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Toast Postes Publication Reviews

The Story of Our Post Office
Marshall Cushing
Copyright 1892
1034 pages

Considering that the Postal Service was still only a fledgling in 1892, Cushing authored a monster of a book on the subject. All the details of the inner workings, the history from day one, and hundreds of illustrations are provided as a complete document.

Sometimes it is beneficial to know where you have been, before you take the next step. There might be lessons here for anyone interested in seriously approaching the stamp medium as a form of expression. The book is more than a rich detail of the Post Office though, as those workings directly relate to the growth and development of the USA in general, and much Americana is exposed within.

My guess is that this would be a difficult book to track down, but do not rule out your library system.  In addition to outdated words, phrases, syntax and style of writing, the subjects are relatively inaccessible, as there is no table of contents, and the index is lacking. Of the 450 engravings, there are some great visual peeks into the period between 1850 to 1890.


Basic Philately - The Art and Craft of Stamp Making

L.N. & M. Williams
Link House Publications Ltd.
Printed in England by Staples printers Limited at their Rochester, Kent establishment
88 pages - Contents
No Copyright

1.   Printing - Recess, Surface, Planography, Photogravure, Others
2.   Different Dies
3.   Overprints and Surcharges
4.   Paper
5.   Watermarks
6.   Gum
7.   Perforations
8.   Roulettes
9.   Proofs and Specimens
10. Essays
11. Shades and Colours
12. Postmarks
13. Plating and Plate Study

While "Japanese Stamps in the Manufacture", a book that I also reviewed here, was a revelation to me as an artistamp producer and as an individual who is curious about the role that the 'official' stamp plays, it was over my head in many respects.  The book assumed a degree of expertise in printing and other aspects of stamp production which I have not, and may never achieve.

"Basic Philately - The Art and Craft of Stamp Making" however, is written for the philatelist, and uses terms familiar throughout all of philately when describing process that are common to both books. Due to this difference, the opportunity to have first read this book before trying to tackle the more technical definitions of the fine Japanese treatise, would have been most helpful. I believe detail in this book would have provided the necessary bridge to achieve a greater level of understanding.

"Basic Philately" is a 'primer' for most of the same subjects covered by both books. It offers an insight into how stamp collectors view the process of stamp creation. The focus is on why specific studies of variation in all aspects of production is interesting to collectors, while offering insight into why and how creators faced certain production challenges in offering postage stamps to the public.

There is no printed copyright or date on this book, but from references, I assume that it is a compilation of articles previously published in periodicals, probably from the late 40's to mid 50's of the last century. The historical perspective would therefore include a background of descriptions for the methods required to produce the variously printed types of stamps for 100 years prior to publication.

As pertains to artistamps in particular, although this publication lacks the eye appeal, it is likely to offer more to most stamp artists than the Japanese publication.  It provides the philatelic terminology necessary to acquire a broader interest in stamps in general, their evolution through a relatively short history and their advances in manufacture. Since this is a British publication, most of the examples used are of British Commonwealth and Colonies stamp issues. 


Fancy Cancelations - On Nineteenth Century Postage Stamps

Herman Hearst, Jr.
Copyright 1963
288 pages

The title of the Hearst-Sampson Postmark Catalog pretty much sums up the contents. This book provides a great selection of cancellations used in the USA during the 1800’s. The illustrations are numbered and laid out with year, color, value and related notes.

Subject table reveals:

Towns, Straight Line and Fancy
Towns, Miscellaneous
Ship Markings, Inland
Ship Markings, Other U.S. and WAY
Expresses, Overland, via Nicaragua Mail
Carriers, Drop Letter Markings
Supplementary Mail, China, Japan
Railroads, Hawaii Cancellations

Geometrics, N.Y. Foreign Mail, and other circular, square, star and irregular designs   
Shields and “U.S.”
Pictorials, Skulls, Insects, Birds, Animals, etc.
Flags, PAID, Dues and FREE
Letters, Initials, Words, Year Dates, Advertised, Miscellaneous
Southern Letter Unpaid; Old Stamps Not Recognized

The examples from the  period covered reveal a wide variety of designs and range of colors.  To the end of the nineteenth century, the US was the only country which demonstrated such a variety of cancellations.  The examples in this book are great selections, especially for those artistamp producers who also carve rubber stamps, as all of these appear to be hand carved.

The illustrations provide great inspiration for creating special covers with added franked artistamps to commemorate the mailing.


The Stamp Collector's Guidebook of Watermarks and Perforations

by Ervin J. Felix
Whitman Publishing Company
Copyright 1966 by Western Publishing Company, Inc.
LCCCN 66-28511 pp. 246

I picked up this book sight unseen, hoping that there was going to be a balanced subject. Unfortunately, all but about 15 pages are dedicated to watermarks.  

That said, it's probably the best book I've seen on watermarks, as it has well over 400 graphical illustrations as opposed to photographs. Watermarks tend not to photograph very well. Although almost entirely a philatelic special interest, I have thought of attempting watermarking my stamps one day, and believe a few artistampers have tried it.  

The section on perforating was okay, again, with a generous number of graphics. However, the subject was almost entirely composed of information that I had seen presented previously, in a more comprehensive treatment.

It might be a good used bookstore find for a few dollars


E-Z Rocket Mail Catalog

1904-1967 International Unabridged
Co-editors Jesse T. Ellington and Perry F. Zwisler
copyright 1967, by Jesse T. Ellington and Perry F. Zwisler
Hard Bound, 245 pages

and  Ellington - Zwisler Rocket Mail Catalog Volume 2
1968-1972 International Unabridged plus additional Listings discovered since publication of Volume 1
Edited by Perry F. Zwisler
A Publication of the American Air Mail Society copyright 1973
Hard Bound, 168 pages

I had been looking for these two books for quite some time... for a reasonable price.  They are out of print and used as reference by those who seriously collect Space philatelic materials. 

Although I do collect space topicals, I wanted these two volumes because they are great references for artistamps as well. The material most often covered is related to mail flown on rockets. The chief production in almost all instances, were covers. Most of these covers have documentation of the flights and many have special rubberstamped or printed cachets, and *artistamps* specially created for each event. 

This was an early scheme by researchers, to not only document their tests, but to raise funds for the next experiment. As such, there is a sizable number of event related rocket mail in collections and floating around on the market. A great number of examples can be found on eBay and other auction sites.

The books were definitive works at the time they were published, covering worldwide rocket mail materials, including covers, cards and stamps. Countries are listed alphabetically. The date of each flight is listed and the flights are listed chronologically for each country. Profusely illustrated! A must for rocket mail collectors, but also a great resource for artistamp producers, especially those who plan event projects.


Treasury of Stamps

Text by David Lidman
Photographs by H. Landshoff
Copyright 1975
303 pages

I grabbed this title at a second hand book store close to home.  It was only four dollars, and being coffee table size, I thought it might be interesting eye candy for the odd free moment. Although I was initially drawn to the promise of “1200 rare and beautiful stamps in color”, closer examination revealed much more.  

The coverage of the subject of stamps as one step in the history of human communications is well thought out and surveyed with many footnotes and illustrations. The period from clay tablets to moon mail is covered, while relating to the story of the postage stamp. The examples used as illustration are beautiful as advertised, but more importantly, the author seems to have also chosen them as examples of true reflections of their times.   

All stamps are reproduced in large format, allowing the details of the art to be easily examined.  The international array of stamps, thematically represent a broad scope of visually exquisite details from all of Earth’s realms and facets. The attempt is not to catalog, but to relate directly to the efforts of many hundreds of artists, who have expressed themselves in a way that evokes a reaction that might lead us to agree, that stamps are much more than a means to exact a use tax. Look for this book.  


Japanese Postage Stamps in the Manufacture

Copyright 1975
Editor & Publisher: Insatsukyoku Choyokai Foundation
2, 4Chome, Toshima, Kita-Ku, Tokyo, Japan
Printing: Toppan Printing Co., LTD.
1, 5Chome, Taito, Taito-Ku, Tokyo, Japan

As pertains to artistamps in particular, this publication likely offers little to most on this list. That said, for those of you who have a broader interest in stamps in general, their evolution through a relatively short history and their advances in manufacture, this is a great title. This book is a revelation to me as a artistamp producer and as an individual who is curious about the role 'official' stamps have played in a forum of world communication.

The stages are pre-capability through mastering the printing techniques necessary to produce beautiful, state of the art postage. In addition to the thorough historical background and detailed descriptions of the methods required to produce the variously printed types of stamps, the Japanese Government Printing Bureau collaborated by providing over 20 'Trial' stamps to showcase the variety and extent of its production capabilities. These are official government artistamps in one respect, and are beautiful limited editions.

The text is in English but as translated Japanese, so although it is easily understood, the structure, and sometimes the syntax, are a little rough. I highly recommend this book and suggest that the search would be worth the effort. It is written by Japanese experts in the field and therefore, the focus is mainly on that country's experience with the postage stamp, but also includes references and comparisons to other entities as well, especially in regard to borrowed technology and adapted methods. 

It answered many unresolved questions that had surfaced for me over time. The topics were extensive and technical without being overly detailed and dry. I believe the book, to be a small piece of art, in the Japanese tradition. The somewhat stilted translation to English received more than enough compensation by the subject treatment, and a very generous array of supporting illustrations.  The tipped-in trial stamps from the Japanese Government Printing Bureau are beautiful examples of the different methods of production detailed within the text. 

A generalized table of contents includes: 

Postal Stamp Making and its History in the days of the Paper Money Printing House 
Printing Processes and Methods
The Design for Postage Stamps
Plate Making for Postage Stamps
Printing Processes
Perforation and Finishing
Paper for Postage Stamps
Printing Inks
The World Trends of Postal Stamp Manufacture
Automation of Postal Business

If I had one last quick comment, I would suggest that there is a very good chance that within the years since publication, related subject matter has changed almost as fast as has technology. Information presented as state of the art may therefore be very outdated.


Early American Perforators And Perforations 1857-1867

Winthrop S. Boggs
Copyright 1982
38 pages

This little booklet provided a great deal more information than I had suspected it would.  The nearly 40 pages are packed with history, intent, illustrations, biographical detail and schematics. Contents:   

Part One:  Early Perforating Machines
Perforating Machines in General
Early Rotary Perforators and Their Mechanism
Toppan, Carpenter Machines and Later American Rotary Perforators  
American Bank Note Company’s Perforating Machine

Part Two:  Stamps Perforated by These Machines
Perforations by American Machines
Varieties of Perforating

Without going into detail as to why, I will say that I found the materials covered to be both interesting and enlightening, providing a greater understanding as to perforators available on the used market.   


Paul Effert Markendesign
Paul Effert
Copyright 2000

A private publication containing a selection of 110 works by Paul Effert in the field of artistic design: postage-stamps, coins and seals. Dimension 23 x 28 cm, 128 pages. 74 postage-stamps are in the original draft-size and colours. Each jacket comes with one of the original stamps and is handsigned. Price DM 68,-. 
The design-competitions for the stamps and coins shown cover a period of 10 years. During this time Effert took part in more than fifty design-competitions for postage-stamps, and seventeen competitions for coins of the Federal German Republik. In the part devoted to seals, the book shows works of Paul Effert stemming from a twenty-year creative period.  

Paul Effert`s sophisticated work has left its mark for more than ten years on the graphic quality of the stamps of the Federal German Republic.  He has made a decisive contribution to their acceptance in art-circles, and his works illustrate the degree to which he fulfils all the specialised demands made on the designer of postage-stamps.  The draft-designs shown are those printed and brought into circulation by the Federal German Post Office. Eight to twelve graphic-artists are invited to submit entries for each competition.  A jury of twelve judges makes their decision and recommends for realisation the winning design.  This art-design committee frequently has to select the winner from more than thirty submissions.

Reviewed by Uwe Bressem


Zukermotive und Briefmarken

Published by Zuckermuseum Berlin.
Editor : Dr. Bernhard Nickel in 1991.
Edition for the 100th anniversary of the Scientific Sugarmuseum of FU Berlin, in Wedding.
1000 issues. Mostly as give-aways during the reception.
Some left-overs were available at the museum´s counter during the week of the celebration.
Graphics and design by Therese Weishappel and Marion Mayer, Berlin.

The Zuckermuseum has a long tradition in collecting stamps and other artistic items related to sugar. Unfortunately the collection built over more than five decades was stolen during a burglary in 1974. A few stamps were left behind and the museum started again to built a collection but could not reach the quality and completeness of the old exhibits until today   

The book is a real gem.  It was available for a short time during the anniversary celebrations of the museum Its 64 pages are all printed in color and each page shows at least four samples of sugar related stamps or labels, FDCS or sugarrevenuestamps.  Altogether 490 different stampworks are shown , all in color.  

It contains a register with the origin of every stamp including country, use (purpose) and, if available, "Michelnumbers." The labels and stamps document the whole process of sugar making and its historic background. The economic development of sugar-making is covered starting with Christopherus Columbus, covering the era of George Washington, including the historic background of slavery in sugar industries. 

The book is a very good source for any mailartist or collector . It shows how much diversity and variation is in only one topic. The souvenir sheets and covers shown are all small graphic masterpieces and were carefully chosen. It is a good guide, showing how to build an exhibition of stamps related to one topic.  Even more amazing is that the Zuckermuseum did not promote itself with its academic and scientific merits earned over the century, but with its collection of stamps. Which proves once again, that there is more in making a stamp than we realize at first sight.

Reviewed by Uwe Bressem


Chatham Sqaure PO
J. W. Stowell, Arthur G. Hall, Elliot Perry, Handbook Committee
Copyright 1941
American Philatelic Society, Inc.

Most countries now have monopolistic postal systems. At one time, the name of the game was competition, for several reasons. In the USA, it was very unprofitable to service rural areas or even parts of cities which generated low volume mail.  The answer was the Local Post.  In the USA there were quite a few, some that even competed in quality of service.... to the extent that they were legislated out of existence by an ungrateful Post Office.     

This pamphlet offers 34 pages of insight into the private post office and letter carrier service operated from Chatham Square in old New York.  It has illustrations of their authentic stamps, reprints, forgeries and postmarks, with maps of the routes covered. The history of the service is well documented.  

There is an active group of individuals at the Local Post Collectors Society who create their own Local Posts, commemorative stamps and cachets and send to each other.  Embassy Local Post, the Arky of Toast’s letter carrying service stationed at the Toast Embassy in Seattle, has operated for a number of years delivering and distributing mail emanating from the Embassy, and has made many contacts with other local Posts


U.S. Commemorative Stamps

Max G. Johl
Copyright 1941
H.L Lindquist Publisher

These two volumes are very nice treatment of about 50 years of US commemorative stamps.  There are great details throughout the approximately 700 pages. The commemoratives are covered with full philatelic treatment, but more importantly, Johl has also provided great artistic insights into the creation of each stamp throughout this time period. The book details the various stamp artists, their subject treatments, the attention to supporting graphic detail and in some cases, creative documentation from start to finish.

If you are serious about creating stamps, perhaps on a level beyond artistamps, this is a history that will provide plenty of insight. I picked up these two volumes at a used book store for under ten dollars. I consider that a bargain, for the information that I get from them.


Specialized Catalog of U.S. Stamps

Scott Publishing Co.
Copyright 1973

This catalogue provides specialized information on US postage, but additionally, details on subjects like revenues, first day covers, consular fee stamps, embossed stamps, envelopes, private die proprietary, excise tax stamps, permit stamps, proofs, specimens, local post stamps and on and on. It is rich in the detail of of information on US stamps that you do not normally find anywhere else.

Scott has published stamp catalogues for years. Each year finds a new version that includes all of the previous year’s issues and updates to previously published information, including price changes for collectors.

I got a deal on the 2000 Scott Catalogs, which at the time were 6 large format volumes of information on all of the world’s stamps.  It includes specialized stamp information, but the older specialized catalogues have larger illustrations and more detail.  They are also considerably less expensive in a used bookstore or auction website. 

If you would like a good look at stamps that do not come to light often, then a cheap Scott’s Specialized is a good bet. There are many uses for stamps other than postage and your realm may need some.


U.S. Route and Station Agent Postmarks

C.L. Towle
Copyright 1986
Mobile Post Office Society

This is another treatment of postmarks.  It is a very comprehensive look at railroad, route agents, waterway mail routs, station agents and distributing post offices. there are about 40 pages of history and over 400 pages of illustrations and identifying information. It is a great book for those who are interested in making their own postmarks to accompany applied artistamps.

This was an eBay item for around twenty dollars. I have found it very useful and plan to use it more often for reference.


Diritti E Rovesci

An International Mail Art Show to Support Amnesty International

Comunale di Bagno a Ripoli

This is a sample of mail art documentation.  I have included it because it was dedicated to Amnesty International’s efforts to extend basic human rights to everyone on planet Earth, by addressing some of the most serious violations.  

Although most of us living in developed countries, with guaranteed rights as the basis of our governments, have access to almost immediate communication with each other, the postal system remains vital to many and to some, is the only method to reveal inequity and injustice. The mail art movement has played an important historical role in providing formats for those who need to communicate to the rest of the world, but have no other viable platform nor means to disseminate their message.   

Hundreds of mail artists submitted work for this project, in support of Amnesty International.


New Transfusion bulletin

Alessandro Ceccotto

This is another example of zines that were fairly abundant before the death of Ray Johnson and the advent of websites. The Italian mailart community was especially active and supportive, and to a degree remains so.  Transfusion allowed many artists of different countries and cultures to share through regular compilation and dissemination through the net.


Artists' Stamps

An International Mail Art Exhibit

Crackerjack Kid
Netshaker, Volume 3, Issue 1, May 1994

This issue of Netshaker was dedicated to documenting an artists’ stamps mail art show at the AVA Gallery, in Lebanon New Hampshire, that was coordinated by Chuck Welch, aka Crackerjack Kid. It contains a list of the hundreds of participants, some sample illustrations of submitted artists’ stamps, a listing of then current mail art Magazines, and a very nice sheet of artists’ stamps that were created by Crackerjack Kid to commemorate the show.

It is a fine piece of documentation.



Chuck Welch (Crackerjack Kid)
Volume 2, Issue 1, March 1993

This publication is an example of zines  that were coming out of the US in the early 1990’s, that were dedicated to fostering and supporting the mailart network.  Chuck Welch’s Netshaker is a fine example of attempts by some of those who understood the more complex aspects of the ‘Eternal Network’, to propagate and nurture it through compilation formats.  

Interviews with some of the more well known mailartists, mail art calls, results of mailart congresses, early databanking, artwork, poetry and visual poetry, guest editorials and opinion were staples of Netshaker. I immensely enjoyed the few that I had the opportunity to read.



Exposicion de Arte Postal

Pere Sousa

This booklet is a good example of the length that  some organizers of mail art projects were going to, in order to provide documentation for their calls. At this particular time in Barcelona, mail art activity was minimal. Pere set out to change that by initiating a series of calls that brought attention to the network. He was also aware of the effect that new technologies were having on the way that networkers communicated with each other and welcomed the changes.  

There are about 50 pages of reproductions of submitted work, an editorial, a bibliography of mail art, and a list of participants.


Farm Pulp Magazine

Gregory Hischak
Number 16, Jan/Feb 1993

Farm Pulp was one a number of other US zines focused upon mail art and alternative media, including: The Mangrove, Kettle of Fisk, Arrested Development, The Crash Network, Hi Stepper News, Netshaker, Nomo the Zine, Tensetendoned, Global Mail, Factsheet Five, Umbrella, Lost & Found Times, Information Sickness, The Ratty’s Gazette, ND, FACE, Herd, Stamp Art and a hundred other publications.  I always enjoyed the dadaist/fluxus style and Hischak’s design and layout sense always appealed to me.


UNI/vers(;) 5 Years

Peacedream Project

Guillermo Deisler

This document is issue 18 of Deisler’s ongoing visual and experimental poetry mail art submission project. Outside of the US, there were a number of regularly published, mostly European zines in the early 90’s, including: Arte Postale, P.O. Box, Ephemera, Banana Rag, Fenici, Mani Art, Artes Visuales, AU, Artistamp News, File Magazine, Libellus, Open World, Mildura, Neon de Suro, Orgon, Cage: Anti Embargo Magazine, Ovun, Parallelogram, S’Mail Global Network Zine, Bambu, Sof-Art-Pres, Vesuv, Double: International Mail-Art Magazine, The Light of THE-ART, Real Correspondence, TAM publications, Le Timbre, Open Netmag, Noospapers, Elefanzine and many, many more.   

UNI/vers (;) is a fairly good example of the send-receive-documnent process that was a mainstay of most of these publications.


Art Travels

Mail Art Festival

Alain Masse, Susan McLeod O’Reilly, John Willis
Canadian Museum of Civilization

The preface of this book reads:  This TESTAMENT OF ARTISTS reveals the mystery of human creativity - as we alternate our choices between visions and voices - we open the doors of our own historic metaphor. 

This document is nearly 100 pages of text, illustrations of contributions, and includes a list of participants.  It was the result of a Canadian mail art project that traveled to several venues. It was designed to expose many, but especially teenagers, to mail art and the underlying philosophies that help make the network grow.

The sprit of the show can be summarized by one an additional paragraph within the documentation: “Within the mail art network, there is no judgment, no “star” system, no elaborate monetary evaluation, but a constantly evolving body of art which reflects the human condition. Mail art allows direct communication about the social and aesthetic issues of the day.”    

Great conceptual execution and follow-up documentation


Art Nurnberg 7

Copy Connection

Jurgen O. Olbrich

The seventh in a series of documents exploring and celebrating alternative media, especially copy art, in which Olbrich either alone or in collaboration, has published.

Jurgen is one of the most prolific mail artists I have met and this issue clearly demonstrates the aesthetic he brings to the network. It is superbly done with great attention to color reproduction of the submitted artwork.


Hommage to Joseph Beuys

J.N. Laszlo

This is a great little document for a mail art show coordinated by French stamp artist, Jean Noel Laszlo.  I have included it, as it was possibly the first piece of mail art documentation that really grabbed my attention. Although there may have been others before him and there certainly have been others to follow, I think that it was the first to demonstrate to me, the degree that some in the network were exerting to share the body of communication sent to a mail art show.


Gummed Paper Suggestions

Mid-States Gummed Paper Company
Copyright 1934

This is a pretty cool little advertising booklet that I believe I found in a used bookstore. Mid-States was a manufacturer/dealer of various types of gummed paper.... 31 flavors in fact, of various types of paper, gum, coatings in many different colors as well. They also produced poster stamps for a range of advertising, promotion, propaganda, educational and communication interests, and stamps to promote themselves as well.  

The booklet contains 60 illustrated pages of various uses for their gummed paper.  I wish they were still in business, as I certainly would like a reliable, competitive and understanding source of gummed paper.  

My guess is that they were a major stimulus for the production of poster stamps, and all artistamp producers probably owe them a small debt of gratitude for pushing the medium for a number of years.


Ephemera Philatelica

A Stamp Address Book
AIGA/SF 2000
American Institute of Graphic Arts
ISBN: 0-8118-2743-7
26 design studios from San Francisco AIGA chapter created the designs.  

I have to admit that I was a little rushed due to a habit of overbooking, when I this publication came to me, so I just took a quick glance and got an unfavorable first impression of 'another address book'. I sat down the following day and took a closer look, and have concluded that my first impressions are not very reliable.   

The 5" by 7" publication is a nicely hard bound interlude by creative people who enjoy and respect the basis of philately. A list of 26 A-Z philatelic terms was compiled, after which 26 San Francisco Bay area AIGA graphic designers were contacted and invited to contribute illustrations for the collaborative effort of frontspiecing each alphabetic section of the book. 

As I was getting close to Z, I had convinced myself that it was indeed a much better effort than I had first appraised, but continued to have misgivings about the price of the book. I got to Z and was ready to shelf or wrap (it's that time of year for me) when for some reason I looked at the inside of the back cover. Adhered to it is a glassine envelope with three beautifully printed and perforated mini sheets of nine stamps each, representing the book illustrations. Very nice.  I can recommend this piece of functional art.


Ray Johnson: Correspondences

"How did I get here?" This is a question I've asked myself on many occasions, usually after being delighted by the receipt of mailart from some talented, faceless, creative individual. I'm constantly amazed at this 'lucky strike'. The definitive answer for anyone in the mail art network, is always very personal, as it is partly a result of every individual's distinct life story. However, it also incorporates the results of mostly unknown individuals who conceived and promoted this extended family of artist/correspondents who comprise the net.

Ray Johnson is one of the more familiar originators, widely revered as the 'daddy'.  Yet, most of what I had learned of him was by bits and pieces.  Some of that was the result of his personal efforts to remain at arm's length. It was a tool of his personal art, and I believe that in part, it allowed him the freedom to collage this giant canvas that we loosely call the mailart network. AML is a part of that effort, in an evolved and hybrid way. 

"Ray Johnson: Correspondences" is a wonderful book.  It provides the comprehensive insight that has been lacking to date, into Ray's efforts, intents and pathos. However, it has been organized, designed and edited in a way that few books focused on an individual artist, achieve. There's a tremendous amount of heart in this effort. The book is a work of art, not just a document.  There are eight sections, written by as many writer/artists, heavily supported by a fine collection of Ray's artwork and mail art.

This book is not the total answer to the riddle, as the riddler constructed the network in a way that makes the answer less important than the question, but it certainly fills in many of the gaps that have existed for me.


Returned to Sender

Remembering Ray Johnson

David Bourdon - Portrait of the Artist as a Young Mailman
Robert Pincus-Witten - Brother Ray
Nam June Paik - Something About Nothing
Chuck Close - Golf War
Jill Johnston - Between the Buttons
James Rosenquist - R.S.V.P.
Copyright 1995
Artforum International Magazine, Inc.

INTRO: “On the evening of January 13, 1995, Ray Johnson jumped from a hiway bridge over Sag Harbor Cove, Long Island, and was seen backstroking away from land.  His body was found the following afternoon, having washed ashore nearby.  We asked six among the hundreds of correspondents who received Johnson’s mailings to share their memories of the artist and his New York Correspondence School. Each article is accompanied by a mailing the writer received from Johnson.”

The articles are warm and loving, but in the end, lack enough clarity to solve the riddle. It is not the writers’ fault, it was the design of Johnson’s life and death.


The World of Donald Evans

Willy Eisenhart
Copyright 1980
Abbeville Press

I have something of a personal disdain for perfectionism.  Perhaps it’s because I always seem to hear the gods laughing, backstage.  However, that observation doesn’t prevent me from appreciating the truly successful attempts by those who strive to that end, especially if they are obsessive enough to demonstrate a body of work that also leans toward exploration, originality, humor and warmth.   

Donald Evans’ stamp art does just that.  This book is one of my very favorite visual treats. Willy Eisenhart’s treatment of Evans’ artwork is superb. It lovingly details the progression of one of the last century’s finest stamp artists, in a way that always leaves me satisfied, and motivated to play again.   

The tools of choice for a great number of today’s artistamp producers, tend to be very democratic and immediate. Donald Evans chose to create his works using watercolor, perhaps because his life was cut short before the advent of electronic tools.  As I am a ‘middle of the night’ producer who strives for some real immediacy, I can appreciate the time and effort that Evans afforded his subjects and medium. Examination of the watercolored perforations alone, would support a point of view that he was totally devoted to his work.

Evans borrowed freely from a rich history that the philatelic world provided, but the result was entirely his own. His fantasy worlds were vastly populated with a detail that fully supported his stamps, or perhaps it was the other way around. This title is out of print. The 1994 second edition had a few corrections and updates, but either would be a great find. Look for this book!


Lick 'Em Stick, 'Em The Lost Art of Poster Stamps

H. Thomas Steele
Copyright 1989
96 pages

This is book eye candy!  It is packed with wonderful illustrations that I regularly visit. Steele’s book provides perhaps the best history of artistamps that I have found to date. Artists began creating stamps for various reasons, almost as soon as postal authorities started requiring postage. Most of the stamps presented in this historical review, relate directly to those motives, advertising and propaganda being in the forefront.

This book, perhaps more than any other I have read, also provides insight into the relationship of evolving art movements to postage stamps in general, as the design and style changes that are illustrated in the poster stamp examples, paralleled (if not led), those innovations in postage. 

It is a great book, and although out of print, can be found on the used book market. The first edition came with a sheet of poster stamps as well.  Good hunting!


Capolan, Travels of a Vagabond Country

Nick Bantock
Copyright 1997
Artbox set
ISBN: 0-8118-1545-5
Publisher: Chronicle Books
49 beautiful pages
15 postcards
1 souvenir sheet of artistamps

What can I say...  In a way, the crux of the story is one of which I am very familiar, as it is similar to Toast’s Clan Knoph in intent, if not historical scope.  This is an examination of boundaries, both internal and external. It looks at the role that self-created and imposed restrictions affect basic freedoms, and how methods of coping with real and imaginary boundaries play a dominant part in who we become, as both individuals and part of any group that practices survival.

The subject is approached in a typical Nick Bantock way, that is, nothing is really typical about it.  In this book, Bantock plays himself, an artist who is talked into creating “official” stamps for an “unofficial” country. As part of the process, his investigations into a country that exists outside of the bounds of all world politics, but is bound by all others, leads us along a historical path of shared centuries of mirth, struggle, growth and evolution, that is key to every individual and group on this planet. Additionally, the role of acceptance is studied, as affects the creative process, and the question of selecting inside/outside alternatives is examined, as a process of self determination.

This is a beautifully boxed set of artwork.  If one can love a thing, I love it.


European Stamp Design A Semiotic Approach

Copyright 1995 by David Scott
Oversized soft bound,
ISBN: 1-85490-4205
Publisher: Academy Editions Limited
144 pages, nicely Illustrated

There's a signpost up ahead...

When it comes time for continuing education, you may be fortunate to find alternatives to a class setting, as I did with this book by David Scott. I didn't really know what to expect, but for me, the timing was perfect.  I have been offering artistamp overviews at a local venue, and although there's only so much information that can be presented in 3 hours, I have been touching upon historical approaches to stamp design, but mostly from deduction.

This book puts the artist's task and solutions in perspective, from a historical viewpoint.  Using a design theory by American philosopher Charles Peirce, on icons, indices and symbols, Scott easily demonstrates why a stamp is little more than a "sign". He breaks the stamp format into its three potential parts, and using examples of some of Europe's most beautiful stamps, demonstrates successful application of Peirce's theory.  

To those who might be frightened by the studied approach of this book, I would suggest that you take a chance. This publication is by far the best I've read on how to seriously approach the problems of stamp design.  It is profuse with illustrations throughout, and has over 25 pages of color plates detailing wonderful philatelic examples of some of the finest stamps that Europe has offered the world. 

I found the book in new condition for $4, and have since found others for less.


The Republic of Dreams
A Reverie

G. Garfield Crimmins
copyright 1998 Jerry Crimmins
W.W. Norton & Company
ISBN 0-393-04633-8
95 illustrated pages with pullout maps, telegrams, postcards and other ephemera 

Art is what we make of life. Some say those creations need defense, but those same critics usually dismiss dreams as outside of "life". This demotion is most likely essential to the context into which many critics place themselves, as how can you defend or attack a dream? Dreams just are.... unless you know what you are doing.  

G. Garfield Crimmins presents a landscape of Dada, somewhere between dream state and half waking, not really caring whose concept of time rules at any given point, as long as the dream flows in some direction. To close the distance between full immersion in the reverie, and attentive focus upon the linear ticking of the official reality, he provides evidence in hand. These tokens of the surreal otherworld include, detailed maps of the Island country, correspondences, artistamps, and ample other ephemera to support the contention that our group dream demands of a concrete reality.  

The book may not have been as engaging as I had hoped, but somehow I got the feeling that Crimmins had visited the Arky of Toast on more than one occasion, as most of the elements are there. The book is richly and profusely illustrated with old photos, graphics and collages of a deco period using techniques and devices that I enjoy employing myself.  This would be a great book for those considering the construction of a foundation for their own domain, not as a blueprint, but as a guide.


The Griffin and Sabine
Chronicle Books

Griffin & Sabine: An Extraordinary Correspondence
Nick Bantock 1991
ISBN 0-87701-788-3
36 pages of wonderful illustrations and pullouts.

Sabine's Notebook
Nick Bantock 1992
ISBN 0-8118-0180-2
40 pages of wonderful illustrations and pullouts.

The Golden Mean
Nick Bantock 1993
ISBN 0-8118-0298-1
36 pages of wonderful illustrations and pullouts.

The Gryphon
Nick Bantock 2001
ISBN 0-8118-3162-0
50 pages of wonderful illustrations and pullouts.

Nick Bantock 2002
ISBN 0-8118-3140-X
44 pages of wonderful illustrations and pullouts.

We are bilateral.  To allow for an evolutionary path that has taken humans to the point that we can alter our destiny with a push of a button, life has selected for brain division. It is not entirely symmetrical, especially in function.  The two hemispheres are so divided that the different tasks assigned to each are specific in ways that can be evident when examining the creative process. They communicate with each other, but at times act as if the other did not exist.  

Knowing this, the question becomes "How does an artist (or any individual) achieve a degree of balance and harmony between the two halves?  Furthermore, in examining the factors involved, will the analysis of the path lead to an integration, result in a split or perhaps be the catalyst for further inquiry and discovery?  

Nick Bantock's Griffin and Sabine Double Trilogy is a metaphor for self discovery while examining the process of creativity.   Many successful analysts act as guides, giving official sanction to self exploration. As a devise common to most all, Bantock applies the experience of postal correspondence, to allow inspection of the artist’s psyche. To circumvent the Western inclination to restrict self examination, he empowers on an individual level, by forcing readers to cross the line that says "You can be imprisoned for reading another's mail without permission".  Once we accept the consequences of breaking this rule against inspection of private conversations between others, we can do the same for ourselves.  Examining what the left and right specialists are communicating or hiding from each other become less of a proscription. 

The stamps are key.  Without them, there is nothing official about the correspondence. Bantock constructs a beautiful realm from which to issue his artistamps... or perhaps the Sicmon Islands actually exist and it is the rest of the world that he has created. In any case, these books are beautifully constructed, with many artistamps, envelopes and letters.... the previous, inviting exploration of the next.   

Although classed as adult children’s books by some, I can highly recommend this set to those who want to examine the creative process in general, and perhaps themselves in particular. It may help to explain the relationship inside, or at least provide a few clues as to your creative needs.


MOTZ - Streetmagizin

Mailart project initiated by Elke Grundmann
Editor : Kulturforum der SPD
Motz & CO e.V.
Elke Grundmann, Sigismund Urban and Friederich Adolphi
Layout : Elke Grundmann
Print : Union Druckerei Berlin, June 9, 2001, Issues : 3000

This Motz special edition is printed as a newspaper, in black and white, and has a front and backside in three colors. It includes political statements by Wolfgang Thierse, President of Deutscher Bundestag and Klaus Steack, political artist. There are 32 pages and every sending for the "homeless" mailart call  is reproduced, mentioning name and country of each artist.  There are more than 200 pictures. 

This Motz issue is a nice example that for some mailart calls, quantity is important.  Plenty of pictures - all of the same kind and style - with few exceptions, but that might only be my personal impression. Nevertheless it is nice documentation of political mailart.  It is a wonderful example of political opportunism, behaving politically correct, and also how to gain some subsides and/or "fame" as a cultural manager.   

All entries were auctioned after the event to raise money for the homeless.  The magazine was also sold in Berlin´s subway by the homeless to raise some additional income.  Some issues might still be available through MOTZ. (see e-mail).


Erignispost ZusammenFassung

Uwe Bressem

I have a great deal of documentation for mailart and artistamp projects. Most of it falls within a fairly narrow range. I have included this documentation of Uwe Bressem’s mail art event, because it is one of the best I have seen in some time, it was different from any other in which I have participated, and it was first time project for the originator.

Basically, each participant in the project designed artistamps to commemorate the event and created mailart for every other individual who signed up for the motorgliderdropoffevent project. Each artist then packaged their creations and sent them to Berlin.

Uwe then enlisted pilot Ralf Groslein to circle a rural area near Berlin while he dropped the parachuted mailart overboard.  The canisters, full of mailart, were then retrieved by a brave spotter on the ground. Finally, the project entries were cacheted and franked by Bressem, and then sent through various postal systems to all the participating mailartists.   It was a great recreation, in spirit, of the Berlin airlifts after WW II.

This booklet was created some time later to detail the event in word and images. It was a great artistamp project and the supporting documentation was a labor of love.


Global Mail - The Hole to the Underground

Ashley Parker Owens
May - August 1996
Issue 14

Ashley Parker Owens was once my mailart Goddess. No one goes it alone on a compilation project like this, but I am sure it was her love and her headache. Before the advent of special interest groups, lists, electronic communities and websites, I depended a great deal upon Ashley for my source of mailart information.  

Global Mail was the clearinghouse for most everyone who needed to post a call or communicate in some way with others in the mailart network. The advent of the computer as mass communication tool of choice, and other events at the time, lead to its demise. This issue is one of the last I received. There may have been one or two more issues after this one, but if so, they are buried at the bottom of boxes or ‘stuff’ or passed on to others.

Thanks again Ashley. Your legacy lives on.


S'Mail - Global Network Zine

Joseph Klaffki (Joki)
August 1995
Number 6
Kunst Bahnhausen- academy e.V.

Joki was fearless.

He was perhaps one of the closest examples of a Renaissance artist I have known. Very well accomplished in many media, he was also a great mailartist and in particular, a fine producer and promoter of artistamps. Before he was washed overboard by a freak wave off the Portuguese Azores, he regularly published a zine that was dedicated to artistamps and those who practiced the production of the art form.   

S’Mail, was and remains, perhaps one of the best zines I’ve ever seen coming out of the network. I suppose I reached that conclusion in part because it was dedicated to the promotion of artistamps, but it also had the production values of a real artist as well. Although mostly published in black and white, it also had enough color to satisfy, and additionally, included actual artistampsl. Issue number #6 was an homage to Ray Johnson, in artistamps, that was printed shortly after Ray’s death.  

It took me a long while to believe that Joki did not stage his own death, and make for parts unknown. I still remember his visit to a mailart show I coordinated, and miss his presence. Surf on to KuBa, Dude!


It's in the Mail

Artistamps and the Mail Art Movement

Harley - Terra Candella
Luther Burbank Center for the Arts - California Museum of Art

There are many individuals across the globe, who have significantly contributed to forming and maintaining the mail art network. Harley is one such artist. He has been creating artistamps and sharing with the rest of us for well over 25 years.  A good part of his artistamp creations and mailart archive have found a home at the Clarence Wart Art Library at Oberlin College in Ohio.  

This is a fine piece of documentation for an artistamp mail art show that Harley curated in 1995.  Over 200 artistamp producers contributed mail art. The show was dedicated to Michael Bidner, 1944-1989.


Hommage a Kurt Schwitters

Merz Mail
Pere Sousa

In the history of mail art, Kurt Schwitters is at the roots. The Dadaists and especially the Merz movement were the driving forces before the art world recognized mail art and ‘blessed’ it in the 1950’s. Before the fluxus movement rediscovered and applied the ‘'revolutionary idea of free communication’ through the mail art movement, Schwitters and Merz pushed the envelope, incorporating new techniques, methods and communication elements to express themselves.  Although not always accepted as a Dadaist by history, Schwitters provided the basic building blocks for the fluxus movement. His interactions with the Dadaist core and his conviction that the individual right of free expression was the basis for liberty, eventually led to the democratic ideals of the mail art movement.

This document was the result of a 1994 mail art project coordinated by Barcelona mail artist, Pere Sousa, to which nearly 300 participants contributed.  It was dedicated to all who have had to endure exile in some form, and is a celebration of the mail art network, for the part it plays in reducing internal or external isolation, especially in political climates where tolerance, liberty, and especially free expression, are scorned.

The document is over 70 pages of very nice black and white copies of submitted work, and a good bibliography of materials and references on Kurt Schwitters.



intro     preface     terminology     publications     post links     artist links     country links     postscript