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This one’s for the bird (stamp)!
(Story about 1975, 50 p. definitive stamp of India)

One of the problems of Indian Philately is that the “story” behind a postage stamp is quite opaque. The postal department does not oblige philatelists by reliable documentation and transparent procedures. I was writing an article on “Birds on Indian Stamps” for Aasheesh Pittie, editor of the Indian Birds and I found it difficult to find any information about bird stamps. I was constrained to publish the article, though I felt that I had inadequate information and could find no way of getting more. Those who missed reading the article and would like to peruse it may find it here.

Rather surprisingly, some people liked the article, despite it being just a set of dry facts and observations on them, and wrote to tell me so. Two of the responses were of very great interest to me.

The first email was from Mr Zafar Futehally, one of our doyens of bird-watching. He appreciated the article, saying that it enthused him so much that he wished he were young again so that he could start collecting bird stamps. That warmed the cockles of my heart.

Peter Jackson
A young Peter Jackson poses in front of the Khumbu
icefall during the 1953 climbing season.
(Image copyrighted by Peter Jackson)

The other email was from Mr Peter Jackson, a retired gentleman from England. Mr Jackson began his career as a reporter for Reuters and made his mark reporting for John Hunt‘s Everest Expedition which climbed Everest for the first time in 1953. He went on to become a good wildlife photographer and a dedicated conservationist. He is renowned for his work on wild cats. I was quite flattered to receive an email of appreciation from him too.

Mr Jackson mentioned that one of the stamps that was shown in the article was based on his image. Mr Jackson referred to a definitive stamp of India, a 50 paise stamp issued in 1975 showing a flying bird in blue. The List of Stamps (1852-2007), published by the Department of Posts, describes it as “Flying Crane”. One of the leading bird stamp websites “” lists the stamp as Demoiselle Crane (Grus virgo) – perhaps because a Demoiselle best seemed to fit the image. The finer details of the image on the stamp are indistinct, as the stamp is itself less than an inch in height or width.

Mr Jackson pointed out that the image was his and it was taken in Bharatpur and was of the Intermediate Egret (Mesophoyx intermedia), not a Demoiselle Crane. He was kind enough to send me the original image which is displayed in this article. He had photographed it among the many birds nesting in Keoladeo Ghana way back in the 1960s when he lived in India.

In his own words, he describes how the image found its way on the stamp :

“I was surprised when I found my photo on stamps. I couldn’t make out how the post got it. Sometime later one of my daughters was lunching with an artist friend. He said that I had sent him the photo for art work. He recommended it to the post and told them they could use it on a stamp if they got my permission. But they failed to contact me and just went ahead. Of course, I was pleased to see the photo on a stamp, but I never got any thanks from the post. It served for 10 years.”

Definitive 5th Series, Agriculture, Tourism, Export Promotion and Others
Intermediate Egret (Mesophoyx intermedia)
1975 definitive stamp in denomination of 50p
Mr Peter Jackson's original image upon which the stamp is based. (Image copyrighted by Peter Jackson)

Mr Jackson was unfortunate in that he got no gratitude from the Indian Post, but he was lucky in that the stamp his image adorned was a definitive and not a commemorative stamp.

A definitive has a simple and plain design, usually carries no caption while a commemorative is larger, picturesque and has a caption. However the commemorative is printed in small quantities and has a short issue life after which it is neither available nor legal tender. A definitive, on the other hand is printed in very large quantities, for years at a time and is the workhorse of the postal system.

Mr Jackson’s image on the definitive has adorned millions of letters, parcels and postcards for more than a decade, thereby giving his image exposure to an audience many times larger than ever possible by other means of the time.

We can only thank Mr. Jackson for taking the beautiful image so that it could find its way onto the postage stamp. It is important to know that this contribution on his part is very small compared to the sterling work he has done in his lifetime for Indian Wildlife. A close friend of Kailash Sankhala, he joined the World Wildlife Fund (today Worldwide Fund for Nature) in 1970. When WWF raised over a million pounds internationally to save the tiger, he was sent to India to help purchase the equipment paid for by WWF for the setting up of Project Tiger. Later, he became an independent writer on wildlife. Mr. Jackson was appointed as head of the defunct Cat Specialist Group of the Species Survival Commission of the IUCN in 1983 and headed it for 17 years converting it into a close-knit team of over 200 cat scientists, including many Indians. He created the CatSG magazine about the activities of the Cat Specialist group in 1984 and edited it till he retired in 2000. He still contributes world cat news to the magazine. During his time as chairman, Mr. Jackson travelled around the world to help support cats, including many visits to India.

Thank you Mr Jackson for your life work’s in preserving India’s wildlife in general and our country’s big cats in particular.

Contributed by Ashwin Baindur, Pune

Article published first at The Butterfly Diaries.
Licensed under Creative Commons 3.0 Share-like Attribution Required.

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