January 2021

Stamping a Nations Identity: Rose Island

How important are stamps when it comes to defining a new nation’s identity? Let’s consider the Commonwealth: once member nations had broken away from the British Empire, they no longer added our monarch to their stamps. In some cases they used SIDE profiles of significant members of society, almost mimicking the style that they had become accustomed to – but in others they used their most important export or a species symbolic to the nation. 

In that respect, stamps are used to help define a nation’s character. But the question remains - at what stage do stamps get thought of in that process? If we agree that traditionally a flag is always the first symbol to define a nation, where do stamps rank? 

For an interesting answer to this question, I would suggest we look at a more recent nation, one that actually attempted to gain identity and independence in the late 1960s. Let’s look at ‘Insulo de la Rozoj’, or Rose Island.  

Rose Island was founded in 1967 by Italian engineer Giorgio Rosa as a haven away from the authorities, who frequently took issue with his maverick eccentricity and independent spirit. 

A 400-square-metre platform ingeniously supported by nine pylons, the island was located 6.8 miles off the coast of Rimini, just outside Italian territorial waters. The fact that it took 20 minutes to reach by boat did nothing to restrict its popularity, and its commercial establishments, which including a restaurant, late-night bar, souvenir shop and post office, swiftly started to draw in a crowd of students, hedonists and malcontents. 

2020 10 28 Isola delle Rose 2

 

On May 1 1968 the platform declared independence under the Esperanto name ‘Insulo de la Rozoj’, with Rosa as self-declared president. To the Italian government, Rosa’s actions were viewed as a ploy to raise tourist money while avoiding taxation. The Italian government’s response was to swiftly use a sledgehammer to crack a nut by declaring war on the fledgling micronation. Fifty-five days after its declaration of independence, the Italian navy used explosives to destroy the platform, ending Rosa’s ‘scream for freedom’ in the process. 

As Lao Tzu once noted: ‘The flame that burns twice as bright burns half as long’ - and Rose island had burned so very brightly in the eyes of the Italian government. 

It’s a sad end to an engineer’s fairy tale but for philatelists the story can continue. During its early stages Rose Island created its own stamps – in fact they came before passports, currency (The Mill) and even the application to become a recognised nation. President Rosa decided that the three things his new nation needed were a flag, a language (Esperanto) and their own stamps. 

Overall two stamps were issued - The basic stamps of 30 mills were printed in 5,000 samples. Each foil has 10 stamps, which are printed in two rows of five. Line perforation is 11. The stamps are with gum but without watermark. On the edge of each sheet there is the inscription ‘L.T. INSULO DE LA ROZOJ 1968’. The year is written under the three-red-roses coat of arms. These stamps were for sale on the island from the 1st of May until the 25th of June, the date of Italian occupation. 

RoseIslandNew1

 

The second design was released in 1969 in denominations of 30, 60 and 120 mills. The three stamps have the same image: the final explosion at the platform. The stamp has a black mourning ribbon in a corner. 150 sheets of these stamps were produced with ten stamps per sheet. Once again we find the coat of arms and the year 1969. The stamps have a linear perforation 11 and are again with gum but without watermark. 

RoseIslandNew2

 

At the base of the stamp there is the Latin motto ‘Hostium rabies diruit opus non ideam’, which loosely translates to ‘Enemy violence destroyed the work not the idea’ - or to take a quote another eccentric genius, Alan Moore: ‘We are told to remember the idea, not the man, because a man can fail. He can be caught, he can be killed and forgotten, but 400 years later, an idea can still change the world.’ 

Since the ‘republic’ was never recognised as a valid country, the stamps of Rose Island are officially categorised as either poster stamps or cinderellas. Despite that, there is evidence of these stamps being used as postage - the cover below provides one such example... 

Rose Island Stamps 3

 

The value of these stamps is very much in the eye of the beholder, but if you are a collector who values, rarity, design, provenance and a fantastic story, then these little four-sided gems, inspired by a little four-sided gem, should definitely be on your wish list. 

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