When they officially unveiled the Montreal Canadiens centennial commemorative postage stamps I immediately had two thoughts.
1) That would make a great Christmas gift.
2) Memories of my last trip to the Hockey Hall of Fame.
It's been 4 years since I've been to the Hall of Fame in Toronto, far too long. I'll never forget that visit. I was the first person in the door. Later that day they let Valeri Kharlamov, Cam Neely and Murray Costello in to the Hall, too.
Inside, the Great Hall and Stanley Cup always steal the show, but it is the unexpected exhibits that really wow me. On this particular visit it was the new display of the world's largest collection of hockey themed postage stamps that amazed me the most. The collection was mostly donated by collectors Richard Mitchener of Ottawa and Gordon Juckes, the long time executive of what is now known as Hockey Canada, of Saskatchewan.
I am no philatelist, but I thought it was so cool. Not only were there stamps from Russia and Scandinavia and Canada, but completely unexpected stamps from South America and Asia and all sorts of non-hockey countries.
In fact, countries like Mongolia have more hockey-themed stamps than Canada. Why? Revenue is the simple answer. Countries that don't even know what a hockey puck is will issue stamps, almost always to commemorate the Olympics, knowing that world collectors will be buying but never using the stamps. It is no different here in North America, and it is big business.
Stamps have been around since 1840, first introduced in England. The United States first issued stamps in 1847 and Canada in 1849.
The first sports-themed stamp came in 1896. The Greeks honoured the resurrection of the Olympics with the special stamp.
The first hockey-themed stamps came in 1948. The Swiss issued 4 different stamps to commemorate the St. Moritz Olympics that year. The hockey stamp, pictured below, featured a maskless goaltender.
The Soviets had a hockey themed stamp in 1949, but Canada would not come out with a hockey stamp until 1956:
Canadian hockey stamps have been pretty rare, although Canada Post has gotten much more proactive beginning in the 1990s. Commemorative stamps have been issued for the 1972 Summit Series, NHL's 75th anniversary and a popular NHL All Star series.
The most famous hockey stamp has to come from Sweden. After Peter Forsberg's spectacular gold medal shootout goal against Canada in the 1994 Olympics, the Swedes immortalized the event in 1995 with a stamp. The only problem was Canadian goaltender Corey Hirsch refused to allow his likeness to be represented. The Swedes had to come through with a much more generic than historically accurate stamp:
Here's some more hockey themed stamps, these ones from Russia:
Some NHL themed stamps from Canada:
Here's a couple more hockey stamps from unusual countries, beginning with Cambodia:
This one is from Nicaragua:
Here's one from Afghanistan, long before the Canadians were stationed there:
How about these two from Belize:
I don't think I even knew Burundi was even a country:
I think we all know Chad is a country, but I don't think they have any idea what hockey is:
Lastly, here's an offering from Cameroon: