As today is Candlemass I thought I'd treat myself to a visit to the named museum.
Now, when I was a child, I collected stamps. Friends of my mother gave me stamps. It was a fairly cheap hobby. I was in the 'Stamp bug club'.
I attached the stamps to albums using small stamp-attach-tape-thingies and gazed at the stamps. The stamps were organised geographically and through them I could see a little into the life of those countries. For some reason I had loads of mint Czechoslovakian stamps, as well as a fair few Polish ones.
'Poczta polska' were the words written on the stamps, and the word 'Polska' is one I remembered. Perhaps that is why I ended up interested in languages, having seen many on stamps as a young lad.
Anyway, this autobiographical introduction out of the way, lets get on with the review. The museum is fascinating. Why so?
Well, let me answer with this story. I was once leading a discussion about whether there is such a thing as one European history, and someone from Poland said 'Polish history is only about Poland'. A visit to this museum would prove her wrong.
In the museum are original and copies of historical artifacts that include Prussian, Austrian and Russian uniforms. There is also a copy of the first Polish stamp, the 'Polska 1'.
This stamp was issued on the 1st of January 1860 by the Russian government within the Russian part of the former Poland. This stamp shows a Polish symbol, its eagle and can be viewed as quite surprising when one considers that Polish signs tended not to be allowed. In any case, following the January uprising it was withdrawn in 1865.
The exhibition also contains Napoleonic uniforms. Why? Well for a short time Napoleonic forces occupied the Russian part of the former Poland and had their own postal service in the region, that was only for the use of their soldiers. Later, the newly independent Poland from 1918 used those old postboxes, as well as the other equipment of the occupying countries of Prussia, Austria and Russia.
Think about that for a moment. For you and me a postal service is something taken for granted. It's there, and we've always known it to be there. For the newly independent Poland of 1918, however, it was something new. The new government had to form a whole array of civic institutions; schools, hospitals, military and of course a postal service. Of course, they were not created from nothing, but still a high form of organising had to be done.
You may wonder, what was to adorn the stamps of the new Poland? What would replace the Russian double-headed eagle, or the Prussian portraits of Bismark or the eagle of the Österreiches Königreich? Think about that. What is on the stamps of the countries you live in? What purpose do they serve? In the Poland of the 1920's case, decisions had to be made. There were therefore pictures of Piłsudski, especially after the successful war against Russia in 1920/21. Otherwise there were also Chopin and Józef Bem.
Following the invasion of Poland by Germany and the Soviet Union in 1939 Polish stamps ceased to be legal tender, and the German-occupied Poland introduced new Deutschland-Ost stamps. This era is not remembered in the museum, but usually there are artifacts of the illegal underground Poczta polska used in occupied Poland, such as was used during the Warsaw uprising. Following the defeat of the Germans in eastern Poland in 1944 the Poczta Polska was to reappear.
After the war a whole array of stamps was to be made. You may think that a lot of communistic propaganda was to feature. Well, you would be right, but not totally. Sure, there were stamps with pictures of Stalin in 1950 and 1955 (as one can see in the museum). There were also stamps (again, as one can see) of Marx and Engels (1947). One can however also see more Polish figures, such as Marie Curie-Skłodowska, and Adam Mickiewicz.
As we move into the future one can see in the exhibition stamps commemorating various sporting occasions, such as Olympic games or world cups tournaments. 1979 brings a stamp bearing the image of the Polish Pope (Jan Paweł II), interesting when he was a threat to the communist regime in Poland, eh?
Other stamps show another favourite topic of mine: birds. One can see stamps with a bocian czarny (black stork), komoran (cormorant), zimorodek (kingfisher) and a kruk (crow). Otherwise one sees animals, a commemoration of the Gdańsk poczta polska building being attacked by Nazis in 1939, big cats, Michał Korpernik, Izaak Newton and Karol Darwin.
So far, so Polish. Or not, as the case may be.
The exhibition also contains an exhibition of stamps designed by Czesław Słania. He was a Pole born close to Katowice who illegally forged documents during the Nazi occupation who later moved to Sweden, where he was to be world famous for his stamps and bank notes. This very excellent website shows you some of his work. Seriously, have a look. It's worth it.
His stamps show us the world of culture in the world: Irish stamps showing the Irish Rugby Football Union centenary of 1874-1984; US stamps showing Cascius Clay and Rocky Marciano and British stamps showing the Holyhead and Liverpool Mail 1828!
One can also see bird stamps from across the world. My favourites are the Swedish ones, showing Skaflocka (Avocet) and Sidensvans (Waxwing. The Swedish word sounds like Seidenschwanz in German, which means 'silk tail').
Anyway, that's enough reading for you. If you're in Wrocław, pop along. It only costs 7 złoty :)