Want to know all about our stamps?

Published on January 26, 2011   ·   No Comments

Click to stampopedia.com

By Smriti Daniel

What can a stamp tell you about the country that produced it? Quite a bit, says Imtiaz Muhsin, the founder of stampopedia.com. The website is developed around a somewhat unique premise – that stamps reflect the morals, values and concerns of a country – and that they can be used to study not only moments of historical significance, but to explore the shifting kaleidoscope of values and concerns that inspired their creation.

Mr. Muhsin used to be the Principal of Crescent Schools International and you can tell he still thinks very much like a teacher. For him these stamps represent opportunities for learning. If he has his way, Stampopedia will ultimately combine the best of Wikipedia and Encyclopaedia Brittanica. It’s an ambitious undertaking to say the least.

Mr. Muhsin

Explaining Britannica’s concept of micropaedia, macropaedia and propaedia, Mr. Muhsin points out the parallels in stampopedia’s own approach. The stamps on the first page offer a simple title, which contains details about the subject and the set to which the stamp belongs. This is stampopedia’s version of micropaedia. Clicking on this takes you into a page with much more detailed information about the stamp – from what paper it was printed on, to who its designer was, release dates, denominations, size and even the type of gum used are all revealed.

Below this macropaedia is the propaedia. Clicking on a 2005 stamp of Dr. A.C.S Hameed for instance will give you both technical details and a short biography, summarising his contributions as a Minister of Foreign Affairs. Mr. Muhsin hopes to eventually expand on the propaedia, so that it includes more articles that explain the subject’s context.

With a collection of 1,500 exclusively Sri Lankan stamps, the site is still in its infancy, but the information that accompanies each stamp is detailed. Though he was a collector as a young man, these aren’t part of Mr. Muhsin’s personal collection; rather he credits several enthusiastic collectors. Having trusted him with their collections, they continue to supply stamp bulletins and information. More additions are coming, but currently the site’s collection spans the years from 1949 to 1971.

As for the exploring the stamps themselves, you have several options. You could try by date of issue, by category or even in alphabetic order. Here, it’s the category mode that most justifies the concept of stampopedia as an encyclopaedia. A fourth option, that of the timeline mode can produce fascinating results. Pick a year, say 1906, and discover stamps that highlight events and people that mattered then. You’ll unearth all sorts of trivia – for instance, you’ll discover that the annual cricket match between Kingswood College and Dharmaraja College first began in 1906, and stamp was issued in 2006 to mark its centenary. The entries are currently very limited, and the collection is very far from exhaustive, but Mr. Muhsin believes that can be remedied without too much fuss.

The site was designed by Christie Alwis, a telecommunications engineer at Sri Lanka Telecom, whom Mr. Muhsin describes as “an educationist”. Together, the two have envisioned an interactive site that provides a space for stamp collectors and general knowledge buffs. “There’s a lot of room to expand,” he says, optimistically. Mr. Muhsin welcomes developers as volunteers – he’d like to make the space a collaborative one and is open to design input and suggestions for additional features. (Use the ‘contact’ option on the site to tell him your ideas.) Observing that “social networking is so much in vogue,” Mr. Muhsin expects developers to spot the site’s potential immediately. As for the less technically inclined, he invites you to add your collection of stamps, take responsibility for maintaining updates for a country or a topic and submit articles and essays – there’s room for everyone, says Mr. Muhsin.

So few of us rely on snail mail anymore for our daily communication that one might wonder where all these stamp collectors are going to be found. Pointing out that the production of stamps has never ceased (Sri Lanka prints approximately 35 a year), Mr. Muhsin says that instead of being objects with practical applications, stamps might eventually become the province of collectors alone, prized more for their aesthetic value and what they commemorate, than how far they will take your letter. Commemorative stamps, in particular, already have a wide fanbase – the first run of the one celebrating Sri Lanka’s ace spinner Muttiah Muralitharan taking his 709th wicket, for instance, sold out rapidly.

Mr. Muhsin also believes that stamps add to what he calls the ‘language of iconography’ – images can serve as communication tools even across language and cultural barriers. In the end, stamps and the subjects they immortalize reflect the “pulse of the people,” says Mr. Muhsin, clearly hoping that his site will tempt a generation hooked on email to rediscover the wonder of going postal.

The Sunday Times

Read More: http://www.sundaytimes.lk/100926/Plus/plus_02.html

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