Sunday, November 27, 2011


This project is designed to identify as many Topical Firsts issued between the appearance of the first postage stamp in 1840 and the present as possible, a Topical First being defined as: The first presentation of the topic by a postage stamp or related philatelic elements created by a recognized national postal authority, from the Penny Black to the present.


As there is no definitive list of Topical Firsts, the topics assembled here have been gleaned from a number of sources. We started with the Checklists and Handbooks of the American Topical Association, and augmented these with both major and minor topical categories not included in the ATA inventory that were documented both through continuing research and, in a few cases, eccentric, even biased personal selection, topical collecting both inviting and permitting that kind of glorious freedom.


Determining what Topic qualifies to have a First can raise interesting questions, one of the primary being, is the First a stamp or element that directly depicts the Topic, or is simply related to it? Take Law for example: what is the earliest instance of a stamp that has something to do with Law? This project uses the broadest criteria – looking for anything related to Law as opposed to a direct representation, and so we list USA # 2 (1847) as the first stamp for Law, George Washington having been (among other things) a lawyer. Another area that creates problems are big topics that encompass a number of smaller topics. Watercraft, for example, is a huge topic, with at least 20,000 stamps in it, and from a collector’s point of view, has many sub-topics: sailing ships, canoes, submarines, shipwrecks, aircraft carriers, The Bounty, and so on and on. The approach in this list is to include all Topics that we believe some collectors have singled out for attention.


An associated problem has to do with a number of stamps that were issued after 1840 but which fall outside the definition above. It can (and will) be argued, for example, that the first bird is the 1847 local Basel Dove, the first ship the 1847 Trinidad privately issued Lady McLeod, the first bear the 1845 USA St. Louis Postmaster Provisional, elegant stamps that are beyond the reach of most collectors. For the determined and those waiting to win the lottery we will include issues such as these in a special section devoted to interesting topical firsts that lie outside the definition we are using.


Clearly, based on the two principles noted above, there is no end to gathering a list of Topical Firsts, and that is one reason we are putting the list on the Internet and opening it to everyone, to allow its timely updating and revision now and in the years to come.


This is a work in progress, and inevitably contains errors. We welcome corrections and suggestions for changes or for topics not covered, either to the Webmaster or Project Co-ordinator Jack Gray.


Our present list begins in 1840 with the Penny Black - the first Topical First - and ends with the most recent First identified - a 1998 stamp showing the ever-popular game of Monopoly. Stamps and other elements are identified by country, date of issue, and Scott number (where there is one), and in time we plan to include a broader range of information, including other catalogues.


The work on this list has underlined the fact that, though there were exceptions (especially in some of Britain’s colonies), topical philately had a slow start, with Queens, Kings, Leaders, Comfortable Symbols and National Wonders dominating the first fifty years. Toward the end of the 19th century postal authorities began to appreciate the possibilities of tapping a wider range of subjects (topics). The first specifically “commemorative” stamps celebrating “One Hundred Years” were issued by New South Wales in 1888. Events like the 1892 anniversary of the “discovery” of “America” were celebrated. While most of today’s major and popular topics achieved their Firsts by the end of World War I, the accumulation and range of new topics covered continued relentlessly, with almost 200 new topics - a third of the Firsts identified here - getting their Firsts in the twenty-one years between the wars. Some topics have proved to be huge - Watercraft (ships) numbers 20,000 + - while a few, like The World’s Largest Living Postage Stamp (Switzerland 1996), are confined to a few items. Large or small, the tide rolls on, and though since the end of World War II the number of new Firsts has declined, the entire topical field is being thoroughly serviced by the tsunami of new issues that engulfs us today.


Collectors who find any of the material presented in Topical Firsts useful are free to copy whatever they need for their own use. In due course three Topical First checklists will be available - one organized by Topic, one by Country and a third Chronologically – and will be posted on this website.


Topical Firsts © Jack Gray 2011







February 20, 2011


The following listing "Topical Firsts by Topic" has been generously provided by Jack Gray.  It is posted here as it was originally received and all comments are those of Jack. It has been dated (at bottom) as February 20, 2011.  Through further guidance and elaboration, it is hoped that this list both expands in its content as well as its interctive format.


Thanks Jack.



Included, is a working  copy fully viewable here (in the larger box at bottom).  The moving pinwheel indicates that the software is preparing the post for viewing, so please be patient as it may take 10-15 seconds.  If the list has not appeared after 30 seconds, hit refresh button on your keyborad or screen.


You are invited to scroll through this list by clicking the "right-left" arrows at bottom of the screen and viewers can click the "Enlarge" arrow in the extreme upper right corner of this box for full page viewing.  Exiting that program will later return you here ! 




An alternative option of the list of "TOPICAL FIRST" is provided here (below) in a .pdf format as it was received.  Please click the blue "DOWNLOAD" and click "OPEN" for easy viewing in its original, intended format. 

Topical Firsts
Adobe Acrobat Document 186.8 KB