In winter I spend a little time with my second hobby: philately. In addition to topical stamps bearing minerals and fossils, I also like to learn about forgotten and defunct places. Often stamps help tell that story. I am not alone with this interest among members of the Rochester Philatelic Association. In October of 2015, Steve Eisinger entertained us with his presentation entitled “Confusing, Obscure, Bizarre and Defunct Countries – Their Coins and Stamps”: fascinating stories about forgotten places.
And now, for all of us who enjoyed Steve’s presentation, there is a new philatelic book with the same theme. “Nowherelands- An Atlas of Vanished Countries 1840-1975” reviews the history and geography of some 50 vanquished countries through the eyes of the country/kingdom’s stamp issues. The author, Bjorn Berge, is a Norwegian philatelist with a keen interest in history, a tireless commitment to research, and a ability to craft a relevant and enjoyable story.
The book was first published in Norwegain in 2016 with the title Landene som Forsvant. In late 2017, an English translation became available online.
Bjorn Berge notes in his introduction, “The stamps serve as the core evidence, providing concrete proof that the countries did in fact exist.” Countries such as Karelia (now part of Russia) that existed only for 17 days in 1922. Not much time to form much of a government, but apparently enough time to issue a postage stamp (heck 15 of them!), thereby insuring its immortality, at least to philatelists. Or the Kingdom of Two Sicilies which united the Kingdoms of Sicily and Naples from 1815-1860 and issued a set of stamps depicting the kingdom’s coat of arms stamps in 1858. And then there is Inini, Biafra, Nandgaon, Obock, Upper Yafa, and this list goes on. Each entry includes a map, a bit of history, and the story behind the designs of the stamps.
On the left: Scott #4 from Karelia (one of 15 stamps issued in early 1922). The raging bear breaking free of its chains depicts a republic willing to defy the Russians in establishing an autonomous country. Starvation and a frostbite cut the rebellion short. Those scribbles above the bear’s head: those are the northern lights!
On the right: Scott #3 issued in 1858 by the independent kingdom of Two Sicilies.
The book received a positive review by Phillip Coop in the January 2018 issue of The New CartoPhilatelist, the journal of the ATA Study Unit of Maps on Stamps, and by Angela Riechers in the online October issue of Print Magazine. The 200 page book can be obtained from Amazon online for less than $20.
Berge, Bjorn, 2017, Nowherelands – An Atlas of Vanished Countries, 1840-1975, Thames and Hudson, 200 p. (originally published in Norwegian in 2016)