Stamps take Sri Lanka to the world

by Ryhanna Salie

19 November, 2017

Postage stamps have a fascinating history. The world’s first postage stamp was issued on May 6, 1840 by the Government of Britain, according to a proposal submitted by Sir Rowland Hill with a picture depicting Queen Victoria. This stamp is now known as the “Penny Black” (face value one penny) and remaining specimens are worth around Rs.800,000.

Hill is now generally recognized as the Father of the Postage Stamp and also as the pioneer of the modern postal system, where only the sender has to pay the postage fee via a stamp and the letter is delivered anywhere in the world at no cost to the recipient. This system was ratified by the Universal Postal Union (UPU) which was established in 1874. Sri Lanka is a member of the UPU. With nearly 200 countries issuing stamps, stamp collecting has become a huge hobby worldwide.

In Ceylon, a postage stamp was first issued on April 1, 1857. It too depicted Queen Victoria, as Ceylon was then a colony of Great Britain. The first postage stamp in Sri Lanka Rupee denomination was issued on February 1, 1892. Sri Lanka issued a stamp to mark the establishment of a Republican Constitution on May 22, 1972. If you are interested in local postage stamps, the best place to visit is the Philatelic Bureau’s Postal Museum in Colombo. It educates visitors on the origins and usage of postage stamps in Ceylon.


A signboard at the Museum states: “As a result of the renaissance in the education sector with the beginning of the sixteenth century, there was a trend of the exchange of messages among people who lived in distant places. In sending their messages from one place to another, the receiver was required to pay a heavy delivery fee to the service provider. As time passed on, many practical problems started to arise. As a solution to these problems, the British government accepted a proposal by Sir Rowland Hill, by which he proposed to charge a small fee from the sender of the message. Later on, British colonies and many other countries started to issue postage stamps. This system spread almost throughout the world. Our country, then known as Ceylon, issued the first Six Penny stamp on April 1, 1857 bearing the picture of Queen Victoria.” The British currency was used since Ceylon was still a colony.

The Curator of the Postal Museum, K. A. U. R. Kariyapperuma explains that in Ceylon, before Independence, the postage stamps issued belonged to four eras – the Queen Victoria period, King Edward period, King George V period and King George VI period which depicted pictures of them in different colours. He says: “After 1948, we have issued more than 1,400 stamps depicting Sri Lankan history, the environment and distinguished mpersonalities. For example, we have issued stamps on scenery from the environment, rivers, wildlife and birds of Sri Lanka. Stamps have also featured schools, Martin Wickremasinghe, Amaradeva and the Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Dambadeniya and Kandy eras.”

Kariyapperuma says, in Sri Lanka the postal department issues First Day Covers, souvenir sheets, thematic books for Christmas and Vesak, picture postcards, key tags, T-shirts and caps. “In the last two years we held stamp fairs. Many stamp collectors visited the fair held at the Philatelic Bureau premises. At the last exhibition which was held recently for five days, we had 23 stalls with old stamps. These stamps are for the collectors’ albums.” He added that there is a big demand for First Day Covers in Sri Lanka.

The Postal Department uses the services of artists and designers from advertising agencies and universities to design these stamps but outsiders can also apply. Kariyapperuma says, “We have nearly 15 or 16 artists from a registered pool of people. But for special events such as Christmas and Vesak, we have islandwide art competitions and the first prize winner’s creation is selected to be portrayed on the stamps. We also go to churches and temples to select the themes for the stamps, and we have issued stamps for Vesak depicting Jathaka stories.”

Stamp exhibitions

Printing perforated stamp sheets is a complicated process. The stamps issued by the Postal Department are currently printed at the Government’s Department of Printing. In some cases the stamps are printed in India. The face value of stamps ranges from Re.1 to Rs.200.

Kariyapperuma says that in Sri Lanka there are more than 50,000 collectors, and nearly 3,500 standing order customers for new stamps. Customers can buy new stamps in current circulation from any Government or agency post office islandwide.

He said, “Very recently we introduced school programs where we go to schools and make presentations to encourage children to collect stamps and form stamp collecting societies. Lots of schoolchildren are registered at the Philatelic Bureau. Vishakha Vidyalaya, Royal College, Ananda College and Devi Balika Vidyalaya are the schools in Colombo that have held stamp exhibitions recently. Royal College has an annual stamp exhibition at the Lionel Wendt.”

Kariyapperuma says that the most important commemorative stamps issued in Sri Lanka feature Queen Elizabeth II’s visit to Sri Lanka, the Centenary of the Ceylon Railways, the Tenth Anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights, World Refugee Year, the end of the Second World War, the 100th anniversary of the Fort Railway Station, 70th Anniversary of Parliamentary Democracy in Sri Lanka, 150 years of Ceylon Tea, United Nations Day of Vesak, 160th anniversary of the first local postage stamp, Visakha Vidyalaya and Ferguson High School Centenaries, Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation Golden Jubilee, 50 years of Asian Development Bank-Sri Lanka Partnership and the 150th anniversary of the Sri Lanka Police. The most popular Sri Lankan postage stamps are the ones depicting Sigiriya, Sri Dalada Maligawa, Kandyan dancers, the harvesting of paddy, tea estates and national parks.

The Postal Department recently issued 24 stamps featuring flowers and unseen places of beauty from around the island. Many prominent Sri Lankan leaders and other personalities too have been depicted in popular stamps. Some Ceylon and Sri Lanka stamps can fetch very good prices here and overseas, which makes stamp collecting a very rewarding hobby.

Pics: Chinthaka Kumarasinghe 

Source: Sunday Observer


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