|Olymphilex 1988, Seoul|
|Olymphilex 1988, Seoul|
THE OLYMPIC ISSUE OF 1896 IN GREECE
Nowadays, all collectors, when seeing a set of 1896 Olympic Games stamps, would like to acquire it. There is no doubt about this. Who could believe that about a century ago, only Greek collectors wanted it, who would believe that there had been sharp reaction abroad? How many are aware of the small demand for them at that time due to this reaction? How many are aware of the courage, yes the courage that was required, so that we might see those stamps today?
Let us review the history of their publication and let us see what had occurred up to the time they were issued, what difficulties they encountered in order to have their subject matters presented while being however, so very clear and pure in their conception. How many more obstacles arose until the ink was able to render the triumph of a high ideal upon common material. What journalistic abuse they sustained what insults the issue received, what enmity from the status quo, what strenuous efforts were made to prevent their promotion.
In 1890 the idea of reviving the Games began to ripen in the mind of Baron Pierre de Coubertin. Later on, with the help of his close collaborators, he was able to organize (1894) a Congress in Paris and set up the first rules for modern Olympic Games. Until then, there had been no thought of issuing a stamp. When Greece, a poor country, had its offer accepted to organize the first revival of the Olympic Games-how simple an organization indeed-a formal committee (Fig. 1) was appointed to implement the entire project.
The Crown Prince Constantine at that time, was chairman of this committee and its members included the familiar names of D. Vikelas (Fig. 1), I. Filimon and J. Lambrou. From the philatelic point of view were the unknown until then J. and D. Sakorafos brothers and they are the ones who deserve to be known as the pioneers and heroes.
The country itself was poor and poorer still the financial means available but fortunately emigrant Greeks, always willing to aid and stand by their homeland, came to the rescue as they have done in every noble effort.
Averoff (as Zappas in earlier times) offered considerable sums to make a success of the organization of the games. It was then that the Sakorafos brothers had the bright idea of issuing a set of commemorative stamps, part of whose proceeds would go toward the fund raised by the Olympic committee.
The idea was indeed excellent but the issue was combated inside and especially outside Greece, before it could be realized.
The fact is that the Sakorafos brothers struggled hard in all directions in order to realize this issue. Finally, thanks to their efforts and perseverance, the idea made headway, the obstacles were overcome, and the idea won through, and amid the multitude of difficulties managed to materialize.
At this stage we can draw a parallelism between the struggle undertaken by the Sakorafos brothers and the struggle of Spyros Louis (Fig. 2), the Marathon runner.
The tenacity and struggle of the Sakorafos brothers for the success of this issue and the affection and recognition shown for it by the average Greek, contain the lofty height of "The great, the beautiful and the true" to use the poet's words. They can be compared with the persevering and gallant will for victory shown by Spyros Louis in that first Athletic Marathon race of the world.
That common man who did not even know the meaning of the words perseverance, patience, and devotion to purpose, ran as an unknown individual, and reached the finishing line sweating, smiling, and proud, his only guides having been his will power and his Greek stubborness.
In order to emphasize still further the elements which I desire for the drawing of this parallelism I recall the fact that Greece, up to the day the Marathon race (Fig. 3) was run (29th March), had not won a single first Olympic victory in the field events. For this reason, all Greeks were hoping that even at the last moment, one of their compatriots would attain that which until then had been the impossible. They awaited the Marathon race, they awaited the Greek, they awaited Louis.
Thus did it come about that, either through a presentiment or some other inward need, eighty thousand people had filled that fine gem of Athens, the Stadium (Fig. 4), even before the Marathon runners had set off.
Thousands more had lined the course of the race anxiously awaiting the Greek presence.
It was with the same feeling of anticipation that the Greeks standing up, welcomed and gave an ovation to the victorious Louis, the simple water carrier from Maroussi (Fig. 5) who became the first Olympic winner of the most gruelling event in the games, that they grated the 1896 Olympic stamps.
Once again Greece entrusted to France their printing, having in mind the good precedent of the printing of Greece's first stamps in Paris, in 1861. Inspired by period of Classical Greek antiquity, the artist A. Gillieron, made drawings using as his models, amphorae, statues and architectural works of Myron, Praxiteles, Pheidias, Paionios (Figs. 5,6,7,8) and others.
The engraver E. Mouchon, basing himself on the drawings by Gillieron, made the steel moulds and the French National Printing Works proceeded with the printing.
The 1896 stamps, the stamps of the first Olympic Games were printed.
On 25th March (Fig. 9), the first athletic stamps made their appearance, creating an outburst of joy to the public but a deliberate rejection on the part of the philatelic status quo of the time. Even after they had appeared and had circulated, the same hostile policy toward them was maintained.
Fig. 6. 1896, 2DR. "Hermes" Masterpiece of Praxiteles
All this, for the philatelic status-quo were pebbles thrown into still waters. One could say that the elements contained in the twelve stamps (original appearance, affection for ancient beauty as the reason for the issue) were considered features which ought to be persecuted: if possible, their sale and circulation should be prevented.
In particular, the purpose of the issue which was to finance the Olympic Games Committee, apart March 1897 to begin with, then until 31st December, 1897 and finally until the entire issue had been exhausted, although simultaneously from covering postal expenses, became the cause for many countries to sabotage their distribution and to recommend to philatelic circles not to take any interest in the Greek Olympic Stamps.
came about that the Greeks who believed the issue would honour athleticism and the Olympic Spirit, took it to heart with fervour. Knowing that part of the proceeds from the sale of the stamps would aid a better organization of the games, they ignored foreign advice and crowded the Post Offices to buy Olympic Games stamps.
True, the Greek Government helped this effort by forbidding the circulation of other stamps for the period 25th March 1896 to 1st October, 1896 (Fig. 12). This meant that, for a period of six months only Olympic Stamps were in circulation in Greece. However, the Greek Philatelic market was small and collectors' activity was limited. For this reason and also because foreign dealers in stamps, as we have seen, refused to buy in quantities, exports were also limited.
As a result, the Greek Government granted extension, until 31st sales of previous issues were allowed (the small Head Of Hermes).
The same will occur if he wishes to examine some isolated subject, e.g. field events. He will have to end up with the five Lepta stamp of 1896 (Fig. 9). Even if he wishes to show the sites where the games were held, which is to say the Stadiums, again he will end up with the blue one Drachma (Fig. 13) of the first Olympic set.
Thus, for reasons of continuity, history, subject matter and philatelic documentation, the first Olympic Issues of 1896 (and 1906 later) are always in the foreground.
However, I believe we should underline a further message contained by these stamps. As is widely known, in ancient times, states at war were not entitled to participate in Olympic Games. They had to declare "ekaihiria", armistice, in order to acquire the right to participate. But the cessation of hostilities, the protection of life, the joy of love have always symbolized the everlasting values in the life of man and are factors in the creation of good living. Consequently, Olympic stamps issued on the occasion of the games canvass this objective.
Repetition of the games every four years, and the issue of special Olympic stamps give a new foundation to the historic continuity of the event and a message for a better way of life. Even what they illustrate, take from subjects of athleticism, architecture, sculpture, mythology and history (Figs. 14,15,16,17), show the elevation and victory of the human spirit with important social and cultural extensions. Finally, they underline peace, the world at peace, a feature which has not only been attractive through the ages but is needed by us today more than at any other time.
At this point, let us rest for a moment with the illustrations of the first 1896 Olympic Games issue.
1, 2 Lepta wrestling: the life struggle
5, 10 Lepta Discus: Athleticism
20, 40 Lepta Athena (Minerva) the Goddess of Wisdom but also Sculpture and Painting
25, 60 Lepta Charriot race (Fig. 18)-The Goddess Niki (Victory)
1 Drachma The Stadium: Architecture, Athleticism
2, 5 Drachma Hermes (Mercury) and Niki: Sculpture
10 Drachma the Temple of the Parthenon ( Fig 19): Architecture, History.
TECHNICAL CHARACTERISTIC DETAILS OF 1896 ISSUE
1. Values: 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 25, 40, 60 Lepta and 1, 2, 5, 10 Drachmas
2. Perforation: Small forms, Horizontal forms: 14×13½ Vertical forms: 13½ ×14
3. Paper: Medium to thick, very good quality
4. Sizes: 1, 2, 5, 10 Lepta (small forms) other values (large forms)
a. for 1, 2, 5, 10 Lepta: in sheets of 150 stamps. These sheets are divided in six
b. for all other values: The same as above form of presentation, but the sheet is divided in six groups of ten, so in total then are sixty stamps. Also, there are not coloured lines in the width margins.
6. Gum: There are at least four different types of gum (smooth, thin, white-ocher to thick, yellow brown with fatter gum-nerves).
7. Printing qualities: 4,000,000 (for 1, 2, Lepta) 52,500 (for 10 DRH)
8. First Day of Circulation: 25.3.96
9. Last Known Day of Circulation: 28.11.1918 (on used stamp at authors collection).
2 Lepta: double horizontal perf. (down)
10 Lepta: removal of horizontal perforation
20 Lepta: removal of vertical perforation (Fig. 21)
20 Lepta: partly incompleted horizontal perforation (one tooth to vertical sides)
2 DRH: partly incompleted horizontal perforation in combination with missing of vertical (Fig. 22) (vertically imperforated).
11. Forgeries fakes:
12. Re-issue: 60 Lepta (grey-black colour).
13. Colours: Each stamp exists in two shades of its colour, dark and bright.
As the last observation on my part: The peculiarities of the 1896 issue, its technical details, its age, its historical interest and its philatelic possibilities, form powerful elements for its presence in Traditional International Philately. The same elements combined with its multiple subject matter, leave no doubt as to the contributory abilities of the Stamps of the First Olympic Games to International Thematic Philately, since they are able to cover many of the finer expressions of the human mind and hands.
Finally, the high distinctions awarded to Collections of Olympic Stamps at International Exhibitions are one more token of their recognition and are, at the same time, an invitation to welcome every new collector of the beautiful, Great Olympic Philately.
|Last Updated on Monday, 27 December 2010 09:46|