20 August 2007

Trystero against Thurn und Taxis

A few weeks ago, the online Times offered a list of the "world's strangest laws", which has been reprinted on many blogs. Many, perhaps, are genuine archaic statutes, unrepealed through inadvertence or indifference, but some have the ring of urban legends; one of them I know to be:
23. It is an act of treason to place a postage stamp bearing the British monarch upside down.
This absurd claim is demonstrably false, as can be discovered in a half a minute on Wikipedia and confirmed almost as quickly in a real source. In the main, British treason law is set by the Treason Act 1351, 25 Edw. 3 st. 5 c. 2, which says nothing about postage stamps (although it does have a number of archaic provisions, and one ("si home [...] soit adherant as enemies nostre seigneur le roy en le royalme, donant a eux eid ou confort en son royalme ou par aillours", although the text is cited variously, cf. 1 Hale P.C. 88, 3 Co. Inst. 10-11) that lies behind the oft-misquoted provision in the American Constitution). Nor are such things to be found in the other relevant statutes in force.

But, of course, the point of this post is that there are such things as treasonous postage stamps, just not in England:
"I'm not sure I understand," Oedipa said.
"Allow me." He rolled over to her a small table, and from a plastic folder lifted with tweezers, delicately, a U.S. commemorative stamp, the Pony Express issue of 1940, 3¢ henna brown. Cancelled. "Look," he said, switching on a small, intense lamp, handing her an oblong magnifying glass.
"It's the wrong side," she said, as he swabbed the stamp gently with benzine and placed it on a black tray.
"The watermark." Oedipa peered. There it was again, her WASTE symbol, showing up black, a little right of center. (95-96)

And, as the cognoscenti know, The Crying of Lot 49 only seems to be fiction. I saw the evidence myself back in the Web's younger days, but evil Thurn und Taxis henchmen brought the site down, so we are forced to rely on the Wayback machine and this tireless investigator.

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