Prominence among Swedish Stamps
The first Nobel related Swedish stamps are among the UPU issues from the 1920s. They relate not to the prize itself, but to the institutions and buildings associated with it, and probably were released with no thought given to their association with the Nobel Prize. Since that time the Nobel Prizes have grown in international stature to become arguably the most important awards given each year anywhere in the world, and Sweden has adopted the practice of commemorating many more events, people, and things. Because of this coincidence the Nobel topic has since become, with the possible exception of Swedish royalty, the main Swedish philatelic topic. Sweden has not only honored winners separately as the occasions arose, they have issued a set of stamps honoring the Nobel winners every year since 1961 - this series is now in its 35th year. Although Sweden is fond of releasing stamps relating to one topic in successive years, no other such topic has nearly the continuity or duration of the Nobel stamps. (fn1) My best estimate is that nearly 8% of all Swedish major number stamps directly relate to the Nobel prize.
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Rarities, Varieties and Other Aspects of Swedish Nobel Stamps
At first glance one would say there are no rarities among the Nobel stamps. Certainly as far as the stamps themselves are concerned that is true. They are not rare, and they are not costly. (Well, the UPU values may set you back a bit.) However, once you get into booklet varieties you'll find some items which are quite difficult to find. They are not expensive if you consider their rarity, but the Nobel booklets as a whole will be the most expensive part of a specialised Nobel collection
Another consideration is what kinds of material are involved other than major number stamps with subjects that relate. What specialized material exists? In this aspect the Nobel stamps are no different from other Swedish stamps of their period. They share the same types of varieties. Some are listed in the specialized catalogs like Facit, others you just have to find out about as you collect the stamps. Here is an introduction:
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Swedish stamps released from the 1930's into the late 1940's often show plate varieties. The Facit catalog lists and illustrates the most prominent of these and finding them is just a matter of looking at enough copies of the stamp. The 1939 Royal Academy issue and the 1945 Red Cross stamp both are known to have plate varieties. I don't believe later Nobel issues do.
As virtually all of the rest of these stamps were issued from 1958 on, years after Swedish stamp production became largely error-free, there are virtually no technical varieties to be found in this topic except the plate varieties. Tagging existed on Swedish stamps from the late 60's into the 70s, and it comes in two colors on stamps with long runs, but there are no tagging, paper, or gum varieties reported on the Nobel stamps.
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Coils printed since about 1967 usually have numbers printed on the back of every 10th stamp, to facilitate counting the number remaining on the roll, or the number which you are buying. These numbers are known in red and black, in two sizes, and two orientations on some stamps. I know of no study of them, and have not established which varieties are found on which Nobel coils. A representative example of each variety for each stamp should not prove difficult. Complete sets of the numbers will present a more serious challenge.
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Rarities do exist amongst the booklets - and, being Swedish stamps, virtually every issue has booklets. The basic booklets are not rare, and in most cases cost but a few dollars each. Again the first releases are the exceptions: The two booklets for the 1939 Royal Academy of Sciences issue could set you back $500 for the pair, and the Red Cross Booklet of 1945 might cost $50. These are far and away the most expensive non-specialized Nobel items.
Once you start considering marginal markings many Nobel booklets, like those associated with many Swedish stamps, are extremely rare.
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Aside from these booklet variations, one of the most difficult aspects of the topic is finding the stamps on cover in normal use. Millions of the stamps are printed, but collecting everyday covers is not a widespread practice and dealer stocks are very erratic.
As the series was released over a long period of time, the covers will show a variety of rates & useages. They also reflect an institution of great importance to Swedes, and a source of much pride. This probably affects their use to friends abroad. Nobel issues are also often used on covers made for collectors of Swedish pictorial cancels. Oddly virtually none of these cancels relate to the Nobel prize. Perhaps the most startling and unexpected item I have found is a 1988 cover canceled at the Swedish peacekeeping forces post office in Lebanon with a special pictorial cancel celebrating the UN forces' Nobel Prize. My example has a cyls in the right selvage of the stamp, which came from a booklet. Is it unique? There is no published source that details these useages, one must simply find them. That's where much of the fun in this topic comes.
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1958-60: the pattern is set
In 1958-60 no less than 5 prize winners were commemorated, although the prize itself was not mentioned on the stamps. Writers Selma Lagerlof (1909), and Verner von Heidenstam (1916), peace prize winners Henry Dunant (for the Red Cross - 1901), and Hjalmar Branting (1921), as well as chemist Svante Arrhenius (1903) each were depicted on a total of 9 stamps, or 14 major numbers once the booklet stamp perforation varieties are counted.
More importantly the pattern for Nobel releases was established with these releases. The Arrhenius stamps were released Dec 10, the date that became traditional for the annual Nobel Prize stamps from 1961 -75. This was of course the anniversary of Nobel's death. The Lagerlof issue of 1958 and the Branting issue of 1960 were made in late November, more coindicent with the awarding of the prize. This period has been used for the Nobel releases 1976-1996. I think it is safe to say that the idea of commemorating Nobel prize winners each year as the current Nobel prizes were being awarded was established in 1958-60.
By the time the first stamps were released specifically for Nobel winners, 9 Dec 1961, there were already 40 major number stamps and 12 booklets which belong to this topic. This was about 6.5% of Swedish releases to that date.
1961- Present: The annual Nobel sets
Interestingly since the Nobel annual series became established there have been few releases honoring Nobel prize winners other than in this series. For many years the peace prize, which is determined by a Norwegian institution, was not commemorated in the series. Therefore in 1966 Nathan Soderblom (peace -1930) got a separate issue on the 100th anniversary of his birth, just as Branting had in 1960. It was not until 1986 that the Swedish Nobel series honored peace prize winners.
The series itself tends to remain set in a design groove for a few years, then change. For instance from 1961-1968 the design consisted of busts of the winners against a background. After 1968 the design loosened up to include more realistic portrayals, and to include symbols of the discoveries leading to the prize, but the stamps remained essentially the same thru the 21st issue in 1981. At this point 71 stamps existed in this series. Added to the 3 for Soderblom and the 40 prior to the series, we stood at 114 stamps out of about 1389 for our topic then. That's a bit more than 8.2% of all Swedish postage stamps issued at that time.
For the next 6 years (1982-87) each issue was released as a booklet pane of 5 designs, and each year featured winners by category rather than by year. The issues of 1988-89 saw larger designs, 4 to each year's booklet pane. In 1990-92 something like a larger version of the first release was presented, 4 to a year. In 1992 a major coup for the Swedish stamp production team occured as two stamps were released honoring the current year's winner for literature, Derek Walcott. The engravers had one week between the moment the decision about who won was made, and the release date of the stamps, to do their job. In 1993 they did it again, but this time their advance guesses were incorrect and the job was more difficult. One stamp simply shows the building in which the Nobel banquet takes place. In 1994 a series of 3 values honored prior literature winners, which must have been a relief to the engravers and printers.
With the release in 1992 a total of 52 stamps had been added (plus a couple others not mentioned) giving us at least 162 of 1984 Scott listed postage stamps, or 8.1% of the total. This figure will change somewhat in years to come, but decimal points aside it is clear that the Nobel prize is a major Swedish topic and aside from the Royal Family, perhaps the topic with the most stamps. (Look for sports to be a big contender).
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