I received my first stamp album at the age of 6 and promptly began collecting – enthusiastically but aimlessly – every stamp that I could rescue from the wastebasket. After some months, however, I mostly lost interest in these small pieces of paper.
Then, some 30 years later and about 20 years ago, while living in Würzburg, Germany, I discovered some fascinating bat-related postage stamps in a shop window. I bought the stamps immediately, intending to frame and hang them as an eye-catcher over my wife’s desk, since she had recently worked with bats.
But then I got to wondering if there were any other bat-related stamps around, and I decided to build a complete collection of them. I assumed there were not many bat stamps out there and that I could obtain them easily. Those were my first two errors in connection with my rediscovered hobby.
There are, in fact, hundreds of bat-related stamps around the world, and tracking them down has turned into a fascinating chore. The first stamp showing bats appeared about 120 years ago in China. It showed a stylized wu-fu, the Chinese symbol for good fortune that features five stylized bats and was BCI’s original logo.
I have noticed that every stamp is distinctly more than just a small color picture or a mere receipt for a rendered service. Each one can open exciting new windows to its subject. Studying the image on a stamp teaches us about geography, biology, history and much more.
As a philatelist (a stamp enthusiast), my goal is to gather as much background information as possible for each stamp. You just never know where a bat will take you. Over the years, these bat stamps have brought me into contact with interesting and helpful people around the world: philatelists, artists, biologists and so on. Some of them are also collectors of stamps that feature bats.
And the bat stamps just keep coming. A stamp scheduled for release in Germany this June, for example, will feature a 14th century painting, “Creation of the Animals” by Master Bertram. In the top left corner, you should find a bat floating beside an owl.
WOLF-PETER FRIEDRICH studied biology and paleontology in Würzburg, Germany. Now retired, he lives in Scheinfeld, Germany, where he is engaged in bat conservation.
Chinese culture treats bats as harbingers of happiness and good fortune. The children on this stamp seem delighted with the five bats that symbolize five blessings.
Costa Rica 1986
Whenever I get a new stamp, I study the inscription and picture, a process that has taught me not to trust inscriptions. This Costa Rican stamp identifies the image as a wrinkle-faced bat (Centurio senex), but that seems unlikely, as the photo demonstrates. It appears instead to be a fringe-lipped bat (Trachops cirrhosus).
This stamp from Ghana provides a bit of German colonial history. It bears an image by Donovan Reginald Rosevear that shows a Woermann’s fruit bat (Megaloglossus woermanni) visiting blossoms of a Kapok tree. This bat was described by Alexander Pagenstecher in 1885 and named for Adolph Woermann, a prominent German trader in East Africa at the time.
Seven professional artists were commissioned to produce designs for a 1999 German stamp dedicated to the greater horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus ferrumequinum). The uninspired result suggests that no biologists were involved in the process. The stamp was printed in sheets of 10, each bordered with tabs showing bald trees in wintertime, when you won’t see these bats. And the curious first-day cancellation shows a horseshoe bat that seems to be missing its lower jaw.
I consider this 2012 stamp block from Switzerland one of the very best of the world’s bat stamps. Angelo Boog, a professional scientific illustrator, did this masterpiece that shows every detail of a brown big-eared bat (Plecotus auritus).
Nearly every bat enthusiast knows about the single bat that sits atop the coat of arms of the Spanish province of Valencia. Even local soccer clubs use it.
This Congolese stamp celebrates Valencia’s most successful soccer club, Valencia FC, its stadium and its logo.
New Caledonia 2009
Joemy, this blue flying fox, was designed by student Jean-Philippe Collobert and became the mascot of the 2011 Pacific Games.
What an amazing postmark from the electoral division of Batman in Victoria, Australia, right? Unfortunately, although bats occasionally appear on cancellation, Batman has nothing to do with bats. Rather, it is named for John Batman, one of Melbourne's founders.
U.S. Bat Stamps
The first U.S. stamps to feature bats didn’t appear until 2002. Each of the four stamps shows a photograph by BCI Founder Merlin Tuttle. The commemorative stamps were issued after BCI Member Carol Adams of Texas, showed a BCI poster covered with bat photos to a Texas professor who just happened to chair the U.S. Postal Service Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee.