The illustrations on the stamps are from The Book of Kálfalækur, which includes the Saga of Burnt Niall, and from a Danish manuscript which contains legal statutes for Sjælland.
Árni Magnússon is best known for having collected what is by common consent the single most important collection of early Scandinavian manuscripts still extant (nearly 3000 items), the earliest dating from the 12th century, preserved today by the Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies and Nordisk Forskningsinstitut in Copenhagen. Most manuscripts are originally from Iceland and the Nordic countries, but some are also of continental European origin.
Árni is also famous for the Land Register which he wrote with district magistrate and poet Páll Vídalín. In 2009 the Arnamagnæan Manuscript Collection was added to the UNESCO Memory of the World Register, and their 1703 Census was included as the first preserved national Census.
Upon his death in 1730 Árni Magnússon had bequeathed his collection to the University of Copenhagen. But very early on, and even before its constitutional separation from Denmark in 1944, Iceland had begun petitioning for the return of the Icelandic Manuscripts, and it was eventually agreed that roughly half the items in the Arnamagnæan Collection would be transfered back to their original home.
The first manuscripts were thus shipped back to Iceland immediately after the ratification of the treaty in 1971, and were ceremoniously welcomed at Reykjavík harbour by a crowd of Icelanders. The entire process of the handing back of the manuscripts lasted 26 years, yet the successful – and amicable – resolution of this dispute is widely regarded as a landmark in the history of the debate concerning the return of cultural treasures.