Olymphilex 1996, Atlanta USA

st_olym96_1_lThe catalog of Exhibition

The signs for a happy day start at dawn (Greek Proverb)

Since this year we celebrate the centenary of the revival of the Olympic Games and the release of the first Olympic stamps in 1896, it is natural to remember and to consider what effect this issue had on international philately.

It is true that there is nothing essential to be added to what I have already published in the 1988 Seoul catalogue. I shall therefore refer to other matters than those that I have already examined. Besides, other distinguished collectors and friends, such as Manfred Bergman and Maurizio Tecardi, have on several occasions referred to the first Olympic issue and have examined it thoroughly, particularly from the philatelic point of view.

I shall therefore refer briefly to the historical aspect of the Olympic issue and try to make a comparison between this and previous stamps that were issued prior to 1896. In making this comparison, I am quite sure that the contribution of this issue to the philatelic world will clearly emerge. First of all thanks are due to the artists and scientists who contributed to the realization of the Olympic issue. The story is as follows:

st_olym96_3_lst_olym96_2_lFig.1 – Fig.2 Photographic essay of an "Archaeological stamp"
with evident similarities to 2 drh. 1896 stamp both designed by Prof. A. Guilleron.

The Greek government of the time contacted the internationally renowned professor of numismatology, J Svoronos and asked him to put forward some suggestions for a stamp design.
By happy chance, the distinguished and talented scientist chose his subjects from the sphere of fine arts, such as architecture, sculpture, pottery and painting, as well as from the designs of various coins from the Hellenic Classic period; subjects which had already contributed to the arts in ancient times.

st_olym96_4_lFig. 3 Registered letter (label nn. 822) posted from Athens at 23 May 1896, to Hannover, with two pieces of 40L. Olympics,
in combination with ten stamps of 1  Lepton Small Hermes (last Athenian issue).
As during the first six months of the Olympic stamps circulation the usage of other Greek stamps was officially forbidden...
... maybe this letter is the only one known till today posted in combination of Olympic + other stamp issue.
(former author's collection)

That was the beginning which, as they say, is always the foundation stone of all manner of ventures. What followed is, more or less, common knowledge.

Professor of graphic arts, Guilleron and the engraver Ε Mouchon, both well respected artists of their time, contributed to the first Olympic issue in 1895. The choice of design and the superb execution of it guaranteed its success. It was expected that the whole issue would be extremely successful. Indeed it was! The 1896 issue won universal acclaim, even in comparison to other philatelic issues due to Svoronos’ ingenious designs. If we examine all previous issues prior to 1896, with the exception of the United States Columbian issue of 1893, some 80% of the rest of the world issued stamps showing their leaders, sailing ships, coats of arms or flora and fauna indigenous to the country of issue. The Olympic issue was the first in the world to introduce elements from antiquity and of ancient Greek splendor, thus putting an end to mundane philatelic monotony! That issue worked in the same way as the arts did in the 5th Century BC, which introduced an element of beauty into otherwise plain and pedestrian forms which had previously dominated various works of art. Additionally, the Olympic issue was the first stamp issue to commemorate an athletic event. It was also the first to honor the Olympic spirit; “the ancient and immortal Olympic spirit”, recollecting the verses of the Olympic anthem, writen by the Greek poet Kostis Palamas and composed by Samaras. It was also the first stamp issue in the world which illustrated architectural designs as, in all twelve values, the main decorative element derives from clasical architecture and its various styles. Finally, it is the first stamp issue that illustrates the beauty of ancient masterpieces in marble, by the sculptors Myron, Paeonius and Praxiteles.

st_olym96_5_lFig.4 Registered letter with declared value from Siros to Liverpool
with extraordinary postage of 16,60 drachmae. May be the biggest known for the 1896 issue.

st_olym96_6_lFig.5 Block of ten of the 10 lepta used as one drachma postage on parcels coupon.


Although the 1896 Olympic issue is not exactly the first issue that helped to develop thematic philately, it is, however, definitely the first issue that strengthened the development of this branch of philately. The result is that, apart from the obvious creation of a collection of Olympic stamps, these stamps can also be used in the collection of themes such as the Olympian gods, mythology, athletics, coins, paintings ceramics, sculpture, wrestling, architecture etc; as well as themes of minor importance such as Athens, stadia etc.


st_olym96_7_lFig.6 Strip of three of the 2 drachmae - maybe unique till today.

At the same time, the issue of 1896 also provides a series of other philatelic elements, such as proofs, historical documents, multiple perforations, posted items and forgeries. These automatically place it in the category of Traditional Philately, as well as Postal History.


st_olym96_8_lFig.7 Irregular perforation; missing teeth of comb perforator.


It would be fair to say that the numerous advantages named above make the 1896 issue amongst the forerunners of early philately. Its designs, originating and inspired by the artistic and cultural legacy of the ancient period of classic Greece, created new forms of expression in philately. There is no doubt that the principle characteristics of this issue are its beauty, its charm and the originality of its concept.

This issue came into being on the one hand to commemorate the revival of the Olympic Games and on the other to contribute financially towards the costs of the first Olympiad of modern times. The entire world appreciated the enormous efforts of Demetrios Vikelas, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, Zappas, and Averoff, as all as the Greek government of the time and the organizing committee. The world of philately especially appreciates the efforts of Sakorafos and enjoys the highly aesthetic concept of that Olympic issue.

This issue is the outcome of a distinguished team of collaborators; Svoronos for his inspired choice of subjects, Guilleron for his marvelous designs and Mouchon for their successful printing!

Michalis Tsironis


Last Updated on Monday, 27 December 2010 10:01

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