Thursday, October 22, 2015

What's Behind A Stamp?: General Luque

Stamp collecting. Now there's something that hasn't entered the orbit of my thinking for a few decades. Time was when the stamp album would be bundled into the wardrobe with the cricket bat, the Subbuteo and The Beach Boys' singles. Of these, I can say that the stamp album would not now be on the revival list. Stamp collecting was one of those passing fads of childhood. There was a moment of realisation that it was inherently unproductive, while, try as one did by scouring the Stanley Gibbons for confirmation of a stamp with some actual value, there was nothing in the stamp album with its admittedly meagre collection from Bechuanaland or wherever that proved to be worth more than the paper it was printed on.

Of stamp-producing nations, protectorates and so on that came to be represented in the stamp album, Spain did reasonably well insofar as there were any number of stamps which all looked the same. Whatever their face and postal values were, the face never varied. Franco's. His image was indelibly etched into my memory: stamped into it, you might say. Though whether I was aware of who he was, I couldn't now say. Probably not. Stamps had faces like Franco's. Much of the world, that which inhabited the stamp album that is, could have had stamps with Franco's fizzog. No one ever looked as though they enjoyed being featured on a stamp; they invariably looked miserable. No wonder I gave stamp collecting up as a bad job.

This sudden and unexpected philatelic revivalism comes from an unlikely source: Inca's Dijous Bo fair. They've got into the habit of celebrating something other than just the fair. Well, they did last year by commemorating the falling-down theatre. Encouraged by the success of this, they've come up with something else to commemorate in 2015, and they've made a stamp as a result.

The local philately association had a competition for a design which vaguely resembles a drawing for a Christmas card. It has a flavour of the Holy Land minus some unlikely snow falling, a couple of palm trees and the Three Kings following yonder star. It is in fact a representation of the Cuartel General Luque, and it is this that Inca are commemorating with stamp and poster and the legend: "Cuartel General Luque, 100 años".

So, who was this general? Full name Agustín de Luque y Coca, he climbed to the rank of general during the war with the Americans at the end of the nineteenth century. He saw action in Cuba, which Spain was to lose. Patriot he was, he also had Republican tendencies, which nowadays will hold him in reasonable stead with town halls that have lurched towards leftism with a tinge of republicanism in the way that Inca's has. Importantly for Inca, he was also for a time the head of the Guardia Civil, and he was when, in 1915, the Inca barracks were officially opened, despite having only been 60% built.

This, therefore, is why the Cuartel, the barracks (or quarter), acquired the General Luque name. It has long ceased to be a barracks and is now an exhibition and events' centre. The footwear museum is there, and it recently, for instance, staged Inca Rocks, a benefit rock-concert occasion for the town's soup kitchens. The old boy, photographed with trademark beard and walking-stick at the time of the barracks' inauguration, probably wouldn't have approved of the music, though in good militaristic terms, he might have been impressed that The Prussians were the headlining act.

But to return to the stamp, they're producing a mere 750 of them. They are likely, therefore, to become collectors' items and, moreover, they could find their way into stamp albums. Seemingly, the basic stamp of 42 cents for a 20-gram letter could theoretically be used to put such a letter in the post. So long as the equivalent of the Royal Mint gives its approval - and the main reason why it wouldn't would be if it featured the image of a living person other than the royals - then it apparently qualifies as legal stamp tender.

It may well, therefore, turn up among all the registered stamps that come out in Spain in 2015, of which there are an awful lot, and they include one for the nine-year-old daughter of King Felipe. Leonor has her own stamp, and it was issued earlier this month. Of others this year there have been those for Cáceres, the Spanish capital of gastronomy 2015, the centenary of the Royal Andalusian Federation of Football and the International Congress on the Culture of Bullfighting.

The thing about stamps is that, even ones that feature just a face like Franco's, they have a story behind them. And General Luque's is one such story. Maybe I shouldn't have abandoned stamp collecting after all.

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