Skip to content

Philatelic Omariana, or Khayyam for Stamp Collectors

June 18, 2021

Joe Howard has sent us a fascinating article on the subject of stamps and related items that have been issued with some relationship to Omar Khayyam and the Rubaiyat. In a number of cases, the products also include reference to the English version of the Rubaiyat by Edward FitzGerald. Our thanks to Joe for illuminating yet another aspect of the continuing influence of Khayyam and the Rubaiyat on our society.

Fig 1

I have not had an active interest in philately since I was a teenager. However, I recently came across an attractive set of six stamps, issued in Dubai, which piqued my interest because their illustrations are inspired by Fitzgerald’s translation of the Rubaiyat (Fig 1.). The stamps have identical postage values (60 Dirhams) but illustrate six different quatrains. These attractive illustrations, in two different styles, are delightful literal interpretations. On a complete half sheet of six stamps, the relevant quatrain is printed adjacent to each stamp. I have seen examples with the same stamps, but with the quatrains printed in French, German, and Persian. A full sheet (twelve stamps) may include two different languages.

Spurred on by this find, I located two sets, each of 17 different stamps, issued to celebrate the millennium. Each set includes a single Rubaiyat-inspired stamp. The first is from Guyana and has the relevant quatrain printed over a very colourful illustration (Fig 2.). The 17 stamps (all $35 postage value) celebrate events occurring during the period 1050-1100:  other examples are, the Battle of Hastings, the First Crusade and the introduction of the gondola to Venice.

Fig 2
Fig 3

The second set, “New Millennium – People and Events of the Twelfth Century, 1100-1150”, was issued by the Federated States of Micronesia. One stamp celebrates the death of Omar (given as 1126) and the illustration is of a figure holding a flask of wine and a loaf of bread, clearly represents the famous quatrain 11 (Fig 3.).  Other stamps in this set show porcelain, a water mill and Pope Callixtus II.

There are also stamps which utilize images of Omar Khayyam. Fig 4. shows a set of two stamps from Albania issued in 1977. One celebrates Omar as a poet, the other as a mathematician. The famous German mathematician, Karl Weierstrass (1815-1897) is said to have made the remarkable claim: “A mathematician who is not also a poet will never be a perfect mathematician.

Fig 4
Fig 5

A 2018 stamp (Fig 5.) from Iran shows both Omar and his impressive mausoleum.

The brightly coloured stamp shown in Fig 6.  is from Ukraine (2019), with the country name, in the Cyrillic alphabet, given directly below the image. Note that this image is similar to that found under the entry for Omar Khayyam on Wikipedia.com. The large (10 by 8 cm) and unperforated stamp shown in Fig 7. is also from Dubai (1967). On it, Omar is shown surrounded by the twelve signs and symbols of the zodiac and appears to be puzzling over a document-perhaps an astrological calculation.

Fig 6
Fig 7

Fig 8. shows a set of 14 stamps issued by Iran in 1923 to “…commemorate the death anniversary of Hakim Omar Khayyam, Persian mathematician, astronomer and poet.” Each stamp has “1123” on the left, “1923” on the right and “OMAR KHAYAM” towards the bottom. The unsophisticated nature of these three black printed elements, when compared with the complexity and elegance of the underlying stamp design, indicates that the black printing was not part of the original design concept. This is reinforced by closer examination which shows that the black elements are printed on top of the main design. These stamps were never issued, and most were destroyed. In 2017 this particular set was sold at auction, for $3,500.

Fig 8
Fig 9

My final item is a first day cover (Fig 9.). It was produced in 1981 by Mr. Grant Smith of Taylor County, West Virginia USA and is one of his “Land’s End” series of cachets*. The Omariana interest is in the text and illustrations on the front of the envelope, rather than the stamp itself. Clearly though the stamp, with its image of a person in a wheelchair and its slogan “Disabled doesn’t mean unable”, leads naturally to thoughts of the Kuza-Nama section of the Rubaiyat. We will see that this cover potentially refers to four different quatrains.

There is an obvious link between the image of the potter and the printed quatrain (number 60).

The background of the cover consists of concentric blue rings centred inside the lump of clay held in the potter’s left hand. This leads to the impression that there are waves emanating from the clay-possibly symbolizing the tremendous repercussions of the potter’s actions.

The illustrator has added the words “The Master Potter… Enabling Disabling” under the potter’s wheel/beside the quatrain. The choice of these present participles implies to me that the illustrator’s take on the theological debate (sometimes known as “the problem of pain”) is that the potter is directly responsible for making imperfect pots.  Possibly a comment on quatrain 63.

 A “moving finger” (hand) is writing in the sky. The powerful language of quatrain 51 may, in this context, be referring to the need for fortitude in the face of disability.

The prominent figure, of a scantily clad woman wearing a coat, is standing on a pot located on the potter’s wheel. I am grateful to Sandra and Bill for pointing out that her pose is identical to that of the male teacher in Sullivan’s illustration for quatrain 43.  There are other differences apart from that of gender: coat for a gown, hat for mortar board and the long pointer has been omitted. I have no clear explanation for the symbolism associated with this figure, other than the possibility that she is a finished “pot”. The significance of (a) the white (head and shoulders?) shape, between her ankles/calves and (b) the letters “g” and “p”, which are stacked at the base of the pot under the figure, are unclear to me.

Many of the items described above (not the stamps in Fig 8.) are currently available from on-line sources such as ebay.com or Hipstamp.com. If anyone has any comments or information on additional philatelic items referring to Omar or the Rubaiyat, I would be delighted to receive them: please add them below. *In philately, a cachet is a printed or stamped design or inscription, other than a cancellation or pre-printed postage, on an envelopepostcard, or postal card to commemorate a postal or philatelic event.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 20, 2021 7:54 am

    A really appreciated article – thank you Joe. As it says in Quatrain 61…”Should STAMP me back to common Earth again.” ! but, the Ruba’iya’t will never die….

  2. June 21, 2021 7:00 am

    Brilliant article for us stamp collectors! Thank you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: