The world's heritage: an introduction to UNESCO stamps


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03 October 2018
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) is one of the specialised agencies of the United Nations that were set up in 1946. Its function is to aid world peace by promoting international co-operation in education, science and culture, and as such UNESCO makes a greta theme for the stamp collector…

Although it promotes a very wide range of projects, UNESCO is becoming known increasingly for its work in connection with the World Heritage programme. An international agreement to establish a World Heritage list of cultural sites and natural areas, that would enjoy government protection, was established by UNESCO in 1972.

Today there are well over 1,000 World Heritage sites listed, and many have been featured on postage stamps.

The central administration of UNESCO is controlled from its headquarters in the Place de Fontenoy, Paris. A custom-built office block was constructed in the French capital, and was officially opened in November 1958.

The new headquarters, designed in the distinctive shape of a letter Y, has been pictured on stamps, such as the issue from Poland illustrated here. The French post office produced two stamps together with a first day cover to mark the opening of the building.

Stamps depicting the headquarters building could be the focus of a UNESCO thematic collection, and another topic that could be included, or treated separately if desired, is the Cinderellas issued to raise funds for UNESCO.

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These so called ‘gift stamps’ in various designs and colours were produced from 1951 up to 1966 and were issued and sold in schools. These little known stamps form an interesting part of the UNESCO philatelic history and would make a great addition to a collection.

The most interesting stamps on this theme, however, are those that can be used on correspondence posted within the headquarters building itself.

By an agreement with the French postal authorities, definitives for this purpose have been issued since 1961. They are inscribed UNESCO and ‘Republique Francaise’, are designated in French currency. Earlier issues had designs that were symbolic of the many different projects being undertaken by the organisation. Since then, World Heritage sites have featured on these issues.

The examples shown here are from the 1981-82 set of five and reflect the conservation efforts being undertaken on sites from various countries. The 1f 40 value pictures the Gateway in Fez, Morocco. The 1f 60 bears a picture of the Seated Buddha to be found in Sukhota, Thailand. Both of these values were released on 12 December 1981.

A third stamp, priced to sell at 1f 80, shows a monument that is located in Hue, the ancient capital city of Viet Nam. On the 2f 30, which is printed in horizontal format, there is a picture taken from Malta showing the Fort St Elmo in Valetta Harbour. The highest value, with face of 2f 60, contains a drawing of part of the tower found in Sao Miguel Cathedral, Brazil. These last three were issued on 23 October 1982.

By adding details of the Heritage sites involved, together with any other stamps that portray them, it is possible to build up an interesting display relating to the work being undertaken in this international conservation area. It could be a stand-alone exhibit or form part of a wider United Nations theme that incorporated the numerous stamps and related items issued by the main United Nations offices in New York and Geneva.