The first stamp to indicate the true shape of the craft comes from a surprising source – the Kingdom of Yemen – which issued a stamp to commemorate the flight of Voskhod 2 (from which Alexei Leonov walked in space in March 1965). Vostok and Voskhod were basically the same craft and certainly had a similar exterior appearance.
But it still seems the first stamp to tell the world what Vostok really looked like came from Poland in 1966 (SG 1709) in the Space Research series. Thereafter there was no real need for any further sleight of hand but it took the Soviets themselves until the 10th anniversary of Vostok’s flight to produce a stamp showing what the first manned spacecraft actually looked like (shown on SG 3929).
Naturally there was a plethora of issues from countries – both within the Communist world and elsewhere — to mark the occasion of the first flight into space. Indeed stamps to mark the flight of Vostok number over 150 from an astonishing number of countries with few space connections.
April 12 was dubbed ‘Cosmonautics Day’ or ‘Space Exploration Day’ and each of the anniversaries of Gagarin’s flight for the next 30 years or so – until a deliberate change in stamp issuing policy in the mid 1990s — was marked with an issue of space achievement related stamps. These were only related to Gagarin on certain anniversaries.
The issue of a 10-kopek stamp marked the first anniversary of the flight of Vostok with se-tenant label (also produced without perforations). The stamp shows a stylised red rocket blasting through space and the orbital route taken by it being launched and landing in west central Asia. On the label is a stylised globe with the anniversary dates in red and a facsimile of Gagarin’s signature.
The second anniversary of the flight produced a stamp in which Vostok features only in the background with a Zond Moon flight being given more prominence for as we now know the Soviets were then planning a manned moon landing, a project abandoned once the Americans got there first.
A year later on we have the first stamps bearing the world’s Cosmonautics Day. Three issues in with the 12-kopek value show Gagarin in his helmet beside a very fanciful Vostok ship of thimble and collar design.
In 1965 the Soviet Union issued a five-stamp set. This included two much sought after silver stamps with the lower value issues all depicting various monuments erected in Moscow for Yuri Gagarin or Russian space-flight achievements in general.
There was then no further Gagarin issue until the 10th anniversary of Vostok 1. This was celebrated with a single issue and four stamp a mini sheet in which one value referred to him. The single issue shows the carrier rocket and the capsule in space besides the Federation Aeronautique Medal awarded to the First Man ever in space.
A further five years later (in 1976) the Soviet Union produced an elegant souvenir sheet depicting the Cosmos. On it beneath a formal military study of Gagarin is the Cosmonauts medal with celebratory laurel leaves and ribbons.
The occasion of Gagarin’s 30th birthday — although he had been killed a plane crash in 1968 aged 34 — was marked by the issue of a relaxed portrait of the hero besides symbols of the conquest of space. This graphic blue and white 15-kopek issue is very simple in design, but effective.
The 20th Anniversary of Vostok (in 1981) produced three stamps each with accompanying labels — the 15k-kopek value showed Chief Designer Sergei Korolev and a brief quote by him about Gagarin. It included a stylish silver border. Additionally there was a very handsome golden souvenir sheet.
Then in 1986 we had one stamp (with label) for Gagarin in a three stamp issue for Cosmonautics Day with other space achievements like the Sputnik satellite pictured in the background.