Dear Ladies and Gentleman,
Before opening György Galántai’s “POOL-MAIL” (artistamps) exhibition, I’d like to speak about the introduction of postage stamps.
From the 1600s post offices were set up as businesses all over the world to deliver mail and packets. Postage was calculated according to the weight of the letters and packets, as well as by estimating the distance of the delivery. On the Continent it was the Thurn und Taxis family that were first to establish a well organised postal service.
In England the “LONDON CITY POST” was founded by William Dockwra in 1680 under the name Penny Post. This was the first post that made it possible for letters to be delivered to London and its vicinity for one penny a piece. Later, it delivered mail to other parts of the country for two pennies. The postage applied to mail up to half an ounce. After a few years, seven large postal stations were set up in England making 12 deliveries a day. In those days postage could be paid by the recipient on delivery. Thus, in the 1800s a lot of people used postal services in a way that they marked the outside of the envelopes with some symbol and the recipients only paid the postage if they saw the right one.
Postage stamps and their use were started by the publication of Rowland Hill’s “Post Office Reform” in 1837, which caused a great stir. Hill proposed a uniform rate of postage all over the UK. He proposed the amount to be one penny for each half ounce, regardless of distance and for the costs to be paid by the sender.
Of course, his proposal ran into serious opposition but the British parliament finally accepted it in a sitting held on 10 January 1840, and entrusted its implementation to Hill. The world’s first stamp, known as the “penny black”, was issued on 6 May 1840. Two denominations were put into circulation, both of which depicted a portrait of Queen Victoria. The one-penny stamp was black and was used for letters weighing half an ounce, the cost of which was borne by the recipient, while the two-penny blue stamp was used for letters weighing one ounce.
In order to produce stamps more quickly and to make it simpler to count them, they were printed in sheets containing 240 stamps. This was because each British pound was equal to 240 pennies.
The stamps had to be individually cut out of each sheet containing 240 stamps. Perforated sheets were only introduced at a later stage. Rowland Hill died in 1879 and was buried alongside England’s most famous sons in Westminster Abbey.
The use of the stamp in postal dispatch services spread very rapidly. The German principalities, Swiss Cantons and the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy very soon recognised the advantages that stemmed from the use of the stamp. The International Postal Union was founded in 1874, which organised the delivery of letters between the member countries, and set their international tariffs.
Stamp collecting came into being almost simultaneously with the introduction of the stamp itself and the emergence of international postal dispatch. Various stamp clubs were formed, and in Hungary the “First Hungarian Society of Letter Stamp Collectors” was founded.
Initially portraits of queens and kings were depicted on stamps, but later increasingly more interesting themes were selected. The depiction of the histories, national costumes, natural treasures and indigenous animals and landscapes of given countries were used on stamps. The depiction of great international events slowly came to the forefront on stamps. A Columbus series was issued in 1893 in the United States of America, while scenes depicting sports scenes were issued in Greece in 1896 and 1906 on the occasion of the Olympic Games that were organised in those years. It was also natural that stamps were issued in every country that the Zeppelin airship passed over between 1928 and 1933, to commemorate the event.
The issuing of postage stamps in some countries is one of the embodiments of cultural activity. In addition to the officially issued stamps, occasional obliterations, first day covers and Maximum cards became increasingly used. It can therefore be regarded as quite natural that artists produce stamps, the so-called “artistamps”, to express their ideas and to convey their emotions. The graphic artist, György Galántai, has collected these artistamps and exhibited them. What can be seen on display is the close to 2,000 various works of art that he collected, and it can be stated with confidence that this collection is one of Europe’s biggest collections of artistamps. His collection can be regarded as the archive of artistamps and at the same time the country’s largest contemporary museum.
Having said this, I would like to open the exhibition.
6 April 1982.
(Translated from Hungarian by Krisztina Sarkady-Hart)