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Some random thoughts on philately in general, some ideas of which have been incorporated into various articles on stamps, others remain unused dough to be kneaded into shape. (Dave Joll, May 2007)
It looks like Padraic has covered most of the bases as to what has gone on in the philatelic world with regards to Ill Bethisad. He and Andrew would be much more qualified to comment on the background than I would; my involvement has never been more than peripheral (not in any way due to lack of interest but to severe lack of creativity and time on my part). Therefore, anything stated here should be considered a discussion point only, and fully open to contradiction by persons better versed in the history and culture of Ill Bethisad. Most of what I present here is my observation and opinion of the philatelic history of this world, and for the purposes of forming a philatelic history of Ill Bethisad may be used, misused, abused, spat out, mangled, folded, spindled or bent at one's leisure.
Firstly to Pedro's questions:
It would be up to the individual federations whether or not they have common stamps. At its most basic, a stamp is a token presented in prepayment of the fee for carriage and delivery of a letter or similar item. It would be up to the government concerned whether the postal authority (which could be organised on a Federal, State, or even private level) would cover the whole area, or if separate issues were mandated for practical, political or even financial reasons (such as Germany in the 1870s, or Morocco in the 1950s, where the existence of two currencies in separate parts of the country necessitated multiple series of postage stamps).
I don't know off the top of my head where the IB Holy Roman Empire is situated, but if it follows this world's version and is based in Central Europe, it could well be that the situation existing in pre-unification Germany - where a postal service managed by the Counts of Thurn and Taxis served as the postal provider for many small states - had once existed. In this world the Thurn and Taxis network was sold to the Prussian government in 1867; but who knows what could have happened in Ill Bethisad?
Perhaps it could depend on the level of autonomy enjoyed by each component of the major state. In this world, both the UK (for the first forty years of the existence of "regional" stamps, at least) and Malaysia, while having distinct regional identities, have (or had) a strong central government. British regionals have been strictly for definitive use only, and until recently have been mere adaptations of the current Queen's head designs. Malaysian regionals since 1965 have similarly had very little individuality, although the occasional commemorative issue (similar in style to the Malaysian commemoratives of the time) is issued, and until the 1965 issue Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore (which seceded from Malaysia about then) had distinctive issues.
(Completely unrelated to the subject of Ill Bethisad, but a standard offer to any philatelist on the Internet: if you want any New Zealand stamps, please let me know. I have a few duplicates which I don't really need.)
In answer to Padraic's earlier message:
Beware the philatelist; for he may also have such things as an "odd coins" album wherein he keeps items such as the silver sixpence he once received in place of a five cent coin at the Manapouri general store and post office; or the Louisiana quarter dollar he received in place of a fifty cent coin at the Dipton golf club.
As far as I'm concerned, my work on philately in Kemr may be kept or discarded (or "further researched and new information discovered") as Andrew and the active contributors see fit. I would like to be more active, but, particularly in the last couple of years, my time and creativity has been sapped due to various reasons (work, CDs, work, DVDs, bloody work, books, effing work, comics, accursed work, nanowrimo and even more work) so my involvement has been limited to the occasional browse of the Wiki.
Without wishing to pre-empt the collective decision, it seems to me that the existence of commemorative stamps would be inevitable due to human nature (partly that of collectors wishing to collect, but mostly that of postal administrations eager for sales). While what is considered this world's first commemorative stamp is still hotly debated (the closest to a consensus seems to be the New South Wales centenary issue of 1888), stamps printed primarily for revenue-raising purposes were definitely in existence by 1900. As it seems human nature to use just aboue anything that moves for commemorative purposes, I don't see that stamps would be exempt.
It must be pointed out that there were times in history when stamp collectors were treated with great suspicion by postal authorities - France in the late 19th century is one example given, and a few of countries in the world either have no postal service at all (Somalia), have a postal service but do not issue stamps (Afghanistan), or issue stamps of an extremely limited range with very few commemorative issues (Myanmar, which as Burma issued no stamps at all during 1986, 1987 and 1988). Some countries issue massive quantities of stamps, very few of which ever enter the country concerned, due to contracts with international stamp printers (currently, much of Africa and the West Indies, and a few nations elsewhere); and there is currently a proliferation of completely unauthorised "stamp" issues, which may appear to be postage stamps but have no connection with, and have not been authorised in any way by, the postal authority in whose name they are supposedly issued.
In answer to Padraic's later message:
The rarity and value of Nja Island stamps would depend on various factors; most notably supply and demand, the literacy and population of the country concerned - both now and during the time the stamps were in use - and the length of time it has been since any such issue was made. For example, compare the stamps of Prince Edward Island and of Newfoundland. Those of Prince Edward Island were issued between 1861 and 1873 are expensive and quite difficult to find, especially on the other side of the world (I have a grand total of one in my collection), but those of Newfoundland were issued between 1857 and 1949 and are much less difficult to find (I have several envelopes full of such stamps to sort out and write up during all the spare time I don't actually have).
Stamps are somewhat different than money when it comes to convertibility. While it seems to me that the value of money depends mainly on the status of the issuing authority (even a common term for paper money - "banknotes" - harks back to the days when trading banks issued their own notes; and (in New Zealand, at least, due to a shortage of copper coins) businesses issued their own tokens of the same shape and size as penny coins, which circulated freely and were backed by the reputation for solvency of the business concerned. It was only in the 1930s that the New Zealand government issued its own currency; in fact it was only last year that the last coins identical in size to their historical British equivalents - the five, ten and twenty centy coins aping the sixpence, shilling and florin - were withdrawn from circulation and replaced with a revised coinage); stamps, on the other hand, are issued by a postal service for prepayment of carriage of mail by the service concerned. They are no more convertible than (for example) an Invercargill City Council season bus ticket would be useable on a Dunedin city bus; as the service concerned would have received none of the proceeds of the sale of that stamp.
There is (in this world, anyway) and international organisation, the Universal Postal Union, which was set up in 1874 to facilitate ease of communication between its member states (which include most of the world). Otherwise each stamp-issuing entity would have had to negotiate its own access to overseas postal services for international mail.
Lastly, the United Nations issues its own stamps; I understand it has some sort of arrangement with the American postal service for infrastructural matters (as it would also have with the Swiss and Austrian postal authorities for stamps issued by its Geneva and Vienna offices), but it issues its stamps independently. However, some other international organisations (including the Universal Postal Union itself, plus the former League of Nations, and the United Nations until 1969) has stamps issued for their offices by the Swiss post office; while France issues stamps for the offices of UNESCO and of the Council of Europe; while the Netherlands until recently issued stamps for the International Court of Justice. (These are in a slightly different category to stamps issued by mini-states such as San Marino or the Vatican, which, however much their patron postal service might provide infrastructure, are still independent (although tiny) nations).