Last week, as I walked through the gate of our apartment building, the portinaia (doorkeeper) flagged me down to give me this package. It was the most interesting package, covered in all sorts of stamps from the UK, addressed to my husband.
“Oh wow,” he said when I brought it into the apartment, “I didn’t think that would ever come!” Turns out he had ordered some mosaic tiles from a shop in England, five weeks earlier. I asked him to save the package for me, so that I could photograph it. I was intrigued by this wrinkled envelope, covered in colorful stamps.
What stories would this package tell, if it could talk? Could it tell me the story of why it had such a diverse set of stamps? Maybe someone had cleaned out their desk, and they were trying to use all of the old stamps that were left over when postage increased.
What about its journey? What would it tell me? How did it get to be so crumpled and rumpled, with the stamps peeling off? Why did it take so long? Maybe it was waylaid, because it needed to be hand cancelled. Or possibly it got stuck in some sorting machine. Likely the delay was due to Poste Italiane, famous for its inefficiency, but I like the fanciful stories better.
After photographing the package for a while, I decided to soak the stamps off and save them, for some craft project in the future. When a treasure trove of textured imagery comes your way, you have to take advantage of it. Reaching back into my brain archives, to a time in my childhood when I was a junior stamp collector, I taught Brandon how to remove the stamps without damaging them.
It wasn’t until I had removed the stamps that I realized all of the stories they collectively carried with them. There was the College of Arms Quincentenary, World Hockey Cup London 1986, and Royal Mail 350 Years of Service. The Most Ancient & Most Noble Order of the Thistle Tencentenary of the Revival, The Domesday Book 1086 and The Queens Award for Technological Achievement 25th Anniversary can be added to the list. Some celebrate artists as well: Sea Pictures by Edward Elgay, a photograph of Alfred Hitchcock by Howard Coster, and a vase by Hans Coper. A total of 24 stories are held in the stamps on this one little package.
Normally we don’t stop and notice the stamps on our mail. We don’t stop to think of the story they are representing. In fact, it’s becoming rarer to actually have stamps on our mail, with the decline of people sending personal mail and the increase in use of electronic postage. What luck then, to receive a package like this. It’s a treasure trove of culture and history and art.