Written by Susan Toomey Frost
In the 1930s and 1940s when creating new stamp designs, Mexico's postal authorities occasionally "copied" photographs from the inventories of some of the leading makers of Mexican postcards. The instances are revealed in a study of Mexican maximum cards.
Considered as novelties or specialties, maximum cards have been a pursuit of stamp collectors since at least the 1920s. The creative collector tried to find a postcard that matched the image on a stamp as closely as possible and then placed the stamp on the face of the card. If the postmarking were done in the very town where the photograph was taken, or otherwise tied to the subject that the stamp commemorated, the maximum card was further enhanced. Such cards are fascinating because they bridge stamp and postcard collecting, the two most popular hobbies of their day.
Views taken by at least four well-known Mexican photographers can be identified with images that were later reproduced on stamps. German-born Hugo Brehme (1882-1954) photographed the Taxco street scene shown in this first example:
Brehme's depiction of the small street behind the Taxco church is unusual because the ornate front of the church is typically photographed, and not the back of the building. The unusual image on the stamp bears a startlingly close resemblance to the composition of the underlying real photo postcard. Stamp officials obviously adapted Brehme’s less "touristy" perspective for the Taxco stamp issued in 1939 (Scott 751). [The author wishes to thank the staff of the journal AMERICAN PHILATELIST for identifying the stamps appearing in this article. For the identification of the revenue stamps, see The Revenue Stamps of Mexico, by Richard Byron Stevens (Elmhurst Philatelic Society International, Inc., Elmhurst, Illinois, 1979.)]
As fascinating as the Taxco maximum card is, a cautious collector is justifiably wary of anything too good to be true. Both the card and the stamp shown above might be genuine, but couldn’t they have been united and postmarked many years afterward, and the date of the cancellation altered? One method of checking the authenticity of a given cancellation is to compare it with other cancellations from the same period in the same place. The maximum card above was canceled in Taxco on November 6, 1939. The postmark on ordinary postcard below shows that it was mailed in June. Except for the date, the cancellation is the same on both cards. Therefore, the cancellation on the Brehme maximum card of Taxco is authentic.
Photographer Rodolfo Mantel was a contemporary of Hugo Brehme. Foto Mantel published the following real photo postcard of Cuautla, Morelos, a town southeast of Mexico City. The 5-centavo revenue stamp on the right (Stevens CF398) reproduces the image on the postage in such minute detail as the placement of the palm fronds.
The green stamp on the left (Scott 684) is from a four-value series issued in October 1933 to honor the 21st International Congress of Statistics and the centenary of the Mexican Society of Geography and Statistics, whose emblem is shown. The cancel reads: "CORREOS/MEXICO D.F. / 9.OCT.33.15." However, there is no address on the back of the maximum card to indicate that it was postally used.
Mauricio Yañez was another prolific producer of photographic postcards during this same period. Even the shadows cast in his handsomely composed photograph are faithfully reproduced in a 1933 revenue stamp (Stevens CF399) illustrating the same view of Tepotzotlan, a beautiful example of Colonial ecclesiastical architecture some 20 miles north of Mexico City.
Once again, the federal tax stamp is tied to a regular postal stamp (Scott 650, "El Salto de Agua" Public Fountain, issued 1923-34). The cancel reads: MEXICO D.F. / 12.AGO.33.16." Like the previous three maximum cards illustrated, this card also gives no evidence of having been postally used.
"Exclusivos Julio" was the leading producer of real photo postcards in Guadalajara, Mexico’s second largest city. Julio's panorama showing the city’s cathedral was likely repeated in a stamp (Scott 773) honoring the 400th anniversary of the founding of Guadalajara.
Although the reverse side includes the imprint "Obliteration premier jour," the actual cancel on the stamp itself reads February 14, 1942, some three days after the official date of issue listed in the Scott Catalogue.
The last example is an unusual double maximum card that has three different cancellations. Osuna, another prolific photographer making postcards in the first half of the century, took the view shown below of the statue of Christopher Columbus and the Monument of the Revolution in Mexico City. The postcard initially became a maximum card in 1931 with the addition of the Columbus stamps on the left. Nine years later the stamps on the right were issued, attached to the card, and then cancelled.
The three stamps on the left-hand side of the card are the 4- and 5-centavo values of a stamp featuring the Christopher Columbus Monument (Scott 653-54, issued 1923-34). The Columbus Monument stamps were canceled on October 8, 1931, in Mexico City. Six years later, someone added two 4-centavo stamps showing the Monument of the Revolution (Scott 709, issued 1934-40). These new stamps were canceled August 7, 1940.
The Osuna postcard is unusual not only because it is a double maximum card, but because two months later it traveled unprotected through the mails. Collectors rarely mailed their maximum cards, although they are carefully postmarked, indicating that these images were primarily regarded as individual, unique creations that should be well protected in an envelope when mailed to another collector. The same card was used to send a message to Dr. Jose Buil Belenguer in Papantla, Veracruz, by an individual who signs himself "Pablo A." The address side is hand-dated "20-10-1940" and postmarked that same day.
No doubt many more such maximum cards than these five examples are safely filed away in collections. As we discover and study them, many more insights about the design sources of stamps will continue to come to light. Furthermore, we can appreciate the individual creative effort displayed by earlier collectors when they maximized their cards and shared them with fellow collectors.