The First Day Covers of the 1952 Helsinki Olympiad

Jon Edwards

Helsinki, Finland hosted the 10th Chess Olympiad in August, 1952. For the first time, the Soviet Union joined the Olympiad, which grew from 16 teams at Dubrovnik in 1950 to 25 teams. The Soviets brought an incredibly strong team with Keres (6.5/12), Smyslov (10.5/13), Bronstein (8/10), Geller (10.5/14), Boleslavsky (7/8), and Kotov (2/3). They placed first, with the tension reserved for the battle of second place, settled only during the final round. Argentina finished second and Yugoslavia third. Remarkably, the host Finnish team qualified for the final group and finished ninth.

For the event, Finland issued a lovely stamp (Scott 308) depicting a rook, knight, and chessboard. Just under 1 million stamps (994,642) were issued. The stamp was engraved by B. Ekholm and printed (recess printing) with perf 14.



The FDC postmark is dated August 10, 1952, the first playing day of the Olympiad which ended on August 31. The postmark commemorates the event in both Finnish and German. I suspect that all of the cancellations were applied by hand, but I have no way of being sure. None of the cancellations appear to be machine-like ... all have at least slight imperfections.

I bring to your attention the six first day cover types that I have found. I would be grateful to learn about any others.

In my experience, Fig.1 and 2 are the most common FDCs. I have seen the first with cachets in different shades of blue. Interestingly, I have two type-1 FDCs sent to the US. The one in the illustration may not have been delivered, but rather returned to

the sender. It has a local postmark several days later on the back. The other type-1 cover (not illustrated) bears two (2) of the 25 Fin Mark stamps and did arrive in the US. That said, other covers bearing the 25 Fin Mark stamp made it to the US. Note that all of the commemorative issues from Finland in 1952 were issued at 25 Fin Marks, likely the rate for local, not international delivery.


The FDCs in figures 3, 4, and 5 are less often seen in my experience. Helsinki had been chosen for the 1940 Olympics, but the games were cancelled when war broke out in Europe. When peace returned, Helsinki renewed its bid for the games. The 1952 games, which occurred from July 19 to August 3, just prior to the start of the Chess Olympiad, have been considered among the most successful of all of the Olympics, "a genuine festival of sports" with no hint of media domination. See for a summary of the games.

The United States finished first with 76 medals (40 gold). The host country had a fabulous showing finishing 8th with 22 medals (6 gold). The Helsinki games are perhaps best known because it was the first Olympics in which the Soviet Union competed. They came in second with 71 medals (22 gold). The cachets in figures 4 and 5 were obviously prepared for use during the Olympic games.

I have added a sixth illustration, an item that has just appeared on Ebay. The cachet, of course, has nothing to do with chess, but itís exciting simply to have discovered a sixth cachet.


I believe that the postmark was used only on the first day of the Olympiad. The next figure is a cover used during the Chess Olympiad but not bearing the FDC cancellation. The final figure is simply a wonderful cover used during the 1952 holiday season and bearing, on front and back, Finnish Christmas seals.

Please forward to me any additional information that you may have. Dr. D. Djukanovic, the author of the recent article (see no. 103) about the Chess Olympiad in Dubrovnik, 1950, posed several questions that I cannot answer:

1. Were any maximum cards produced?

2. The printing number of each cachet?

3. Other markings in the margin the full sheet?

4. Has anyone seen an entrance ticket to the Olympiad?

5. After 50+ years, is the gum on the back of these stamps always cracked?

6. How long were the stamps on sale? Are there other textual markings in the margins?