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Rare stamps: Sydney's Nude Olympics

Sheet of Rare Nude Stamps

Five years after the Sydney 2000 Olympics, we've discovered a series of 20 rare stamps showing nude athletes participating in those events.

To the deep regret of the world's millions of philatelists, the stamps can't be used for postage, and the athletes aren't real either.

The stamps are the work of Steve Smith, a talented Florida (US) artist and satirist, who uses traditional fine art techniques, computer graphics technology and an antique pin-hole perforator to make limited editions of his own artistic stamps.

"Steve Smith creates mini-masterpieces that undercut the expectations some viewers bring to art," Jeff Klinkenberg wrote in the St. Petersburg Times in 1999. "Does the Postal Service know how funny he is? He lives in Pinellas County, in Gulfport, a little Bohemia...

"For decades, more for his own pleasure than bank account, he has designed stamps that on first glance look like postal service issues. But up close, yowza.

"Like writers and cartoonists he admires... he remains unapologetically subversive. Not to mention a wee [bit] scatalogical. He has never marched to a different drummer. He has jitterbugged."

Smith displays his stamps on his own website, saying "Philatelists would call them panes of Cinderellas (sounding kind of like a day-time soap opera). In art circles and among collectors they are known as Artistamps.

"I issue only 250 signed, hand-perforated sheets of each of my stamp designs. I generally issue four to six editions a year.

"My prints are produced on ungummed acid-neutral paper from 300 dpi Photoshop files on a Xerox Docutech 50 laser printer. I hand perforate each print, one line at a time, on an old foot-pedal Rosback perforator. I mount each of my prints with archival photo corners on black, acid-neutral card stock and protect each one in a clear, archival sleeve."

What inspires Steve Smith? He says:

I'm a product of early childhood exposure to Tom Lehrer's songs and 1950's Mad Magazine. I'm also a classically-trained artist and sometimes university art instructor. I paint and draw, and occasionally take on illustration jobs.

I'm a native Floridian, and have watched the last 50 years of "progress" take its toll of my state, my country and the rest of the planet.

I could piss and moan, but what's the point? There's plenty of weird beauty and fructifying humor out there if you're sufficiently out there to look for it.

We asked Smith how many of his Sydney artistamp prints had he sold (at $US50 a sheet). He replied:

I've sold a little over 100 , so I have about 140 sheets left in the edition.

The sheets of stamps that are sold at the post office, and mine too, are called "panes" by philatelists. They don't call them sheets because that is what they call the big sheets that come off the presses with as many as four or more panes [not panels] on them before they are cut apart. So it wasn't a typo.

I don't personally call them panes because I'm not a stamp collector or really into that terminology. Seems like every group has its own little group-specific language.

Coming at it from the perspective of the community of independent producers of stamps as art, I use some of their terminology. For instance I use the term Artistamp to refer to the stamps artists make themselves. Nobody outside the specific groups probably cares.

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Story first posted August 2005

Copyright 2005

Eric Shackle

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