October 25, 2013

Universal Mail

As you may have gathered by now, I’m not always the quickest when it comes to jumping on new philatelic bandwagons.

I’m more like a “What do I want to keep that first Smilers sheet for” kinda guy. It is therefore quite amazing that I did manage to hold on to the first ever Machin & Commemorative mixed booklet (the submarines, remember?) in 2001.

And even more amazing that I managed to snap up a Machin £2 ‘missing pound sign’ cylinder block within weeks of issue, when they still retailed for only twice the face value.

But a lot of stuff just passes me by and I only notice it months if not years after. The Post and Go labels were a good example and so are the Universal Mail stamps.

Even reading about them in the latest Stamp Magazine did not trigger any sort of action on my part. It was only when I found myself in Dumfries Tourist Information Centre the other day, that I finally got acquainted with this latest phenomenon.

Animals of Scotland strip with issue date in righthand bottom
I can’t even remember what I was doing there but while browsing I saw this notice on the wall saying that international postcard stamps were being sold there. Suddenly inspired I rushed to the counter and asked for them. And lo and behold, the lady did produce a bagful of them, in two designs even! Needless to say I bought both.

Scottish Icons strip with issue date in righthand bottom
The first one is of Animals of Scotland, issued in June 2012. The five stamps show the highland cow, the puffin, the red stag, the golden eagle and the Scottish blackface. The second strip, from July 2013, consists of Scottish icons, with the bagpipe, thistle, Eilean Donan Castle, Haggis and West Highland terriers being depicted.

Looking at the Universal Mail website, I gather there are at least six more general strips that have been issued in Scotland so far. Something I never realised, but found out in the excellent feature in the magazine, is that there are general issues and so-called bespoke issues. For Scotland, there are nine of the latter category: eight issued specifically for Historic Scotland, and one for Eilean Donan.

And then there are limited editions as well, but the two issued so far are not specifically Scottish so I can leave those out of my collection.

But it seems I may have to do a lot of travelling to get all those different strips. Roaming all the TICs won’t be that hard, but for the bespoke ones I’ll have to start planning visits to the various Historic Scotland sites. Oh well, there’s worse ways to spend one’s days!

See yous later

October 18, 2013

Alsace and Lorraine

My Peacemaking collection on the aftermath of the Great War has finally been enlarged with another chapter, this time on Alsace and Lorraine. The fate of these provinces would be determined by the outcome of the Great War. And yet they don't really feature that heavily in my story, because it has always been a prerequisite that they should be returned to France. But let’s go back a few years to look at the history of the area.
The provinces of Alsace and Lorraine were a part of the Holy Roman Empire but were annexed by France in the 17th century, when that empire started to crumble. Fast forward to 1870 and we see the German Bismarck occupying the two provinces during the Franco-Prussian war. That's where they enter my story and mainstream philately as well. During the occupation, a set of stamps was issued for civilian use within the two provinces.  

They are no things of beauty, but they offer a wealth of specialisation with various design varieties, reprints and an immensely interesting postal use, especially on mail to the rest of France. However, here we can make do with just a basic set and they’re hard enough to find in good mint condition so I only have the two values yet, but I’ll persevere!

After the war was over, victorious United Germany was granted possession of the provinces so they became properly German, as can be seen from the above postcard which shows the two provinces in the bottom left corner of Germany. The occupation stamps were replaced with contemporary German stamps, see below postcard sent from the Alsace.

France vowed to get back their provinces and this played a major part in the peacemaking process after World War I. As soon as France managed to occupy Alsace and Lorraine, they started to reintroduce French culture. This was often done rather ruthlessly and seeing that the provinces had been inhabited by Germans for a long time now, the French methods of persuasion led to resentment. These two cinderellas show how Alsace school children were forced to speak French and told they were French from now on.

Left: "From now on you are French". Right: "From now on we'll speak our beautiful French language".
But, even though so many other regions in Europe were granted plebiscites to decide their own future, the inhabitants of Alsace and Lorraine were given no such privilege, because the French argued that the Germans had ousted all the French and had flooded the provinces with Germans which would impact the outcome of a plebiscite. And so, the provinces became French again after the war, with this 1919 cover symbolising the transitional period.

Both German and French stamps are used and whereas the registration label is still in German, the postmarks are already in French. Also, the cover is written in French but the surname is as German as it comes!

See yous later

October 11, 2013

Karl Bickel

I had a feeling of déjà vu this weekend, when I went to the Stamp & Postcard Festival in Prestwick. Like Stampex all over again. But then on a smaller scale of course. Yet again I found myself walking around the dealers' tables trying to focus on what I was going to buy. This time, though, I had a better idea of what I was looking for: New South Wales and India.

Nevertheless, the first two items I bought were Dutch and after that I bumped into this great Luxembourg set which I immediately snapped up. So that was the end of my concerted effort to work with some sort of want list.

However, the great thing was that it refocused my mind on my 'Engravers' collection. A collection which had I had been neglecting of late, but which I've rediscovered thanks to that chance find. For you see, the Luxembourg set I bought was engraved by Karl Bickel.

Now Karl Bickel is arguably the most famous Swiss engraver of all time and I would even venture to say he is among the most famous engravers of Europe. The majority of recess-printed stamps issued in Switzerland in the 1930s, 40s and 50s are engraved by him and he also engraved for other countries, such as a number of sets for Luxembourg and also for Portugal.

Bickel had already found fame as a portrait artist before he became involved with stamp engraving, and managed to cement that reputation even more with his engraved portrait stamps. I consider them among the best portrait stamps ever made and am showing you a few here so you can make up your own mind.

They are all from the annual Pro Juventute charity stamps issued in Switzerland. Just look at the fine detail and the lifelike expressions in the faces. They are truly magnificent.

Bickel himself was also most pleased with his portraits on stamps and is often quoted as stating that the 1927 Pro Juventute stamp portraying Pestalozzi was his favourite work. To be honest, I would beg to differ as I'm more a fan of his finer detailed work, but who am I to contradict the master!

See yous later

October 04, 2013

Dutch Child Welfare Issues

Being a member of a local stamp club may give you the added perk of getting the club packet. Ours is a number of shoe boxes per year, filled with books full of stamps. Mint, used, all world, with usually some covers and cards included as well. I just received my first one of the season and whilst looking at the books I noticed one full of Dutch stamps. And there was even a set which I didn’t have yet, so I snapped that one up straightaway.

1934: Girl picking apples
It was the 1934 Child Welfare set, depicting a child picking fruit. Four identical stamps in different colours. I immediately felt a serious bout of nostalgia coming on. I suppose this set is typical of why I started collecting stamps. 

The Dutch stamp catalogue up to the 1950s is full of similar sets: series of 4 to 5 stamps, all the same, with only different colours and values. A bit like commemorative definitives. And the Child Welfare stamps come top in that category.

1924: Child's head in between two angels
They started out in 1924 with three stamps of a child’s head surrounded by angels. The year after, the spell was immediately broken by stamps which had different provincial coats of arms on, but from 1933 on, all Child Welfare stamps followed the pattern of a single design in different colours.

1933: Child with star
Nothing used to thrill me as much as wondering what the stamp would look like in olive-green rather than the grey-violet version I already had. And the even greater thrill to finally complete a set. Oh, how wonderfully beautiful they looked in my album!

1940: Child with flowers
Not for me the more modern sets of the 1970s with various designs, sometimes hardly belonging together, with landscape and portrait stamps being thrown in ill-advisedly. No, I steered clear of those and always browsed longingly through the 1930s section of my catalogue. Nothing much has changed, I’m afraid. If I had to limit myself, I would still only choose definitives and commemoratives consisting of single designs. That’s why I was so delighted with this set from the club packet.

1936: Herald angel
Though I must admit the best ones are those that have a solid background and an illustration which is almost like a bas-relief or a drawing in Chinese white. The designs have an almost magical effect on me and really are philatelic relics from my childhood days.

1937: 17th century portrait of a boy
Having said that, my all-time favourites are actually the two sets that were based on classic paintings. In 1941, Rembrandt’s son Titius was portrayed (I’ve shown that one in a previous blog, see here), and in 1937 Frans Hals’ ‘Portrait of a Boy’ was used.
1946: Boy on a roundabout
The final Child Welfare issue in single design was the 1946 set, depicting a boy on a roundabout. After that, the sets became just like any other set, though still based on a single theme. But if you want to go for some Dutch modern classics without descending into modern wackiness, you could do worse than collecting these issues from the first half of the century. There’s plenty there to keep you busy, even on a specialised level, and your pages will look so good!

See yous later