Beyond the Printed Page: Soviet Stamps and Astronomy

Our Focal Point in the December 2015 issue concerns a matter that Soviet authorities in the mid-1980s deemed delicate: how to depict Aquarius in the margins of a miniature sheet of postage stamps dedicated to the Soviet Union’s Vega missions to Venus and Halley’s Comet.

As this mini-sheet of one of the three 1984 Vega stamps shows, the Soviet official in charge of approving such stamps forced the artist to add a sort of loincloth to Aquarius (lower left corner), presumably to avoid corrupting the morals of the Soviet public:

Twenty years later, when the Russians published a series of stamps depicting the 12 signs of the zodiac, no such prudishness is seen. What is seen is the exposed rear end of Aquarius, just as the ancient Greeks might have depicted it:

The offending stamp

Courtesy Alex Gurshtein

The artist of the 2004 stamps, as did the artist of the 1984 stamps, drew inspiration from Johannes Hevelius’ 1690 star atlas, which depicted Aquarius thusly:

Johannes Hevelius's Aquarius

Johannes Hevelius

Aquarius, the Water Bearer, appears in all his glory amidst all 12 zodiac stamps from the 2004 Russian series:

Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons