August 30, 2013

Test stamps

Those of you who frequent our stamp forum will be familiar with the fact that my current fascination in philately all revolves around stamp engravers. And it’s not just stamps. I find myself eagerly looking at banknotes, Ex Libris book plates and what have you. There’s a whole world of beautifully engraved items which I long to acquire.

Staying with philately, which will always be the starting point for anything I collect, I was very pleased to bump into a number of test stamps engraved by Czeslaw Slania. These are stamp-like items which were produced to test either new printing machines, or new additions to existing presses, or sometimes just to test a reassembled machine.

The Danish Post bought a new printing press in 1968, which could print in recess in up to three colours. For the test runs for this machine, Slania designed and engraved these labels in 1969, which have been printed in a  number of colour combinations. The first stamp shown here, with the light green tree, is the standard colour combination, with all other combinations being very much scarcer items.

I found this whole idea of test stamps intriguing and soon came across whole booklets, this time printed in Sweden but yet again engraved by Slania.

After a closer look they turned out to be promotional material for the printers, with the back of the booklet cover drawing attention to the quality of their stamp printing and booklet production. The booklets were handed out during the Stockholmia 1974 and Hafnia 1976 exhibitions. The stamps themselves, however, are proper test stamps and were produced in 1963 to test the printers' newly acquired three-colour stamp printing press.

Of course it’s not just Slania who made such items. A little googling and I soon bumped into loads and loads of Swiss test stamps. The Swiss have been producing these for testing their intaglio presses ever since the 1930s. The two examples I managed to get hold of are both engraved by Karl Bickel, my favourite Swiss engraver.

The first one, with the cross and wavy lines design, was produced in 1935 to test their SSR I Goebel press. The ‘stamps’ were printed in a combination of recess and photogravure on various types of paper in numerous colours.  

The second version, the cross and ball design, was made in 1945 to test the SSR II WIFAG press. These particular stamps were printed in a combination of recess and typography. These too may be found on various types of paper.

All in all I’ve discovered a whole new world of engraved items which not only enhance my collection but also make me understand a bit more about stamp production. Can’t be bad!

See yous later

August 23, 2013

Monnet, Monnet, Monnet

My Peacemaking collection on the aftermath of the Great War sailed into precarious waters once again when I had to work on the theme of ‘Allies’. At first glance this would seem a large and easy enough subject to deal with, but my self-imposed restrictions of philatelically illustrating Margaret MacMillan’s book ‘Peacemakers’ meant that I had to find items which would in some way convey the fact that soon after the war, the number of Allied troops in Europe dwindled fast, leaving them in a worse negotiating position.

I must admit I soon gave up on that one (any suggestions more than welcome though!) and focused on the second leg of this ‘Allies’ theme which proved much easier to deal with. It was concerned with the attempt of a French minister, Clémentel, to create a new economic order in Europe, based on cooperation rather than competition.

As we all know this came to nothing but Clémentel’s assistant, Jean Monnet, tried again after World War TwoIIand he had a more interested audience. He would eventually found the European Coal and Steel community, or ECSC.

Monnet has been honoured reasonably often on European stamps, with many countries issuing stamps marking his death in 1979 or his birth anniversary in 1988. My favourite of the lot is the 1980 French stamp which is a very simple yet powerful portrait of the man, engraved by René Quillivic.

But thematically this Luxembourg stamp, from 1988, is much more interesting with the inclusion of a steel works.

In 1977, Germany issued a Monnet stamp honouring him after he was lauded ‘Citizen of Europe’.

The ECSC itself was the subject of a Luxembourg stamp issue of 1956, the year in which the ECSC was transformed into the European Economic Community, or EEC.

Decades later, the EEC would morph into the European Union. You can see the philatelic items marking that last feat here

Whatever one’s views on the EU of today, it is always good to remember that it was formed out of a desire for peace and economic stability and based on the idea that war may be avoided if countries have strong ties with each other.

See yous later

August 16, 2013

Penny Black Pleasure

A few weeks ago we had some fun with the Russian Penny Black and its corner letters. It made me realise that, having no funds no play around with the real thing in any significant way, it is just as great to play around with a ‘Penny Black on Stamps’ collection. Case in point: the 1990 Isle of Man issue to mark the 150th anniversary of the famous stamp, which is also featured in the August issue of Stamp Magazine.

There were actually a number of items issued, all with their own particular interest. The above illustration is that of the five-stamp sheetlet with designs showing the development of the Penny Black. It shows the medal head on which the engraving was based, some preliminary art work and the two finished articles. Note how this was the time when we were still thinking that the Twopence Blue was actually issued a few days after the Penny Black. Now, of course, we know that this was not the case and that both stamps were issued on 6 May 1840.

You may also have noted that the Penny Black stamp very aptly has a decimal 1p value. It was the only stamp which was also issued as a normal sheet stamp.

It came in sheets of 25, and the added bonus was that the margins of the sheet contained the same wording as the margins on the original 1840 sheets. Also, and this is absolutely great, the 1990 sheet follows the corner letter pattern of the original stamp, so you basically have 25 different stamps to collect.

But it gets better! On the actual day of the anniversary, 6 May 1990, Isle of Man residents were allowed to send their local mail using just this 1p stamp. I’ve tried very hard to find a copy or illustration of such mail but that proved fruitless. It would be a fantastic item though!

The final item as part of the celebrations was a miniature sheet which simultaneously promoted the international stamp exhibition in London that year. The sheet contains one £1 stamp which has a reproduction of four Penny Blacks. The great thing about this particular item is that the Penny Blacks are properly recess-printed, just like the original. The stamps were engraved by Inge Madlé, and these four also have the added bonus different corner letters, starting with IM at top left.

Feel where this is going yet? Well, here’s a puzzlement for you: It is quite obvious that the initials of the island have been incorporated into the design. Or is it? Remember Vladimir Koval? Could she have pulled the same trick...?

See yous later

August 09, 2013

Redouté's Roses

“Thank you so much for the beautiful Redouté card you sent!”, my friend said when I called her on her birthday the other day. Blissfully unaware I had simply chosen a flower card I liked, but it turned out to have been a botanical painting by the famous Belgian painter Pierre-Joseph Redouté. 

No sooner had she said it or it had slipped into my unconsciousness again, until I had to browse the Belgian catalogue for a completely unrelated matter. Suddenly I saw all these Redouté issues and I was hooked.

In the run up to ‘Belgica 90’, an exhibition to mark the centenary of the Royal National Belgian Philatelic Circle, the Belgian post issued special stamps and miniature sheets from 1988 onwards, each with a surcharge for a philatelic fund and each one depicting roses painted by Redouté.

Redouté was a court painter in the early 19 century, for the French Queen Marie-Antoinette and later the Belgian Queen Louise-Marie. We find different portraits of her on each of the miniature sheets.

Redouté was famous for his botanical work, having painted over two thousand different species, and he is particularly well-known for his roses. It is these which are featured on all the stamps, with the whole series being given the name ‘Sixty Roses for a Queen’.

After three regular annual issues, each consisting of two sheet stamps and a miniature sheet, the series was completed with an extra special miniature sheet, which included six stamps and an engraved portrait (by Paul Huybrechts) of the master painter known as the ‘Raphael of Flowers’. This is by far the most desirable of all issues, as far as availability is concerned. Initially it was only for sale at the Belgica 90 exhibition, though it later did go on general sale as well for a bit. 

I quite like the delicate nature of the issue though it could be said that the paintings are maybe a bit too delicate for reproduction on such a small scale. If you like things a bit more brash and colourful, you can always opt for the one and only other Redouté stamp I managed to find, right here under my very nose. Turns out we’ve been sticking Redouté’s beautiful Hippeastrum rutilum on our mail ever since 1997!

See yous later

August 02, 2013

Austrian Landmarks

I’m usually the first to question why we should bother with modern stamps, or with any stamp at all that isn’t recess-printed, and see stamp collecting very much as a nostalgic pastime. But it’s always good to stand corrected and notice that preconceived ideas just get in the way of pure enjoyment. As I found out when I laid eyes on Austria’s new definitive set which will be issued next month.

Hohensalzburg Fortress

Last year, I wrote a blog about the current set, depicting art museums, here, and though I tried to put a positive gloss on it, truth is I would really only collect them because of their varieties, which, I will grant you, do make it an interesting set. Yet all I could think of was the row after row of beautiful definitives Austria used to issue from the 1940s onwards.

St. Pölten Parliament Building

But now we will be getting a set which is ultra modern, almost abstract, printed in lithography, not a recessed line in sight, and yet they are absolutely stunning! One look at them and they make you want to jump on a plane to Austria and get them. Better still: go and live there so you can use them on your mail!

Hill Church Eisenstadt

When Austrian Post came up with the concept of 'Austrian Landmarks' for ttheir new definitive set, they held a design competition for students at the Vienna Advertising Academy. What they were looking for was a modern graphic interpretation of traditional buildings. The jury, consisting of leading experts in the fields of business, philately and art, chose the designs of Teresa Hausgnost. Her work stood out because she found a convincing way to showcase the beauty of buildings and monuments in an elaborately reduced modern pictorial language.

St. Martin's Tower

Anyone from Austria reading this? Wanna swap with some Machins? I really do think, after a decade of mishaps – cue flowers art museums - Austria has firmly reclaimed its former top position of definitive design, and I’m thrilled for them. 

Pöstlingberg Church

On 12 September the first seven values will be issued which are all for inland postal rates. Next year, five more values will follow for foreign postal rates. We are promised Schönbrunn Palace, the Giant Ferris Wheel and many more. It will be a long wait!

Golden Roof

See yous later

PS: Why not come to our forum and share your views (and images!) on ultra-modern stamp design?! Click HERE.