An introduction to Polar Philately presented at the Houston Philatelic Society meeting on March, 7, 2016. This presentation gives an overview of collecting the stamps of the North and South Poles (Antarctic and Arctic)
List of Russian drifting ice stations: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drifting_ice_station
While many of these countries have not issued stamps specifically for use in their Antarctic territory, there have been many issues recognizing polar research, famous polar explorers, and significant events.
Stamp issuing entities such as South Georgia and the Falkland Islands are not technically part of the Antarctica continent, but because of the significant role they have played in the history of exploration of the South Pole region, they are generally included in polar collections.
Some consider this to be the first polar stamps. Julio Popper, a gold mine operator, commissioned this stamp to pay the cost of local mail delivery to mining camps on the island at the extreme southern tip of South America.
Explorers such as Captain James Cook, Admiral Richard E. Byrd, Jules Dumont d'Urville, Robert Perry, Douglas Mawson, Ernst Shackleton and many more led expeditions of exploration and discovery into these remote and forbidding lands. Their faces and names are found on polar bases and on stamps from many countries. Most of these explorers appear on enough stamps to make up substantial topical collections in their own right.
In 1895, the Sixth International Geographic Congress made a declaration urging the exploration of Antarctica. Expeditions to the Arctic were also discussed. This kicked off what has become known as the Heroic Age of exploration and over the next three decades, 22 expeditions to Antarctica were undertaken by men such as Ernst Shackleton, Douglas Mawson, Adrienne de Gerlache, Robert Falcon Scott, Roald Amundsen and others.
The first stamps issued specifically for use in Antarctica where issued by New Zealand in 1908 and when Scott #108a was overprinted with “King Edward VII Land”, Scott 121a, and taken by Ernst Shackleton on his expedition to Antarctica. Due to weather, Shackleton never landed on King Edward VII Land. Later issues bore the Victoria Land overprint (130d-131d).
An example of a famous issue for the North Pole region are the covers dropped from the Graf Zeppelin over Franz Josephs Land, close to the North Pole. The covers were flown from Berlin to a Russian post office on the island about 500 miles from the North Pole and returned via dog sled and ice breaker to be delivered to their final destination by regular mail. These covers are franked with Scott #C42, which includes the “Polar-Fahrt 1931” (Polar trip 1931) overprint on the 1928 Graf Zeppelin air post issue.
It’s difficult to distinguish philatelic covers from “commercial”, but most covers from the FSAT are created for collectors. I’d like to think the cover above was actual correspondence. It is franked with FSAT 22, 27, 28 (key issue), and C13
Mail from Polar bases frequently includes multiple catchets and the signatures of base personnel.
Falkland Island Dependency stamps
The Port Lockroy Post Office is operated by the United Kingdom Antarctic Trust and see some 18,000 visitors a year during the 5-month Antarctic cruise season. The post office doubles as a museum and was originally built by the British during World War II. A staff of four process close to 70,000 pieces of mail each year.
Only British Antarctic Territory Stamps can be used on the mail posted from this post office. There’s a reminder affixed on the royal mailbox.
Shackleton Memorial – Placed on the island in memory of the famous explorer who traveled more than 800 miles in a life boat and then scaled the mountains at South Georgia to bring rescuers to his crew trapped in Antarctica.
Since Australia began issuing stamps for its territories in Antarctica, there has typically only been one issue per year. All of the basic issues can be obtained for reasonable prices, making completion of this area an obtainable goal.
On the left is the 2009 issue for the International Polar Year. To the right is 1987 gutter overprint of number L75 for the Sydney Stamp & Coin Show. The overprint includes the names of each of the four AAT bases where post offices are in operation.
Covers like these were issued to publicize and fund Byrd’s third Antarctic expedition where he planned to use the gigantic snow cruiser to easily reach the South Pole.
Operation High Jump which took place from August 1946-February 1947 was officially a mission to establish the Little America Base in the Antarctic. The operation included 13 ships, 4700 men, and multiple aircraft. Conspiracy theories about the real purpose of the operation abound. They include hunting Nazis who had developed flying saucers and outright alien contact. This cover was canceled onboard the flagship the USS Mount Olympus
Mail out of Antarctica is much more common than mail to Antarctica. This cover addressed to Scott Smith was sent from the Falkland Islands to South Pole Station, but used the wrong zip code. It eventually made its way to Smith.
No discussion of Antarctica would be complete without mention of Argentina. This South American country borders on the southern continent and has been issuing stamps regarding it’s territorial claims for years. They also have six post offices operating year round in Antarctica, more than any other country. This cover carried by the Hesperides supply ship includes cancelations from all of Argentina’s research stations.
Back side of Hesperides cover
Chile also has strong ties to Antarctica and supports five year round post offices on the continent. While the picture on the post card looks like it might be a scene of the naval base, it is actually a view from Valparaiso, Chile, which is very north of Antarctica.
A registered cover from Brú to Reykjavik via Hólmavík, population 337 (town cancel on reverse of cover). The Wikipedia only has a stub record on Brú. It reads: "Brú is a farmstead and road junction in northwestern Iceland in Vestur-Húnavatnssýsla county. It is located in the Northwest Political constituency. It has a filling station and a guesthouse. It is located at the southern tip of Hrútafjörður where the river Hrútafjarðará has its estuary with the Arctic Ocean."
Female Antarctic Scientific Sport Expedition “Blizzard” Many covers related to both the north and south poles have been produced by Russia. It may be difficult to translate the text, but with some work you can learn a bit about the history of exploration and science in the poles. Another interesting area of collecting is Arctic floating ice stations, and many Russian polar covers feature cancellations from these temporary bases.
This covers commemorate the 75th anniversary of scientific field research in the Berents Sea and are canceled in Murmansk, the largest city in the world located north of the Arctic circle.
Polar Philately: Postal Service in the World's Coldest Places
Postal Service in the World's Coldest
– Polar philatelists share an interest in stamps, covers
and postal history of the polar regions of the earth,
the North and South Poles.
– Often collectors mix collecting with historical research
– The American Topical Association has a polar stamp
What is Polar Philately?
› The Arch of Kerguelen: Voyage to the Islands of Desolation
- (Greater reference on FSAT)
› The Endurance: Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic
› Shackleton’s Forgotten Men: The Untold Tragedy of the
› Alone – (Admiral Byrd’s personal recounting of being
stranded for four months alone at an advance base near
the South Pole)
› American Society of Polar Philatelists
– APS Affiliate #31
– Ice Cap News
– Membership application
› Polar Postal History Society of Great Britain
› The Antarctic Sun – online newspaper of the U.S. Antarctic
› Australian Society for Polar Philately
Polar Philatelic Societies and References
The region north of
the isotherm line –
This is the region
where the average
temperature in July
does not exceed 50° F.
North of 60°
› Parts of U.S., Canada, and
› Norway – Svalbard
› Drifting Ice Stations
The continent of Antarctica
and generally all locations
south of or near 50° south
Wikipedia includes a list of
all Antarctic Research
ENTITIES ON AND
Falkland Islands &
French Southern &
› Private Posts
› Tristan da Cunha
› Phone Cards
› Post Cards
› Expedition memorabilia and artifacts
Other “Polar” Area
› “Exploration of the Antarctic Regions … is the greatest
piece of geographical exploration still to be undertaken,
and, in view of the additions to knowledge in almost every
branch of science which would result from such scientific
exploration, the Congress recommends that … this work be
undrtain before the close of the century.”
› List of Antarctic Expeditions
› List of Arctic Expeditions
› List of Polar Explorers
VICTORIA LAND & KING EDWARD VII LAND – FUNDING FOR THE
This 1954 stamp from
Republic, Scott #C54) was
issued to publicize France's
claim to territory on the
Antarctic continent. The
region claimed was
discovered by Jules
Dumont d'Urville in 1840
and named in honor of his
The first stamp for the
FSAT was an overprint on a
stamp from Madagascar.
› One of the most sought after sets from FSAT features Scott
FSAT Stamps are almost always relevant to the
This sheet depicting
participating in Olympic
style sports is one of
several souvenir sheets
issued over the years that
depicts the desolate region
in a comical light.
› Stamps of FSAT are made available in limited quantities as
imperforates, deluxe souvenir sheets, and trial color proofs.
› Original artwork and prints signed by the stamp artist are
› Every 2 years FSAT issues “Voyage Books” which include
postcards and stamps
Imperfs, Deluxe Sheets, Proofs, Voyage Books
Located east of Argentina
and north of the Antarctic
continent, this tiny British
colony took care of postal
service for what is now the
British Antarctic Territory
and South Georgia before
both these areas began
issuing their own stamps,
starting around 1954.
The British Antarctic Territory
split from the Falklands in
1961 with the ratification of
the Antarctic Treaty. South
Georgia and South Sandwich
Islands officially became a
British Overseas Territory in
1985. Both are also
territories of the European
The first definitive set of
the British Antarctic
Territory (Scott 1-15)
features scenes of the
including icebreaker ships,
sled dogs, skiers, the
southern lights, snow
machines, planes, and
The first issues of
Greenland were privately
produced at Thule, the site
of cryolite mines in remote
north western Greenland.
Prior to 1938, the stamps of
Denmark were used in