Under the Microscope

Postage stamp collage jigsaws
A selection of my collaged ‘jigsaw puzzle’ notebook covers featuring tiny stamps from various countries

Making a collage out of postage stamps is quite like completing a jigsaw without a picture on the box to guide you: you just keep sifting through the pieces, finding ones that work well together. The problem, however, with creating a jigsaw puzzle from postage stamps is that they don’t come pre-cut into handily interlocking, neatly aligning pieces Uganda Flowers Notebook by TangleCrafts(unless you happen to be working on a nice uniform project composed of definitives from only one country as per example to the right!). And this sometimes results in frustrating gaps that are sometimes simply not quite stamp-sized…

There seem to be three logical ways to resolve this problem:

  1. Overlap. Depending on your collage style, this is probably the easiest solution. If you cover more of the adjacent stamp than you would ideally like, well, sometimes c’est la vie…
  2. Give up. Sometimes the most practical solution is to stop trying to fill that one odd-shaped gap, and re-shuffle everything around it, instead, to simply make the problem go away! (Don’t judge me!).
  3. Persist. If you keep on searching for long enough (minutes, hours, days…months?), you might find a teeny tiny stamp that actually does fill the gap (and required colour), perfectly…
Tiny stamp from collage by TangleCrafts
Example of a teeny tiny jigsaw piece from one of my collages

Depending on how many tens or hundreds and thousands of stamps you have at your disposal, Option 3 will be, accordingly, less or more viable. (For the record, I am ‘lucky’/obsessed enough to have many hundreds and thousands of stamps at my disposal.) When I first started collaging with stamps, teeny tiny stamps were like gold dust (by which I mean rare, not powdery); and the odds of one of those teeny tiny stamps happening to be in just the right shade of just the right colour were probably not high. However, now that my collection has grown to ridiculous extremes, I have a fairly sizeable selection of (real, postally viable) miniature stamps in one quite small box.

Borrower stamp art
Detail from original Borrower illustration by Diana Stanley

Here in the UK, our smallest standard stamp is the Machin definitive – the perfect size, I’m sure you will recall, for the average Borrower to hang as a portrait on the wall (although at the time Mary Norton’s classic was written, it would have been a Wilding, and at the time the story was set, an earlier still definitive).  It’s also a fairly standard size for definitives around the world, although they vary by a millimetre here and there. However some countries at different points in history have issued stamps at about half that size, and some – rare & more gold dusty – even smaller!

tiny stamp collection
Highlights from the TangleCrafts Collection of Teeny Tiny Stamps!

The stamps shown above are just a sampling from my collection, with a Machin included for size comparison. Some are only fractionally narrower than the Machin, but in terms of collage, sometimes that is enough to make a big difference. You have to think those tiny stamps can’t have been very practical in terms of postal use (faffy little things!), but for me, for filling those irksome little otherwise-unfillable spaces, they have been invaluable.

Tiny stamp from Columbia
This teeny tiny stamp from Columbia measures just 12 x 16mm

Recently I came across this tiny specimen from Columbia – half the size of their more common half-size stamps, at 12 x 16mm small (see below for size comparison).

columbia comparison
Comparison of tiny & tinier stamps from Columbia


It isn’t the first of this particular stamp to star in my collection, but it was this newer acquisition that got me to wondering if it was actually the smallest stamp that had ever been issued, or if there was potentially another country even crazier! And according to the interweb, there are several (although not many), and I had already come across most of them in my many happy hours of stamp-sorting. You’ll be relieved to hear, however, that I have never owned and collaged one of these:

smallest stamp
The smallest stamp in the world measures 8 x 9.5mm!

Apparently, the smallest stamp in the world was another Columbia issue (province of Bolivar), in 1863-6, and even smaller than the one I found, measuring only 8 x 9.5 mm. That really is a stamp fit for a Borrower!

Without having researched any of the stamps shown above, I would assume that most of them exist for reasons of economy – either to represent the smallest denominations of currency, or to reduce production costs (or both). If you know of any other reasons – or you just want to share your own teeny tiny stamp experience! – please feel free to post a comment below.  Regardless of the reasons for their existence, as a collage artist I’d like to extend my gratitude to the countries that issued these miniature masterpieces. Their diminutive stature has been a big help!

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