New Zealand Post - official issuer of New Zealand stamps & commemorative coins

Christmas 1998

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Continuing the tradition of Christmas stamps, first issued by New Zealand Post in 1960, these stamp designs were influenced by art, like the first stamps which depicted miniatures of old paintings.

Issue information

The artist, Sally Simons, took her inspiration from the 15th century tapestries illustrated in the medieval Book of Hours. Each stamp in this Christmas issue told part of the nativity story as an artistic representation of the birth of Christ. The Christmas story, based on the descriptions of the birth of Christ in the gospels of the New Testament, has remained unaltered throughout the ages.

The story started with some shepherds who, while minding their flock, were visited by an angel and told to find and worship the newborn Messiah. Three wise men were also visited, and told to follow a special bright star that would lead them to the birthplace of the Messiah. The wise men, bearing gifts of frankincense, gold and myrrh, and the shepherds, arrived in Bethlehem to find the newborn child with his mother, the Virgin Mary, and Joseph.

The Nativity is a very old and popular subject in Christian art, with a complex and evolving symbolism (known as iconography). Its traditions date back to around the 5th century, with visual interpretations having changed markedly over the centuries.

Early depictions of the Nativity showed the Virgin Mary seated, with the Messiah wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. This was to emphasise that the birth of Christ had been painless. From around the 6th century until the late 14th century, the interpretation of the Nativity changed to show the Virgin Mary lying on a mattress. Over time, representation of the Nativity became one of adoration, with the Virgin Mary kneeling or standing in prayer before her son, who lay unclothed and luminous on the ground amidst a pile of straw.

By the time of the Renaissance, angels and shepherds were added to those adoring the Christ child. Although present in very early Nativity art, their characters became more prominent from around the 6th century. By the 17th century, the Christmas story had evolved once again, with the Virgin Mary lying down with the Messiah in her arms.

Today, the Nativity remains a popular theme in the arts. Christmas too, although now both a secular and a religious celebration, continues to be seen as a very special time of 'peace and goodwill' for people around the world.

Product Listing for Christmas 1998

Click on image to enlarge.

Image Title Description Price
Single Stamp

Single 40c 'Virgin and the Messiah' gummed stamp.

Single Stamp Single 70c 'Shepherds Approach Virgin Mary, Joseph and the Messiah' gummed stamp. $0.70
Single Stamp Single 80c 'Virgin Mary, Joseph and the Messiah' gummed stamp. $0.80
Single Stamp Single $1.00 'One Wise Man' gummed stamp. $1.00
Single Stamp Single $1.50 'Three Wise Men' gummed stamp. $1.50
Single Stamp Single $1.80 'Angel with Shepherds' gummed stamp. $1.80
Single Stamp Single 40c 'Virgin and the Messiah' self-adhesive stamp. $0.40
First Day Cover First day cover with six gummed and one self-adhesive stamp affixed. Cancelled on the first day of issue. $7.10
Self-adhesive Dispenser Dispenser box containing 100 x 40c self-adhesive stamps. $40.00
Self-adhesive Booklet Booklet containing 10 x 40c self-adhesive stamps. $4.00

Technical information

Date of issue: 2 September 1998
Number of stamps: Six sheet stamps and one self-adhesive stamp (same design for 40c sheet stamp and for booklet and coil)
Denominations and designs: 40c sheet stamp and self-adhesive stamp: Virgin Mary and the Messiah; 70c Shepherds approach Virgin Mary, Joseph and the Messiah; 80c Virgin, Mary, Jospeh and the Messiah; $1.00 Wise Man; $1.50 Three Wise Men; $1.80 Angel telling the Shepherds about the Messiah
Stamps and first day cover designed by: Sally Simons, Kaeo, New Zealand
Printer and process: Sheet stamps: Southern Colour Print, New Zealand by lithography; Self-adhesive booklet and coil stamps: Australia Post, Sprintpak by lithography
Number of colours: Sheet stamps: Four process colours and one uncommon special PMS colour; Self-adhesive stamps: Four process colours and two uncommon special PMS colours
Stamp size and format: Sheet stamps: 30mm x 35mm (vertical); Self-adhesive stamps: 25mm x 30mm (vertical)
Paper Type: Sheet stamps: 103gsm gummed red phosphor coated stamp paper; Self-adhesive stamps: B90 self-adhesive stamp paper
Number of stamps per sheet: 100 
Number of stamps per self-adhesive coil: 100
Number of stamps per self-adhesive booklet: 10
Perforation gauge: Sheet stamps - 14
Cost of unadressed first day cover with six sheet stamps and one self-adhesive stamp: $7.10
Special blocks: Plate/imprint or positional blocks could be obtained by purchasing at least six sheet stamps. Value blocks could be obtained by purchasing at least two sheet stamps. Colour blocks ('traffic lights') were included in plate blocks for sheet stamps. Barcode blocks were available in both A and B formats for sheet stamps. Special blocks were not available for self-adhesive stamps.
Period of sale: These stamps remained on sale until 2 September 1999.