Canadian physician William Osler, often called the father of modern medicine, once said, “No man is really happy or safe without a hobby”. All those hobbies benefit oneself both physically and mentally, besides helping get rid of idleness and inactivity. As renowned poetess and writer Phyllis McGinley said, “A hobby a day keeps the doldrums away!”.
There is a particular set of pastimes that can be called “collecting hobbies,” in which the hobbyists collect coins, postage stamps, books, trading cards and a variety of other items. Such hobbies, besides their entertainment basis, contribute a lot for educational and research purposes. They help the collectors learn about the general history, economies and cultures of many different countries and regions.
Amidst those hobbies, there is one called “philately,” that is the collection and study of postage stamps, stamped envelopes, aerogrammes, philatelic literature and related items. It is famously known as the ‘King of Hobbies,’ because of the immense knowledge that one gains through it, and also due to the fact that a number of monarchs, presidents, scientists and noblemen around the world have been immensely interested in it. Famous personalities like American president Franklin D. Roosevelt, King George V of England, Queen Elizabeth II, Actor Charlie Chaplin and Playwright G.B. Shaw had been notable philatelists.
Besides having postage stamps as the focus of study in philately, there exists another very important item also being collected and studied, known as “First Day Cover” or “FDC”.
FDCs are specially designed envelopes produced in a limited quantity by the Postal department of a country, and are issued the same day a new commemorative stamp is issued, thus they are called First Day Covers. They are available with postage stamps in all major post offices all across the country. Such envelopes are affixed with the same postage stamp that is cancelled with a postmark (having the date of cancellation and name of the city inscribed over it) stamped on its corner by the postal authorities. Apart from that, there is a special illustration on the FDC, addressing a similar topic as that on the stamp, called a “cachet”. They are produced from time to time on various topics i.e., on significant dates, to pay tribute to big personalities, on important anniversaries, etc. They are mostly bought by philatelists to add to their collections, or simply used for mailing purposes.
Along with the new FDCs and postage stamps, special postmarks are also produced. The postmark is a rubber stamp that is imprinted over the stamp by hand (called the ‘cancellation’ of a stamp). Aside from the standard FDCs being issued by the postal systems, some private organisations or individuals also produce covers with their own designed cachets. These covers are also affixed with the same postage stamps bought from the post offices and postmarked.
The history of these covers goes back to 1840, with the release of the very first adhesive stamp called the “Penny Black” in the United Kingdom. Before that time, the expenses for the sent mail were borne by the receiver. Also, the cost of sending a letter was determined by the number of paper sheets inside the envelope, as well as the distance the letter had to travel to reach the recipient. At that time, Sir Rowland Hill did the calculations and came to the conclusion that it cost far less to the post office in sending the letters than people were paying, and campaigned for affordable postal services for everyone through a uniform payment system. He proposed that all letters must be prepaid by the sender and should be charged on the basis of the weight of letters. This change in the system would far reduce the service charges.
In January 1840, a special postmark was released and applied onto the letters before dispatching them based on the “universal penny postage” plan, in which uniform prices were determined for different distances to where the letters were being sent; be that within a town, a city or the country. Later it was decided that an adhesive label should be issued and applied onto the letters to prevent the use of any forgeries of the postmarks. In May 1840, the world’s first stamp Penny Black was born and was affixed on the letters before dispatching them. A special postmark called the Maltese Cross was stamped onto the stamp for its cancellation, preventing it from re-use by people.
Here began the practice of pasting stamps onto the letters. Also, quite often people would beautifully illustrate their envelopes in a private capacity, while different private companies designed their own cachets. However, the officially produced FDCs by postal authorities of different countries began to be issued far later. In the USA and European countries, commemorative stamps started to be frequently issued in 1920s. By the 1930s, covers with “First Day of Issue” printed on them and having illustrated cachets with special postmarks were officially issued by the governmental post offices. From then onwards, these covers have become collector’s items, with people all around the world collecting them for knowledge and pleasure. These little paper items are witnesses to historical events, and people collect them to keep a record. Such has been the craze for this hobby that people have built huge FDC collections. The world record for the biggest FDC collection is with Konstantinos Antonopoulos from Greece, who has a collection of 13,360 covers! (Guinness World Records, 2020)
The first FDCs of Pakistan came much later in July 1948, when the country issued its very first set of four commemorative stamps. From then on, every year new commemorative stamps were produced on different topics. Still, the FDCs were not officially brought out by the Pakistan Post, though individually and privately, covers were being designed and affixed over by stamps. In 1952, Pakistan Post issued the first ever First Day Cover to commemorate the 100 years of the very first postage stamp of India known as “Scinde Dawk” (1852). They didn’t issue any more FDC until 1960, when like the other countries, Pakistan also began to print FDCs side by side with every new commemorative issue. Till date, FDCs are regularly printed and sold at the philatelic bureaus inside the major post offices of Pakistan. Most probably these envelopes are also designed by the same designers as the commemorative stamps. From 1948 till date, more than 1,500 stamp issues have been produced.
In Pakistani post offices, mostly newer stamp issues are available, while the older ones are quite hard to find. The rare stamps are available with the private stamp dealers. Apart from Pakistani collectors, international hobbyists also buy Pakistani covers and stamps. In Pakistan, though slowly dwindling in number, there still exists a significant number of philatelists, who usually stay in contact with each other. They have good collections of stamps, postcards and First Day Covers from not just Pakistan, but from all around the world. Some of those collections contain thousands of items, and some of them date back to hundreds of years ago. In Pakistan, there also exist philatelic societies that include the Lahore Stamp Society, Peshawar Stamp Society and Pakistan Philatelic and Numismatic Society (PPNS) Karachi. They regularly hold meetings where the philatelists sit together to discuss and study stamps.
One might wonder as to how these First Day Covers can act as storytellers.
First, they bear the stamps that were issued during a specific event in a country’s history. Those particular stamps bear witness to those important occasions. Second, other than the stamps, the picture cachet, the important postmark and any written or printed text on the cover further help understand that particular time in history. For instance, if that FDC is being sent to an influential and famous personality, and by chance the cover contains any written content inside, then the cover becomes a more important item. On the other hand, if it does not contain important contents, then still the stamps, postmark and cachet are enough for the cover to become a document by itself. Thus, they tell the stories of the events that happened in a country’s past in their own way.
Being a philatelist, I also have been collecting and studying stamps and First Day Covers of Pakistan and from around the world for years. To make this piece more interesting, here I am sharing some Pakistani issues from my own collection of the FDCs that came out on various important occasions, as well as some issues paying homage to important Pakistani personalities and other topics.
This FDC with a 2-Anna stamp was privately produced on 23 March 1956, when Pakistan adopted its very first constitution and transitioned from a dominion to an Islamic Republic. Thus, this day was celebrated as the “Republic Day.” On the picture on right, that is a little speech on the back of this FDC, that was delivered by the first President of Pakistan Maj. Gen. Iskander Mirza.
In 1961, the Pakistani currency was decimalised and one rupee was divided into one hundred paisas. This private FDC was issued on that very occasion.
In 1861, the very first railway line in the region, that connected Karachi to Kotri in Sindh, was laid down. It covered a distance of 105 kilometers. This officially produced FDC was issued on the 100th anniversary of that event in 1961.In 1960, the work on construction of the mausoleum of Quaid-e-Azam had begun when President Ayub Khan laid the foundation stone, but the building of the dome actually began in 1964. So, in this connection, on the 16th death anniversary of the Quaid, this set of stamps bearing the picture of the mausoleum was issued, with the Quaid’s portrait on FDC.
In 1966, the developmental work for Islamabad was completed, and the capital was relocated from Karachi to this new city under the rule of President Ayub Khan. The two stamps and this FDC was issued on this auspicious occasion.
As a part of the Indus Basin Project to cover the loss of the water from the eastern rivers, the construction of the Mangla Dam as a multipurpose dam began in 1962. It was completed in 1967 and on that event, this 15-paisa stamp and FDC were issued.
In 1968, Pakistan Post honored the Bengali writer, poet and musician Kazi Nazarul Islam by issuing two stamps with his portrait on them. After the separation of East Pakistan, he was honoured as the national poet of Bangladesh.
On 7 December 1970, the first ever general elections were held in both units of Pakistan. In these elections Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman were the major candidates. These polls proved to be quite decisive for Pakistan’s future. This FDC bears witness to those elections.
The very first nuclear power plant of Pakistan was built with the collaboration of Canadian engineers. It began working in the outskirts of Karachi in 1972. It was inaugurated by the President of Pakistan Z. A. Bhutto on the 28th November 1972 and this FDC was issued the same day.
In 1969, the second constitution of Pakistan got abrogated. In 1973, another constitution drafted by Z. A. Bhutto’s government was ratified and went into effect from 14th August 1973 on Independence Day.
During the 100th birthday celebrations of Quaid-e-Azam, a 10-rupee gold stamp containing 25 milligrams of 23/24 carat gold with the Quaid’s portrait was printed in France, and was issued on the 25th December 1976 with the given FDC.
In 1974, on the appeal of the Pakistani government, an International Campaign for Safeguarding of Mohenjodaro ruins was launched by UNESCO. Under this campaign, millions of dollars from international donors were spent for spreading awareness about this archaeological site. During this effort, postage stamps were issued by many countries around the world. Pakistan, too, issued more than one set on different dates in 1976. Given here is one of them with the FDC.
On the occasion of the 100th birth anniversary of Allama Iqbal, the national poet, celebrations were held all across the country, as well as in outside of Pakistan. Therefore, Pakistan Post issued a five-stamp set with the FDC shown here on 9 November 1977.
In 1992, under the captaincy of Imran Khan, Pakistan won the Cricket World cup. This three-set issue was produced with a picture of the trophy on the FDC.
During the 1990s and 2000s, Pakistan Post honoured Pakistanis belonging to various walks of life, and issued a good number of sets of stamps under the titles of “Men of Letters,” “Singers of Pakistan,” “Scientists of Pakistan,” “Painters of Pakistan,” etc. Given here are the FDCs on the poet Habib Jalib and painter Sadequain.
Every so often, Pakistan Post has paid tribute to our martyrs through stamps. Here is a 2013 FDC with the stamps on Nishan-i-Haider awardee Kargil heroes: Captain Sher Khan Shaheed and Havaldar Lalak Jan Shaheed and Naik Saifullah Janjua Shaheed (Hilal-i-Kashmir). The two medals can be seen on FDC.
In 2020, the Government of Pakistan published a new official map of Pakistan, in which the disputed status of Jammu and Kashmir was clearly mentioned in response to the illegal steps taken by India a year earlier by changing the status of Kashmir by revocation of article 370 of their constitution. This FDC was issued with that new map on the stamps as well as in the cachet.
FDCs hold an important place for any history enthusiast. Collections of FDCs exist in museums all around the world. The Lahore Museum has a whole enclosure dedicated to Pakistani stamps and First Day Covers. Collecting them is an interesting and exciting hobby: whether one is a student of any discipline or is generally interested in Pakistan’s history.
Almost everyone can benefit from these storytelling pieces of our past, because of their affordability and easily availability.
now i also want to collect stamps, thanks to your in depth research haadi bhai