Friday, December 31, 2010

book review: "Selyo: Philippine History in Postage Stamps" by Reynaldo G. Alejandro, et al

SELYO: Philippine History in Postage Stamps
Reynaldo G. Alejandro, Rosa M. Vallejo, Arminda V. Santiago

I love history, and I read history books for pleasure, so when Anvil Publishing, Inc. gave my book club, Flips Flipping Pages, the opportunity to sample their books for free in return for a review, I decided to take the opportunity to indulge in one of my favorite pastimes. One would think my default choice would have been any work by Ambeth Ocampo, but when I saw "Selyo" on the publisher's online inventory, I could not resist it (although I did also get Ocampo's "Makamisa"). Not only did the book purport to be about history, it would have pictures too.

"Selyo", as its subtitle states, is about "Philippine History in Postage Stamps". It is a celebration of nationalistic stamps from 1854, the first Philippine and Asian adhesive postage stamp, to 1998, in honor of the centennial not only of Philippine Independence, but of the Philippine Postal System as well.

The book is divided into 4 main chapters - Famous Filipinos, Historical Events, Dr. Jose P. Rizal, and Philippine Centennial - and shows the reader an enlarged image of each stamp along with a smaller image of the stamp in its actual size, with a description of the person or event commemorated. Although of course it would be impossible to include all the people & events in Philippine history that have ever been commemorated on stamp, the authors do a good job in presenting what they had. Not only would philatelists appreciate it, but history buffs like me as well.

Do you know who Ambrosio Bautista is? He was the author of the Declaration of Philippine Independence in 1898, commemorated in a 1981 stamp. Did you know that Filipino women earned the right to vote after a plebiscite in 1937, as commemorated in a stamp 50 years later? These are just a couple of historical nuggets, glossed over in books and classes if discussed at all, that can be discovered throughout the book.

My only gripe with the book is the lack of organization in the first chapter. A stamp with a 16th century sultan is placed next to a 20th century war general next to a 19th century revolutionary. I wish the heroes were arranged in chronological order to maintain the history aspect of the book.

For the insatiably curious, the book also opens further avenues of reading. Who decides who or what to commemorate on a stamp? Who does the art? Who decides the value put on each stamp?

Sadly, with the advent of mobile phones and text messaging and email and chat, the art of letter writing is dying, and with it, stamps and stamp collecting. Stamps are used to commemorate the past, but they may be well on their way to becoming things of the past themselves.