Scandinavian Collectors Club

Reviews

In 2006 Norway issued a souvenir sheet of three values to mark the centennial of Svalbard (Spitsbergen). Norway Post also published this souvenir book with copies of the souvenir sheet, individual stamps, and first day covers mounted therein. One of the co-authors, Fred Goldberg, is a recognized polar philatelic expert. He was responsible for the philatelic text in this lovely book.

The 16th century Dutch explorer Willem Barents discovered Spitsbergen in 1596. After subduing a polar bear his crew and ship traveled on to Novaya Zemlya where they were caught in the ice and had to winter over. Barents and several of his crew succumbed to scurvy but some of the crew survived and returned home to report on their discovery.

Later, Dutch, English, and Russian hunting parties found Spitsbergen to be a rich source of whales, walrus, polar bears, and other game. In those days mail was left on islands where a homeward bound vessel would pick up the letters and take them back. As the hunting declined, efforts were made to find minerals of commercial use. J. M. Longyear established his Arctic Coal Company in 1906.

The Treaty of Svalbard in 1926 recognized Norway’s control over the area but permitted hunting and mining interests to be pursued by several countries. Coal mining continued until a number of accidents between 1948 and 1962, with loss of life, led to abandoning the mining interests. As interest in coal died off, the search for oil took over in the ocean just south of Svalbard and became the new focus.

The great attraction of tourists to Spitsbergen at the end of the 19th century led eventually to opening the post office at Advent Bay and the introduction of the Spitsbergen local stamps. The post office closed after three years but was re-opened in 1906. In 1917 the Ny-Ålesund post office opened. The post offices were busy during the summer tourist season but in the winter communication was by telegraph. In the 1950s air service to Spitsbergen began for mail handling.

The authors present a brief overview of the efforts of Andrée, Wellman, Amundsen, and Nobile to reach the North Pole from Spitsbergen. The text presents a picture of the area today with a description of the Arctic mammals and birds that continue to draw tourists. It is a destination for glacier walking, skiing, ice carving, and day cruises. Norway is placing more and more environmental controls to protect the area despite the continued visitor traffic and oil and gas drilling offshore. Today the Norwegian Polar Institute conducts ongoing studies of climate effects, ecology, scientific surveys, pollutants, and geological charting.

This book is a handsome souvenir of a remote Arctic area that holds fascination for many people. The philatelic aspects are woven into the story with wonderful photos and actual stamps and covers. A brief bibliography and a table of data about the islands of Svalbard conclude the book. Spitsbergen enthusiasts should obtain this collectors’ item for their library.

 

Alan Warren