’ is derived from ‘papyrus’ and this was the Ancient Egyptian method of using portable scrolls to record events. By the fourth century, parchment made from animal skins had replaced papyrus.  This would be the material used to print the first books. A 1989 ‘production of early manuscripts’ five-stamp set from Ethiopia depicts the process. 

3. Once printing technology reached Europe via international traders, it would be just a few years before the printing press came into widespread use, allowing large numbers of people to read the same book. In 1973, Belgium produced an attractive printing stamp showing workers at a printing press, with a board of letters beside them, and printed papers hung up to dry.

4. In 1939, the United States issued the earliest stamp most directly related to printing, the Stephen Daye Press Stamp (Scott #857). This 3-cent issue commemorates the 300th anniversary of printing in America, when Stephen Daye and Daye’s son Matthew opened the first print shop in the American colonies, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. 

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5. In the centuries that followed Gutenberg’s invention, printing techniques became more efficient, with inventions including lithography, screen printing, photocopying and laser printing. Here, collectors can look out for stamps featuring various writing-inventions including the typewriter and the computer. Italy’s 2009 postal tribute to journalist Indro Monatelli on the centenary of his birth shows the writer reading through a newspaper with a typewriter in the foreground. 


The Graphics Philately Association is a group dedicated to collectors who have a mutual interest in the history of graphic communications as represented on stamps and other postal material. The Association promotes the collection and study of philatelic material relating to the topic and the study of the various techniques and processes used in the production of stamps and postal stationery.

The Association’s website has a gallery of stamps on the subject, including people, libraries, manuscripts, the history of papermaking, and book publishing. There is also a collection of articles on the subject.

Article extracted from an in-depth feature in the January issue of Stamp & Coin Mart.