September 27, 2013


I went to Stampex this month without any fixed idea of what I was going to be looking for. That’s never a good idea, as I found out for myself, for it only results in either wandering around aimlessly or buying loads of things you wouldn’t otherwise have dreamt of buying.

So there I was, sat at this dealer’s table, with a pile of old Australian Colonies album pages in front of me. I had this vague idea about adding to my collection of New South Wales stamps engraved by Frederick Heath. And it was nice. Very nice. Mind you, not a useful NSW stamp in sight, but lovely pages filled with loads of stamps. It reminded me of the time I planned to start a used collection of 19th century stamps. Not as in highly organised, but like you find in the old albums, all stuff banged together on crammed pages. I had made a start with Canada at the time, of which I had a small collection of Queen’s heads. 

Having just found the two pages again, I must admit I’m still a bit smitten with the idea! Anyway, sat at that table I barely managed to resist this temptation of buying all these old sheets. But I did, much to the relief of my wallet.

So I went away and had lunch but my budget for the day was still burning a hole in my pocket so I was glad I got the chance to do a second round along the dealers and this time I was a bit more focused. I decided to stick to my main collecting interests, one of which is of course ‘Stamp Engravers’.

I was therefore rather chuffed to find this neat little miniature sheet from Iceland, issued in 2007 to mark the centenary of the visit of the Danish King.

The engraving of king and horse is by the famous Martin Mörck, and what’s even better, the engraving on its own was also available, without the background. A great way to appreciate the artwork even more. It’s what I like about this collection: you can find amazing items which won’t cost you the earth.

One of my other collections is a more traditional one based on items which I won at my all time favourite auction house (which shall remain nameless for the time being because they have just kicked me off their free catalogue subscription list!). My latest item from that particular company was a block of India 1911 King George V 1 rupee high values, with a spectacular perf mishap.

I managed to find some regular high values to go with it and also this 15 rupees with watermark inverted. It’s actually from the second series with a different watermark, but I think I will include all KGV definitives in this particular collection, so that’s fine.

And so, even though I hadn’t really expected it, I still managed to empty my wallet and go home feeling very good about myself. Just as well though, that I probably won’t be back for two years. Gives me the chance to replenish my philatelic funds!

See yous later

September 20, 2013


If you progress beyond plain and simple ‘one of each’ stamp collecting to maybe a slightly more advanced level, you experience a steep learning curve when it comes to philatelic terms. There’s so much to learn about printing processes such as intaglio, photogravure and lithography. Persevere long enough, though, and there will probably come a time that you’re familiar with the majority of philatelic terms. 

Bahamas 1879 bromide proof of 1d interinsular postage in unadopted design
But I found that there’s a few which remain a mystery to me. And no matter how hard I try and find explanations, the true meaning keeps eluding me. Bromides is one of those terms which baffle me.

Bahamas 1879 bromide proof of trial, Chalon portrait set within engine turned frame with blank labels

I usually stay clear of them, but I recently received an auction catalogue full of them. They come from the Perkins Bacon archives of British Empire and are absolutely stunning! So now, more than ever, I feel an urgent need to know what they are exactly. I could probably come up with: 'it’s a photographic plate proof', but that just sounds like a meaningless phrase to me.

Ceylon 1879 bromide proof of frame with Chalon portrait of Victoria showing extensive lathe work surround

The bromides in the catalogue, of which you see a handful here on this blog, are all from engraved and recess-printed plates. So what role do bromides play here? It can’t be (in as far as that is possible anyway) that these are photogravure printings of engraved plates, because the photogravure process only came into vogue in the 1930s.

Grenada 1879

So are bromides therefore just photographs of die and plate proofs? And if so, why were they made? The only thing I can think of is for record keeping maybe? But could they not have used the actual die and plate proofs for that purpose? Why make the extra effort of photographing them?

Natal 1879 bromide of original submitted design of the 1d chalon with marginal notations 'colour to be like the English penny brick - approved PSJ'

It’s a puzzlement!

Tasmania 1879 bromide of initial essay of Chalon portrait within ornate frame

But anyway, I presume you agree with me that these are wonderful items. I’ve concentrated here on the bromides depicting the famous Chalon portrait of Queen Victoria. They would form an amazing addition to any classic British Empire collection and come at prices which are probably more affordable than die proofs or even the finished stamps themselves!

Tasmania 1879 bromide of the portrait submitted for use on postage stamps

If only I knew more about them, I might even have had a go at the auction, but as it stands, I’d rather wait for the explanations you will hopefully now offer me! 

See yous later

All images courtesy of Philangles Ltd, reproduced with their kind permission.

September 13, 2013

Charles and Frederick Heath

I have been asked to provide a one-frame, 16-page display for a regional stamp congress and I immediately decided to do it on ‘stamp engravers’. At first I had grand ideas about starting with the world’s first stamp engravers and then weaving my way through worldwide postal history right up to the present day engravers. I soon gave that up, because there was just no way I could put together something that challenging in such a short time. 

Instead I think I’ll just opt for a number of engravers, of whom I can put together a few interesting pages each. I will still start with those first stamp engravers, but I’m still pondering on what to include. 

The first stamp engravers were a father and son duo, Charles and Frederick Heath. Together they enrgaved the die for what was to become the world's first postage stamp: the Penny Black of Great Britain. Their stamp portrait of Queen Victoria was also used for all subsequent British line-engraved Victorian stamps, so that’s the first page taken care of, which whill incldue a selection of those British stamps.

I will commit the mortal sin of mixing mint and used stamps on this exhibit page, but there’s no way I can do an all mint page and there’s also no way that I’ll be buying more used stamps than I feel is absolutely necessary.

I’ve been thinking whether I should include this card with a portrait of Charles Heath. It is a card by the National Postal Museum, so it could be viewed as a philatelic item, I suppose, but I’m not sure and wonder whether it would degrade the whole thing slightly.

What I’m more sure about is adding a non-stamp engraving made by Charles Heath. After all, the display is meant to showcase the engravers’ art. But of course it’s non-philatelic so we’ll have to see how that goes down with the public!

My final page will be alright I think, dealing as it does with the stamps Frederick (the son) went on to engrave on his own. This includes the portrait on the British halfpenny of 1870, and two New South Wales stamps.

That final section will include a reprint of a die proof of the New South Wales design of 1856. Once again an item which is slightly dubious. I can still see the line ‘…of little philatelic interest, considerable beauty and problematical value…’ in Robson Lowe’s encyclopaedia hovering before my eyes. But nowadays these reprints are sold by the best auction houses, so they have become accepted philatelic items, I would think, which makes it alright to include them. 

All in all I never realised there were so many potential pitfalls. Too many, in fact, so I think I’ll just be bold and do my own thing, and then run and hide in a cupboard somewhere…

See yous later

September 06, 2013

David Livingstone

You may not have noticed it south of the border, or anywhere else for that matter, but there's been a storm brewing in Scotland for months now! A serious rift has appeared within our Scottish philatelic brotherhood and all because of cute cuddly pandas.

You see, 2013 is the year in which we mark the 200th birth anniversary of David Livingstone, a famous son of Scotland. Unfortunately, this anniversary was deemed unworthy of a Royal Mail special stamp, and the man's devotees had to make do with an expensive commemorative Smilers sheet.

Adding insult to injury, the Scots themselves then chose to ignore Livingstone and go for the centenary of Edinburgh Zoo as the main theme of all special items prepared for the annual Scottish Congress. That's how we ended up with pandas on post-as-you-go sheetlets and postmarks, and penguins on the special cover. Of which, by the way, I can hereby show you the unadopted first essay!

Never afraid of a clean fight, the pro-Livingstonians hit back with a special booklet on their man, written by my good friend and fellow club member Peter J. Westwood (yes that's right, the designer of above shown penguin cover!) with the participation of the nation's main Livingstone expert.

It's actually quite nice, and would work perfectly well as a starting point for a thematic collection on Livingstone. It basically tells the man's life story and lists the main Livingstone stamp issues which deal with certain parts of his life. We find therefore examples on stamps of Livingstone the Missionary, Livingstone the Explorer, Livingstone the Medicine Man, and Livingstone the Anti-Slavery Messenger.

Livingstone and the Victoria Falls he discovered

Livingstone chasing away slave drivers

The booklet also shows what has already become a major modern rarity: the 2013 Zambia miniature sheet marking the 200th birth anniversary. 

Yes, again we see the name of Mr Westwood propping up! The original design, which did not focus on the designer quite as much, may I add, was that of a single stamp in a miniature sheet, but Zambia tweaked it into four high value stamps. They have been officially produced and issued, but other than that the issue is shrouded in mystery. It appeared on eBay once, only to disappear soon after, and it has not been heard of since. There are rumoured to be only some four copies of this sheet in Britain... 

Could it be that the pandas ate them?

See yous later

PS Shameless plug: if you're interested in the booklet, I believe the author still has a few left, so you may contact him on peter.cairnsmore1 @ without the spaces.