Half a century on from first Christmas stamp
New Zealand’s first Christmas stamp was issued 50 years ago.
The design of that 1960 stamp is reproduced on this year’s 60 cent gummed and self-adhesive Christmas varieties, now on sale at post shops.
The original stamp was the country’s postal milestone in a year when the first television programmes were transmitted, and the second Labour Government was defeated at the polls.
Wellingtonians may remember 1960 better for runners Peter Snell and Murray Halberg winning gold medals at the Rome Olympics.
Because New Zealanders wished to put the new festive stamps on Christmas mail they posted overseas, the issue date was moved forward a month to November 1, 1960.
The stamp depicted the painting The Adoration of the Shepherds, a nativity scene by Rembrandt.
This predominantly brown image with touches of red in the central group of figures was used courtesy of the National Gallery, London, where the original work hung.
The postmaster-general, Michael Moohan, said every effort was made to reproduce the tonings and mood of the original painting.
At the time of issue, the 30 millimetre by 40mm stamp was New Zealand’s largest in circulation.
Not everyone liked it.
‘‘A philatelist’’ wrote to The Evening Post, complaining about the large size, and the appearance being dismal and morbid instead of bright and cheerful.
‘‘ By the time it is heavily date stamped, there will be nothing left of the centre of the stamp, only a dark blurred mass of figures – a very poor production for a Christmas stamp.’’
Another correspondent, ‘‘ Stuck’’, believed the picture was not suitable for a stamp because the size did not do the image justice. But ‘‘Stuck’’ agreed with the Post Office spokesman who claimed people criticising the stamp were criticising Rembrandt.
The Catholic Youth Movement said it deeply appreciated the stamp bring- ing the true meaning of Christmas to New Zealanders.
H F G Harrison, whose company Harrison & Sons printed the stamp in England, visited Wellington during the period of sale.
He said one could not lighten an old master, saying expert opinion agreed the stamp was a credit to New Zealand after comparison with the original painting.
Known colour variations in the stamp’s printing are pale brown and red, blackish brown and red, and dark brown and red. The dark brown and red is the most common.
Reproduction: The 1960 stamp makes a reappearance.
Original: New Zealand’s first Christmas stamp.