Saturday, 22 October 2016

Schirnbock's Argentine years

Before Ferdinand Schirnböck became the master engraver of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, he spent a few years in South America, engraving for the then newly founded South American Bank Note Company in Buenos Aires, Argentina. His main output while there concerned the large Argentine definitive series of famous personalities, which was introduced in 1888.

To be fair, he was probably 'only' responsible for the portrait vignettes, as the company also employed frame engravers, but information on this is of course a little hazy.

Nevertheless, it's a great set to collect, although a rather challenging one. I've been trying for quite some time to get together a set of mint stamps in reasonable quality with reasonable centring, and it's proving rather hard! In fact, I've nowhere near succeeded yet.

But thankfully, the enormous bonus with this set is that the proof material is so much less scarce than the actual stamps and in most cases very affordable. In case of the higher values even much more affordable than the stamps themselves.

And so, colour proofs made from the printing plates abound, and even the odd die proof may not be that hard to find.

But it gets better: there are, as far as I could find out, nine designs for which proofs exist but which were eventually not issued as stamps. Always fascinating material, of course, but even the majority of those are quite easy to find. The nine unissued values are:

Small format: 15c, 20c, 24c, 25c, 30c and 90c

Large format: 2p, 10p and 50p

With a little patience, you can put together a great collection of this set which shows material you won't always be able to include otherwise, and which forms an important part of the early career of Mr Schirnböck.

One word of caution though: Twentieth century reprints exist which are not always printed in recess. These, however, are always on paper, varying from thick to very thin. So if you want to be relatively sure you're opting for the real thing, then only try and find proofs which are on card!


Friday, 21 October 2016



Italy, Giovanni Boccaccio



Saturday, 15 October 2016

Naszarkowski does Alfred Nobel

In 2011, both Poland and Sweden commemorated the fact that a century ago Marie Curie had won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, "in recognition of her services to the advancement of chemistry by the discovery of the elements radium and polodium, by the isolation of radium and the study of the nature and compounds of this remarkable element".

The joint issue consisted of a miniature sheet which included two stamps. One portrayed Marie Curie at work, which formed a part of the overall image, and the second stamp depicts the Nobel Prize medal with its portrait of Alfred Nobel and a blue blob which I presume to be radium? The combination of a Pole winning a Swede's Prize made the choice of engraver rather obvious; and so the postal authorities went for a Pole living and working in Sweden: Piotr Naszarkowski.

Accompanying the Polish issue was a lovely black print of (mainly) the engraved parts only. As always a fantastic way to enjoy the engravings, and also a way to wonder once again why the postal authorities don't seem to be able to understand that an engraving doesn't need any other printing processes and that these normally only detract from the art.

Now this wasn't the first time that Naszarkowski tackled the theme of Alfred Nobel. In 2001, the centenary of the Nobel Prize was celebrated with many stamp issues. Sweden's issue was engraved by Czeslaw Slania, but Piotr Naszarkowski engraved a beautiful, large portrait of the man, which was printed in a limited edition of 300. I have no idea whether this was a commissioned work or whether it was just a private work, but whatever the reason behind it, it's an absolutely wonderful portrait.


Saturday, 8 October 2016

Four engravers under a magnifying glass

In 2004, the Swedish post thought it a good idea to honour the four engravers which had been responsible for all their magnificent recess-printed stamps. So they produced this little map with information about Czeslaw Slania, Lars Sjööblom, Martin Mörck and Piotr Naszarkowski, of which they printed 5000 copies. And they called it 4 gravörer under lupp. So far so good. But it gets better when you learn that all four engravers included a self chosen piece of work to be included. Those four engravings turn this rather general brochure into something highly special!

And so we find Slania having chosen his engraving 'Napoleon on Horseback' to be included. A very apt subject, seeing his interest in historic scenes. Apparently, Slania was quite the expert on the Napoleonic era.

Martin Mörck's choice was just as obvious. Being fascinated by anything and everything Greenlandish, his chosen engraving is of a scene of East Greenland.

The brochure reports that Piotr Naszarkowski embraced the strict classic school of engraving, hence probably his inclusion of a classic statue, that of Mars and Venus.

The final engraving is by Lars Sjööblom, who has become known not only for using dots to engrave portraits, but for his magnificent animal engravings. This here Golden Eagle is so beautiful it just leaves one speechless!


Saturday, 1 October 2016

Seegers' Queen

Yes, I realise I have been featuring quite a lot of queens lately, but then, they're all so beautiful! I think it would be great to just have a collection of queens. But today, we focus on just the one: Queen Emma of the Netherlands, who was actually 'just' a queen regent until her daughter Wilhelmina would turn 18. Emma was queen regent from 1890 to 1898.

She never featured on her country's definitives, that honour was preserved for Wilhelmina, but she did feature on the odd stamp after she was no longer queen. One of those, and I believe the most striking one, was issued in 1934. Although it says nowhere on the stamp, it was actually a charity stamp, and an extra 2c had to be paid to purchase it, which would go to the Anti TB Fund. The stamp was engraved by Hendrik Seegers.

When Enschedé started producing their Handboek Postwaarden Nederland in 1994, a handbook on Dutch stamps and other postal items (which is still being worked on, with 2 to 3 instalments a year and an absolute must for collectors of the Netherlands), they produced a little present for those who subscribed: a special reprint of the Emma stamp from the original die, though this time in a different colour. It is lovely and must be treasured by those who own it for I've never seen it for sale anywhere!

In 1939, Seegers got to engrave another portrait of Emma, this time for the country's 20 guilders bank note. That engraving, too, portrays Emma in widow's clothing, as this was the image most Dutch folk would have on their minds anyway when thinking of her. After all, being more than 40 years younger than her husband King William III, she was a widow for a whopping 44 years!

She has since descended down the rankings somewhat as she was only a queen consort and then a queen regent, and never a 'proper' queen, but she was very much liked in her time so this is to redeem her a bit.


Friday, 30 September 2016



Central African Republic, Musical instruments

Saturday, 24 September 2016

A little too Keen

A fortnight ago I was elated about my very first item from a named collection. That elation came close on the heels of another first I was psyched about: my very first banknote die proof! However, it turned out to be a bit of a disappointment.

It all started out innocently enough: die proof for use on banknotes, it said in the auction catalogue. A portrait of Mr Bustamante, listed under Jamaica. So I checked and there it was: a banknote issued in Jamaica in 1970, bearing the portrait of said Bustamante. Engraved by Joe Keen. The price was reasonable so I was over the moon, put in a bid, and duly won the item. And here it is:

Gorgeous, isn't it?! I naturally proceeded to try and find the actual banknotes as well, to complete the picture. That wasn't very hard either, so I got one in and here it is:

Get the picture? Right, it's a completely different engraving. And as far as I can see it's the only Jamaica banknote to actually have a Bustamante portrait, so this must be the one engraved by Keen.

But then, who engraved the other one? And why? As far as I can see, Bustamante has never appeared on any other banknote in any country. So I haven't a clue who engraved the proof, and I would dearly like to know because I actually prefer the proof way more above the banknote engraving (sorry Mr Keen).


Friday, 23 September 2016

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Doubtfire's Queen

When I heard about the passing of the engraver Stanley Doubtfire, on 17 January of this year, I thought I might write an article on him for one of the magazines. But it proved rather complicated to find enough information to make anything really worthwhile so I've since shelved the project. But there was a snippet of information which I quite liked and so I thought I'd share it with you.

Doubtfire engraved loads of portraits for banknotes and they're all quite stunning, maybe especially so the variety of portraits of Queen Elizabeth II. When you have the opportunity, have a closer look at the Elizabethan portraits on the New Zealand banknotes of 1967. They illustrate perfectly how much work can be involved, and how, back then anyway, artistic arguments could still win the day over financial ones!

You see, the thing is that the higher value banknotes were larger and so is the portrait on them, but Doubtfire had only engraved the small portrait. As a time and cost saving measure, DLR tried to enlarge the portrait photographically and subsequently etch the larger version. This did not work out well, though, so Doubtfire was called in again to try and patch up the large portrait, but that, too, was of no use.

The problem is of course that a larger portrait needs differently spaced lines. If you just enlarge the smaller version, the lines will be spaced too far apart and this distorts the whole engraving. And so, in the end, Doubtfire had to engrave a whole new larger portrait as well!


Thursday, 15 September 2016

Happy Birthday, Milos Ondracek!

Isn't it amazing? Milos Ondracek is 80 years old today and still churning out stamps such as this one:

and this one:

Happy Birthday to him and long may he be able to continue!