Potatoes on Stamps
Postage stamps depict national values. Since the potato is, after rice and wheat, the third-largest food crop in the world, it’s not surprising that many countries have featured potatoes on their stamps.
Stamps around the world have featured the history, cultivation, rural economy, research, utilization and art of the potato. Collectively, they emphasize the broad adaptation and wide utilization of this global food crop. The fact that the potato has been featured on hundreds of stamps in countries ranging from Aland to Yugoslavia is an indication of the high esteem in which it is held around the world. What follows is a small sample of these stamps.
In 2008, on the occasion of the International Year of the Potato, several countries honoured the potato on their postage stamps. This includes Peru with its beautiful “Tesoro Enterrado” (“Buried Treasure”) stamp.
Peru’s “Buried Treasure” stamp, left, and Bolivia’s “Luk’i Negra” stamp, right.
For the same occasion, Bolivia issued four stamps showing different “primitive” potato varieties. The descriptive names of these ancient varieties, which are still grown in the Andean highlands of Bolivia and Peru, are displayed on the stamps in the languages (Aymará and Quechua) spoken by the farmers who domesticated the potato thousands of years ago. One example is the stamp featuring the “Luk’i Negra” variety. The Aymará name “Luk’i” means “frost-resistant potato.” The term “negra” is a Spanish adjective meaning “black.” Luk’i potatoes (there are several subcategories within this group, each with a different adjective describing colour, shape, texture and taste) are usually made into chuño, the traditional freeze-dried potatoes of the Andes.
Germany’s 1997 stamp, left, and the former Soviet Union’s “ΛOPX” stamp, right.
Many countries have issued stamps commemorating the history of the potato. In 1997, Germany celebrated 350 years of growing potatoes with a special stamp showing a diagram of a potato plant and illustrating a potato harvest. In 1964, the former Soviet Union honoured the “ΛOPX” (or “Lorch”) variety which, although released in 1931, is still one of the most popular varieties in that country.
Ireland has issued several stamps commemorating “An Gorta Mór” (“The Great Hunger”). One of the most striking stamps in this series displays a drawing of a woman and child desperately searching for a few spuds. This drawing is a copy of one of the many cartoons published by the Illustrated London News during the famine years.
The photogenic Colorado potato beetle, the most damaging insect of the potato crop, has been featured on the stamps of many countries, including Austria.
Ireland’s “An Gorta Mór” stamp, left, and Austria’s stamp featuring the Colorado potato beetle.
Canada has featured the potato on two very nice stamps. As part of the Millennium series in 2000, Canada Post produced a feature stamp honouring McCain Foods (the world’s largest producer of french fries) as “Lords of the Freezer.” The 2011 Canada Post series on roadside attractions includes a picture of the giant potato in front of the potato museum in O’Leary, P.E.I.
Canada’s McCain Foods stamp, left, and P.E.I. potato museum, right.
An Australian stamp showing a proud farmer with his spuds is an excellent example of retail marketing of potatoes—similar in spirit to the 1976 stamp from Switzerland which features the potato as part of an overall healthy diet.
Australia’s potato stamp, left, and Switzerland’s “healthy diet” stamp.
Ever since its domestication, the potato has been interwoven with people’s lives. For example, in addition to being a staple food, the potato has been used in religious ceremonies and as a dye for clothes. These interdependencies have been expressed by several artists who have painted the potato in different contexts—for example, Van Gogh’s famous “Potato Eaters,” or the Jordanian stamp featuring Millet’s masterpiece of the “Angelus,” in which a farm couple pauses during their potato harvest for the evening prayer.
A number of countries have issued stamps that honour people who have made significant contributions to the cultivation of the potato. The United States featured Luther Burbank on a 1940 three-cent stamp. Burbank bred a large number of garden plants including the “Burbank’s Seedling” potato variety, released in 1874. Burbank’s Seedling was smooth-skinned, but in 1914, Lou Sweet in Colorado discovered a russet mutation which he named “Russet Burbank.” Apparently, Burbank did not have a very high opinion of this mutation and felt that the “modified coat” did not add to the tubers’ beauty. Luther’s negative opinion notwithstanding, Russet Burbank quickly replaced Burbank’s Seedling and is still the most widely-grown potato variety in North America.
Jordan’s beautiful stamp featuring Millet’s “Angelus,” left, and the United States’ 1940 stamp honouring Luther Burbank.
The above illustrations are only a few examples of the many aspects of the cultivation of the potato featured on stamps around the world.
Hielke De Jong is a retired Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada potato breeder, consultant and co-author of The Complete Book of Potatoes: What Every Grower and Gardener Needs to Know.
This article is dedicated to the late James (Jim) E. Bryan for his untiring inspiration on this subject.