Martin Luther: Postage Stamps

As part of the commemoration last year of the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther posting his 95 Theses, our churches in county Down put together an illustrated exhibition on the history of the Reformation from 1517. One part of this was a collection of stamps from around the world all related to Luther. It is surprising how many countries have seen Martin Luther as a suitable subject for a postage stamp. I don’t imagine this is an exhaustive collection of Martin Luther related stamps but it is interesting to compare the variety of images and styles utilised. Some are very artistic, others less so.

Stamps 01

Top row, left to right:

USA 1983 20c, 500th anniversary of Luther’s birth; French Polynesia 1983 90F, 500th anniversary of Luther’s birth; Bulgaria 1996 300 lev, 450th anniversary of Luther’s death; Germany 2017 .70 euro, 500th anniversary of reformation.

Second row, left to right:

Lithuania 2017 .39 euros, 500th anniversary of reformation; West Germany 1971 30c, 450th anniversary of the diet of Worms; Estonia 2017 .65 Euro, 500th anniversary of reformation; France 1983 3.30F, 500th anniversary of Luther’s birth.

Stamps 02

Left to right:

South Africa 1967 12.5 c, 450th anniversary of reformation; South Africa 1967 2.5 c, 450th anniversary of reformation; West Germany 1979 50 pf, 450th anniversary of Luther’s Catechism; Germany 1995 100 pf, 450th anniversary of the Worms Reichstag.

Stamps 03

Left to right:

Germany 2002 56 pf, 500th anniversary Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg; West Germany 1983 80 pf, 500th anniversary of Luther’s birth; West Germany 1961 15 pf, 415th anniversary of Luther’s death; Germany 1996 100pf, 450th anniversary of Luther’s death.

Stamps 04

Left to right:

East Germany 1983 85 pf, 500th anniversary of Luther’s birth; East Germany 1983 20 pf, 500th anniversary of Luther’s birth; East Germany 1983 10 pf, 500th anniversary of Luther’s birth; East Germany 1983 35 pf, 500th anniversary of Luther’s birth.






Today’s top selling toy

A news report earlier this year said:


“Astronomical sales of a tiny figurine of the Protestant Reformation figure Martin Luther, have confounded its maker, Playmobil, by becoming the fastest-selling Playmobil figure of all time.”


It was widely reported in the press that the first edition of 34,000 of these figures sold out in less than 72 hours when they were launched in February. The company urgently requested its factory to produce more of them such was the demand.


The journal Newsweek observed:

“The plastic toy, complete with a quill, German-language bible and cheery grin, was produced for the German and Nuremberg tourist boards and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria, as Germany gears up to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation in 2017”.


Martin Luther's portrait which comes with the figurine
Martin Luther’s portrait which comes with the figurine


It’s a curious phenomenon that a toy of an historical figure taken from religious history should prove so popular. The 500th anniversary of the reformation (in this case being dated from Luther’s nailing of his 95 Theses to the door of the Cathedral in Wittenberg on 31st October 1517) is an important event and it looks like it is catching people’ imagination, especially in Germany. A lot of the sites particularly associated with Luther are in Eastern Germany and consequently have not been over-visited. Writing in the Times in August Mark Greaves said “As a result of the lack of modernisation and development during the communist years, folksy towns with their beautiful old architecture have been left untouched.”


Quite probably this anniversary is the biggest event of all that could be connected with a reformation person or event. A few years ago (in 2009) the 500th anniversary of the birth of John Calvin was celebrated. There were no John Calvin toys so far as I know although one Presbyterian Church did have a free download of a John Calvin mask which was just about the scariest looking mask you could imagine.


The Playmobil box
The Playmobil box



I was sufficiently impressed by the story of the sales of the Luther figure to track one down via eBay. Martin Luther seems to be only on general sale in Germany although one imagines he would sell very well in the USA. It’s hard to imagine a similar figure being produced over here and one wonders what would be the equivalent? John Wycliffe? John Wesley?


But the Luther figure is an attractive little model. It comes with its own Bible referencing his part in translating it into German and a quill pen. In addition you get a leaflet featuring his portrait and a map of places in Germany associated with Luther.


Martin Luther
Martin Luther



I wouldn’t think there would be too much of a market for Martin Luther figures in the UK today. However, from the 1930s to the 1950s British toy companies such as Britains and Johillco both marketed lead models of clergymen. These weren’t named but were part of the wide range of civilian figures that were available in those days. To my knowledge there were at least four clergy figures on sale, black clad and generally hatted they must have sold in their thousands. The hardest to track down today is the Britain’s ‘thin vicar’ who ceased production just before the war. But it is good to see Martin Luther enjoying such vogue.