August 2010 - An interview with CyPress Grapevine island wide magazine.
Cyprus stamps chart and depict the rich history of the island from the stories behind archaeological remains to the plight of refugees from the 1974 Turkish invasion. A fascinating website run by Clement and Michele Chapman specialises in selling Cyprus stamps sets, singles, First Day Covers and Year Packs as part of a full range of products related to philately or study of stamps. Started in 2008, www.cyprusstamps.co.uk, the site has sections on news, useful links, books and accessories and a blog alongside the online shop.
“We really started the site to facilitate our hobby and to complete our own Cyprus stamp collection by offloading the duplicate stamps we hold,” explains Michele who maintains the website. “It seems to have gained a regular band of followers and we’ve made some fantastic friends with fellow collectors around the world and in Cyprus too!”
The Cyprus postal service dates back to the Venetians who were the first to organise postal communications for correspondence amongst dignitaries, merchants and officials. The first known letter was sent from Famagusta to Constantinople, current day Istanbul, bearing the date the 17th of August 1353. Many letters of the time were without postmarks but bore the initials ‘C.D.G.’ which stood for ‘Che Dio Guardi ‘ or ‘God is Guarding It’.
Under Ottoman rule postmarks were egg-shaped with confidentiality secured by a wax stamp. Handmade stamps were used for the fist time by the Austrian Post Office Lloyd of Larnaca during this era. Under British administration from 1878, all post offices operated under the General Post Office of England and stamps were initially the same as British postage stamps. From 1880, British stamps of the time were overprinted ‘Cyprus’ at the Government Printing Press in Nicosia. From 1928 to 1960 the portraits of British royalty were phased out and stamps started to depict scenes which were related to Cyprus.
When the British left the island and Cyprus became an independent Republic in 1960, three commemorative tamps were put into circulation while the standard series displaying Britain’s Queen Elizabeth was overprinted in Greek and Turkish with the words ‘Cyprus Republic’.
Since then, the postal service has issued a limited number of series each year aimed at covering postage revenue and promoting the history, cultural heritage and natural attractions of Cyprus.
“I have so many favourite stamp sets from Cyprus,” says Clement, who is a seasoned collector. “One I really like is a 1989 set of the mosaics in Paphos. They are like little works of art.”
Former civil servant, Clement started collecting stamps at a young age but stopped after his collection was destroyed in a flood. He picked up the hobby again when he retired in Limassol with wife Michele in 2004.
“One of the best sets in the world issued in Cyprus was in 1928 which marked the 50th anniversary of British administration. It has an image of George the 5th. This cost £5 which was a lot of money at the time,” says Clement.
The service has been issuing stamp sets to commemorate Cyprus’ own 50th anniversary which is marked this year. For three years a series of sets have been coming out, each of which can be found on www.cyprusstamps.co.uk.
Clement says that enthusiasm and interest in history are the key traits of a stamp collector.
“I have learnt things about Cyprus history through stamp collecting. For example, I didn’t know that Leonardo da Vinci had visited Cyprus until I saw a 1981 set of three issue marking the 500th anniversary of the visit,” he says. “I’ve also learnt about different icons and which churches they are located in through Christmas stamps.”
Everyone who sends post regularly from Cyprus will have noticed the extra obligatory 2¢ stamp for refugees displaced during the 1974 invasion.
“I don’t know if there is anything similar in any other country but it is the only time I have seen such a stamp,” says Clement. “The first version was issued in October 1974 and the second version in December of the same year. Initially, 7 million were printed. All of the monies raised from this stamp go into special fund for refugees.
It also raises awareness about the matter because it stands out. You look at the letter and wonder what the extra stamp is.”
As well as stamps to raise awareness of different concerns, most special stamps are commemorative. A further set marking the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Republic of Cyprus will be issued in the autumn. In June, a set was issued to commemorate the visit of Pope Benedict XVI.
“On the same day, a special stamp was issued on the Cyprus railway which shut in 1955. Ironically, it sold faster than the stamp about the Pope!”
The most sought-after Cyprus stamps are from the Victorian and early Edwardian eras. While top-price stamps are traded and invested in like works of art for millions, Clement says that collecting does not have to be a costly hobby. “A child can start a good collection quite quickly with pocket money,” he says.
With the widespread use of e-mail, has post and stamp issue been generally affected? “Of course, letter-sending has decreased but there is still nothing like receiving letters covered in foreign stamps and postmarks!”
To access Clement and Michele’s site, go to: www.cyprusstamps.co.uk. All prices are quoted in sterling (GBP).