History puts its colourful stamp on Singapore

From boats and flowers to nation-building efforts, the many designs of Singapore's stamps reflect the nation's progress through the years. Experience 200 years of Singapore's history, told through these stamps.

SINGAPORE - Britain introduced Singapore's first postage stamp in 1854 with a royal theme that was to continue for decades.

A portrait of Queen Victoria graced the first stamp, with more to come, including ones depicting monarchs such as King George VI. That changed in 1943 when Japanese occupiers imposed stamps with Kanji characters in a move to establish an Asian identity under their leadership.

While these tiny items stuck on envelopes might seem inconsequential in the wider scheme of things, stamps tell a precise and colourful story of Singapore's 200 years of history, as can be seen in a vivid Straits Times-produced video. 

In an age before computers, writing letters was the most advanced mode of communication. The introduction of stamps revolutionised the postal service, making letter writing accessible and affordable for everyone.

Migrants to Singapore relied on letters to keep in touch with their families back home in Europe, China, India, the Middle East and other parts of Asia. Meanwhile, traders, shippers and government officers affixed stamps to commercial and official documents.

But stamps today are more than just postal taxes - they chronicle a nation's journey, highlighting its growth and development through pictures.

It was 1960 when a stamp first featured the Singapore flag with the words "State of Singapore", after achieving self-governance.

In 2013, a collection of stamps celebrating Singapore's 48th year of independence contrasted colourful stamps depicting Singapore's achievements like Gardens By The Bay, together with black-and-white stamps showing the country in the past.


Ms Lim An-Ling, an illustrator who has been designing stamps for seven years, said there is more room for artistic interpretation now, given improved printing technique.

"When well applied, the printing technique can help accentuate the stamps, and give additional meaning to the design," she said.

Ms Lim, 47, drew inspiration for the bicentennial set of stamps issued earlier this May by looking through old photos of Singapore.

"Today, the fact that my design work goes through the posting box and into many homes in Singapore and around the world gives me plenty of joy - it's a wonderful feeling," she added.