By Danièle Cybulskie
There are few times of year that make us so nostalgic for the past as the holiday season. As we look forward to a new year and a new decade, we reflect back on our traditions, singing old songs, reading old tales, and even writing heartfelt messages for friends and family on old-fashioned pen and paper. While we’re in the mood to look back on the past, why not get medieval on our holiday cards?
The US Postal Service has designed a series of stamps which hearken back to medieval legend in the form of dragons. The collection, called Dragons Forever, features four different stamps with gorgeous, stylized dragons:
a green fire-breathing dragon towering over a castle; a purple dragon with orange wings and sharp black armor on its back snaking around a white castle; a black dragon with green wings and green armor on its back swooping past a ship; and a wingless orange dragon, inspired by Far East folklore, weaving its way around a pagoda.
Dragons are intimately connected with the image of the medieval world, whether in Europe, Central America, or Asia, and they still are a major draw for people interested in medievalism, as Game of Thrones shows. But these dragons aren’t the type to level a city. The Dragons Forever stamps, designed by artist Don Clark of Invisible Creature, feature colourful dragons who, although they tower over and coil around the medieval castles, boat, and pagoda, are more friendly than fierce. After steeping himself in dragon lore and legend, Clark used a simple design and colour palate to bring each of his original creations to life. These beautiful beasts are an art unto themselves, suitable not just for decorating your envelopes, but for decorating your wall.
For younger audiences just getting started on their soon-to-be lifelong love of dragons, Clark and the USPS have created a pop-up book to go with the stamps. Dreaming of Dragons is the story of a little girl who befriends the four dragons featured on the stamps, and the book features six beautiful pop-up images of her colourful new friends. Budding stamp-collectors will be happy to note that the book comes with the whole set of stamps, too.
The idea for the dragon series came out from a suggestion made to the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee, which chooses the themes and commemorative stamps to be made each year. It’s not too surprising that dragons were chosen out of the thousands of suggestions, given that our fascination with dragons is thousands of years old.
The Dragons Forever series continues a tradition of medieval-themed stamps, like these ones from Germany in 1970, which feature manuscript images from the works of Heinrich von Rugge, Wolfram von Eschenbach, Walther von Metz, and Walther von der Vogelweide. Or these ones from 1986 in the United Kingdom, which also feature manuscript images. Unlike most of the other medieval-themed stamps, the designs in Dragons Forever gesture at a more global mythology of dragons, and distance themselves from any direct historical influences.
To continue the dragon theme, why not send your friends a card with a dragon pulling Santa’s sleigh? Or send a copy of Dreaming of Dragons along with a pop-up Chinese dragon? Or speculate about what to get your favourite dragon as a gift?
Any way you celebrate, it’s always fun to add a little medieval to the mix. These Dragons Forever stamps are sure to delight all your favourite people before they even open the envelope to marvel at your holiday card and annual newsletter. When they’re as bright and beautiful as this, it’s easy to see why loving dragons is a tradition we’re happy to continue.
You can follow Danièle Cybulskie on Twitter @5MinMedievalist