Stamp of approval?
Muskoxen have been roaming the Swedish mountains only since 1971 (at least this time around – they were present also several thousand years ago). That small group of animals had migrated by themselves over the Norwegian-Swedish border, so it was not a given how people would respond to these ‘new’ animals. For the most part, muskox quickly became understood as a central element in the mountains of Härjedalen, probably because of its novelty and distinctive appearance.
When a Swedish national postage stamp series titled “Fjällvärld” (“Mountain World”) was issued in March 1984, the images chosen were a general mountainscape, the angelica flowering plant (also known as wild celery), the lemming, and the muskox. This human inclusion of muskox in the Swedish fauna came only 13 years after the herd had immigrated over the border.
The muskox stamp’s image was designed by the artist Ingalill Axelsson and engraved by Majvor Franzén. Axelsson, born in 1933, is a major Swedish stamp artist (she has 119 stamps in the Swedish Postmuseum database) and in 1993 won the prestigious Asiago International Award in Philatelic Art. Much of her stamp work features nature images and portraits. Franzén was Sweden’s first woman engraver. She worked for the Post in the 1960s, 70s and 80s; 105 stamps are attributed to her hand in the database. Axelsson and Franzén produced both the lemming and muskox images for the Fjällvärld series.
The text printed (in both Swedish and English) with the first day issue card for the stamp series is telling of the rapid integration of muskox: “In 1971 the musk-ox (Ovibos moschatus) came back to the Swedish fauna. The occasion can be seen as a return to the fold, and today there are some 30 animals in the province Härjedalen.” In this text, the muskoxen coming to Sweden was “return to the fold”, or a return home. The idea was that muskoxen were native Nordic animals that had at last come back to Sweden.
Had muskoxen won a stamp approval in this stamp issue? Certainly some people thought they belonged in the Swedish mountains, but that was not a universal feeling. To this day muskoxen are considered non-native species in official Swedish policy. Their future in the Mountain World of Sweden is uncertain. Like I discussed with a postage mark of a muskox used in Svalbard, iconic status doesn’t guarantee a continued life.
I recently published the larger story of muskoxen as migrants in Sweden and Norway in the article “Migrant Muskoxen and the Naturalization of National Identity in Scandanavia” in The Historical Animal (Syracuse University Press, 2015) edited by Susan Nance. The collection is an impressive exploration of animal history and I’d highly recommend getting a copy.