Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Blog matters

My plans to restructure this blog are becoming clearer every day (or waking night). I'm hoping to simplify the whole structure and I suppose achieving that can be done by having basically just the two different posts: the actual database with all the lists of stamp and other engravings of a single engraver, and the biographies which have all the information I find on a certain engraver together in a single post. That way, navigating through the whole lot should be easier and more rewarding. I know that adding to existing posts doesn't flag them up, so nobody would be aware of me doing that, but in such cases I'll just post an update entry to notify which biographies have been added to.

I'm working on those biographies all the time anyway, but momentarily just in files on my computer. I may as well post these (replacing the current weekly chats which often overlap anyway) and let you all enjoy them while they grow and grow. I hope this will result in a better experience for you all when visiting this blog. If you have any comments on the issue, do let me know!

DATABASE: Michalczuk, K.


Vatican City, World Youth Day Krakow

DATABASE: Kopecka, J


Vatican City, World Youth Day Krakow

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Baril does Columbus

I should really have nothing but happy thoughts when I look at this souvenir card from the World Columbian Stamp Expo '92, but I can't help being reminded of the fact that Royal Mail charged me import tax for this item which was about as high as the price for the item itself.

But anyway, it is a nice item, and it has a lovely engraving of Columbus by Yves Baril. It is one of (at least) three portraits Baril engraved that year. The other two were both engraved for banknotes produced by the Canadian Bank Note Company Ltd, and issued in the Bahamas and the Dominican Republic.

As is mentioned on the card, it is now thought that this particular portrait, by Ghirlandaio, is the only official portrait.

I've wondered why the portrait on the souvenir card would be a mirror image, but maybe that was done deliberately so as not to aid any potential banknote forgers too much?

Anyway, looking at all three versions, I'm not sure which one I think is most like the actual portrait. On the Bahamas banknote, Columbus has a rather chubbier look about him, and that goes too for the souvenitr card version, though it is not as obvious and harder to tell anyway, what with the portrait being in mirror. But that leaves the Dominican portrait as the best rendering of the painting, methinks.

But the three form a nice little sub-collection in Baril's extensive portfolio and are yet more proof of Baril's master talent.


Saturday, 7 January 2017

Stamp & Coin Mart column: Marcus Wickliffe Baldwin (1853-1925)

My one and only philatelic New Year's Resolution is to clean up my blog a bit. And I'm starting by separating my database from my biographies, so that it all becomes a bit neater. This means, however, that I'll have to make new posts for my biographies so they'll appear every now and then on the coming Saturdays. You may therefore come across stuff you've probably read before but then again you may not have. So just bear with me for a bit and I promise I will also post some new stuff in between as and when it comes to hand.

And now on to the Baldwin column of March 2014:

Marcus Wickliffe Baldwin (1853-1925) was born in Irvington, New Jersey in March 1853, into a printing family. Young Marcus showed artistic talent and at a very young age became an apprentice at the American Bank Note Company. He was taught the art of engraving by two famous banknote and stamp engravers, Louis Delnoce and Alfred Jones. In the evenings he went to the National Academy of Design.

Only 16 years old, Baldwin joined the National Bank Note Company and remained with them after the firm merged with the American Bank Note Company in 1878. But a few years after the merger, Baldwin set up his own company, called Baldwin, Gleason & Co. For two decades his company catered for all sorts of engravers’ and printers’ jobs.

Only in 1897 did Marcus Baldwin, together with his father, join the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP). His father became a siderographer, transferring engraved dies to printing plates, and Marcus became a picture and portrait engraver. This is the moment his career in stamp engraving took off.

During his stint at the BEP, which again lasted some two decades, Baldwin was responsible for the engraving of many a President’s portrait on America’s definitives. From the ‘Series 1902’, for example, Baldwin engraved the portraits of Lincoln (5c), Webster (10c), Harrison (13c), Clay (15c) and Farragut ($1). He also engraved Washington’s portrait on the 1908 definitives and Franklin’s portrait on the 1912 set. 

Baldwin may have created a range of American definitives which are familiar to us all, but his portfolio contains many more gems. He was also heavily involved in many of the commemorative issues around the turn of the century. The first of these, for the 1898 Trans-Mississippi Exposition in Omaha, includes what is still regarded as the most beautiful American commemorative ever: the $1 ‘Western Cattle in Storm’. Baldwin engraved the vignettes (and some sources say the frames as well) of this stamp and also the 2c, 5c, 10c and $2 values.

Hot on its heels followed the popular bicoloured stamps of the 1901 issue for the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo. All the vignettes, excluding the 1c, were engraved by Baldwin. It was BEP’s first attempt at printing bicoloured stamps and some values were inevitably printed with the vignette upside down.

BEP’s second attempt at bicoloured printing, in 1918, was yet another stamp engraved by Baldwin. Mainly known for its variety, the Inverted Jenny, Baldwin’s airmail engraving has become the most famous US stamp ever. Unfortunately, this stamp has for a long time been attributed to another engraver, but information from Baldwin’s diaries has since proved that he really was the engraver of the vignette.

In the latter years of the 1910s, tensions over pay between management and staff at the BEP became more and more disagreeable. It was a period during which many engravers sought employment elsewhere. Baldwin, wanting to stay, joined committees to negotiate better deals for the many engravers at the firm. He was even sent on a fact-finding mission to various other printing firms, but all his hard work and negotiations were of no or very limited avail.

Disillusioned with the firm’s practices, he eventually retired from the BEP in 1920 and returned to the American Bank Note Company in 1921. There he would enjoy his final years of his career until his death in 1925. In this last period, Baldwin engraved still a good many stamps, mainly for Central American countries, with his portrait engravings for the 1921 Centenary of Independence sets issued in Nicaragua and Panama being the ones that stand out.

This article was first published in Stamp and Coin Mart of March 2014 and is reproduced with their kind permission. 

You will find Marcus Wickliffe Baldwin's database HERE.

Saturday, 31 December 2016

Soviet Portraits

Our local stamp club has a packet which I get as well, even though there's often not much in it for me. But the one I got yesterday was filled with Soviet goodies so I had a field day! Those Soviet stamps are so often ignored or overlooked and yet there are many gems to be found. Especially those many military portrait stamps are fantastic. I was lucky to find four new ones, all from 1974, which I'll gladly share with you here.

Of those four, the one I like least well is this one portraying Marshal F I Tolbukhin, engraved by Ivan Mokrousov. The stamp was issued to mark his eightieth birth anniversary. I find the engraving of his face a bit hard and sterile, though I must say I am slightly warming to it.

But this military portrait is much more to my liking. Here we have Admiral I. S. Isakov, engraved by A. Tkachenko, also issued to mark his eightieth birth anniversary. The face has somehow much more expression, and seems to be more lifelike.

When I first saw this stamp portraying the educationalist K. D. Ushinsky, I really had to check to see whether it was an engraved stamp. Maybe it was just because of the soft colours, but from 'afar' it looked like a photogravure stamp. But it isn't. It's completely engraved, by Tatyana Nikitina. Beautifully done, and the detail of the beard especially is wonderful.

But the one I like best is this stamp celebrating the birth centenary of Lenin's brother D. Ulyanov, engraved by Vladimir Smirnov. I think it's his eyes that do it for me. What wonderful expression!


Saturday, 24 December 2016

Jean de Vos does Christmas (part 2)

Well, here we are, the festive season truly upon us, so here are a few more Christmas issues of Rwanda, with those engravings by Jean de Vos.

Last week I showed you some of the issues from the 1970s. They were rather classical in style. In the 1980s, the annual issues seemed to take on a slightly more modern twist; as if parts of the design were lifted out of the paintings and focused on.

More white therefore in the actual stamps. I must say that the result in general seems to work fine, with the detail and the subject matter being more obvious and easier to enjoy.

My favourite of the 'starker' ones is the 1982 engraving, which is Murillo's Rest during the Flight. By the way, as you will have gathered, the above are all proofs of the engraved part of the sheetlets!

But I think my favourite of the whole lot is the 1987 issue, which seems like a return to the old days. The stamp depicts Fra Angelico's Virgin and Child, and it is a beautiful engraving, and the chosen colour, too, works very well.

So who would have thought that stamps from Rwanda, which you might normally never have given a second's thought, can harbour so many engraved gems?!


Saturday, 17 December 2016

Jean de Vos does Christmas (part 1)

For those of you who still need to get in a festive mood, here are a few Christmassy engravings you'll hopefully like!

We've got a Christmas themed club meeting next week and I chanced upon this Christmas issue from Rwanda and started looking for more.

Turns out that the Belgian engraver Jean de Vos engraved all annual Christmas sheetlets for Rwanda from  the late 1960s onwards.

So I've been collecting them lately, hoping to put together a nice display of them. And so here they are for you to enjoy as well!

And what's more: next week I'll show you some proofs of these issues.


Saturday, 10 December 2016

Recent issues

Now that the number of countries issuing hand-engraved, recess-printed stamps seems to be dwindling ever further, it might become feasible to keep up to date with new issues. At least, that's what I told myself when I read the latest New Issue Guide in Stamp Magazine. So I decided to get some in.

And that's how I ended up in the Faroe Islands. And here you see the result of my modest spending spree. And though I like the general idea, I'm less sure now that I've put it into practice.

Unfortunately, many stamps nowadays are printed in a combination of processes, so that the actual engraving does not always (or hardly ever) stand out. Do I care to fill my stockbooks with these?

It's not that I'm doing them down, it's just that they're basic stamps, not the engraved wonders of old. So maybe my newly thought up plan has already come to a premature halt! The only stamp that would qualify if more stringent criteria are adapted, is the 2016 Nolsoyar Pall stamp, engraved, like most others in this post, by Martin Mörck.

At least here we have a stamp which is predominantly engraved and which lets you actually enjoy that engraving. So thumbs up for that one.

On the other end of the spectrum we find a stamp issued in 2013. It duly mentions Bertil Skov Jorgensen as the engraver and from the website it looked like a stunner. But now that I've actually got it, I would say it is anything but recess-printed. It feels as smooth as a baby's bum and when holding the stamp to the light at any angle, the usually matt engraved parts do not show at all. Yet, all bumph I read about it does say that it is printed in recess!

So what's going on here? Do any of you have any more information on this particular stamp? Hope so!


Saturday, 3 December 2016

Toth's sculptures

"If you find something that I will like too, then I'll pay for it", my better half told me whilst handing over a twenty pound note. I was on my way to a nearby Stamp Show and the prospect of this extra indulgement made the trip even more worthwhile!

But what to look for? The most obvious theme would be birds. Or non racing horses. Cats maybe? Churches or cathedrals? Castles?

St Stephen
You see, the task was never going to be easy, and there were not that many dealers to choose from. And of course the stamps had to be hand engraved and recess printed. And I would have to be fairly sure that the engraver was known to me. And all that without a catalogue or reference work at hand...

St George
So I first satisfied myself as far as my own want list was concerned which I deemed to be tricky (South America) but which was surprisingly successful. Then it was time for lunch and a chat with all the familiar faces.

St Christopher
But back to the task in hand. I sat down at a dealer's who seemed to have a good spread of all world stamps and started looking through his books. Lots of interesting stuff, but I figured I either had it or it wouldn't be suitable. Loads of engraved worthy old men portraits on stamps but they didn't really fit the bill.

St Sebastian
I came across a nice section of Spain which made me take extra notice. They've done some beautiful castles series which could be just the ticket. But the problem is that a) I've got loads of those and b) while we know the engravers of quite a few I don't think we know them for all stamps. So maybe better not.

St Paul
Book 8 was the final one and I was beginning to lose faith a bit but then I came across Austria (the dealer's books were not in any order whatsoever), which is always a safe bet when it comes to fantastic quality engravings. And there it was: a set of six stamps issued in 1969 of beautiful sculptures of various saints, and even a Madonna thrown in for good measure. All engraved by Rudolf Toth. Problem solved! I loved them, I knew my better half would love them, and on top of that they only cost me the grand sum of sixty pence!