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The Nordic Swans Turn Fifty

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On 30th October 1956, Denmark issued for the first time ever stamps in a joint issue with four other countries. The creation of the stamps lasted five years!

Already in 1951, the idea of a Nordic stamp, featuring five flying swans as the common motif, was conceived by the Association Norden and submitted to the five Nordic Post Directorates General. On the Conference of the Nordic Postal Association in March that same year a general consensus of accepting this idea was reached, but for practical reasons the idea had to be postponed until later. 

In order to obtain a certain quality and uniformity between such stamps, on the one side the individual countries had to reach consensus about which printing house should produce the stamps, and on the other side the philatelic characteristics of the individual countries should be maintained. Finally, the postal Directorates General involved wanted the individual governments' acceptance of the idea. In short, the suggestion was sent to a Committee. The governments involved eventually approved, and later that year it was decided that the design of the stamp should be based on the a drawing by a selected artist from each of the participating countries, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden. 

Nordic Swans Turn Fifty. Icelandic submission for test stamp.

Icelandic submission by Jůn StefŠnsson

Nordic Swans Turn Fifty. Danish submission for test stamp.

Danish submission by Viggo Bang

Nordic Swans Turn Fifty. Finnish submission for test stamp.

Finnish submission by
Signe Hammarsten-Janson

Nordic Swans Turn Fifty. Swedish submission for test stamp.

Swedish submission by
Johs. Haukland

Nordic Swans Turn Fifty. Norwegian submission for test stamp.

Norwegian submission 
by Mark Sylvan

  • Submissions for design from each of the participating countries. Only Iceland had submitted an illustration in the form of a postcard, painted by Jůn StefŠnsson (upper left). Scans by courtesy of the Danish Postal Museum, Copenhagen. 

The motif of the swans originated in a poem by the Danish poet Hans Hartvig Seedorff Pedersen, "The Nordic Swans" (1946), celebrating the free community in the five countries which is symbolized by five flying swans [Whooper Swans - Cygnus Cygnus]. On the Conference of the Nordic Postal Association in 1953, drafts for the design had been submitted by the Danish artist Viggo Bang, the Finnish artist Signe Hammarsten-Janson, the Norwegian artist Johs. Haukland and the Swedish artist Mark Sylvan. Iceland participated with an illustration by the artist Jon StefŠnsson, see images above. 

But the delegates could only make a final decision after having seen a test print in the actual stamp size. The test prints were to be done by the Swedish Stamp Printers, but would only be available for the next conference in September 1954. Eventually, the Danish contribution was chosen for the final stamp, and it was decided that the stamps (two from each of the participating countries) should be ready for delivery from the Swedish Stamp Printers by the second half of 1956. Both test prints as well as the final stamps were engraved by the Swedish chief engraver Sven Ewert. 

Nordic Swans Turn Fifty. Danish Joint Issue with four Nordic Countries. Denmark 1956. 30 Ýre red.

Nordic Swans Turn Fifty. Danish Joint Issue with four Nordic Countries. Denmark 1956. 60 Ýre blue.

Nordic Swans Turn Fifty. Danish Joint Issue with four Nordic Countries. Iceland 1956. 1,50 kr. red.

Nordic Swans Turn Fifty. Danish Joint Issue with four Nordic Countries. Iceland 1956. 1,75 kr. blue.

Nordic Swans Turn Fifty. Danish Joint Issue with four Nordic Countries. Denmark 1956. Local First Day Cover.
  • Denmark 1956. First Day Cover cancelled in Copenhagen on 30th October 1956. 

  • The final stamps in two face values from Denmark and Iceland. Design Viggo Bang. Engraving Sven Ewert (Sweden). 

Nordic Swans Turn Fifty. Danish Joint Issue with four Nordic Countries. Sweden 1956. 25 Ýre red. Nordic Swans Turn Fifty. Danish Joint Issue with four Nordic Countries. Norway 1956. 35 Ýre red. Nordic Swans Turn Fifty. Danish Joint Issue with four Nordic Countries. Finland  1956. 0,20 Mk red.
Nordic Swans Turn Fifty. Danish Joint Issue with four Nordic Countries. Sweden 1956. 40 Ýre blue. Nordic Swans Turn Fifty. Danish Joint Issue with four Nordic Countries. Norway 1956. 65 Ýre blue. Nordic Swans Turn Fifty. Danish Joint Issue with four Nordic Countries. Finland 1956. 0,30 Mk blue.
  • The final stamps in two face values from Sweden, Norway, and Finland. The Swedish stamps are coil stamps, perforated on the two vertical sides, whereas all other stamps are perforated on the four sides. 

It is interesting to note that in spite of the fact that all stamps are done by the same engraver and printed at the same printers, they appear slightly differently in size and colour depth. Another difference is that the Swedish stamps are coil stamps, whereas the rest are printed in ordinary sheets of 50. 

On 1st October 1956 it was announced by each of the five Nordic countries, that " ... to emphasize the Nordic Community and the importance of the Nordic co-operation in different fields, on 30th October 1956 will be issued jointly [...] stamps which share the same motif ...".  

At three later occasions the Nordic countries have issued jointly in 1969 (Viking Ships), in 1973 (the Nordic House in Reykjavik, and in 1977 (Water Lilies on clean water - environmental co-operation). 

Addendum
At one later occasion, in 1992, the Nordic Swans designed by Viggo Bang have appeared on a Danish stamp, the souvenir sheet issued for NORDIA '94 in Aarhus. The sheet as such is a tribute to the Danish Queen Margrethe I (1353-1412) who founded the Nordic Union, and became the "Lady and Sovereign Ruler of Denmark, Norway and Sweden". Danish sovereignty over Norway lasted until 1814, whilst the sovereignty over Sweden was lost already in 1648. Click here to see the full sheet. The link will open in a new window. 

Denmark 1992. Fragment of the souvenir sheet NORDIA '94, showing the Nordic Swans.

  • Denmark 1992. Fragment of the souvenir sheet NORDIA '94, showing the Nordic Swans. 

For succeeding years the Nordic Post Offices changed the regulations for joint issues. As per 1980 joint issues would only take place each third year, now with individual, national motifs related to a joint theme. In 1980 the theme was Ancient Applied Arts, in 1983 Tourism, in 1986 Sister Cities, in 1989 National Costumes, in 1992 The Philatelic Exhibition NORDIA, in 1995 Tourism, in 1998 Marine and Navigation, etc. 

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Revised 02 nov 2006 
Copyright © by Ann Mette Heindorff
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