The Romanovs


Like coins and military insignia, postage stamps express state sovereignty. Great Britain features the head of its current monarch on its stamps, but never the name of the country. American stamps show US presidents only on the first birthday after their death. Imperial Russia chose a conservative approach to stamp design: the state emblem of the country and nothing else. It was only for the tercentenary of the Romanov dynasty in 1913 that the government issued a set of stamps with the portraits of the Tsars, including Nicholas II, who was then on the throne. Designs for the Romanov stamps were created by renowned Russian artists, Ivan Bilibin, Evgenii Lancerey, and Rikhard Zarrinsh.  The issuance of the Romanov portrait stamps provoked outrage among Russian conservatives, many of whom believed that placing a postmark over the tsar’s likeness defiled his sacred image.  In fact, many postmasters refused to cancel the stamps.  Nevertheless, Tsar Nicholas II was supportive of the project, and the set was issued.  Within five years after the issue, the Russian Empire was torn apart by the revolution and civil war, and the imperial Romanov family was assassinated.   In retrospect, many believed the cancellation of the Tsar’s image proved an ominous foreshadowing of his fate.