Bangladeshi Stamps Anyone?

by AFP/Nadeem Qadir , Aug 19, 2003 | Destinations: Bangladesh / Dhaka

Bangladesh, struggling to override an image shaped by monsoon floods and political unrest, is hoping to show a different side of the country through its stamps. The Bangladesh Post Office has published some 1,000 stamps and souvenir sheets since the country's independence in 1971 but they have yet to draw international collectors or even serious local dealers.

M. Mominul Azam, a senior officer in the post office's philatelic section, said stamps could help project an image of Bangladesh other than natural calamities -- and along the way earn some needed foreign exchange. "We have some beautiful stamps that speak about the country and people don't know about it," Azam told AFP. "Even international collectors have little idea." He said the post office would soon launch a website as a first step to promote awareness of Bangladeshi stamps. "This might encourage international stamp collectors and thus help earn foreign exchange eventually," Azam said.

But collectors here cautioned that Bangladesh had a long way to go before it becomes another Bhutan, whose ornate stamps remain a major revenue source for the remote kingdom which limits tourism. Kazi Shariful Alam, a leading Bangladeshi collector and university teacher, said the main dealers of Bangladeshi stamps were Indians as there were no major traders inside the country. "There is no publicity and ideas for stamps need to be more attractive as well as oriented in a way that draws international collectors," he said. "If an international collector wants a Bangladeshi stamp he is also frightened by the procedural matters as well as delays," he said. "The postal department must be more active."

Another collector, Hanif Mahmud, said Bangladesh's stamps often lacked the enticing colours or messages like those of other South Asian countries. "The subject matter is sometimes so local and should not have been chosen at all," Mahmud said. "If I think so, you can imagine what an international collector will be thinking."

Sources at the post office admit it has sometimes been compelled to issue stamps under pressure from governments or individuals in the highly partisan country. "We try to advise, but can't rule," said one source.

But the post office's Azam disagreed, saying: "We issue press notes, help organise exhibitions and this year published the first-ever catalogue." The most popular items for collectors include an eight-piece revenue-stamp sheet issued from London in 1971 during Bangladesh's war of independence from Pakistan and a three-piece set the next year with the words "Bangladesh Liberated."

The first war series had a face value of 22 taka and is now worth 60 taka (1.03 dollars). A Bangladeshi stamp marking the bicentennial of the United States had a face value of 40 taka in 1976 but now can fetch 7,000 taka (120.68 dollars), according to collectors.

Other major events abroad that have been commemorated by Bangladeshi stamps include the 1989 bicentennial of the French revolution and the 1997 death of Diana, for which three portraits of the smiling princess were issued. Alam said the most popular item was a five-taka stamp in 1978 of a kadam, the yellow sweet-smelling flower of the Bangladeshi monsoon.

Bangladeshi stamps were not printed at home until June 1990 and were instead made by contract in Australia, Austria, Britain, India and the former Soviet Union. The Bangladesh Post Office now has a dozen stamp designers. Stamp auctions have been held regularly in Bangladesh since 1972 with one last month seeing 100,000 taka (1,724 dollars) worth of stamps sold, said Aminul Huq Mallik, general secretary of the Bangladesh National Philatelic Association. One of the top stamps on offer pictured jurist Mahbub Morshed with the word "Bangladesh" mistakenly missing and priced at 50,000 taka (862 dollars). It did not sell, with the top bid only half the asking price.

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