Commerce or commemoration? : the role of the postage stamp in Great War remembrance : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Philosophy in History, Massey University, Manawatu Campus, New Zealand
The Great War of 1914-18 was a major and catastrophic event in the 20th century. The remembrance and commemoration of the war dead and the war’s events and consequences has taken many forms. A less well recognised genre is that played by the humble postage stamp.
This study has addressed the role played by the postage stamp, not only in remembrance, but in fund raising for war matériel and for war-related charities. The extent and scope of stamp use for commemoration, over the hundred years since the armistice of 1918, was examined. Their frequency, scope and the subject matter of their design and form has been described and most stamps are illustrated within the text. Special attention was paid to issues of the former British Empire and especially New Zealand’s contribution. However, the issues of France were also selected as a non-British Empire state, yet a major combatant and having a population who suffered greatly by the war.
The study reveals that postage stamps played a small, but important, role in fund raising when employed as war tax stamps. Their use for raising money for war charities was widely practiced in France and many other European countries, but was infrequently used by British Empire countries. The early commemorative stamps of the Dominions were relatively few in number, but were carefully considered and designed. The absence of issues by the United Kingdom prior to 2006 is a confounding factor. As the 20th century drew to a conclusion, there was a proliferation of postal issues and also commemorative stamps which reached a peak during the centenary of the First World War in 2014-18. This change corresponded to the changes in postal authorities moving from a social service model to a business and revenue model. Despite this, and a general reduction of letter mail, there continued a steady increase in the number of new stamps produced and an increase in set size.
Evidence presented suggests that the production of postage stamps for true remembrance reasons may well have become a secondary role to that of revenue seeking. These former important historical documents are being overshadowed by commercialism. In turn, stamps themselves may have a limited future due to automation and electronic mail.