Too Many New Issues?

Philatelists today are apt to look askance at the new issue policies of many countries. Even our very own USPS issues roughly 1,000 new stamps within a decade in the 21st century. Do we really need that many? OK, maybe we do; after all we are a diverse nation of over 300 million people (with plenty of special interests that need to be commemorated). And we are a robust commercial nation generating tens of billions of pieces of mail annually. But did Grenada also need over 700 different stamp issues during the first decade of the 21st century? Grenada in square miles is about the size of the city of Philadelphia and its population of 110,000 is only 3/100s of a percent of the US population. On a pro-rated philatelic basis, if Grenada’s issuing policies were to mirror the US, Grenada should be entitled to a new stamp every seven years. And Grenada is hardly the most egregious example.                       
But profligate stamp issuing policies are nothing new. Some of the most popular worldwide stamps today were originally derided in the philatelic press as being unnecessary and issued solely for collectors. The Portuguese Colonies were commonly cited as the worst offenders. Did Nyassa need 125 stamps to 1920 or Mozambique Company (which wasn’t even really a country, rather an administrative district) need over 300? These were countries that had minuscule literate populations in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. And the British Commonwealth practice of issuing numerous long definitive sets for geographically connected territories is equally suspect. But my favorite offender is French Sudan. This was never really a country and was carved administratively from several political entities. It never had firm borders and existed as an imaginary nation drawn on a map in the Paris Foreign Office. It’s uncertain whether many (or any) of its stamps were ever for sale at the post offices there and commercial covers (indicating legitimate postal need and use) are, despite the Scott Specialized ludicrous attempt at pricing them, great rarities (I have only seen one before 1900). And yet French Sudan issued 125 stamps. And since today’s generation of collectors has no recollection of their hokey status, they are avidly sought out as classics of philately.

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