Postal History of Svalbard from 1896, Arne J. Bay, 6½ by 9½ inches, soft covers, perfect binding, 262 pages, English text, self published, Oslo, 2003. 400 Norwegian krone plus postage from the author Arne J. Bay, Karl Andersens vei 52, 1086 Oslo, Norway.
It has been almost 25 years since the author’s first book on Svalbard, the group of islands off the coast of Norway and above the Arctic Circle, of which Spitsbergen is the best known. Arne Bay has specialized in the postal documentation of this area for may years, and this book, filled with wonderful black and white as well as color illustrations, covers the Svalbard horizon with maps, photographs, cancellations and other postal markings, picture post cards, registration labels, covers, government documents, telegrams, postage stamps and essays, labels, and meter stamps.
The variety and completeness of the items seen attest to the author’s dedication to the collection of these materials. All of the postal artifacts, bearing descriptive captions, dominate the book, and there is little narrative text. The book also lacks a table of contents and an index, which somewhat limit the utility of this reference work.
The author begins with the early postal history of Spitsbergen and its use as a springboard for Artic exploration. Rare materials from Advent Bay and Spitsbergen related to early tourism and Andrèe’s balloon flight set the tone for the book. In 1925 the well-known Polar Bear definitives were issued to commemorate Amundsen’s Polar flight, and covers bearing these stamps are shown. Other Polar expedition mail and artifacts include material related to Amundsen, Ellsworth, Nobile, and Wilkens.
For the remainder of the book, material is grouped geographically by post office and then chronologically within. Highlights include Longyearbyen, Kings Bay (Ny-Ålesund), Bjørnøya, Jan Mayen, Sveagruva, and Green Harbor among others. One nice feature is a listing of Svalbard place names with descriptions of why they were so named. An illustrated appendix shows cancels and registration labels of the major post offices and how they evolved with time.
The list of literature sources is not sufficiently detailed for further research, as it consists only of titles or authors’ names. Despite the technical shortcomings, this book is a feast for the eyes of postal historians. Arne Bay is to be commended for sharing these gems with us.