June 29, 2012

Elizabethan Hong Kong

We're in the final throws of the Diamond Jubilee celebratory month so I thought it might be a good idea to revisit the Elizabethan theme once more. That way I can also come good on my promise to show some Hong Kong QEII stamps! For those who are looking for some QEII to collect, but won't want to go down the well-trodden paths of the Wildings and the Machins, there's solace to be found in Hong Kong.

From the early days of the Queen's reign up to the end of British rule in 1997, Hong Kong issued some wonderful QEII sets, which are all interesting enough to collect and even specialise in. So here's a little recap of what's on offer.

It must be said that the start was not really that interesting. In 1954, the first QEII definitive design was introduced, including a Wilding profile head. The design was similar to the previous Hong Kong definitives for King George VI, which is nice if you like continuation, but not half as spectacular as some of its successors.

So we move on swiftly to the next set, introduced in 1962, based on the famous Annigoni portrait. A massive leap forward as far as originality and beauty is concerned. That set was dealt with in a previous blog post which you can find here, so again we'll leave that one for what it is.

So what about the next one, then? Based on a Machin head with a nice floral band on the left, again Hong Kong managed to come up with something truly original in 1973. And within three years there were three different sets to collect: two different watermarks and a final set printed on paper without watermark.

The same head was used again in 1982, but now in a design which became even more Asian than the previous one: a lion and a dragon supporting the Machin portrait. Nice touch is the subtle change of design for the high values, with the two beasties now only being outlined rather than fully coloured in.

The high value is a 1991 reprint and is of the 'lighter shade on chin' variety.

Hong Kong apparently just couldn't get enough of this particular Machin head, because it was used again for a new set of stamps introduced in 1987. This time it featured large above the Hong Kong skyline. Again, the high values were slightly different in that they showed different Hong Kong scenes at the bottom. Also, a number of reprints made for this set included the year of print, which makes for a good number of sub-sets to this set. But even more interestingly, the stamps without year imprint exist in two versions: with light or heavy shading on the chin!

For its final fling, Hong Kong finally introduced the 'proper' Machin head on its stamps in 1992, the last Elizabethan definitive set to be issued in Hong Kong. The set features in our regular 'Machin Thread' on our forum, which you'll find here.

So you see, if you're looking for an original QEII collection, you can't go wrong with Hong Kong!

See yous later

June 22, 2012

Scottish Wildings

Have you heard them as well? Unhelpful remarks about collecting by the catalogue? 'Merely ticking boxes. How can you? Be a bit more original. How boring. Anyone can do that.' Well, as a stamp collector, and even more as an all-world collector, one does tend to take a bit of flak, that is to be expected. But always remember it comes from those who do not see all the fun and the possibilities of collecting, and there's never anything wrong with what you want to collect.

So when I'm working on my 32-page Scottish Wilding display, which will hopefully go up at the next ASPS Congress, in 2013, I get out my catalogue and start ticking boxes. I start off, of course, with the singles, all nice and mint (wallpaper anyone?), all specialised, all there. Tick, tick, tick. Feelin' good!

The three basic designs

Then my catalogue moves on to the cylinder blocks. The more often used values in double pane printings, the higher values in single pane printings.

The double pane printings consist of dot and no dot panes, referring to (the absence of) a dot behind the cylinder number, to denote the left and right panes. Single pane printings are all no dot.

I even have my catalogue telling me about major varieties, and in which position I can find them in the sheet. Great for collecting them in positional blocks!

Broken oblique in value...
...to be found on row 15, position 2, with the W-shaped marking placed between rows 10 and 11.

My catalogue even goes on to list the minor varieties, again with positions mentioned, though I've chosen to just get those as singles, so as not to take up too much space. But still, I'm working down the lists and am ticking boxes. Great!

White spot on Queen's cheek, row 19, position 3

Does it stop there? Oh my goodness no! You see, my catalogue moves on to sheet markings. Those V and W shaped markings in the centre of the sheet margins, to aid post office staff, they get a mention and therefore a place in my collection. You see, they also aid stamp collectors, as was noticed on the above positional block.

The marginal rules, too, get a mention. All similar, apart from the ones on cylinder 1 of the 6d stamp. These are not as wide and are interspersed with tiny ones where the perforations go. And besides, the ones below columns 9/12 are damaged. You see, you need a catalogue for that!

And talking about perforations: yes, they're all roughly 15x14 but different perforators were used and these again are all mentioned in the catalogue and so I'm able to build up a collection of those as well.

Perforation Type A: top margin perforated through, left margin a single extension hole.

Does all this matter in any way? Well, yes, because, having now gleaned all this from the catalogue, we are no longer flummoxed when looking at this block:

What do we have here? A block from rows 10 and 11 and columns 11 and 12. (A full sheet has 240 stamps in 20 rows of 12 stamps. Remember that the W-shape is in the centre of the margins? Exactly: between rows 10 and 11) A quick glance at the catalogue confirms that this block (why else would I have it?!) includes the retouched variety of the broken V in Revenue. On position R11/12, which you will be able to point out without any problems. Here's a close-up of the still fuzzy retouched V.

But there's one more problem to solve: the retouched variety can be found on both cylinders 2 and 4! Ah, but by now you know your perforator varieties! The two cylinders can only be found in combination with perforation types B and C and F(L), and of those only type F(L) has a right margin which is perforated through. Perforation type F(L) was only used for cylinder 4, so there you have it. Sherlock Holmes eat your heart out!

Don't collect by the catalogue? I'd say DO collect by the catalogue and you'll be able to build up the most wonderful collection!

See yous later

June 15, 2012

Of Kreisler and Kolff

I sometimes find that the hunt for knowledge may be just as rewarding and/or frustrating as the hunt for stamps. So I was very happy to have some missing pieces of the Kolff jigsaw handed to me the other day. What am I on about? Well, you may have seen these, the 1930s Kreisler definitives (named after their designer) of the Dutch Indies:

Simple enough, all printed by Enschedé, just a few watermark varieties, a few overprints and that's it. Unless of course you delve into the world of Japanese Occupation overprints, but let's not. So I wasn't fazed at all when I managed to get hold of these:

I just thought they would be proof printings by Enschedé. So how wrong could I be?! Very, as it turned out! For as soon as I mentioned these 'facts' on my previous blog, I got a comment from a reader saying that these were actually proofs made by the printers Kolff & Co in Batavia in the Dutch Indies. Okay, slight readjustment, new thinking process, and new conclusion: Kolff started printing stamps in the early 1940s when supplies from occupied Holland ran dry. So these were probably proofs made in 1940 or 1941, which never progressed into proper stamps because a different design was chosen. Would have been a nice variation on a theme though, to have had these Kreisler stamps without the side borders included in the design.

Hmm, wrong again, as it now turns out! For only the other day I read a book by Giel Bessels on Kolff's stamp production. And in there it is stated that Kolff never planned to produce Kreisler stamps. When the Dutch overseas territories had to take over the production of their own stamps from Enschedé, they decided on a common design for all the territories, and that was not the Kreisler design.

No, these proof printings were made in the mid 1930s, when Kolff answered the call of independence which echoed throughout the Dutch Indies at the time. In order to prove the 'Powers That Be' that they had the skill and facilities to print stamps, these trial printings were made.

Okay, so that's cleared up. But as is often the case, the more you know, the more questions you have. Because there was still something funny about Kolff's work. You see, in the late 1930s, early 1940s Kolff made commemorative albums of their proof material, which were usually given to those who retired or left the company. I had seen one of these albums once, and noticed to my surprise that they included the following proofs:

Now these belong to the Veth issue for the overseas territories of the early 1900s, again printed by Enschedé:

These proofs were supposed to be from 1908 and in those days there wasn't yet much of a call for stamp production in the Dutch Indies. So what was the story here then? The book did mention the commemorative albums but not a word about these Veth proofs. So I contacted the author who told me that one of these albums (the one I had happened to see) had been taken apart in a time when it was thought that single proofs would sell better. When later the owner changed his mind and decided the album as a whole might be a better item to sell, he started to reassemble it, but through lack of knowledge added those Veth proofs. So these have nothing to do with Kolff whatsoever and are, as I originally assumed, Enschedé printings. Another piece of the jigsaw!

Now all I need to find out is why these were printed:

No, not by Kolff, but printed by another Dutch Indies printer: De Unie. I don't think I'll venture any more guesses, I'll just patiently wait for someone to come along and present me with the proper answer. You know where to find me!

See yous later,

June 08, 2012


In a previous blog post I mentioned the early Europa omnibus issues and how much I like them. Up to 1974, they usually had a common design but each country was allowed to fiddle a bit with that design. The result was a coherent set of issues which still breathed enough individuality to keep things interesting. In that blog I showed the Liechtenstein stamp of 1972 and mentioned that it was rather different from the ordinary ones, which are portrait-size and usually have the design smaller on a larger blank field, such as on this Monaco version. The design, by Finnish artist Paavo Huovinen, is a stylised version of the aurora borealis, or the northern lights. The design is also meant to symbolise the theme of 'Communication'.

Liechtenstein was not the only one to turn the design into a landscape-size stamp. Ireland, too, went down that road.

The key item from that particular year was the Spanish Andorra version. Spanish Andorra joined the group of countries issuing Europa stamps in that year and the limited numbers printed were happily snapped up by Spanish philatelic speculators, making it even now by far the most expensive set from that year.

The United Kingdom was a bit of a reluctant participant in those early years, and the fact that they had to really mess about with the common design in order to include the monarch's portrait may well have contributed to that fact. However, they did go to that length every now and then and shown here is their version of the 1960 design by yet again a Finn, Pentti Rahikainen.

As you can see it is rather an embellished (nicely done though!) version of the common design, shown here on a Portuguese stamp. 

This was actually the very first CEPT (European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations) issue, all previous ones being 'merely' Europa issues. The CEPT was founded in 1959 and its tenth anniversary was marked with a set which again saw the UK participating. The common design, by the Italians Luigi Gasbarra and Giorgio Belli, depicts a classical temple made up of the words Europa and CEPT.

By this time, the UK had moved on to just a cameo head rather than a large portrait of the Queen, so adapting the common design was not as hard as it used to be. The green band is a nice touch, I think! 

So, as you can see, there's a lot of fun to be had with these early Europa omnibus sets, and I still think it is a great pity they didn't continue with them. But as with so many other good things, they never last forever.

See yous later!

June 01, 2012

Pietro Annigoni

"...the works of today's avant-garde are the poisoned fruit of a spiritual decadence..."

I'm so happy Pietro Annigoni thought that way, for it is because of his strong views on abstract art that he enriched the world with his portrait of Queen Elizabeth! It's the painting that made him world famous; a romantic portrait of the young Queen in her Garter Robes, painted in 1956, clearly showing his modern-realist tendencies, it still stuns and endears the viewer. No wonder then, that it is used so often on stamps as well! And almost always to great effect. Earlier this year, the UK finally joined the long list of countries having depicted Annigoni's portrait on stamps.

As with so many others, this British stamp zooms in on the portrait itself, but the whole painting is worth seeing as well, because it oozes a royal magnificence. Luckily, we have Australia who issued a stamp showing the whole painting in 2006, marking the Queen's 80th birthday.

Next to the Wilding and Machin portraits, that of Annigoni will go down in history as one of the famous QE2 definitive portraits. I believe Fiji was the first to show it on some of their low-values definitives, which were issued in the same year the painting was painted! And what a beauty it is, recess-printed an' all!

But it was of course Hong Kong which made the portrait truly famous, and the high values of the set are rightfully regarded as pure gems, being printed brilliantly in full colour. They are also quite collectable, with changes in paper, watermark and gum. And there are loads of missing colours and inverted colours to collect as well, which make for visually rather attractive items, albeit mostly rather expensive.

But actually, I like the low values even better. They're printed in monochrome which does no harm to the portrait whatsoever, and they are in my humble opinion the most charming QE2 definitive set ever. 

Makes you want to throw away your Machins and Wildings and just solely concentrate on these! Or, well, maybe not, maybe just start yet another album, of Hong Kong QE2 definitives! Because Hong Kong issued so many QE2 gems, you could fill a whole blog post with them. Hmm, now there's a thought!

See yous later!