Should be interesting to discuss what is the role of dominant state ideologies as reflected on the subjects and the forms of the commemorative stamps series edited every year. I have in mind the long tradition policy of the Greek post to pass the idea of the glorious greek Antiquity + Byzantium through multiple stamps' series on mythology and archaeology. Also a Geotgian friend commented tome that he one third of the recent Georgian stamps represent war and military. Is that a coincidence ? I suggest that a effective way of studying state ideologies is to examine stamps, even if one has not an available collection since now http://www.F R E E S T A M P C A T A L O G U E . C O M is a site giving images on ALL STAMPS OF THE WORLD classified by yewar, country andalso topic. Who is interested can search whatever been published since 1840, that meaninbg around six million stamps !
When I was about eight I inherited one of those hard leaved Edwardian stamp collections, where someone had glued the stamps into the book. Stamps and coins fascinated me because they seemed a semi-licit entry into unknown places; quite anonymously I was looking at a metonym (a word I only learnt later, of course) for human activities and meanings from places far away and significantly long ago. Stamps have been on people's envelopes, covered and authorised their personal messages; most likely the people involved have died or gone somewhere else I used to think. There was the grandiosity of imperial power captured in a tiny space. The isolatedness of the stamp and its possessibility compared to all these other swirling imaginables was delightful.
It is quite interesting to learn that both Huon and I had inherited stamp collections in a similar manner. For me, my father presented me with a huge box of stamps and hundreds of postcards (unwritten) in his bid to impress us (my siblings and I) with his childhood hobby. Filled in a dusty cardboard box, which had been harboured next to his high school exercise books (with the meticulous handwriting of a future chemical engineer and the doodles of Mike and Margo--my mother's name--in hearts), were numerous first edition stamps in laminated cases along with a large stamp collectors book filled with stamps his parents had collected on their business trips. In plastic bags were hundreds of postcards he had inherited from his mother in memory of all the places she and my grandfather had traveled. I still have this very collection, which has moved everywhere with me. The postcards and the stamps offered even more incentive to become an anthropologist--apparently I knew the word anthropology from the age of 9--as these images captured meanings of foreignness and otherness that I was quite keen on learning about.
However, thinking back to the Sundays when I was allowed to "play" with MY stamp collection, it was not only the images that inspired me, but the nature of the images. The way Russian stamps changed when the Soviet Union became no more, and more memorably those stamps that commemorated the change from colonial rule to independent nations. A great example is how in order to establish legitimacy of the newly founded state, those stamps would incorporate a bit of the colonial symbols with the face of the new non-European leader. Huon's stamp is a good example.
Only now that I am writing this response can I see the importance of an anthropology of stamp collecting, but also the anthropology of stamp imagery. Not only can we see the rudimentary influence of the imperial power, but there is some reference to the cultural importance placed on certain images and concepts that qualifies its appearance on the stamp.
In concluding this comment, it may be wise to put my experience in some sort of context. For one my family is from Guyana, which, coincidentally, is known for the worlds rarest and once most expensive stamp--Black On Magenta--which bears the colonial motto of the colony Damus Petimus Que Vicissim (We give and we expect in return).
Secondly, my father also had a very elaborate coin collection--which was stolen during a burgling of his office--which he had inherited from his father who was the minister of finance and foreign affairs. Hence, his parents were not only given first editions as part of diplomacy, but they also became a wealth of information into the cultures behind the stamps for me. I still ask them about trips to certain parts of the world that were, back then, beyond my frame of reference.