The Exciting Traditional Costumes of Gilbert & Ellice Islands on Stamps

The short-lived Protectorate of Gilbert & Ellice Islands existed between 1911 and 1975, when it was separated into two autonomous territories, Kiribati and Tuvalu. There are less than 250 stamps issued for this protectorate, but all of them strike by their interesting colors, relative exoticism, and straightforward celebration of local diversity.

The world of traditional costume and traditional activities was at the core of their first full-color definitive series of stamps in 1965. They were reissued and surcharged between 1965 and 1968, coinciding with the change of currency that occurred in 1966 – from the pre-decimal £ to the decimal Australian $.

The Surcharged Issue


Top row, left to right: nighttime fishing, making a Frangipani wreath, a Gilbert Island dweller dancing, blowing a conch shell for the beginning of the feast, young Ellice Island dweller dancing, dance costume of a Gilbert Island dweller.

Middle row, left to right: young woman at the fountain, harvesting coconuts, Ellice Island dwellers in war dance, preparation of the feast.

Bottom row, left to right: sitting dance, local chopstick game, Ellice Island dwellers drumming for a dance, the coat of arms of the Islands.


The Nominal Issue


For description, see above under the surcharged definitive series.

Stamps featured in post: 30; Period: modern (1965-1968); Pricing: low; Availability: very scarce.

Michel catalogue no’s (price for mint in € in brackets): Set I: MiNr: 105-119 (25€); Set II: MiNr: 130-144 (24€).


Greek Traditional Costume on Stamps

We continue our series of articles devoted to the traditional costume. Next stop – Greece. Greek traditional costume is pretty well-known worldwide. However, its local variations are not just as well known. With a lot of local, Balkan influences, from Bulgarian to Turkish, and from Albanian to Serbian, the monolithic traditional “Amalia dress” (called so because it was “designed” by Amalia, consort of King Otto of Greece in the 19th century) gets lots of local variables.

In general, the Greek costume the way we know it today, has a romantic tinge – needless to say, because it was devised in the 19th century, when the need of local identity markers was quite high throughout the region. On the one hand, the wish to have something local added sartorial elements to the traditional body of dresses, fustanellas, fezes, kalpakis (toques) or stivania (boots). On the other hand, the need to diversify the traditional costume regionally meant that different resources were researched in order to pick up and revive elements that had long been out of use. Nowadays, these clichés of traditional costume persist – however, their use is of course limited to special events. The only daily appearance of traditional costume is the Presidential Guard in Athens – quite showy, I would say.

Below you will find a series of traditional Greek costume issued between 1972-1974, including 40 instances of traditional costume.


Pictured above, left to right: Crete, Pindos, Mesolongos, Attica, Nisyros, Megara, Trikeri.

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Spanish Traditional Costume on Stamps

In the 1960’s, Spain issued two long series of stamps – one was devoted to coats of arms, the second one to traditional costume. What strikes as very unusual in these two collections is the fact that stamps were issued in singles – to the extent to which we can think of the coats of arms series as 57 single stamps and the traditional costume one as a 53 single stamps). Needless to say, the stamps are reunited by common design and a common title. However, being singles, they are harder to assemble now – almost 50 years later, because of the risk of getting too many doubles and not filling out the actual collection.

The traditional costumes we are talking about are all women’s traditional costume and they were issued almost alphabetically (with a few exceptions).

As an instance of imagery, the stamps are telling a story unlike the one of the Spain we know today. It is still here and there colonial(ist) and therefore to the continental design of costume you can also see glimpses of colonial costume (Fernando Poo, Sahara, IFNI). At the same time, the costumes are minutely designed, probably in order to build up local differences, even where they did not exist. It is hard to see the resemblance between instances of attire even from the same region (for instance from Barcelona and Tarragona), and this is because the notion of diversity hijacked the one of authenticity.

However, the entire set is a pleasure to look at. Below you can find the 53 stamps from the series in their order of issue. They were issued between 1967 and 1971.


Row one, left to right: Alavia, Albacete, Alicante, Almeria, Badajoz, Avila, Baleares.

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