A set of seven stamps depicting US and Soviet astronauts caused a diplomatic stir after they were issued by the Hungarian government in 1962.
The entire world was mesmerized by the race to space between the United States and the Soviet Union, which began with the launch of the Sputnik 1 satellite by the Soviets in 1957. Within five years, several astronauts and cosmonauts had successfully traveled to and returned from outer space. Many nations began issuing stamps commemorating the various satellites, space flights, and heroic space pioneers of the era.
But when Hungary issued this set of seven stamps in 1962, they put US astronaut Scott Carpenter on one of the more valuable stamps in the set; above cosmonauts Yuri Gagarin and Gherman Titov. Gagarin and Titov were the first and second men ever to orbit the Earth, and Carpenter’s placement above them was seen to imply US superiority to the Soviet Union. As Hungary was a Warsaw Pact signatory nation, and firmly within the Soviet sphere of influence at that time, Carpenter’s stamp was quickly withdrawn from circulation.
It doesn’t appear that there was any nefarious intention behind putting Carpenter on a more valuable stamp; the stamps were minted and issued in the order of their space flights. Carpenter was the second American astronaut to orbit the earth, and his stamp was fourth in the set, after John Glenn, the first American astronaut to accomplish that feat.
The final three men in the set were Andrian Nikolayev, Pavel Popovich, (the third and fourth cosmonauts to orbit the earth), and Walter Schirra, the fifth American orbiter.
Sixty years later, these stamps represent a fascinating insight into the politics and competitiveness of the Cold War space race.
All stamp sets are shipped in a protective cardboard display card, and include a free Soviet ruble from the KGB Museum in New York City and two free miscellaneous Cold War stamps, while supplies last.