A new exhibition captures a century of Irish stamp design

Launched to coincide with Irish Design Week, the show reveals the immense skill and craft involved in creating masterpieces on a tiny scale

The National Print Museum in Dublin has opened Miniature Masterpieces, a new exhibition that explores the history of Irish stamp design, which launched to coincide with Irish Design Week. Beginning with the printing of the country’s first official stamp in 1922, the show traces the next 100 years of this often overlooked art, paying tribute to the artists and designers who have contributed to Ireland’s stamp production.

On display are 760 original Irish stamps, along with artwork, design proofs, printing plates, and other material from the archives of Ireland’s postal services provider, An Post. Spanning an entire century, many of the stamps date back to the years immediately following Ireland’s independence, and provide a way for visitors to “chart the evolution of Irish national identity” since that period.

Included in the collection are the British King George V stamps which were overprinted following the establishment of the Irish State; the famous green twopenny Map of Ireland stamp, which served as the first official Irish stamp; and the Europa stamp series, created by the late Irish painter Louis le Brocquy in 1970.

Though frequently overlooked due to their ubiquity, Stephen Ferguson, exhibition curator and archivist for An Post, says postage stamps are significant works of art. “This exhibition acknowledges the contribution of all involved in Irish stamp production but, above all, it pays tribute to the stamp itself and invites our visitors to take time to think about this unassuming fragment of coloured paper: at first glance, just an everyday object in the corner of a letter but, on closer inspection, a work of art, a symbol of identity and a unique prism through which we can view and reflect on the formation and development of the Irish State.”

Alongside the extensive collection of physical stamps, visitors can access a digital stamp database by An Post that contains all of the postage stamps issued since the foundation of the State.

There is also a newly-commissioned letterpress print on show by graphic designer Niall McCormack and letterpress printer Mary Plunkett, who have drawn inspiration from the Irish landscape and the practice of designer Patrick Scott for the work. “It is a contemporary piece that captures the importance of the landscape to ideas of Irishness,” says McCormack.

Miniature Masterpieces: 100 Years of Irish Stamps is on show at the National Print Museum, Dublin; nationalprintmuseum.ie