Olymphilex 1988, Seoul


he Catalog of Exhibition



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.


st_olym88_2_lFig. 2 The Spyridon Luis










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.


st_olym88_3a_lst_olym88_3b_lFig.3 29 March 1896



This is where drawing the para­llelism ends and we return to the Stamps of the Olympic Issue.

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.


st_olym88_4_lFig. 4 The Stadium









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.



Fig. 5
Outstanding: Gutter Pair and gutter bloc of four 5L 1896 issue on commercial cover posted from AMAROUSSION to Leipzig.
Both (gutter pair, gutter bloc) are unique pieces till our days.
Discus Thrower: Myron Masterpiece


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.



st_olym88_7_lFig. 6. 1896, 2DR. "Hermes" Masterpiece of Praxiteles
Philately: Used strip of three unique piece till our days

Fig. 8 . The "Victory" 1896 5DR. Ex Paionios Masterpiece
Philately Athenian Post Office 9 is the most difficult of all


It is easy today to see why they were loved but also why they were persecuted so much if only we take a look at how many leading features and originalities these first Greek Olympic stamps carried for their period:
-Chronologically, they are the first Athletic stamps in the world.
-They are the first Greek com­memorative stamps
-They are the first Greek stamps which do not have the head of Hermes as their subject matter.
-They are the first Greek stamps (and among the first in the world) to have had so high a nominal value (Fig. 10).
-In addition, there is their original and undisputed beauty.
-Apart from the foregoing, the 1896 stamps are one of the first issues in the world to have broken away from the almost standard pre­sentation of the stamp of those times which consisted of the similar repetition of a picture or subject with colour's variation only in each one value.


st_olym88_6_lFig. 9
25 MARCH 1896 First day of issue
Block of ten: One of the few known blocs may be the biggest one for the 5L stamp.




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.


st_olym88_9_lFig. 10 and 19
The great values, on cover
Ten drachmae stamp on commercial cover : the only one known till our days.






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.


st_olym88_10_lFig. 11
Commercial letter, registered,
posted on 25. 3, 96, First day of issue.
Philately : There are only two or three known covers F.D.C. + Registered.









In the end, the losers were those who believed in the sabotage while the winners were those who re­ceived even some sets and especial­ly some posted on the first day of their circulation (Figs. 11,12). This was because athletics in Greece rests on sound foundations and is worshipped the world over. So it

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).


st_olym88_11_lFig. 12
P. Stationery of Large Hermes + Small Hermes Head + Olympic stamps
posted at the day of issue 25.3, 1896
Philately: Stationery and Small Hermes Heads Stamps must not be in circulation at that day.


Nowadays, the first Olympic Stamps are a Philatelic saga. Their recongnition has become interna­tional and their collection has be­come an object of worship and fanaticism. Hundreds of collectors all over the world take an interest in them. This is easily explained: we know that the collector who finds the object of his collection easily in never issues and relatively easily in the first postwar issues, begins to encounter difficulties in the issues of the period between the Wars and especially those of the Latin Amer­ican countries, he will also encoun­ter difficulties with the Belgian issue of 1920 and easily or with difficulty, he will inevitably end up with the Greek issues of 1896 and 1906, if he desires to form a noteworthy collec­tion.

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.


st_olym88_12_lFig. 13
1896, 1DR. The Stadium
Philately: Used Strip of four also unique till today.




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.


st_olym88_13_lFig. 14
Full margins sheetlet (right down corner of the great sheet of 60) 
5a Presentation: Also, for Technical details the narrow middle is on the left of Fig.








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.


st_olym88_15_lst_olym88_14_sFig. 15.  Architecture 1896 1 DRH: Original Die-Proof, Black color, on thin paper
Fig. 16.  Sculpture 1896 one lepton (as above), block color




st_olym88_16_sFig. 17
Mythologie Goddess Athina, on painted Amporaza.
Philately 1896, 40 Lepta Bloc often, used: unique known piece










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.



Fig. 18
1896:25 and 60 l. The Goddess Niki (Victory) in Charriot-race
Philately Interuption of the frame in the up-right point of the vertical line




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)



Fig. 20
The colored line in the horizontal margins
(For Technical Characteristic details at 5a)










5. Presentation:

a. for 1, 2, 5, 10 Lepta: in sheets of 150 stamps. These sheets are divided in six
smaller groups (sheetlets) (3 vertical × 2) of 25 stamps each, with margins all around them. The (one) margin in middle is narrow, but the (two) horizontal mar­gins are wider, adorned with a coloured line (Fig. 20), in the colour of stamp. They presentation also the printing day in the right down corner pe 29.2.

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).


st_olym88_20_lFig. 21
Errors of perforation (see on technical details, page 5) dl896,
20 Lepta Removal of vertical perf





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).


st_olym88_19_lFig. 22
Technical details, 10 Errors of perforation 1896.
2DRH. Incompleted horizontal perf. in combination with missing of vertical perf.


10. Errors of Perforation:

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).


st_olym88_21_sFig. 23
(Technical details, 11, last page)
Forgeries: 60 Lepta doesn't exist imperf.










11. Forgeries fakes:
40L, 60L (Figs. 23,24). 2DRH. 5DRH. 10DRH (Fig. 25). (perforation 14×13½ in the small dimension instead of 13½×14).

12. Re-issue: 60 Lepta (grey-black colour).


st_olym88_22_lFig. 24 (as Fig 23)
The genuine exists in marginal blocs often, not more









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.


st_olym88_23_lFig. 25
1896, 10DR Forgery, made by SPERATI
(But it has the genuine perforation 13½×14)



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

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