A Stamp from Israel
Honours H.G. Wells and The Time Machine

by François O. Beaulieu

Earlier this year, a most unusual stamp appeared in Israeli postal outlets. It features a portrait of H.G. Wells along with a depiction of the Time Machine - one that is clearly patterned after the well-known design from the classic George Pal movie adaptation. The stamp is part of a set commemorating famous authors of science fiction.

Originally, this set was conceived to mark the holding of a major science fiction convention, "ArmageddonCon", which was to be held from December 28 2000 to January 1 2001 in Jerusalem and Armageddon. The Israeli postal authorities were also planning to set-up a temporary post office on location to sell first day covers bearing the cancellation seal of the site. Due to political unrest, however, the convention had to be cancelled. Nonetheless, the stamps were issued this January.

There are three stamps honouring respectively, Jules Verne, H.G. Wells and Isaac Asimov. Each stamp is composed of two sections, the bottom part, showing a portrait of the author and the top part, illustrating an apparatus the latter conceived and described in his writings. The SF stamp project was the initiative of Dr. Emanuel Lottem, Israel's foremost translator of science fiction and fantasy.

Dr. Lottem felt that the illustrations should not only reflect the authors' visions but also have symbolic meaning. They would draw parallels between traditional Hebrew legends, science fiction concepts and modern scientific achievements. Thus, for example, Jules Verne's Moon capsule is associated with Elijah's chariot of fire on one hand and, modern space exploration on the other.

Illustrating these scenes would prove quite a challenge; consequently, one of Israel's top SF artists, Avi Katz, was selected for the job - a challenge which Avi accepted and met with great success for his renditions are not only intricate and elaborate, but colourful and evocative - subtly translating into images these author's imaginative ideas and setting them in a unique context.

Surprisingly, H.G. Wells was not among the original authors chosen for the stamp set. Certainly, Wells's standing as a pioneer of science fiction was not called into question; but the problem was that the concepts evoked in his major SF works were still too far in advance of modern technology to be depicted in this context.

Arthur C. Clarke, on the other hand, would have been a perfect match, as it was easy to associate his space station with Ezekiel's vision of "wheels within wheels" and the technology of the current Skylab project. However, postal regulations in Israel (as in several other countries) do not allow stamps that honour people that are still living. One suspects that Mr Clarke, although undoubtedly flattered to be considered an ideal candidate, would have most likely declined to conform to the postal rules.

H.G. Wells, therefore, was selected instead. The challenge remained that of finding an invention of Wells that could convincingly be depicted and associated with other subjects of legend and technology. The Time Machine was chosen, being one of Wells's best-known works.

For the Machine, the illustrator chose the design appearing in the George Pal movie adaptation - easily the most recognizable depiction. An amusing aside here is that the author is shown riding the Machine wearing a bowler hat - a portrayal most likely inspired by an episode of the Lois & Clark TV series that features Wells as a character in the story.

The links with the past and the present proved somewhat difficult to establish without straying too much from the logic of the storyline followed for the other stamps in the set.

On the upper left portion of the Wells stamp appears "Honi HaMaagel" (the Circle Maker), a Talmudic Rabbi in ancient Hebrew legend who was said to have slept for over 70 years. This could be thought of as a form of time travel although more akin to that described in such novels as William Morris's "News from Nowhere".

Since modern technology has not resolved the problems of time travel, it was decided instead to evoke the theories of experimental physics. Many modern researchers have suggested that tunnels may exist in space, which act as time gateways. Some have called them "wormholes". Dr. Lottem suggested that Avi illustrate these on the stamp.

In spite of the difficulties, the final result is quite successful. In fact, the H.G. Wells stamp stands out as the most enigmatic of the three and certainly, from an artistic standpoint, is as attractive as the other two.

The set of three stamps should by now be available at most major stamp dealers around the world. Interested individuals should check for local availability. The set bears the Scott catalogue number 1424-6.

For serious collectors, Avi Katz offers original signed inkjet prints of the Wells stamp artwork for US$100. (A4 format) or US$150. (A3 format) post-paid. Prints of the first day cover or of the other stamps (together or individually) are also available upon request. It should be outlined here that Avi uses a technique he calls "digital painting". In other words, the artwork is created directly on the computer screen. There exists no original painting for any of the illustrations used on the stamps or on the first day cover.

Avi Katz may be reached by e-mail (avix@netvision.net.il), fax (++972-3-5783455) or snail mail (Avi Katz, Habanim 21, Ramat-Gan 52402, Israel).

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