Miniature Sheets

Miniature sheets

by Eunice Shanahan

I LIKE miniature sheets, as they add a bright and varied dimension to my collections. The earliest ones I have were issued for the Johannesburg Philatelic Exhibition in 1936, overprinted "JIPEX 1936". (Fig. 1)

I bought these when we were living in Zambia, and it really triggered my interest.

So what is a miniature sheet? For a stamp collector a miniature sheet is a piece of paper which contains one or more postage stamps, within its plain or decorated borders.

For a specialist, or exhibiting competitor it may be more complex, the Gibbons definition is :- "An item in sheet form that is postally valid containing a single, pair, block or set of stamps, with wide, inscribed and/or decorative margins, is a miniature sheet if it is sold at post offices as an individual entity."

Miniature sheets are not new. My David Field catalogue lists them from the 1920's. The first one, I was surprised to learn, was issued by Luxembourg on 3rd January 1923, to commemorate the birth of the Princess Elisabeth. 5000 were printed, but I don't have one. In fact I don't have any of those issued in that decade. Interestingly, the others were all issued to mark philatelic Exhibitions, and from the catalogue evidence, there were plenty of them at that time. This table shows the dates and the numbers issued/sold


Country Year Subject No. issued
Belgium 24/5/1924 PhilEx Brussels 50,600
France 2/5/1925 Int Philex Paris 50,000
USA 18/10/1925 Int Philex NewYork 107,398
France 4/6/1927 Philex Strasbourg 50,150
Poland 3/6/1928 Philex Warsaw 26,020
Australia 29/10/1928 Philex Melbourne 1,260,750


This first miniature sheet issued by Australia was later used in 1978 as the basis for the miniature sheet to mark the Melbourne Philatelic Exhibition. I find this rather dull, showing just a block of 4 of the 3d blue Kookaburra stamp mounted on an album page.

A much more interesting and attractive issue was that of Pitcairn Islands to commemorate Ausipex 84, the philatelic exhibition held in Melbourne, Australia. (Fig. 2).

The sheet had only two postage stamps within the border, separated by the Ausipex Logo but the other spaces were taken up with two drawings of construction of a longboat, separated by an information panel, explaining the importance of the longboats to the Pitcairn Islands, which begins "Everything and everybody entering or leaving Pitcairn has to make the sometimes hazardous longboat journey between ship and shore."

An early issue in my collection is from Iceland 9 October, 1938 for Liefr Eiricssons Day. (Fig. 3)

This carried a surcharge, which was to be used to rebuild the post Office. The most recent one I have acquired is also from Iceland - a most attractive sheet issued for Europa 1992. The design also showed Lief Ericsson's longboat which was a 'plug' for the Vikings having landed in America before Columbus. (Fig.4).

I think this is a good miniature sheet, because the stamps are attractive as two separate items, but as part of the miniature sheet they tell a story - the maps; the vessels in the appropriate ocean; the navigation instruments, and the dates. It is interesting to note the different spelling of the Viking's name on the two sheets - Leifr Eiricsson on the 1938 issue and Leifur Eiriksson on the 1992 issue.

Miniature Sheets have been issued by many countries for a variety of reasons. In fact, pick a subject - sports, space, religion, art, animals, famous people and events, and you will probably find a relevant issue. One reason is to publicise an event in which an issuing country has taken part, even if it has not taken place in that country.

This miniature sheet (Fig 5.) was issued by Western Samoa to advertise the Australian National Philatelic Exhibition held in Sydney in September 1980 as part of National Stamp Week. Western Samoa's Postal Authority took part in this Exhibition. The sheet showed the Western Samoan and the Australian flags. The stamp area was a $2 value, which contained the 24sene value stamp which was issued to mark the opening of the Afiamalu Satellite Earth Station, plus the logo of the Philatelic Exhibition.

Another of my collecting interests is stamps of Antarctica, and Belgium issued a set of 4 stamps surcharged to help pay for the Belgian expedition to the South Pole in 1966. Only the 10f stamp was issued as a miniature sheet. (Fig. 6)

There were more than a million of them sold, in addition to the sets of stamps, which shows that people will pay extra if they agree with the reason for the surcharge. The stamp shows the vessel the "Magga Dan", one of the J Lauritzen Line vessels used to supply many of the Antarctic bases. That is another interesting theme for a stamp collection .

Not all m/sheets have decorative borders, New Zealand (which has issued miniature sheets since 1957) issued a set of stamps on 5th February 1974, and then put those stamps into a sheet with a marginal inscription "Commemorating New Zealand Day 1974" (Fig. 7)

I am always on the lookout for different designs. In fact I bought one recently from a 'Trash & Treasure' market stall. It is an Australian joint issue with Indonesia showing cuscuses, which was released on 22 March, 1996. This would earn a place in any topical collection involving wildlife. (Fig. 8)

There have been some interesting omnibus issues by the British Commonwealth countries. The commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the Queen's Coronation in 1978 was marked by 20 countries using a similar format. In each case the heraldic beasts on the left and right stamps were different and relevant to the issuing country. The Solomon Islands issue was bright red. ( Fig. 9)

In the gutter between the two strips of 3 stamps is a drawing of the Coronation procession, and then heraldic information. "King's Dragon. A supporter favoured by all the Tudor Kings. Henry VIII's Dragon at Hampton Court Palace bears a shield with his arms. France Modern and England quarterly Sandford's Eagle. This strong skilful fisherman appears as a charge on the Solomon Islands arms." Many countries have put out commemorative miniature sheets for postal anniversaries. This makes an absorbing sub-section, as I am interested in the history of the carriage of mail, and many of the sheets show mailcoaches, old steamships, postboys on horseback, postmen with handbells, and more up-to-date delivery methods such as post buses and aircraft. For instance this one issued by the United States to commemorate the 100th annivesary of United States postage stamps. It was issued May 17-25, 1947. (Fig.10)

For some years now, as a light relief from my specialist collecting and postal history, I have been collecting stamps issued to mark the Chinese Lunar New Year. This has suddenly become flavour of the month with a lot of stamp issuing authorities, and as a result, I have put some really attractive sheets into my collection. This one was issued in 1995 for Christmas Island, Australia, to commemorate the Year of the Pig. (Fig. 11)

Some collectors feel that a miniature sheet is only a fund-raising event by the philatelic authorities, but I don't mind that, if the sheet has more in the design than just the stamps. After all, no one forces you to buy anything, and if you don't like a particular sheet, you don't have to buy it.

This next example is a perfect example. It was issued on 5.9.2017 and has 4 x $1 stamps which can be bought separately. The stamps themselves are very attractive and evocative of the island and the wildlife, but the miniature sheet design adds a lot to it, so although I do not collect Australian stamps, I do collect Australian Antarctic, and Heard Island is the largest island in the external Australian Territory of Heard Island and McDonald islands (HIMI) which is a dynamic natural environment and largely devoid of species introduced by humans. The unique environment of this sub-antarctic area has been recognised, and was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1997 and the National Heritage List of Australia in 2007.

(information from Aust Post Bulletin )

The great advantage for me is that there is no pressure to have a 'complete' collection, and I have bought miniature sheets from countries in which I have no other collecting interests. When we attend stamp club open days, or philatelic exhibitions, I always look through the dealers stock books, and if I see one that appeals to me, I buy it.

Isn't that what stamp collecting should be?

Copyright EARS Leisurewrite, 1998 (updated Sept 2017)

This webpage is based on an article first published in Netstamps, the now-defunct Webzine.