May 25, 2012


The other day, when a forum thread was started inviting people to set up a round robin swap, I was quick to state that I'd given up swaps altogether. But the truth, as always, is just a bit more diffuse. Yes, I used to swap a lot when I still collected used stamps as well, and yes, I've stopped swapping ever since I stopped collecting used stamps. But I kept in touch with my favourite swapper Paulo from Portugal (oi lá, como você está?) and I still swap with him, if only mint stamps now.

I recently received his latest sending, a big envelope packed full with goodies. Among that lot were a couple of year sets from Liechtenstein. Fairly recent stuff, say from the early 1970s onwards. Not immediately what I'd go out and look for. But, as so often, there were many hidden gems among them, so I'm glad to now be able to show some to you!

First of all I could add to my collection of omnibus Europa issues. I absolutely love these because they're proper omnibus sets based on common designs, yet each country adds their own little twist. I like these 1972 and 1973 stamps shown here, because they're so much more brightly coloured than many of the others and because the one on the left is quite a different take on the common design. On many other stamps the design is placed in a large one-coloured field.

Most of the gems, however, are to be found among the many recess-printed stamp issues. In 1977, a set of four stamps was issued depicting castles. The 50r shows Ullersdorf Castle in Moravia. The very fine engraving is by Fischer.

The above is very much a traditional stamp, but many of the country's engraved stamps are printed in combination of recess and photo, such as this 1978 stamp marking the 40th anniversary of Prince Francis Joseph II's accession.

The combination of recess and photo also works beautifully well on the stained glass issue of 1979, a subject which lends itself perfectly for a combination of these printing processes, I think. This particular stamp shows the Arms of Ulrich von Ramschwag and Barbara von Hallwil.

My final stamp is from the 1980 'Forest through the Seasons' issue which just depicts trees. Again we see a combination of recess and photo here, and you really need to see the stamp itself to appreciate the delicate engraving by Seidel. But just imagine all those tiny branches and twigs and shades in the bark being engraved and you get the idea I suppose!

It goes to show that there is so much to enjoy in modern stamps as well. And that it is worth hanging on to your philatelic friends!

See yous later!

May 18, 2012

ASPS Congress

Stamp collecting can be a bit of a lonely hobby if you're not careful, so it's great to break the mould every now and then and go out and meet fellow enthusiasts, like I did last weekend at the ASPS (Association of Scottish Philatelic Societies) Congress in Perth.
The Congress' Postmark
We, the Kirkcudbright Philatelic Society, were hosting it this year so that made it extra special, if not slightly more nerve-wracking and exhausting! Even though the main organisation is in the hands of a splendid team of ASPS members, there was still enough to do for us. I'm glad it's over but I'm even more glad it all went well without any hiccups. We've had a lot of positive feedback that we as a smallish society (only some 40 members) managed to pull it off, seeing that it's usually the big guns who host these events.

The theme for our cover was the Bicentenary of the Red River Settlement in Canada. This settlement was founded by the Earl of Selkirk, who had his family seat here in Kirkcudbright. We included the Arms of the Earl on the cover and managed to get enough 1962 Canadian Red River stamps to be able to include those as well. And we were lucky to find both the current Lord Selkirk and the Mayor of Winnipeg (which grew out of the settlement) willing to sign covers for us! 

At the official dinner, two of our members sang the Red River song, which also went down well. And we had the Rt. Hon. Alex Ferguson, former Presiding Officer of Holyrood, as our speaker. He's a brilliant speaker (we also had him for our society's 45th anniversary dinner do) so he managed to keep things short and snappy and lively, with some juicy political anecdotes from this time as Presiding Officer.

The Tom Rielly Display (the main display in honour of one of Scotland's great philatelists) was the most perfect stamp display of New Zealand, with almost every variety under the sun included. I'm so envious!

Rejected design without royal insignia. Image courtesy of Alexander McCulloch.

Not that I had anything to complain about, mind, for we had the Spink people at our table and one of them complimented me on my Queen Wilhelmina display, which was part of the 60-frame host display.

Me looking pleased with myself next to my Wilhelmina display!

He convinced that it might be a good idea to try and enter the national competitions next year. So I had a chat with my favourite judge who gave me loads of tips and I'm now seriously considering entering. I've never done that before but it might be fun to try and they do need new blood coming in.

So I was thinking I might do one on the 'Bontkraag' (fur collar) definitives. Simply for the reason that I have at least 16 pages of those (entries are in multiples of 16 pages you see). You can read more about those here.

When I came home I immediately started looking at items which I might add to beef up the whole thing, and of course I found loads, and all the special ones I've been looking for for ages coming along at the same time. 

So that's me taken care of for the next couple of months! Hunting down elusive furry items!

See yous later

May 11, 2012

Red Cross

Some roller coaster week I've just had!

It started off quite innocently with me eagerly awaiting the end of an internet auction. There was one lot in which I was rather interested and so I kept track on whether a starting bid was placed or not. By the hour. I even kept informing my Stamp Magazine colleagues, although that was probably not the wisest of moves for when I started doing that, the bids started flowing in. Not that there was a link between the two, just a matter of 'commentator's curse' I suppose!

But at last, the final hours of the auction drew near and I put in my ridiculously high bid. I didn't want to be outbid in the final throws but couldn't stay with it until the end of the auction so I had to gamble and hope others wouldn't drive the price up too high.

They did of course but, guess what: no-one beat me to it. Yes! I won! Don't you just love that feeling?! Sent my payment straightaway, for it had suddenly become impossible to breathe one more single breath until I had that wonderful item (which I had lived without ever so happily for decades) on my desk. And here it is: the unaccepted proof of a 1927 Dutch Red Cross stamp.

So why the roller coaster feeling? Well, when the envelope arrived, I opened it and felt my heart sink into my shoes (or wherever it sinks to in English): it was merely a photograph of the proof. Had I been had? Did I really pay that much money for a photograph? Dark skies, thunderclaps, downpours, I need to sit down kinda situation. Panic mode!

Queen Emma, Wilhelmina's mother.
Okay, tell your heart to stop racing, and think! Take your Dutch handbook on all things postal and read the 1927 Red Cross entry. Ah, there it is. And there's my unaccepted proof. Not just a photograph, but an actual proof. Engraved. By the artist. So that didn't help much.

Another hour passes. Take a closer look at the handbook. You see?! There are proofs from which only the photographically reduced versions exist. Could mine then be a contemporary photograph? Quick check: Yes, the original engraving was large, as in several inches by several inches. My photograph was a reduced-to-stamp-size illustration.

Prince Hendrik, Wilhelmina's husband
Okay, quick email to the editor of that handbook who confirmed that engravings were often reduced in size photographically, as a guide for the engraver of the actual stamp or to better be able to add designs for lettering etcetera. So my photograph was probably one of those and therefore very much a part of the design process and therefore unusual if not plain rare, and worth the price I paid for it!

The sun's coming out again! Smile back on my face! Phew!

So why did I so desperately wanted to have this item? Well, the original idea for the set was to have all portraits of the royal family on engraved stamps and a top value of symbolic design in photogravure (see various images above and below). The essays for Queen Wilhelmina (yes, it's her) and King William III were rejected however, leaving hardly any time to come up with new designs, engravings and what have you. 

King William III, Wilhelmina's father
So in the end it was decided to do those two portrait stamps in photogravure as well, which would be so much quicker to print. And that is also why those two stamps can be found with two perforation types, because two perforating machines were used simultaneously to speed up the production process. So you see, this unaccepted proof is a vital link in my Wilhelmina collection!

Queen Wilhelmina

See yous later

May 04, 2012

Scottish definitives

I had a look back at some of the things I've written since I started this blog here on the Stamp Magazine website, and I noticed with a slight feeling of alarm that most of it is thematic! And I'm not even a thematic collector. Well, not really, anyway. It's probably because it makes for easier writing?!

But would you like to know what really makes my heart go faster? Well, I'm gonna tell you anyway. It's definitives! Plain, good old, traditional collecting of definitive sets, varieties, yes, even of the fly-speck kind, blocks, pairs, strips; you name it, I love it. So I'm going to chuck some of those in as well, every now and then, because I'm sure I'm not the only one to like this sort of thing. Or am I?

This week I've been playing catch-up with my Scottish definitives. I hadn't updated them for a while so I thought I'd better get some items in before they get replaced with newer stuff. And so I went on the phone to Royal Mail and got myself some cylinder blocks. I know I have often stated that I only collect modern stamps if available at the post offices, but my local post office has the horrible habit of tearing off all sheet margins before the stamps are sold. So no way would I be able to get my cylinder blocks over the counter. And seeing that I do want my Scottish definitives collection to be as complete as possible, I make an exception for those.

The good thing was that, even though the stocklist mentioned that certain values had already been withdrawn, I was still able to get cylinder blocks! You may imagine I was very pleased with Royal Mail's service!

These particular blocks are the first Scottish ones to show the new cylinder grid, replacing the traditional dot and no dot style. As you can see, both values were from the left hand side of the cylinder. The greyed out bit means that the value was not printed in that position, so basically there's only one position to collect. So I managed to complete these two values in one go!

I was less fortunate with the next two values. The 68p and the £1.10 were no longer printed by De La Rue but by Cartor, and no longer in gravure but in lithography. And they were printed in smaller sheets, of which there were four on a cylinder. So that means that if I want to be complete I will need to get four blocks of each value. Seeing that they've just been replaced this week with the new values, I don't think I'll get those together soon, but at least I've got one pair, so that's a start! 

By the way, have you noticed that the lithographed 68p (that's the thistle one, the value doesn't really show on a scan, or on the actual stamp either!) is no longer printed from dedicated colours but just the same CMYK colours as the £1.10?!

On to date-of-printing blocks. My local society had to get in a huge amount of stamps the other day, so I went and had a look at the sheets they bought and managed to pinch (don't worry, I paid for them) two of those. They're still from 2010, so it's not as if they're sold in huge quantities. I suppose I'll have to go up to Edinburgh to get more recent ones. I actually thought Royal Mail would sell them but they said no....

Oh, and by the way, if anybody knows where I can find a list of all printing dates for the Scottish stamps, I'll be forever grateful. The most recent list I could find went up to 2006!

And then I've heard a rumour that the 1st and 2nd class stamps will soon be printed as self-adhesives, so there's more to look out for soon. I'm not too fond of self-adhesives but at least they normally have perforated sheet margins so hopefully my local post office mistresses won't feel the urge to start removing these as they don't hamper staff as much as the old-fashioned margins apparently did!

Whoops, am I rambling on a bit? Sorry! But you see, once I get going on these, there's just no stopping me!

See yous later