Saturday, 24 June 2017

Naszarkowski's papal work

I couldn't tell you whether his interest is religious, patriotic, philatelic or merely artistic, but there is a bit of a papal theme running through Piotr Naszarkowski's more recent work. Having just acquired some wonderful proofs, I though I'd share some of those with you.

We're starting off with the Polish pope John Paul II. In 2014, a joint issue appeared in Poland and Vatican City, to mark the pope's canonisation. It is a fantastically engraved likeness of the pope, and therefore would rank highly among Naszarkowski's portrait work.

While the two sheets seem identical at first glance, they are anything but. Take a closer look at the 'halo' around the pope's head. It consists of a text which I presume to be some prayer of sorts. While the text on the Vatican City stamp is in  Latin, the words on the Polish stamp are in Polish. So it's really worth it to get both of them, if you're interested.

Naszarkowski has engraved this pope's portrait much more often, but not on stamps as far as I know. They are more private works, or maybe they've been commissioned. I haven't got any of these, however I do have an engraved 'label' of another pope, Benedict XVI. He was John Paul II's successor. This one dates from 2005, the year he became pope.

In 2008, Vatican City issued two stamps marking this pope's apostolic journeys in 2007. The 65c stamp shows him in Brazil and the 85c in Austria. These too were engraved by Naszarkowski but as they were printed in a combination of recess and litho, the end result is not very pleasing. They are darkish stamps which do not show up the engravings well at all.

The proofs, however, are of the engravings only, and as such show the quality of the work much better. So I'm rather glad I was able to lay my hands on them!


Saturday, 17 June 2017

BIOGRAPHY: Pierre Bequet

Pierre Béquet was born in Versailles, France, on 27 October 1932. He grew up in that beautiful place, close to the palace, where he, like all other local kids, used to play in the gardens, among the beautiful old buildings and fountains. From a very young age, he felt the urge to put down on paper the impressions he experienced from these relics from the past.

Béquet’s love of art was soon further developed through his visits to the studio of Paul Pierre Lemagny, teacher at the School of Fine Arts. At the time, he was only 12 years old. Lemagny taught Béquet how to evolve his drawing to the art of engraving. Béquet soon fell for it, enjoying the rigorous technique involved. In 1948, Béquet went to the Ecole Estienne, where René Cottet taught him the art of engraving. Four years later he received his diploma. After that, in 1953, he entered the National School of Fine Arts in Paris, where he joined the studio of Robert Cami.

While travelling to the Provence as part of his studies, Béquet immersed himself in the world of art, lapsing it all up, the beauty of the surroundings, the light, the other artists around him.

In 1955, he became an art teacher in Ville de Paris. He kept this post until 1958. From then on he would alternatively teach drawing and engraving at the School of Fine Arts in Mans.

A long interval being conscripted in the French army was like a sombre blot on the picture, but Béquet returned to the province more mature, to ripen even further as an artist. That’s when he decided to try and obtain that coveted Prix de Rome. In 1960, he succeeded and winning the Prix de Rome opened up the doors to a philatelic career. With the famous stamp engravers Cottet and Cami having been his teachers, as well as having had his competition work judged quite often by Albert Decaris, that was a very easy step to make. These masters introduced him to the French Post. After having engraved a test piece, a portrait of the characteristic Grand Condé, he was accepted and, as was usual in those days, started to work on stamps for the French territories.

In 1961, Béquet engraved his first stamps: four values for the postage due issue of Congo. Soon after, he would become the principal engraver of the stamps of the recently founded French Southern and Antarctic Territories (FSAT). His first stamp assignment, that of the combating elephant-seals, issued in 1962, was the start of a close relationships with the territory and its stamps. He was given complete artistic freedom for each and every stamp, which he, as an artist, naturally enjoyed very much. And his talent was recognised three times, with the Grand Prix de l’Art Philatélique, for his 1965 ‘Discovery of Adélie Land’ stamp, his 1972 ‘Discovery of Crozet Islands and Kerguelen’ issue, and his 1976 ‘Cook’s Passage to Kerguelen’ stamp.

Even in the latter days of his career, when stamp issues were decided on locally rather than in France, he could still go his own way. Looking at the portrait stamps issued since the late 1990s, it becomes clears how Béquet was able to shape them as a series, giving them a unity in composition, even though they were issued as single stamps, with each portrait having its own characteristics.

In 1965, Béquet engraved his first stamp for France, the Youth Clubs issue. France’s guidelines for stamp design were so much stricter than Béquet was used to for the FSAT. All corrections demanded by the French Post had to be implemented or else the job would go to someone else. It is therefore no wonder that his favourite French stamp was the 1972 issue to mark the bicentenary of the discovery of the Crozet Islands and Kerguelen. His essay was accepted and when he was asked how he would like to proceed, Béquet answered: by having my artwork accepted without any changes to the design and/or colours. This request was granted, and the stamp was eventually issued exactly how Béquet had envisaged it.

In 1973, Béquet’s close artistic links with Versailles spilled over in his philatelic work. The French Post had asked several stamp engravers to come up with ideas for the annual Art series. Béquet submitted a work by Charles le Brun, ‘Study of a kneeling woman’.  Charles le Brun was the famous 17th century painter who decorated many of the halls in the Palace of Versailles. Béquet’s essay was accepted and the stamp as duly issued in 1973.

Another remarkable stamp from that Art series is Béquet’s engraving of the painting Volta Faccia by François Rouan, issued in 1991. The rather busy design gave Béquet quite some headaches. In order to translate the painting into a tiny engraving, he felt he really had to creep into the skin of the artist, to experience how the artist originally perceived and constructed his work. Luckily for him, the artist was still alive and the two co-operated throughout the process of creating the stamp.

The Art series underwent a major change with the introduction of the six colour printing press in the 1970s. For engravers this meant having to work on two different dies, each one for printing with three colours. The idea is to engrave both dies in such a way that the colours used for each will complement each other and create the colour variety which was aimed for. It is so much harder than merely mixing inks to create a colour. It meant that while reducing an art work to stamp format is a process of compromise anyway, even more needs to be compromised when it comes to colour. While performing this what Béquet called circus balancing act for the 1976 stamp of De Vlaminck’s Still Life with Fruit, he got so caught up in that process that he never thought twice about where to put the lettering, which eventually ended up in such an awkward place that collectors and the general public alike constantly placed the stamp upside down on their mail.

While working on that other long-running series of French stamps, those promoting tourism, Béquet got again the chance to model a number of stamps after his own ideas, creating a little miniseries within the series. The stamps in question are those depicting the Saint-Jean in Lyon and the Notre Dame in Louviers (both 1981) and Ripaille Castle (1982). Béquet engraved those three buildings in exactly the way one would see them when standing in front of them. Printed in monochrome against a white background, they really are like classic engravings and work both in that way, showing off the engraving quality, and in the way that they stand out from more usual depictions of buildings. For the Ripaille Castle stamp, Béquet received his fourth Grand Prix de l'Art Philatélique.

In 1980, Béquet founded the French Designers & Engravers Association 'Del & Sc'. He was its President for the first two years.

Throughout his life, Béquet remained a working artist outwith the scope of his philatelic work. Not only an engraver, he also worked a lot with metal sheets. Sometimes the two overlapped and his very personal style is reflected in a French stamp issued in 1995, with Lorraine’s iron and steel industry as its subject. Although the face detracts somewhat from the angular design (it was only added afterwards, on the express wishes of the French Post), the style is unmistakably Béquet’s.

For all the hundreds of stamps Pierre Béquet designed and engraved, his name will remain forever synonymous with his Marianne stamp of 1971. Based on his wife Gisèle, the profile, which Béquet initially had wanted to leave blank, portrays Marianne as a woman sharing all our pain and pleasure. The extra-curricular engraving for the philatelic document shows that initial portrait design against the map of France. The iconic design would remain in use until 1977, when it was replaced by a design by Gandon.

But Béquet made more than just the one Marianne. In 1974, he submitted a design for his own successor, again loosely based on his wife’s portrait. An even more stylistic Marianne, rigid in shadow, yet subtle in light, as he himself explained. The design went all the way to the proof making stage, but was eventually not adopted. It would not be lost, however, for it featured on a French stamp of 1990 marking the 50th anniversary of De Gaulle’s Call to Resist. In the late 1980s, another Marianne essay was submitted by Béquet. It got shortlisted but did not evolve beyond that stage.

Béquet was honoured Knight of the National Order of Merit and Knight of the Art and Literature Order. He passed away on 21 December 2012.

You will find Pierre Béquet's database HERE.

Saturday, 10 June 2017


I've just come back from a few days in France, visiting my all-time favourite sister-in-law who lives there. She was so kind as to give me all the engraved French stamps issued in 2017 so far for my birthday. Cool, innit?!

The selection includes some great stamps. Most importantly it includes the first French stamp engraved by Sophie Beaujard, portraying Germaine Ribière. Sophie is a well-known figure in stamp designing and has been for some years, but this is her first outing as an engraver of French stamps. In fact, it could well be that this is her first engraved stamp, period. I don't know of any stamps she may have engraved for the French territories, so there you go. With a dad being a famous stamp engraver as well, yes, she is Yves Beaujard's daughter, it may be a bit confusing, though. Are all the Beaujard without initials signed stamps by the dad? It does look like more recent examples of the Beaujard clan do include either a Y or an S to make the distinction clear. But I must research that a bit more whenever I get the time.

What I'm certain of is that she engraved the most recent engraving for Art du Timbre Gravé, on a Dutch theme, so that one can now thankfully go into my collection as well.

On the other side of the spectrum we find a stamp engraved by Pierre Albuisson, portraying Maurice Faure. The one thing I noticed, and have noticed before, is that the new group of engravers rather fancy the outlined portrait. I've no idea whether that's the mark of a relative beginner, or whether it is a style choice, or what. But note the lines around the Ribière portrait above. Then look at Albuisson's work and see how the engraving seems to be more natural. The hair especially is wonderfully well done. I'm not always that keen on the dot engraving style, though. I quite like the more traditional lined engravings.

Anyways, by far the best one of this lot was a stamp engraved by Sarah Bougault, whom I've never featured before, and shame on me for that. I think this is a brilliantly engraved stamp on the theme of wrought-iron work, part of a series of various types of art. Just look at how she engraved the large object on the right. See how she has made it so that it looks as if it shines. Pure magic.

She has also engraved this sheetlet on the Battle of Vimy Ridge, which is another one engraved very well I think. This is a joint issue with Canada, but as far as I am aware, the Canadian issue is not engraved. But if any Canadian readers know differently, do let me know!


Friday, 9 June 2017

DATABASE: Harry L Peckmore


Liberia, Definitives


United States, National Parks engravings

Reproduction of the Penny Black (1)

Specimen label with Washington portrait (1)


1) Essay-Proof Journal

Saturday, 3 June 2017

BIOGRAPHY: Pierre Albuisson

Pierre Albuisson was born in Madagascar on 26 September 1952 as the son of a French officer. He is one of the few, if not the only one, self-taught engravers in France. When he was six, seven years old, he already started copying renaissance works of art of the likes of Dürer, saying to his mum that he felt the master was watching him work over his shoulder.

Soon he found out these were not just drawings but engravings, which prompted him to get his first engraving tools in. The idea to become an engraver himself had just taken shape. At around the age of 12 or 13, his first engraving saw the light of day. While at secondary school, Pierre follows evening courses at the School of Fine Arts in Mâcon, France. Thanks to his love for Dürer, he got the nickname Little Dürer. In 1973, he won his national engraving degree, with honours. This was followed by the prestigious Rank Xerox award for engraving.

At that time he met Roger Caillois, the great French intellectual, and one of the directors of the school, who guided him towards further lectures and collaborations. Pierre then became a teacher at the school but he only stayed for some five years, leaving because he could not identify himself with the pedagogic direction the school was taking. During that time he illustrated several of Caillois' books.

What followed was a period in which Pierre worked at various projects: from book illustrations to wine bottle labels. His work could be seen at various expositions in Paris and Geneva. Pierre was to be crowned ’Best Craftsman of France’ twice, in 1979 and 1986.

In 1980 he got in touch with BEPTOM, the design department for overseas post and telecommunications. For them, he created a stamp-size engraving of the portrait of Konrad Lorenz, winner of the Nobel Prize in Medicine. Through them he managed to get a contract for his first ever stamp engraving: the 1981 issue for Mali, marking Pierre Curie’s discovery of radio activity. This was followed by stamps for Andorra in 1983 and 1984, on the theme of nature protection. Even at this early stage, his work was praised. Designer of the Andorran stamps, Pierrette Lambert, marvelled at how Pierre could translate the refinement and sensitivity of the design into an equally fine engraving. The two would become close friends and in 1991 their professional paths would cross again, once more for an Andorran stamp; this time to commemorate the death bicentenary of Mozart.

In fact, it was Pierette Lambert who recommended Pierre to the postal authorities of Monaco. He started working for them in 1986. Three times Pierre’s stamps engraved for Monaco would win the award ‘Most Beautiful Stamp in the World’: for his 1990 Claude Monet’s The Magpie stamp, his 1993 Edward Grieg stamp and his 1995 engraving of Botticelli’s Spring. The first one shows perfectly his love for winter landscapes. Pierre has been granted the title of Knight of the Order of St Charles by Prince Rainier III of Monaco.

In 1984, Pierre got to engrave his first French stamp: Cheval’s Ideal Palace, part of the annual Tourism series. It would be the start of a glorious career. For Pierre, working on stamps is like working on an encyclopaedia; all manner of subject matter and design choices need to be dealt with. He has to work with subjects he would never have chosen himself, leaving him to always try and portray what the essential of the matter at hand.

In 2000, Pierre would win the Grand Prix de l'Art Philatélique for the first time for a French stamp he engraved: the 'Nevers' stamp issued to mark the 73rd French Philatelic Federation Congress.

On 21 November 2012, the French Academy of Fine awarded Pierre the Frédéric et Jean de Vernon award for his work as an engraver, 

In 2014, Pierre engraved the sheetlet for the French Southern and Antarctic Territories, depicting the historical birds once illustrated by Compte de Buffon. It won him the Grand Prix de l'Art Philatélique in the overseas category.

Nature, so Pierre says, is his main source of inspiration, it is the ultimate reference point for art. In fact, he starts every morning walking for at least an hour through the woods near his home. His artistic philosophy is like a triptych: eyes capable of looking at nature, a heart capable of feelings and a mind daring to follow those feelings wherever they may lead.

Having been so lucky as to start off his philatelic career with those nature sets from Andorra, Pierre is always happiest when his beloved forests can feature on stamps. In 1989, he literally lived in Fontainebleau forest for two days, preparing for a stamp on the woods which was to be part of the annual Tourism series. He carefully sourced all the various elements which were to be part of the design: the rock, the sand paths and the various trees.

In 2000, Pierre got to engrave one of his heroes: Henry-Louis Duhamel de Monceau, the 18th century French botanist who had so enthralled Pierre with his treaties on trees. Through him, Pierre embarked on an extensive study of botanists living in forests. The French stamp, marking the 300th birth anniversary of the botanist, was a beautifully detailed engraving of the man's portrait with a forest in the background.

His stamp work is often accompanied by philatelic documents. These documents include more artwork to do with the main subject on the stamp. This artwork is often also engraved. It has always been a bone of contention to Pierre that not much is thought of these documents, and that they hardly get any attention in the philatelic press. To him, they are an important artistic addition to the stamp issue and as such deserve more praise.

Pierre's 1995 French art stamp was also used on various other media, among which this promotional postcard. Like the philatelic documents, this card provides an additional engraving, this time that of the lady who would end up in the lap of the man. In fact, her outlines can already be seen on the stamp, which depicts a study for the eventual painting. The stamp, like so many other modern French stamps, is printed with two dies: one for direct recess printing and one for indirect recess printing.

For recess-printed stamps which have overlapping colours, two dies are needed. One die for the main design, which is a fine engraving. The second die is also engraved but more in patches of colour and is used for the background colours.

The finely engraved die is used for printing in the way we know: master die, transfer roller, printing cylinder, stamp paper. Which means that the actual image evolves thusly: mirror, normal, mirror, normal. This is called direct recess or direct intaglio because the ink fills the engraved recesses in the printing plate and then gets printed directly onto the stamp paper.

The second die is used fairly similarly but there's an extra step: master die, transfer roller, printing cylinder, transfer cylinder, stamp paper. And so the actual image evolves slightly differently: normal, mirror, normal, mirror, normal. This is called indirect recess because the ink on the printing cylinder gets printed onto the stamp paper via the extra step of the transfer cylinder.

The two dies together form the complete image and are therefore ususally called twin dies. And because, as noticed before, the direct die is a mirror engraving and the indirect die a normal engraving, it follows that any die proofs will be normal and mirror as well.

In 2004, the French magazine Timbres started a campaign to save the engraved stamp. Subsequently, Pierre and Yves Beaujard got together to discuss the plight of the art of engraving. Pierre was so worried that he felt something needed to be done, or else the art would die out and with it the hand-engraved, recess-printed stamp. He proposed the founding of an association to promote and safeguard the production of hand-engraved stamps. Needless to say, Yves couldn't agree more.

And so, in 2005, the Art du Timbre Gravé (ATG) was born. Pierre Albuisson, its founder and ideological father, naturally became President, and Yves Beaujard became Vice-President. Pierre engraved the logo used on the ATG membership cards. As the photograph, made in 2016 at the printer's, shows, it is only the burin which is engraved. The globe part of the logo is 'merely' embossed.

The ATG have already proved to have quite some clout with French politicians for they have been able to make it statutory law that at least a third of all French stamps issued per year must be hand-engraved and recess-printed.

As a special treat for its members, the ATG issues special engravings which are handed out with the magazine. To date (2017) Pierre has engraved three of those. His first one dates from 2006. In those early days, there were still two free engravings per year, with one of those usually being a 'Season's Greetings' card. Pierre's second card dates from 2011 and is much more topical, depicting engraver's hands at work. His latest contribution was issued in 2015, comprising a Canadian maple leaf with all the provincial arms included.

In 2013, the French and Southern Antarctic Territories, whose director of the Philatelic Bureau is a member of the ATG, issued a special sheet to promote the organisation. The actual stamp in the sheet was engraved by Pierre. The sheet duly won the Grand Prix d’Art Philatélique.

In 2015, during the annual stamp show Phila-France organised by the French Association of Philatelic Societies, the ATG celebrated its tenth anniversary. For the occasion, Pierre got to engrave the annual stamp to promote the stamp show, with both stamp and attached label showing scenes of Mâcon, where the show was held. Pierre also initiated the general theme of the festivities marking the tenth anniversary: bringing together under one roof the many aspects of engraving: graphic art, weaponry, heraldry, medal engraving, goldsmiths, silversmiths, etc. After all, it was the Italian goldsmith Maso Finiguerra who, in the 1460s, came up with the idea to put paper on top of his inked engraving to create paper copies of his work.

In 2016, after a stint of ten years, the top of the committee of the ATG, including Pierre as president, stood down to be replaced with 'new blood'.


Timbres Magazine, Novembre 2004

You will find Pierre Albuisson's database HERE.

Saturday, 27 May 2017

CHAT: The Canadian Tire Coupons

When I was doing a bit of research on Yves Baril, I came across a reference to Canadian Tire Coupons. I remembered having seen those before and soon remembered it was Charles Gordon Yorke who is also linked to these coupons. So it was high time I looked into the matter and when I did I soon stumbled upon the collectors club and its very helpful members! A frantic email correspondence followed which eventually cleared things up no end!

So here we go: Canadian Tire is a Canadian retail company selling much more than just gas and tires. Ever since the 1950s, they have had this customer loyalty programme based on coupons. These coupons are given out for purchases paid for by cash or debit, based on the pre-tax total excluding labour and shop supplies costs, etc. It used to be at a rate of 5% of the eligible purchase price but that has since been lowered to 0.5%. The coupons could be used to buy anything in the stores and at the gas stations but nowadays they can only be used in the stores.

The first coupons were introduced in 1958. They were recess-printed by the British American Banknote Company (BABN), with some being printed by Canadian Tire themselves. 

I have no further details on who engraved them, which is a shame for there are at least two different engraved scenes on the back. Originally, they had a rural scene on the back, and the copies I have, have the Canadian map on the back. Oh well, maybe some day we'll find out more! 

It is the second type of coupon where it gets interesting for us. One of the members found a signed die proof of the portrait of Sandy McTire (love that name!) which proved without doubt that it was done by Yorke. In an old journal of the Canadian Paper Money Society it was even mentioned that Yorke was 'quite proud of it'! This second type was introduced in 1961, again printed by the BABN, although the Canadian Bank Note Company (CBN) took over at some stage.

Yorke's portrait was also used on so-called auxiliary or lubritorium coupons, but these are no longer recess-printed. I do quite like the fact that they include Sandy's 'signature', though, as well as the tartan frame.

Moving forward to 1992, we see a third type being introduced, which is still used today. It is printed by the CBN. Now, even though we found no hard evidence, it is highly likely that this third type was engraved by Yves Baril. After all, Baril worked for the CBN and not for the BABN, so if he has done anything on the coupons, it can't have been for the first type, so it has to be this third coupon which he engraved.

For those who feel a bit of a collecting bug coming on, I believe there are over 600 different types of coupons to be collected, all relatively affordable. So that's you all sorted for the next couple of years!



With thanks to the members of the Canadian Tire Coupon Collectors Club, and especially to Doug Adams who coordinated this search so skilfully and enthusiastically. Cheers!

Saturday, 20 May 2017

BIOGRAPHY: Silas Robert Allen

Silas Robert Allen was born in Ottawa, Canada, in 1888. From an early age it was clear he had an artistic talent, winning prizes for his drawing at his primary school. He subsequently went to the Ottawa technical School, where he had his art training, combined with illustration classes. During these years he not only honed his drawing skills, but also became a talented photographer and oil painter.

In 1922, Silas started working for the Canadian Bank Note Company. He was taught the art of engraving by the well-known engravers Charles Copeland and George F C Smillie. This apprenticeship took place at the American Bank Note Company where at that time all Canadian stamps were engraved. When stamp engraving moved to the CBNCo, Allen became the chief engraver. 

Unusually for a stamp engraver, Silas was more of an etcher than an engraver. He would normally start his work with an etching, and only in the latter stages would finish the work with engraving.

One of his favourite works was the portrait of Queen Elizabeth II, which he engraved for the series of definitive stamps issued in 1954. This is by many considered among his best work. Two other highlights in his large catalogue are the Wildlife Week series and the Prime Ministers series.

In 1951, Canada started a series of stamps portraying Prime Ministers, a series which ran until 1955. A total of eight stamps were issued of which at least five were engraved by Silas. It is probable that he also engraved the other three. It has been recorded that Silas thought his engravings for the 1952 and 194 sets of this series as the best, which would imply him having done others as well. However, no conclusive proof has so far been forthcoming.  

Things are clearer with regard to the series of Wildlife stamps, which Canada embarked on in 1952. This series, too, ran for five years, with a total of 12 stamps being issued. Silas engraved all of them with the exception of the final stamp issued in 1957, depicitng a white-billed diver. 

Again, Silas has been recorded as saying that his favourites of this series were the 1953 Polar Bear, the 1954 Walrus and American Beaver stamps, the 1955 Whooping Cranes and the 1956 Mountain Goat. 

The detail on these stamps is incredible and yet it is fascinating to see how on the various die proofs, the smallest of details are picked on, and thought in need of correcting. For example, the die proofs of the 1954 5c Beaver stamp, which featured in Scott Stamp Monthly in 2005, include remarks such as 'two lowest points on maple leaf are too sharp on angle from stem' and 'correct by added emphasis/rock cleft that looks like beaver right leg'. 

Although the vast majority of Silas' stamps were issued in Canada, there is the odd exception. Apparently, he engraved a few stamps for the Bahamas. Though no more specific details have been found, there is only one Bahamas set issued by the CBNCo during Silas' working life, and that is the 1948 Tercentenary set, so it is highly likely he was involved in that. Whether as the sole engraver or maybe as the engraver of either the frame or maybe some of the vignettes, remains to be seen.

Even more curious is his stamp for Norway. When, during the Second World War, a Norwegian air training camp was established in Canada, which had its own post office, it was suggested a special stamp for use by the camp post office should be issued. The CBNCo was asked to produce such a stamp, which it duly did, creating a 'Wings over Norway' design which also alluded to the nickname of the camp: Little Norway. It would be engraved by Silas. However, the stamp was never issued during the lifespan of the camp and only saw the light of day in 1946, when it was issued as a commemorative stamp in Norway. 

Allen is regarded as the founder of the Canadian school of engravers. He trained three future engravers: John Hay (who went to the ABNCo), Jim Boyd and Yves Baril. The latter was soon seen as the natural successor to Silas and he would prove to be just that, only much sooner than anticipated. Normally, an apprenticeship might take a decade, before any of their work might see the light of day, but in Baril's case, he had barely started his training under Silas when his engraving of the 1955 Alberta and Saskatchewan stamp was preferred to that of his master Silas. 

This created tension between the two, but Silas continued his training. However, two years in, Silas was involved in a tragic car accident, which saw Yves Baril unexpectedly promoted to Silas' successor.

Silas Robert Allen passed away on 14 May 1958.

You will find Silas Robert Allen's database HERE.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

IN MEMORIAM: Eros Donnini (1928-2017)

Eros Donnini was born in Urbino, Italy, on 30 January 1928. He first frequented the local Academy of Fine Arts, where he specialised in engraving, and then went on to the Institute for Book Illustrations, where he would later teach design and engraving.

After having entered a competition by the Italian state printers in 1948, he became part of their engraving team in 1949, and moved to Rome. In 1952, his first engraved stamp was issued: the 60l value from the San Marino set marking the 500th birth anniversary of Christopher Columbus. His first Italian stamp appeared in 1959, the 35l from the issue marking the centenary of the Second War of Independence.

A long career followed during which Donnini engraved some 140 stamps, not only for Italy and San Marino, but also for the Vatican City. Even from his early work it is clear how talented Donnini was. The detail on his 1960 engraving for the Centenary of Garibaldi's Expedition to Sicily issue, for example, is incredible, with even the names of the ships in the distance being legible.

Courtesy of 'Nethryk' at
Among his later work, it was especially the stamps engraved for the Fountains and the award-winning Villas series, for which Donnini was praised. The Fountains series ran from 1973 to 1979 and was solely the work of Donnini, as was the Villas series which ran from 1980 to 1986. The ancient town of Spello even awarded honorary citizenship to Donnini after his engraved stamp of their Villa Fidelia was issued in 1983.

Because of the many stamps he has engraved, he has received the nickname Prince of the Burin.

Eros Donnini passed away on 19 March 2017.

Saturday, 6 May 2017


Yves Baril was born on 20 May 1932 in Verdun which is now part of Montreal in Canada. His first tentative steps in the world of art were watercolour lessons at the local library, from age 10 to 13. This was followed by oil painting and art studies. In 1952, Baril left the Ecole des Art Graphiques, with a diploma in artistic typography.

He starts working as a figure drawer for the Radio-Canada society. In 1953, Baril started his apprenticeship at the Canadian Bank Note Company in Ottawa. His former teacher at the Ecole des Art Graphiques, Albert Dumouchel, had suggested his name when asked for suitable applicants for the engraving traineeship. His teacher at the CBNC was the master engraver Silas Robert Allen. As part of his apprenticeship, Baril spends some time with the American Bank Note Company in New York as well, from 1954 to 1957.

While normally apprenticeships can last for a decade, Baril boldly enters a competition in 1955, engraving the design for the Saskatchewan stamp. As was usual, Allen had submitted his engraving for the stamp but the postal authorities were not satisfied with the quality of it. Baril then mentioned he had also engraved the design, ‘just for fun’, and lo and behold, the authorities were rather taken with it and chose this engraving for the eventual stamp. While it did show Baril’s masterly talent, the event did sour the relations slightly between master and pupil.

Then, in 1957, his master was involved in a fatal car accident and suddenly Baril was the only engraver available to the CBNC. He had no choice but to learn on the job. This he did so perfectly that in 1967 he was made head of the engraving department at CBNC. Baril remained in that position until his retirement in 1996, having engraved over 140 stamps. He is therefore the most prolific Canadian engraver, which is remarkable seeing that his career coincided with recess-printing being more and more replaced with other printing processes such as lithography. Whilst being head of the department, Baril in his turn took two apprentice engravers under his wing: Alan Carswell and Gregory Prosser.

Baril engraved two dies for the 1959 Royal Visit stamp. He worked for 200 hours on the first one, and for over 259 hours on the second die.

In 1993, Baril engraved the horses and part of the background and the lettering for the Equestrian Sports issue of the United States. However, eventually, it was only Baril’s lettering which was used for the recess-printed part, the rest being printed in lithography.

Baril also engraved stamps for the United States and for the United Nations. And he not only engraved stamps, but he also engraved also a large number of banknotes. One of his earliest and better known banknotes is the 1954 'modified' series of Canadian banknotes portraying Queen Elizabeth II. The original series, issued earlier that year, had a portrait engraved by George Gundersen. When issued, it was thought to have included the devil's face hidden in the Queen's hair. This caused such a commotion that a new series was issued later that year with the hairdo re-engraved to remove the alleged portrait. This new hairdo was engraved by Yves. 

In 1992, when the world commemorated Christopher Columbus discovering America in 1492, Yves' various engravings of Christopher Columbus graced a number of banknotes and philatelic items. His portraits appeared on banknotes from the Bahamas and the Dominican Republic. A third engraved portrait, this time a mirror image, appeared on a commemorative card produced for the World Columbian Stamp Expo '92.

In the late 1960s, when Baril was in training at the American Bank Note Company, he engraved a version of the ‘Eagle Perched on Rock’ vignette, which had originally appeared on a rare 1861 $50 US banknote. To distinguish his version from the original, Baril included his name in the engraving. It can be found at the base of the rock on the left. Baril liked his engraving very much, stating it was part of his life.

In 1969, Baril’s engraving of a Mexican scene was made for the reverse of a 5 peso Mexican banknote. He made this engraving during his apprenticeship at the American Bank Note Company in in New York. However, the design was eventually not adopted.

Baril’s ‘Cargo on the Levee’ vignette dates from the 1970s, made during one of his many visits to New York. It is based on a similar 1857 vignette which had been used on the notes of the Missouri Merchants Bank of St Louis.

In 1992, John Denune founded the Yves Baril Study Group. It only lasted for some five years, leaving behind five journals which detail some of Baril's stamp and other work. One of the surviving advantages of the study group, however, was not so much the amount of information it unearthed and left behind, but the artwork it produced. Yves Baril was rather sympathetic to the study group and, at its inception, donated three of his study works dating from the 1960s/1970s when he apparently spent some time in New York with the American Bank Note Company. Denune was allowed to make prints of Barils’ engravings of the Mexican scene, the Eagle Perched on Rock and the Cargo on the Levee. They were reprinted on a special run, straight from Yves' master dies. 2500 black proofs were printed of each design and 1000 sets of five colour proofs of each engraving. The five colours were blue, brown green, purple and red.

The first issue of that journal included an interesting little feature on Baril’s tools, with comments from the master himself. They mostly comprised tools Baril didn’t use anymore such as a burnisher, which Baril said had been his favourite tool for years but now he no longer used it because they now used nickel printing plates. Other obsolete tools were the etching point, which was made from a rat tail file and which Baril used for many of his stamps and banknotes, though he later used a sharpened dentist drill because it was so much easier to sharpen. His dragging point and square graver have also been relegated to the tool box because they were so hard to sharpen. His ordinary scraper, which was treacherous to use as it could do a lot of damage if not sharpened properly has been replaced with a push scraper, with which he pushes into the burr rather than pulling at it. Apparently, Czeslaw Slania was so impressed with this tool after having seen it at the World Columbian Stamp Expo '92, that he asked Baril to get him one as well.     

In 1995, Baril made four more engravings for the study group. They are Melancholy, Leonardo da Vinci, his granddaughter and a 1950s woman.

In 1995, Baril spends some time at Bradbury,Wilkinson in London to study new steel engraving techniques.

You will find Yves Baril's database HERE.

Saturday, 29 April 2017

VIDEO: Pierre Albuisson

Here is another video for you, from 2012, in which Pierre Albuisson talks about his work.


Albuisson starts by talking about how 'his' association Art du Timbre Gravé promotes hand-engraved stamps, those being the least expensive little art works in the world. He then sums up some of his (then) recent engravings, such as the helicopter series for the French Southern and Antarctic Territories.

Then he mentions a few awards he has won and goes on to promote the art of the commemorative postmark. How much he enjoys making them, how tricky they are to design, and how they add another interesting layer to philatelic items.