(Isle of) Man! I Feel Like a Philatelist!

Friends, something awful happened.

I noticed this week was both Victoria Day (celebrated almost exclusively in Canada) and World Turtle Day. So I prepared a lovely post, with plenty of images of a gorgeous set of Canadian turtle stamps from 2019.

But then tragedy struck!

It turns out Linn’s Stamp News had already written that exact post…but far better than I ever could have. It’s a really excellent post, and I recommend taking a look!

Don’t mind me…I’ll be crying in the corner and eating cookies.

But, you know, it’s hard to keep a philatelist down. I took to my albums to see what else we could talk about this week.

The answer? The Isle of Man and the Manx language!

Cregneash, in the south-west of the Isle of Man

The postal history of the Isle of Man is a fascinating and complex topic in its own right, so forgive my broad overview here. The island, along with the UK, started to use British postal stamps in May 1840 and did so for over a century, until regional stamps were issued in August 1958.

Isle of Man regional set 1958-1969. Note the triskelion in the corner: this symbol, ny tree cassyn (the three legs), was used for the Isle of Man regional stamps [image credit].

By the 1920s, the Isle of Man had started campaigning to have its own stamps, and around fifty years later, in 1973, it gained postal independence.

The Isle of Man started issuing Europa CEPT stamps in 1976, joining just in time for the theme ‘Handicrafts’. A few years later, in 1982, the theme was ‘Historic Events’.

The historic events chosen for commemoration were the first book printed in Manx (1707) and the visit of Thomas, the 2nd Earl of Derby (1507). The stamps were designed by A. D. Theobald and engraved by Courvoisier.

The higher-value stamp (19½ pence) has a portrait of Thomas Stanley, with a line drawing of his visit in the background. Stanley was born in England some time before 1485 and became Earl of Derby in 1504, when he also became Lord of Mann.

Prior to 1504, the heads of state had been titled ‘King of Mann’. It’s said that Stanley avoided the royal title “to shelter himself from the jealous ambition of Henry the Eighth” though he and his successors “enjoyed, as Lords of the Isle, all the power and dignity of princes.” [1]

The lower-value stamp, with a face value of 9p, depicts a page from Coyrle Sodjeh, the first book printed in Manx. In the foreground is a portrait of the translator, Bishop Thomas Wilson, who translated from the catechism The Principles and Duties of Christianity.

Thomas Wilson was born Cheshire, England. After studying medicine in Ireland, Wilson was ordained to the priesthood and came to the Isle of Man in 1687 to be installed as the bishop of Sodor and Man.

These stamps show not only two important events in the Isle of Man’s history, but also two Englishmen called Thomas! I wonder if the designer hid that little extra connection in there on purpose…

Another interesting feature is the status of the Manx language at the time these stamps were issued. Manx or Manx Gaelic, known as Gaelg or Gailck in the language, was spoken by some Isle of Man residents as a first language until 1974, when Ned Maddrell, the last native speaker, died in his mid-90s.

The language had been declining in usage during the nineteenth century, and in 1899 Yn Çheshaght Ghailckagh (The Manx Language Society) was founded to promote the use of Manx. By the time of Maddrell’s death in the 1970s, a scholarly revival was underway.

However, in 2009 UNESCO declared the language extinct (to the surprise of its many speakers at the time!). The status has since been revised to ‘critically endangered’, though the excellent revival efforts across the island have had success in incorporating education, technology, and media to promote the use of Manx.

Stamps from the island also show the cultural important of the Manx language in (relatively) recent years. The island’s Manx name, Ellan Vannin, can be found on a set from 1975 commemorating Manx pioneers; the Christmas 1975 issues celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Manx Bible; and in 1999 a set of four stamps was issued to commemorate 100 years of Yn Çheshaght Ghailckagh.

One of my favourites, though, is an adorable set from 2019. It features a day in the life of two Manx mice, with six different basic greetings in Manx.

Now, I know what you’re thinking…

Stamp collecting in Manx is çhaglym clouagyn, philately is fyllaçhelleeaght, and tongs is cloughyn.

Cha nel un çhengey dy liooar rieau.

[1] David Robertson, A Tour Through the Isle of Man, to which is subjoined A Review of the Manks History (London, 1794), 207.

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