Beethoven on Stamps

Article excerpt

Postage stamps have become a natural medium for honoring the significant people, places, and events in history. Most commemorative stamps honor people or subjects directly related to the issuing country's history or nationalistic concerns. Some subjects, however, are of such universal appeal and popularity that nations with widely differing cultures, history, and political alignments feel justified in depicting them on stamps. In this way, Beethoven is among a very elite group of historical figures.

To date, forty-seven countries have issued stamps honoring Beethoven. This group includes, as might be expected, East and West Germany (who between them have the most issues with eighteen), Austria, and most of the European community. But also included are such unlikely nations as Mongolia, Upper Volta, the Yemen Arab Republic, Rwanda, Paraguay, and several Persian Gulf emirates with exotic names like Ras al Khaima, Ajman, and Sharjah. Subject matter for these stamps covers nearly all phases of Beethoven's life, depicting him from his first silhouette portrait at age sixteen to representations of the death mask. Most stamps feature famous portraits of Beethoven (Klöber, Waldmüller, Schimon, among others), but other subjects include places closely associated with his life (Bonn, Vienna, Heiligenstadt) and artifacts of his music: scores (most notably the manuscript to the "Ode to Joy") and his fortepianos. Beethoven's ear trumpets even made it on to one stamp issued by the Maldive Islands!

In 1922 Austria issued the first Beethoven stamp, which sold at the post office for ten times the face value of its postage. This type of stamp, called a "semi-postal," was a common way for European governments to raise money for specific causes. In this case the extra money benefited an Austrian musicians' fund. Certainly one of the Beethoven stamps most prized by philatelists (stamp collectors) is the thirty-pfennig blue issued by the Berlin postal agency in 1952 to commemorate the 125th anniversary of Beethoven's death. This beautifully engraved, classically designed stamp features the famous Klein life mask made when the composer was forty-two years old. West Germany issued another of the most attractive Beethoven stamps in a special miniature souvenir sheet in 1959. This item was issued to commemorate the opening of the Beethoven Hall in Bonn and also honors the various anniversaries of four other German composers. The sheet's prominent stamp, the red twenty-pfennig portraying Beethoven, is set against a background of the manuscript of the Finale of the Ninth Symphony.

1970 and 1977 were, respectively, the 200th anniversary of Beethoven's birth and the 150th anniversary of his death. …