Putting a colourful stamp on Singapore's history

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.
Stamps issued during the Japanese Occupation (above), and in 2013 (left), as Singapore marked its 48th year as an independent nation. PHOTOS: SINGAPORE PHILATELIC MUSEUM
Stamps issued during the Japanese Occupation (above), and in 2013, as Singapore marked its 48th year as an independent nation. PHOTO: SINGAPORE PHILATELIC MUSEUM
Stamps issued during the Japanese Occupation (above), and in 2013 (left), as Singapore marked its 48th year as an independent nation. PHOTOS: SINGAPORE PHILATELIC MUSEUM
Stamps issued during the Japanese Occupation, and in 2013 (above), as Singapore marked its 48th year as an independent nation. PHOTO: SINGAPORE PHILATELIC MUSEUM

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, which was followed by depictions of other English 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 on envelopes might seem inconsequential, stamps tell a precise and colourful story of Singapore's 200 years of history, a video of which can now be viewed on The Straits Times' website and YouTube channel.

Before computers, letter-writing was the most advanced mode of communication. The introduction of stamps revolutionised the postal service, making letter-writing accessible and affordable for all.

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

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

It was in 1960, after Singapore achieved self-governance, that a stamp first featured the national flag and the words "State of Singapore".

In 2013, a collection of stamps celebrating Singapore's 48th year of independence contrasted colourful depictions of new landmarks, such as Gardens by the Bay, with black-and-white images showing the country in the past.

Ms Lim An-Ling, an illustrator who has been designing stamps for seven years, said there is now more room for artistic interpretation, given improvements in printing techniques. "When well applied, the printing technique can help accentuate the stamps and give additional meaning to the design."

Ms Lim, 47, designed the bicentennial stamps issued in May, and drew inspiration by looking through old photos of Singapore.

"Today, the fact that my design work goes through the mailbox, and into many homes in Singapore and around the world, gives me plenty of joy," she said. "It's a wonderful feeling."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 06, 2019, with the headline 'Putting a colourful stamp on nation's history'. Print Edition | Subscribe