Classical Composers. A series of stamps celebrating the international language of music. Issued 14 August, 2009

An Post work with a range of artists and designers each year to commission the Annual Stamp Programme, which provides an important visual representation of both the company and the country internationally. The subjects chosen provide important PR opportunities and goodwill and the 2009 programme comprised 48 commemorative stamps covering 24 subjects designed by 15 artists.  An Post also seeks to foster creative talent by running competitions which allow children and art graduates to contribute designs.

With stamps often viewed as a miniature art, commemorative stamps have been in use since 1929 in Ireland to visually represent our rich heritage and the outstanding contributions of various people to the Irish State.

Working with a wide range of artists and designers each year, the programme is now at a point where 40 commemorative stamps are issued annually. Barney Whelan, director of communications and corporate affairs, An Post, explains that “commemorative stamps are not available throughout the post office network but at particular post offices and at We also have a Philatelic shop in the GPO.”

Citing the importance of this programme in telling the story of the Irish State and the contribution of various individuals to it, he explains “it’s quite possible to trace the evolution of modern-day States through their stamp output, and not just from the fact that they mark different stages in a State’s history. Yes, they mark revolutions, or the establishment of an institution, but they also give you a spectrum of the development of design, of printing technology, of approach.”

While members of the public can put forward their suggestions to An Post about the type of commemorative stamps they think would be suitable each year, the Cabinet makes the final decisions on the themes of the commemorative stamps annually.

As part of its 2010 programme, An Post issued a joint commemorative stamp with Chile in October to mark the 200th anniversary of Chile’s independence, which had strong Irish links. “Bernardo O’Higgins and Juan McKenna were both key to the founding of Chile – one was in charge of the navy and one was in charge of the army and both were of Irish descent,” explains Whelan.

Another interesting commemorative stamp theme in 2010 was the celebration of six of Ireland’s young and contemporary fashion designers, which was particularly arresting visually, he says. The artists and designers involved in the stamp programme are regularly challenged to be innovative in the techniques they use to design and print.

“These stamps involve new techniques that we haven’t used before such as embossing and the use of fluorescent inks.”

Whelan says a series of stamps depicting Ireland’s high crosses stood out 2010.

“The series was designed and illustrated by Michael Craig who does the drawings at the size of the stamp. These stamps were issued in April 2010 and if you can imagine the intricacy and figury on an Irish High Cross and then drawing that at scale.  The original artwork is the same size as the stamp. It’s just stunning.”

The An Post Annual Stamp Programme involves a Philatelic Advisory Committee, a group of people chaired by Dermot Egan, former chair of the National Concert Hall and Business to Arts, and formerly of AIB.

“The committee also includes Raymond Keaveney, director of the National Gallery of Ireland and Iseult McCarthy, the former professor of Education at the National College of Art and Design. We also have a foreign stamp dealer from Paris and then we have a number of stamp collectors on the committee.”

He says An Post also worked on the Definitives project for day-to-day stamps.

“That’s a set of 40 stamps that will last for about five years. They are designed to illustrate Ireland’s biodiversity through the animal kingdom. We start at the seabed and we move all the way up to the mountaintop. They are all photography. We had underwater photographers working on it.”

Looking back to the early days of the Irish State, Whelan says: “We used British stamps and we over-printed them with Saorstát Éireann. There were big stocks of them in Dublin Castle, but very quickly we started doing our own and we had our own particular set of designs. The style of those designs were quite of its time, not just in terms of design thinking but also in terms of production methodology and techniques.”

“Now, as you look across our portfolio of designs you can see lenticular technology, which allowed us to have a moving image on the stamp and we did that for the Ryder Cup. We also used stamps to mark Brail, right to the use of colour technology.”

Design by New Graphic.