Saturday, 25 March 2017

BIOGRAPHY: Mario Baiardi

Mario Baiardi, an engraver and sculptor, had worked in Italy on various banknotes before he was asked, along with other excellent Italian engravers, such as Pietro Nicastro, to come to the Argentina Mint in 1948. The prime objective was to found a school of engravers, so that the quality of recess-printing could be raised to a high level of excellence.

Baiardi stayed in Argentina for four years. He was then asked to return to Italy, to found a school of engraving over there. During his stay in Argentina, Baiardi was famed for his artistic skills. Using as thin a burin as possible, Baiardi managed to engrave portraits, skin, fabrics so lifelike that it looked like a photograph was taken. Even his colleague Pietro Nicastro, who was so demanding he did not easily find praise for anyone, called Baiardi a phenomenon.


Mario Baiardi's database can be found HERE.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

CHAT: Just a bit of fun

...Pour Claude en toute amitié philatélique...

Just a bit of fun this week. Can you identify the twelve signatures on this card? And who's Claude?
Clue: they're probably all French!

Your answers via the comments please.

In a fortnight we'll have the results.

Sorry, no prizes to be awarded, just eternal fame.


Saturday, 11 March 2017

BIOGRAPHY: Johannes Josephus Aarts

Courtesy of RKD
Johannes Josephus Aarts was born in The Hague, the Netherlands, on 18 August 1871. He studied at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Amsterdam.

Aarts’ first engravings show how he tried to move away from his work as a painter and search for tighter control of forms and decorative solutions to problems. As an intermediate step away from painting, Aarts started drawing in black and white and it is this work that made other artists suggest he should take up engraving. Wood engraving was yet another step towards the ultimate goal of copper engraving. During this time he moved more and more towards a realistic approach, both in subject matter and style. Elementary is another word often used for his engraved art. He took the farmer, the polder boy, the fisherman, the beggars family and other lifelike figures central and even though he placed them in elementary surroundings, symbolised by the earth, a tree, or what not, it was still the figure which remained central, and as such Aarts’ work was a vital link in the development of subject matter for the 19th century engraver.

Aarts had imposed himself on the Dutch postal authorities as being the best choice for engraving the upcoming 1913 Dutch Independence issue. However, his work was not highly thought of by everyone, with his contemporary engraving for a new banknote, the ‘Labour and Welfare’ 10 guilder banknote (P34), which would be issued in 1917, being criticised.

In the end, the designer of the set, Mr de Bazel, was given the choice of engraver and he chose Aarts. Aarts started in December 1912 but it took him to mid September 1913 to finish the twelve dies. This was mainly due to circumstances beyond his control, such as delays caused by the postal authorities and badly worked out reference and design material. The original date of issue, in September 1913, could no longer be realised and the stamps would eventually not appear until the end of the year.

In 1923, Aarts was asked to engrave the high values of the forthcoming Dutch Silver Jubilee set, depicting a throned figure. Aarts did not know that the printers Enschedé had asked their in-house engraver Jan Warnaar as well to make a die. Aarts nearly exploded when he found out, and more so when he heard that Warnaar's die was thought to be superior to his own work. He immediately wrote in to resign the assignment but the postal authorities managed to calm him down and in the end a compromise was reached by having Aarts engrave the throned figure design and Warnaar the design for the low values, a portait of Queen Wilhelmina. Aarts had already made a die for that design as well, and it is with that unaccepted die that colour proofs were made for the set.  

Aarts was a Professor at the Dutch Royal Academy of Visual Arts. In that capacity he taught a good number of future stamp engravers, such as Debora Duyvis, Sem Hartz, Hubert Levigne and E. Reitsma-Valença.

Aarts died in Amsterdam in 1934.


Handboek Postwaarden Nederland

You will find J J Aarts' database HERE.

Saturday, 4 March 2017

QUESTION: Another whodunit

A fortnight ago I asked you my first of probably many Whodunits. This time I have a new one for you. It may be a bit easier because the exact item is known, the printer is known, the year of printing is known and I even have a probable signature of the engraver for you. So here it is:

Gorgeous isn't it?! As you can see, we're not talking stamps here, but cinderella. This is a label produced for Lloyds Bank Limited, for the 1924 British Empire Exhibition held in London. It was part of a display of Exhibition Items shown at my local club the other month and it's probably rather rare. Which doesn't make it less intriguing, of course!

So we have the item, we have the year and I know for certain it was engraved and printed by Bradbury Wilkinson. But that's where it stops. However, it looks like we have one (or maybe even two?) signature, which may well be of the engraver, though it could of course also be from the designer, or the approver.

Thinking the initials may well be LCB, I immediately thought of Chris Broadbridge. He was BW, so I got that bit right, but then he only started in 1964 so that's no good at all. So I gave up...

Can any of you help me out at all? Hope so!


Friday, 24 February 2017

BIOGRAPHY: Georges Betemps

Georges Bétemps was born in Paris, France on 19 February 1921. Georges was a student at the Ecole Estienne, the Parisian School of Arts where so many famous French stamp engravers got their diploma. He also studied at the School of Arts in Bordeaux.

In 1941, Georges interrupted his studies to become part of the French Resistance.

Georges started engraving stamps in 1946. His first issue were a number of values of a new definitive set issued in Cameroun. He engraved the ‘Native Head’ design of the 15f, 20f and 25f values, all from 1946, and the ‘Aeroplane, African and mask’ design which was used for the top value, issued in 1947.

Georges Bétemps’ first French stamp did not appear until 1961. That year, he engraved the 45c+10c value from the Red Cross Fund issue, portraying the caricaturist Honoré Daumier.

Like a few other fellow engravers, Georges sometimes used to colour in his die proofs, which were printed in black, with water colours or liquid ink, to get a better idea of what the eventual stamp would look like. These have been available on the market but are very scarce.

Another feature, which is unique to the work of Georges Bétemps, is the existence of large twin die proofs. These were made for stamps printed with the six colour printing process (TD6), which was introduced in 1962. Three colours were printed directly from the printing plate, for which a negative master die was needed, and three more colours were added in indirect recess, for which a positive master die was needed.  Now, these twin die proofs are quite standard, but Georges persuaded the French authorities to allow him to make special large twin die proofs, which would include the finished stamp with a first day cancel. These do not include the official embossed seal of the French printers. He was allowed to make these, but was forbidden to sell them or even give them away. Georges Bétemps is the only engraver who has been granted this privilege. After his death, Georges' widow did sell some of these special twin die proofs.

In 1964, his design for the annual Europa stamp was chosen and his flower with 22 petals (one for each member state) adorned many a European stamp. However, of the 17 countries adopting this design, only three produced hand-engraved, recess-printed stamps. Two of those, for France and Monaco, were engraved by Georges, with the third one, for Switzerland, engraved by Karl Bickel Jr.

Georges Bétemps has tried several times to get his essay chosen for a new Marianne stamp, for example in the mid 1970s when the authorities were on the lookout for a replacement of the Pierre Béquet Marianne of 1971. That time round, however, it as eventually Pierre Gandon’s Sabine which was eventually chosen.

When in 1973 France introduced the so-called Philatelic Documents, limited edition folders with extra information on stamp issues, Georges Bétemps engraved many illustrations for these. His first one was for the 1974 Europa issue. Most were to accompany stamps he also engraved, but sometimes he engraved illustrations for stamp issues which he was not involved in, such as that for the 1f plus 10c stamp of the Anniversary of Liberation set issued in 1974. The actual stamp was engraved by Michel Monvoisin.

The first time Georges Bétemps won the Grand Prix de l’Art Philatélique was in 1983, for his interpretation of Gustave Doré’s ‘Bluebeard giving keys to his wife’. The philatelic document accompanying the stamp included another of Georges Bétemps’ engravings of Doré’s work; this time a self-portrait thought to date from 1872. 

When interviewed in 1984 by the magazine 'Le monde des Philatélistes', Georges talked about the diffifulty of reproducing an art work on a stamp. First of all there is the problem of size. Many art works are large canvases and it is hard to reduce the image to the small format of a postage stamp wihtout losing too many details, he said. Furthermore, there is the problem of colours. Where painters can mix any colour they like on their palette, the engraver has to work with two bits of steel and a maximum of six colours to represent the art work. This is where sometimes using the photogravure printing method may give a more accurate reproduction. There, too, one works with six colours, but the mixing process is more accurate. Blue and yellow give the right shade of green, whereby, if you use the same blue and yellow in the recess-printing process, you're never quite sure whether the result will be the one you aimed for.

Georges Bétemps furthermore said that even though he works with stamps all day long, he is not a collector. The only stamps he would collect would be those he could need as reference material for his own work.

In 1990, Georges Bétemps won the Grand Prix de l’Art Philatélique a second time; this time for his French Polynesia issue, a set of four stamps depicting the Maori World. Georges Bétemps was to add to this initial series two more times, in 1991 and 1992, both times with three more values.

Georges Bétemps passed away on 18 April 1992, while still active engraving. By that time he had been responsible for the design and engravings of more than 1500 stamps.

The French Wikipedia entry for Georges Bétemps mentions that a street was named after him in Vigneux-sur-Seine, a few miles southeast of Paris. This, however, was a different Georges Bétemps, also a member of the resistance though, who was shot by the Germans during World War Two.

Georges Bétemps' database can be found HERE.

Saturday, 18 February 2017

QUESTION: Whodunit?

A few days ago I received an email asking me whether I could possibly identify which engraver was responsible for this beauty here:

It is a die proof which was sold to the correspondent attributing it to Bradbury Wilkinson and Hong Kong. Which is strange as the Hong Kong definitive set utilising the Annigoni portrait is not engraved, nor recess-printed. My correspondent had already compared the proof to engraved Annigoni stamps from the British Commonwealth but found no obvious match.

Unfortunately I have not been able to find out anything, so that's why I'm posing the question here, hoping that maybe someone somewhere may recognise this item. Seeing that the size is definitely stamp-size (a mock up Hong Kong proof shown here shows that the engraving is of small-format definitive size), I think we may exclude any banknote usage.

Maybe, just maybe, it was a preliminary proof for a new Hong Kong definitive set after all? Only to be discarded in favour of cheaper and quicker printing methods? But that would have been slightly odd, seeing that as far as I remember no definitives from Hong Kong were ever recess-printed.

Anyway, any help would be hugely appreciated!


Saturday, 11 February 2017

BIOGRAPHY: Piotr Naszarkowski

It is well-nigh impossible to write about the life and work of Piotr Jerzy Naszarkowski (born 1952) without mentioning the name of Czeslaw Slania. For it is uncanny how similar both life and work of the two engravers are and how often they even intertwined.

Like Slania before him, Piotr Naszarkowski was born in Poland, in Warsaw in 1952. Working as a stage designer in the TV and theatre business, Naszarkowski studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, graduating in 1980. The communist regime in Poland soon put an end to his work, though, when Naszarkowski, with many other artists, quit his job to protest against the Polish regime’s martial law.

But in 1983, Naszarkowski managed to become employed at the Polish Banknote Printing House, after he had read about a vacancy there, just by chance. At the printing house he was taught to engrave stamps. His first stamp, for Poland, was issued in 1985. It was a single stamp depicting the cadet ship Iskra, to mark the 40th anniversary of the Polish Navy, printed in a combination of recess and lithography. It proved the start of a great career, for since then, Naszarkowski has engraved some 140 stamps for countries as far and wide as Japan, Sweden, the United States and Vatican City.

After having engraved a handful of beautiful stamps for Poland, such as a number of values of the annual Polish Rulers series, Naszarkowski moved to Sweden, in 1989, again just like Slania did. His Swedish philatelic debut followed in 1991, with the issue of the maps series, of which three values were engraved by Naszarkowski. The other stamps of the set were engraved by Slania, who took Naszarkowski under his wing. It is sometimes thought that it was Slania who enticed Naszarkowski to Sweden, but allegedly it was love for a woman that brought Piotr Naszarkowski to Sweden.

Naszarkowski blossomed under Slania’s tutelage and the partnership resulted in close cooperation and huge admiration between the two engravers. Naszarkowski’s regard for Slania was such that he finished off the 23 boxing cinderella stamps Slania once made with a 24th stamp, portraying Slania himself as ‘world champion stamp engravings’. 

Naszarkowski’s work is much admired and that goes especially for his many animal stamps issued in Sweden. The 1993 Wildlife set in particular, is admired for its quality of engraving. Naszarkowski manages to translate the cuteness of the animals wonderfully well into the engravings.

If possible, his 2009 set of winter anmimals even surpassed the 1993 set in quality. By now, Piotr had perfected his fauna styler, being able to capture the essence of any animal with as little fuss as possible. The fact that they're printed in monochrome really helps a lot and makes each and everyone a miniature work of art. 

Eventually, Naszarkowski was asked to step in more and more often, when Slania grew too frail to finish his work. The best example of this is the 2004 Elvis Presley stamp from Sweden, the engraving of which was started by Slania and finished by Naszarkowski, with both names being mentioned on the stamp.

Another engraving which changed hands from Slania to Naszarkowski was the iconic Greta Garbo stamp, a joint issue for Sweden and the USA, issued in 2005. Initially often thought to be one die used for both issues, the engraver has since acknowledged that two different engravings were made. It earned Naszarkowski two awards: ‘Most Beautiful Swedish Stamp of 2005’, and ‘Best Engraved Stamp of the European Union in 2005’. 

Naszarkowski likes to engrave portraits, enjoying the interpretation of the many shapes of the face. With the Garbo stamp, he was particularly pleased with the way he engraved the arch of her forehead, regarding it the most difficult part of the body to make it feel ‘alive’.

The Garbo stamps were numbers 99 and 100 for Naszarkowski, so he is a long while yet from breaking Slania’s record number of engraved stamps, but Naszarkowski’s future is bright and having moved to the intaglio heaven that is Scandinavia, there is no reason why he shouldn’t be able to emulate yet another Slania feat in the future. 

This article was first published in Stamp and Coin Mart of April 2013 and is reproduced with their kind permission.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

QUESTION: Karl Bickel

I would think this is a question for the ultra-specialist in Swiss philately. I have tried everywhere to find the answer but as yet to no avail! It concerns the test or trial stamps produced by Karl Bickel for the Swiss PTT. Two of those are well-known and well-documented, but there apparently is a third one which seems to baffle everyone.

When I visited the museumbickel in Switzerland last summer, I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to research the stamp archive in their depot. In that archive I found various copies of a stamp which looked very much like a test stamp. I asked the archivist but he could not enlighten me any more than assuming it was a rejected test stamp, apparently because the engraving was too fine.

I got a photocopy of the page to take home with me, and started asking around all my knowledgeable friends. This yielded a few more illustrations but not much more detail. But at least I now had a better picture of a single stamp.

And, more importantly I now had an illustration of a folder which included several of these stamps, with annotations of certain stamp denominations.

With all this I dreamt up the following theories:

The style of the stamp is very much like Karl Bickel's more abstract work, so it would be a fairly safe bet to suppose the stamp is his. Though it ain't more than a bet. But check out his abstract engravings

and his abstract stamp essays

and I think you will agree with me.

Then there's the matter of size. During Karl Bickel's stint for the Swiss PTT, two new printing presses were procured: the SSR I Goebel in 1935 and the SSR II Wifag in 1945. Bickel's two known test stamps were produced for these two machines. Now, the SSR II was immediately set up to print larger format stamps, those being of the size of the 1949 definitive set. The SSR I was originally set up to print small format stamps. The mysterious test stamps are in the small format, and will not therefore have been produced for the SSR II.

The test stamps are recess-printed and recess-printing only started with the SSR I so that must have been the printing press for which this stamp was made. But then, we already had a test stamp for that machine, and various test stamp experts have stated it is highly unusual (better still: unknown to them) to have more than one type of test stamp for a single machine.

The supposed theory of it being engraved too finely and therefore discarded doesn't sit well with the folder which has a huge range of copies. What's more, they're printed in the colours used for the 1936 definitive set, so that would suggest a printing well into the production phase of that set.

You see? It's a proper mystery! I've asked the author of the standard work on test stamps (which does not mention this stamp at all); heck, I've even contacted the archivists of the Swiss PTT, but either the silence is deafening or no solution is forthcoming.

So this is my last straw. I'm just hoping that someone somewhere might read this some day and actually know about this stamp and can tell me more/all about it!


Saturday, 4 February 2017

BIOGRAPHY: Elsa Catelin

Elsa Catelin was born in Coutances, France on 20 November 1975. She grew up sorrounded by the artistic activities of both her parents who dabbled in wood sculpting and music. From a verly early age, Elsa loved to draw and design things. It was her favourite pastime whenever she got bored.

With her local school in Cotances not offering any artistic coruses, she first studied literature. She then studied Fine Art at the University of Upper Brittany where she graduated in 1997. During this course she became acquainted with a fellow pyupil who had beenm to the Ecole estienne. Her passion stirred and with boundless enthusiasm she subsequently went to the Ecole Estienne. During her years there, Elsa was taught many art forms but it was engraving which attracted her most.

After graduating with honours in the year 2000, Elsa took up a number of jobs in the field of engraving until she sent an open job application letter to the French state printers in 2003. A few months later she was asked for an interview, when the printers were looking for a new engraver. Elsa became employed by the printers in January 2004 and during the following two years was taught the art of engraving by Claude Jumelet and Jacky Larrivière.

A perfect way to learn the art of stamp engraving was to translate non-recessed stamp designs into engravings, which would be used for philatelic documents and special sheetlets called gravures. Elsa's first one was the 2004 French 'Anniversaire' greetings stamp. Two more engravings for philatelic documents followed that year, for the Ouistreham Lighthouse stamp and the Seasons Greetings issue. In 2005, Elsa engraved the Sicile stamp from the Art series for the philatelic documents, again based on a non-recessed stamp.

Elsa's first engraving for Monaco also dates from 2004, when she engraved the non-postal label with the monogram of Princess Grace of the miniature sheet issued to mark her 75th birth anniversary.

In 2006, Elsa engraved her first stamp for France: a stamp depicting Thionville, as part of the annual Tourism series. The stamp was also available as a monochrome 'gravure'. A large number of stamps have since followed. In particular, that of Villeneuve sur Lot, issued in 2010, is worth mentioning because of the superb quality of the engraving of the reflection in the water. Elsa’s masterpiece of 2012, the organ at Lunéville’s church of St Jacques is among her most celebrated work, with not just the stamps, but the whole sheet being engraved.

In 2013, only six years after having started engraving French stamps, Elsa was given the honour to engrave the new Marianne, a controversial design by the Ciappa & Kawena design duo. Elsa engraved two dies for this series. The first one is the standard version with children playing in the bottom right corner. It is used for the stamps with denominations and the stamps with permanent validity. The second die is for the green rates and includes a tree in the bottom right corner. As an extra green detail, Marianne's hair is brightened up with leaves.

There is also a version with an @ in the bottom right corner, which is an on line stamp which will be printed if you pay for your postage on line. This would normally therefore not be a recess-printed stamp, but you may find a recess-printed version on the Marianne miniature sheet, which also has an engraved and recess-printed postmark-like first day illustration. Then there's the ecopli rate stamp which has its background filled in.

The Marianne design sometimes gets used on commemorative stamps as well, and the first stamp to include the Marianne et la Jeunesse design was a stamp marking the Paris stamp show of November 2013. It is the green version but now used as a normally denominated stamp.

Elsa has said that her inspiration for her work lies both in the classics and the more modern art scene. She loves the work of the masters of old, such as Dürer and Vermeer, but is also fascinated by what digital art can accomplish. In her work, she enjoys the tension of how the traditional art form of hand engraving can bre preserved in an ever more digital printing process.

You will find Elsa Catelin's database HERE.

Saturday, 28 January 2017

BIOGRAPHY: Thomas C. Duffell

Thomas Duffell and his family migrated from Hackney, England to Australia in 1927, on the 'Narkunda'. Thomas had been asked by the Commonwealth Printing Branch in Fitzroy to come over and work for them, because they could not find enough local printing expertise.

For various Australian issues from 1936 to 1946, Duffell engraved subsidiary dies. The practice of subsidiary dies is as follows: from a cylinder from which the denominations were erased, subsidiary dies were laid down for further values in the same design. The engraving of the denominations on these were done by Duffell.

For the 1945 issue to mark the arrival of the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester in Australia, for example, Thomas engraved the values on the 3.5d and 5.5d stamps, after the 2.5d value had been erased from the master die which was engraved by Frank D Manley.

Thomas, who also worked as a transferrer, was second in charge (behind Manley) of the Engraving Department. Both his son Eric and his son-in-law Archibald Gordon Maclaurin held positions within the Commonwealth printing Branch, with his son being a maintenance engraver.


- The Australian Commonwealth Specialists' Catalogue, Brusden-White (1999)
- website

You will find the database of Thomas C Duffell HERE.