01 October 2018
The issue of a 2018 USA stamp honouring British songwriter and member of the Beatles, John Lennon (and featuring a subtle peace symbol), is just one of many stamps celebrating his life, as our guide to John Lennon stamps reveals
The Beatles and their record covers have appeared on a variety of stamps in the last two decades, perhaps most notably the ambitious set released by Britain in 2007.
But the story of Lennon's post-Beatles life and his anti-war sentiments can also be told using a number of postage stamps.
While a great deal of philatelic material depicting the revered songwriter has been issued by countries with little connection to the subject, there are a wide selection of less commercially minded stamps celebrating Lennon's music and life.
It is worth mentioning Lennon's own fleeting connections with philately.
Years before meeting Paul McCartney, the Liverpool youngster dabbled in stamp collecting after being given a half-filled album by his cousin. Today this childhood collection is held by the National Postal Museum in Washington DC, whose desire to obtain the item demonstrates the singer's popularity in the USA. The album can be viewed online at the National Postal Museum's website: https://postalmuseum.si.edu/lennon/
Lennon's next involvement in postage stamps came in 1971 and is more in keeping with a thematic collection on his solo years.
Inspired by striking postal workers, he designed a series of stamps showing a clenched fist as a symbol of defiance. The designs formed part of a series of stamps and postcards created by poets and artists such as David Hockney, but Lennon's were not issued since the industrial action ended. They have rarely been shown in public, and sold for £1,260 in a 2003 auction.
The long list of more accessible material includes a variety of issues showing the Beatles at the height of their fame, with the aforementioned January 2007 Royal Mail issues, showing the band's famous album covers, being the most attractive. Indeed, one could begin the story of Lennon's solo career with this issue, since the band began to disintegrate during the recording of Let It Be and Abbey Road, with Lennon losing motivation as his songwriting partner began to dominate studio proceedings.
The band announced their split before this final album had even been released, but Lennon's life showed no signs of slowing down.
The singer's chaotic lifestyle during that period is captured on a set from Gibraltar, released in March 1999 and commemorating the 30th anniversary of Lennon’s marriage to Yoko Ono which had taken place in the Rock’s register office. The brief ceremony was witnessed by Peter Brown and photographer David Nutter who obligingly snapped the occasion for posterity.
The 20p, 30p and 40p stamps featured different portraits of John in his twenties at the height of his Beatles’ fame, while the two £1 miniature sheets show photographs of the wedding that preceded the unusual honeymoon spent under a duvet with perplexed journalists looking on.
Other stamps showing Lennon without his band-mates have come from unlikely sources, including Australia (where Lennon rubs shoulders with Shakespeare on a joint issue with the UK), Guyana (the $35 value shows a sketch of Lennon which is of a much better quality than many other efforts on stamps), and Germany (on a 1988 charity issue also featuring Jim Morrison, Buddy Holly and Elvis Presley).
However, it is a 2008 stamp from Iceland that eloquently sums up Lennon's promotion of peace.
Depicting Reykjavik's Imagine Peace Tower, a column of light that reaches into the sky and was devised by Yoko Ono, the stamp design hides a number of references to Lennon.
When held under a UV light an image of the singer appears, while the tower and cloud above it light up. As if that wasn't enough, the cloud in question happens to mirror the shape of the cloud on Lennon's 1971 solo album Imagine. Could the bearded star, holed up in a hotel room with rumours that the FBI had a lengthy file on him, ever have imagined that his sentiments would be recalled in such a unique way some four decades later?
Less literal stamps can also describe Lennon's campaign for peace, including a value from the USA's 'Celebrate the Century' issue, which shows the famous peace symbol adopted by the CND and used throughout the 1960s (appropriately enough the large stamp issue also featured values showing the Beatles' yellow submarine, a protest singer's guitar and a Vietnam soldier), and an array of issues celebrating peace after a variety of conflicts. Issues from both the USA and Vietnam also recall the war that brought the previously innocent sixties to a thorny end.
Creating a thematic collection reflecting Lennon's post-Beatles life could take many different angles to reflect the singer's story. But just like the quest for peace, it doesn't have to be so complicated.
In fact, the stamp collection could be as simple and effective as the off-hand remark that led to the famous song: 'all we are saying, is give peace a chance.'