April 27, 2012

Italia Turrita

One of the ways in which my local society tries to engage its members is to organise club competitions. We have three each year, two traditional ones and a final one at the AGM meeting in April which is on a letter of the alphabet and only four pages. I usually have a go at them and even have been so lucky as to win the coveted trophy once or twice!

This year the entries had to be on the letter I, so I chose Italia Turrita. Ever heard of her? She is the female allegory of Italy, wearing what is so wonderfully called a mural crown. Apparently, though I'm not sure whether this has anything to do with the lady, the soldier who first breached the defences of a city was traditionally given such a crown.

Italia Turrita appeared for the first time on the nation's definitives in 1929, as part of the 'Imperiale' series. The design, by Paolo Paschetto, was reissued after the Second World War, but now without the fasces symbols in the lower corners. It was also used for a larger Express letter stamp, issued in 1945.

But the lady has been truly immortalised on the 'Siracusana' definitive set of the 1950s. Her image on the stamp was based on the coins of Syracuse, hence the name of the set. It is an incredibly complicated set, which is why it is sometimes dubbed the Italian Machin. Shown here are just two of the more obvious varieties: the large design stamp and the small design stamp. The latter was introduced so that the sorting machines could get a better fluorescent signal. You can read more about this set here, and there's also a dedicated forum thread to be found here. And a fellow blogger, Keijo from Finland, has only just written about the set as well, so make sure you check out his site too!

Nowadays, the lady may still be found on the high value definitives which were introduced in the 1980s and which are still going strong. Or are they? I'm not sure when the set was last added to but as far as I know it has not been replaced by any other set yet.

Of course there are also a good number of Italian commemorative stamps to be found with Italia Turrita on. The first one of these was issued in 1921, as part of the set to mark the 600th anniversary of Dante's death.

Her latest appearance is on an only recently issued miniature sheet to mark the 150th anniversary of monetary unification in Italy.

Needless to say I didn't win (did come third though!), because a great display with old 'Insufficiently Stamped' covers won hands down.

Oh well, at least it gave me an excuse to get some more Italian stamps in!

See yous later

April 20, 2012

Konrad Adenauer

High time I came back to my ongoing Peacemaking story! I stated last time that it might be a good idea to just use material from the time of the story. But I immediately came a cropper when I started on the Konrad Adenauer subject. Nothing to be found which was contemporary! So I had to let that one go and work within the slightly looser framework of using stamps only.

That proved hard enough even though you'd find, if you'd care to take a look, that there are plenty of Adenauer stamps. He was, after all, the first West German Chancellor. But that's not what I wanted him for.

His role in my story centres around his time as Mayor of Cologne in the German Rhineland, just after the Great War. The thing was that the Rhineland, to the northeast of France, was a disputed area just after that war. The Germans wanted it as it had been German, the French wanted it as a buffer to guard against possible future German invasions, and in the area itself, the idea of separatism was spreading like a wildfire. Being a mainly Roman-Catholic area, the Rhinelanders had never been happy under Prussian rule, but then again not that unhappy to come running to France. Could an independent Rhineland state be an option?

For a while, Konrad Adenauer really thought so and he spearheaded this nationalist movement. But soon he saw that any attempts to create this independent Rhineland state would be futile and probably detrimental to his career, so he gave it up completely, up to a point where he publicly tried to water down his erstwhile involvement.

So anyway, what I needed was Adenauer issues which would refer to this time, rather than to him having been chancellor. As you can see from the images here, I did manage to find a few, although I mainly had to settle for indirect references through depictions of Cologne Cathedral.

The only direct reference can be found on a 1992 Grenada miniature sheet, which mentions his mayorship in the non-stamp bit.

Well done Grenada! (now how often would you see such a remark in any philatelic writing?!)

See yous later

April 13, 2012

Starry Starry Night

Ever heard of a Dark Sky Park? As the name implies, these are parks (there's only a couple in the whole world) where you can look at the stars without being hindered by any form of light pollution. Well, we live near one, and the other day we thought it might be a good idea to finally go to one of its events. And I must say it was great!

Now I live out in the sticks so it gets pretty dark as well where I am, but we do have a bit of light pollution. Where we were in the park, the guide said the darkness could measure up to 23.something if there was no moon. That's pretty dark, for the scale only goes up to 25, which is so pitch dark that you truly can't see anyone standing next to you. We did have a bit of a moon, but not enough to spoil things for us amateurs, though professional stargazers would probably have found it way too light! It was great because one does look up at the stars at night but it's hard to start recognising stuff. The only one that's really easy is the plough, as part of the Great Bear constellation.

But did you know that if you draw line up from the two stars on the right, you end up at Polaris, the North Star (also known as the Pole Star)?! Well, neither did I but it works!

We went on to Orion's Belt and a bright star on top, which I thought was beetlejuice, but turns out to be Betelgeuse. Oh well! Betelgeuse is going supernova, which I believe means it is imploding and dying. It may well have disappeared by now but since the star is some 640 light years away we may not yet be aware. I suppose they're all featured on this Jersey stamp, but there's so many stars on there, that I'm not sure which is which! However, the three stars on a row to the top right of the word Orion are probably Orion's Belt so that would make Betelgeuse the big one on the left just above.

I wanted to see my constellation too (Aries) but that had disappeared behind the trees so no such luck.

We could see Andromeda though, that 'other' galaxy. A bit vague, but still. Makes you wonder what on earth is out there. It is all so vast and incomprehensible, and it makes you feel so tiny and pointless and inconsequential.

But in all it was a great experience and the good thing is that you can do it at home too. The guide said not to worry about getting a telescope for that does not really enhance your experience unless you're an advanced gazer. Which is true, for he did bring one and we looked at Mars but it looked rather much like the planet we could see with our naked eyes. Main advice: just look at the sky and if you want gadgets: get yourself some binoculars, or more importantly, a deck chair!

See yous later

April 06, 2012


Art on stamps. Always a tricky business. It sounds so great, and easy! Just bang a pic of a beautiful painting on a stamp and you have a beautiful stamp. I think it's fair to say that it hardly ever works like that. Paintings are usually huge and meant to be seen huge, not reduced to some minuscule-size image.

But there is an exception. Well, there always is, isn't there?! If a work of art can be reproduced, or sufficiently adapted, it might work well on a small format. The most obvious of these would of course be the reproduction of engravings.

Now I don't mind saying that I'm a bit of a traditionalist, so my favourite painter of all time is without doubt Rembrandt. I've often thought about starting a 'Rembrandt on Stamps' collection, but have never done so, for reasons stated above. But luckily for me, Rembrandt made many engravings and stamp designers have happily made use of these, and with good results!

Engravings by Rembrandt were the subject of the Dutch stamp set issued in 1956, as part of their annual welfare stamps. It's a gorgeous set, which shows details of Rembrandt's engravings, many of which are full-size reproductions. The original idea was to actually engrave the stamps, but probably because of lack of time, the decision was made to 'just' reproduce the original engravings. The stamps are therefore not recess-printed, as is stated in many (even Dutch!) catalogues, but printed in photogravure. (see update at end of blog post)

The Persian (1656)

Though these worked well, the actual engraved and recess-printed stamps depicting Rembtrandt's work are even better. Austria issued a set in 1969, to mark the Bicentenary of the Albertina Art Collection in  Vienna. The set of eight stamps includes a self-portrait by Rembrandt. I was in the Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh the other day, admiring another Rembrandt self-portrait, and there it was stated that no other artist has made as many self-portraits as Rembrandt! We therefore have a great visual legacy of the many seismic changes (ranging from luxurious wealth to depraved poverty) of the painter's life.

Self-Portrait (1639)

France, too, issued a beautifully engraved stamp celebrating Rembrandt's work, in 2006. 2006 was the year in which the 400th birth anniversary of the painter was marked, and this is, in my opinion, one of the most outstanding of the many Rembrandt issues in that year.

Beggar's Family at the Door of a House (1648)

Having just said everything I've said on art on stamps, I must admit that my favourite Rembrandt stamp isn't an engraved version of an engraving. It's a reproduction of a painting of Rembrandt's son Titus. The Dutch stamp is part of set of five identical stamps in different values and colours, issued in 1941 as part of the annual Child Welfare set.

Titus at his Desk (1635)

But it's not just a reproduction. The painting has been adapted to form an original stamp design, rather than just a pic of a painting. So it works. Wonderfully well!

See yous later

PS: Why not prove me wrong and convince me that art on stamps does work? You can do that on this forum thread!

I've since had a discussion with a Dutch printing expert and he tells me that these Rembrandt stamps are actually produced using some sort of combination of photogravure and recess-printing. The name for this particular process may best be described as 'screened recess'.