A story of Holland as seen on postage stamps !!

By Rick Aalhuizen


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As a business card tells you about the business it represents and what they have to offer, so does a postage stamp represent a country and tells you something about it. When we look at a Dutch stamp, we see the word "NEDERLAND" and that is the Dutch name for the Netherlands or sometimes called Holland. Holland is actually incorrect, as it refers to only two of the twelve provinces. However, it is a well established practice and we won’t worry too much about it.

The Dutch flagOn the first two stamps, we see the Dutch flag, red, white and blue. This flag celebrated its 400 year anniversary in 1972. The next stamp shows you the map of Holland. In the east it borders onto Germany, while in the south lies the Kingdom of Belgium. In the west and in the north, is the North sea, which the Dutch always have been at loggerheads with, but which has also greatly contributed to the wealth of the country.Map of Holland
8 times into NSWIt is only a small country, (you can fit it into NSW, 8 times), but it has as many people living in it, as in the whole of Australia.
The people are usually dressed, like anywhere else in Europe.
Dutch people
For special occasions, girls in different areas wear their original costumes. Girls in National dress
It is now very much a multicultural society and there are all kind of people, but most of them are blond with blue eyes.
That is, because the original Dutchman belonged to Germanic tribes, who came from the East and settled in Holland.
Multiracial society
In those days Holland was much smaller than it is today, because it was mainly marshland and flooded frequently. People started to build dikes to keep the sea back and stop the rivers from flooding the land.
Even now, the Dutch are always working on reclaiming land from the sea and the country now has reclaimed about 10 % of its area from the sea. The 12th province is reclaimed land, that was once called "The Zuyder sea".Dutch polder
Land being reclaimed from the sea<
In 1953 however, a high spring tide and a strong North Westerly wind of about 150 km/hr caused some dikes to break and Holland experienced a great flood, (the land behind the dikes being below sea level) in which over 1000 people drowned, 300,000 lost everything except their lives and 175,000 hectare were inundated
A special overprinted stamp with a surcharge raised money and besides much international aid, the Dutch Red Cross performed miracles.
The big flood in 1953
It was then that the Dutch decided to build a dike system along the coast, so that it would never happen again and that is how the "Delta Works " started, which connects islands to islands and closes sea inlets.The Delta works
Most people, that have been to Holland, remember the many windmills, which are mainly used to pump the water out and keep the land dry. Windmills for different purposes
Two big rivers, the Rhine from Germany and the Meuse from Belgium, flow through Holland to the sea.The big rivers
To cross those rivers and the many canals that have been dug, different kind of bridges had to be build.Old and modern bridges
The Dutch make good use of all this water, with river barges for transport, sailing and other water sports for recreation. In the summer people like to go to the beach.. They make use of the water
Because of its association with the water, Holland became a great seafaring nation and you can see, how boys are taught to sail the seven seas and all the different types of ships they sail.Nautical college
The different ships
The fishing industry is also very important and when the fishing fleet sails out, there is even a hospital-church ship that sails with them.
Along the coast there is a life saving organisation, for the North sea can be very treacherous and many ships have been lost over the years.
Hospital-Church ship and lifesaving boat
The lighthouses
Amsterdam and Rotterdam
The lighthouses help to navigate the ships to the huge ports of Amsterdam and Rotterdam.
The history of Holland is closely associated with the House of Orange, (The present Royal Family).
In Europe during the Middle Ages, there was the "Feudal System", which meant that people could not move away from the land, where they were born; they had to render all kind of free services and surrender part of their crops to their Lords. In Holland however, the situation was different. As the new land was created out of the sea, people had to be enticed to move there and they were able to obtain all kind of privileges in return.
This made the people more independent and the cities became more powerful and their influence on their Lords grew. The cities that grew more powerful
These Lords lived in castles and some are still standing.The castles that still exist
The Low lands, as they were called, became the property of the House of Burgundy and through inheriting became the property of Spain in 1515. The king of Spain was Charles the Fifth and he was a very staunch catholic. Charles the Fifth, King of Spain and Lord over the Netherlands
It was during this time (1521) that Luther started the reformation in Germany.Luther's theses<


As there were many things wrong in the Roman Catholic Church, people in Holland embraced the new thoughts and became protestants. (word comes from protesting). And Charles the Fifth did not like this at all, but it was not until his son, Phillip the Second, took over, that the real trouble started.
Phillip sent an army under the Duke of Alba to teach these Dutchmen a lesson. The "Inquisition", an institute that would search for protestants and burn them at the stake, was established and heavy taxes imposed.
William of Orange, who was an advisor to the king’s representative, resigned and fled to his German property of Nassau. There he raised money for an army.William of Orange or William the Silent
In 1568 the Prince’s brother, Adolf van Nassau, took the Spaniards on, in the North of Holland, a place called Heiligerlee. Adolf was killed at this battle, which started a war that would last 80 years. The Prince of Orange, sometimes called William the Silent, was assassinated in 1584 by a Spanish lackey and his sons Maurits and Frederik Hendrik brought the war to an end in 1648 (Peace of Westminster).
In 1579 the Northern Provinces decided to unite and fight Spain as " Seven United Provinces". This agreement became known as the "Union of Utrecht". Utrecht being the city where the agreement was made.Union of Utrecht,birth of the United Netherlands
Spain lost the war and the Low Lands emerged as the powerful "Republic of the Seven United Provinces". During that war and during the twelve year armistice, Holland had become a great seafaring nation. One of its Admirals, Piet Heyn, even captured a Spanish Silver fleet.Piet Hein (The Spanish send fleets from their South American possessions to Spain, loaded with gold and silver, which they needed for carrying on the war).
Houtman and de Keizer in 1592 had found the route to the East Indies. When Barends and Heemskerk tried to find an alternative route around the North, they had been forced to overwinter on Nova Zembla. (1596). Abel Tasman discovered Australia and New Zealand in 1642 , while Oliver van Noort made the first circumnavigation around Cape Horn in 1600.
While Frederick Hendrik (the youngest son of William of Orange) was still fighting the Spaniards in Holland, the Dutch took possession of Curaçao in the West Indies.Frederik Hendrik and a war ship in the West Indies
All over the world the Dutch established trading posts. In North America, they founded New Amsterdam (now called NewYork) and Pieter Stuyvesant was the first Governor.Pieter StuyvesantIn India they had trading posts in Cochin and in Colombo on the island of Shri Lanka.
In 1653 Jan van Riebeek in his ship "Drommedaris " established a colony on the southern part of South Africa.The Portuguese had called this "Storm Cape ", but as it was promising for the trip to the East Indies, the Dutch renamed it "Cape of Good Hope".Jan van Riebeek and his ship'Dromedaris'
After the war with Spain, Holland had become a more powerful seafaring nation, much to the dislike of England, (who had been her ally in the fight against Spain). When Cromwell came to power, he introduced the "Act of Navigation", which stopped Dutch ships bringing non-Dutch goods into England. They also insisted that Dutch ships should lower their flags, when they encountered English ships on the high seas. The Dutch Admiral Maarten Harpertsz.Tromp put a broom up the mast, to show that he would sweep the English away and the first English war had started.Maarten Harpertz Tromp
The most famous Admiral of the Dutch has always been Michiel Adriaanz de Ruyter, who even sailed a Dutch fleet up the Thames and destroyed the English fleet at Chatham. His famous flagship was the "Zeven Provinciën". Admiral Michiel de Ruyter and his famous flagship
Other famous Admirals have been displayed on postage stamps, such as:
  1. Johan Evertsen (1600-1666),
  2. Willem van Gent (1626-1672),
  3. Witte Cornelisz de Wit (1599-1658),
  4. Cornelis Evertsen (1610-1666),
  5. Tjerk de Vries (1622-1666),
  6. Cornelis Tromp (1629-1691) and
  7. Cornelis Evertsen the younger (1642-1706).
Famous Dutch Admirals
During the Golden Age, more and more merchants equipped ships and sent them to the Indies to partake in the lucrative spice trade. As the cost of getting these ships ready (and the voyage could take up to a year) was very high, it was suggested that these merchants united and form one company. The man, who suggested this was the Attorney-General of the Republic, Johan van Oldenbarneveldt. (1547-1619) and the name of the company became V.O.C.(Vereenigde OostIndische Company) United EastIndies Company.Johan van Oldenbarneveldt and VOC logo A similar company was formed for the West Indies.
Another famous Attorney-General of the Republic was Johan de Wit (1625-1672), who helped to build a strong navy, but neglected to build up the army of which the Prince of Orange was in charge. When war broke out in 1672 again, Johan de Wit was killed by a mob and William the Third installed as Stadhouder (Governor).Johan de Wit and William 3 with Mary 2 Stuart In 1688 William the Third, who was married to Mary ll of Stuart, daughter of James ll, was invited to become King of England. James had decided to return to the Catholic faith and the English people did not like a Catholic monarch. So William defeated James and became King of England and Stadhouder (Governor) of Holland. During his reign he encouraged increased English settlement in Ireland and that is how they still have "Orangemen" in Ireland..
The seventeenth century became Holland’s Golden Age and arts and crafts bloomed. One of the crafts, that Holland was particularly well known for, was the shipbuilding.It was so famous, that even the Czar of Russia, Peter the Great, who wanted to modernise his country, did an apprenticeship as ship's carpenter here.Shipbuilding
It is in this "Golden Age", that Holland produced its "Old Masters" painters, such as Rembrandt (1609-1669) with the "Staalmeesters" and the "Nachtwacht".The latter is a huge painting of the "city watch", and is the size of a whole wall in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. It was originally even bigger, but when it was finished and ready to hang in Cityhall (The present Royal Palace), it was too big and had to be cut down to fit.Rembrandt,the Staalmeesters or sampling officials and the Night Watch
And there was Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675) with his lovely paintings of domestic scenes. Here we see
  1. Letter writer and her servant
  2. Love letter and
  3. Lady reading letter in the light of the window.
Vermeer's paintings
Frans Hals ‘s paintings, amongst others, are the "face of a 17th century boy" and the "schutters"(local militia). Frans Hals and two of his paintings
There was Jan Steen, who painted mostly ordinary family scenes. Jan Steen
Later there was Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890), who was a sad figure and died a pauper.Van Gogh and some of his work
and Johan Bosboom (1817-1891), whose "Interior of the Bakenesser Church in Haarlem", hangs in the National Gallery in London.Johan Bosboom
Even later there was Piet Mondriaan (1872-1944), who painted more in an abstract way.Piet Mondriaan's work
The following girl portraits were painted by the following painters:
  1. B J Blommers (1845-1914)
  2. W.B.Tholen (1860-1931)
  3. Jan Sluyters (1881-1957)
  4. Matthijs Maris (1839-1917) and
  5. Cornelis Kruseman (1797-1857)
The portrait painters' works
So not only did the appreciation of painting start in the "GoldenAge", but literature became very important. Phillip van Marnix van St. Allengonde (1540-1598) composed the present day Dutch National Anthem, which consists of fifteen verses, each beginning with the next letter of the word W.I.L.L.E.M.V.A.N.N.A.S.S.A.U, which was the name of the Prince of Orange.Marnix van St Allengonde
And what Shakespeare is to the English people, Joost van den Vondel (1587-1679) is to the Dutch. He composed a play "Gijsbrecht van Amstel",which is traditionally performed on every New Years Day at the City Opera House of Amsterdam.Joost van den Vondel
Later there was Nicolaas Beets (1814-1903), who wrote "The Camera Obscura", which is compulsery reading at high schools, as it is a perfect mirror of ordinary life in the 19th century.Nicolaas Beets
Also Eduard Douwes Dekker (1820-1887), who under the nom du plume "Multatulie" wrote "Max Havelaar", which exposed some of the bad conditions in the colony of the East-Indies.Douwes Dekker aka Multatuli
Also the female poets and authors are honoured on the Dutch postage stamps, such as Maria Tesselschade Roemersdochter Visser (1594-1649) and Aagje Deken (1741-1804).Maria Tesselschade and Aagje Deken
Other well known authors and poets are
  1. Pieter Cornelis Hooft (1581-1647),
  2. Antoni Christiaan Wynandt Staring (1767-1840),
  3. Everardus Johannes Potgieter (1808-1875) and
  4. Constantijn Huygens (1596-1687)
Hooft, Staring, Potgieter and Huygens
Now in later years we have have had the comic strips and the best known in the Netherlands is ‘Tom Poes and Ollie B. Bommel" by Maarten Toonder (1912- ), which in the early years of the German occupation of Holland, replaced Mickey Mouse, as that was considered "enemy literature" by the Germans. Tom Poes strip
Dr SylviusThen we have the sciences. Even in the 16th and 17th century there was a famous medical doctor, called F.de la Boë Sylvius (1614-1672); and Anthony van Leeuwenhoek (1632-1723) who, without any scientific education, (he was a haberdasher), constructed a microscope that magnified objects 300 times. It was not until the 19th century, that this microscope was improved.Anthony van Leeuwenhoek
In the more modern days, Holland had a fair share of Nobel Prize winners. The first group consisted of J.H.van het Hoff, who won the prize for chemistry in 1901 and P. Zeeman who won the prize for physics in 1902, while T.M.C.Asser won it for peace in 1911.Van het Hoff, Zeeman and Asser
The second group consists of: J. D. van der Waals, who won the prize for physics in 1910; W Einthoven for medicine in 1924 and Chr.Eijkman for medicine in 1929 .Van der Waals,Einthoven and Eijkman
The third group is F.Zernike, who won the Nobel Prize for physics in 1953; P.J.Debye won it for chemistry in 1936 and J Tinbergen received it for economics in 1969. Zernike, Debye and Tinbergen
For a small country to have so many Nobelprize winners, there must be a sound education system. And there is. As far back as 1499, the great humanist Desiderius Erasmus, who was born in Rotterdam (1469) travelled all over Europe tutoring and lecturing.Desiderius Erasmus
Four of Holland's oldest universities were founded between 1575 and 1636 as the stamps show.Leiden since 1575, Amsterdam since 1632, Utrecht since 1636 and Groningen since 1614
These stamps show preschool, elementary school, conservatorium and even Braille was taught already in 1825. This concludes the first part of my Dutch story as illustrated on postage stamps and I will continue in part 2 Preschool, elementary school, conservatorium and Education for the Blind