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!


Saturday, 10 September 2016

Keen's Queen

Part of my regular job (if you can call it that) is to report on auction highlights. An additional perk is that I therefore have to browse the most wonderful auction catalogues on an almost daily basis, whether on line or by holding beautiful glossy hard copies in my hands. I'm always drawn to the so-called 'named collections' that are auctioned off: collections which belonged to a single vendor, usually an expert in any particular field. For a long time I had been dreaming about being to able to annotate one of my items Ex ...(fill in name). I was therefore extremely happy when I finally managed to find an affordable item for my collection from one of those named collections!

The collection was one of Tonga, and it was compiled by Martin Baxendale FRPSL. Now, Tonga hardly features in this database: there is a 1953 definitive set for which Nigel Alan Dow did some work, and then there's the 1951 set marking the fiftieth anniversary of the Treaty of Friendship between Britain and Tonga. That particular set, with expection of the 1d value, was engraved by Joseph Lawrence Keen. And that is the set featured here today.

In Baxendale's collection was this wonderful die proof of the portrait of Queen Salote, as used on two of the values.

Ex Baxendale 2016
I've since learned that stamp portraits were always engraved as a stand-alone engraving. These were then hardened and a new laydown of the portrait would then be used for further work on the design, such as background, frame, etc. This would enable the authorities to make use of the same portrait for several stamps, which was of course ideal in the age of royal profiles on all those British Empire stamps.

And so this Ex Baxendale item illustrates an important part of the whole engraved stamp production process, but for me it's extra wonderful because it's my first ex!


Saturday, 3 September 2016

Bard's Bard

I was actually looking for a Stanley Doubtfire item: Hessler's book mentioned that he engraved two Shakespeare portraits for De La Rue sample notes. So I subsequently consulted a test note catalogue and found two different Shakespeare notes for De La Rue / Giori test notes.

Not seeing any other Shakespeare portraits mentioned in the catalogue, I happily proceeded to get some Shakespeare in, only to find (well, to be told by a keener collector, to be honest) that this actual portrait of The Bard was by another Bard, Harold J to be precise!

Thankfully, Mr Bard is also a stamp engraver, so it didn't really matter for I could now just file these notes under him. Here is a closer look at the beautiful portrait:

And here is proof that it was really Mr Bard who did the engraving.

All I need to do now is try and find out which Shakespeare portraits Mr Doubtfire did engrave!


Saturday, 27 August 2016

Government Postage Stamp Printers' Association (GPSPA) stamp awards

Category: Best Intaglio Stamp

France, Strasbourg window stamp in Art series of 1985, engraved by Jacky Larriviere

Czech Republic, Slavicek stamp in Art series of 2003, engraved by Vaclav Fajt

Denmark, H C Andersen 4k50 value of 2005, engraved by Lars Sjööblom

Spain, Casa Batllo value from 2006 Architecture set, engraved by Alfredo de Oro

Spain, Charles Darwin from 2009 Scientists set, engraved by Juan Carlos Heras Vicario

Spain, Tarazona cathedral, issued in 2011, engraved by ??

Poland, Gallus Anonymus, issued in 2013, engraved by Jan Maciej Kopecki

Czech Republic, Von Aachen's Head of a Girl, issued in 2015, engraved by Milos Ondracek

Category: Best Combination Stamp

Austria, Gustav Klimt, engraved by Wolfgang Seidel

Austria, Sattler Panorama, engraved by Wolfgang Seidel

Spain, Francisco de Javier, engraved by Alfredo de Oro

Poland, Warsaw rebuilt, engraved by Przemyslaw Krajewski

Belgium, Brussels market, engraved by Guillaume Broux

Denmark, Johanne Heiberg, issued in 2012, engraved by Lars Sjööblom

The GPSPA's website can be found HERE.

Friday, 26 August 2016



Prussia, Definitives (except frame of 4pf) (1)

(1) Meekel's Weekly, 15 Nov 1937

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Heras and De Oro: A right royal pair

Having two or even more engravers working on a single stamp is nothing new. Just take a look at the American catalogue for example, which is riddled with vignette engravers, frame engravers and letter engravers. However, having two engravers working on a single vignette is a different matter altogether and to be honest, I only know of a few other ones and even there, the parts they were working on were decidedly separate from each other.

But here we have a stamp, issued in Spain in 2004, which includes the portaits of the then King and Queen of Spain. It forms part of a miniature sheet celebrating the monarchy (top centre). A little research done some time ago revealed that there were two engravers involved: Juan Carlos Heras Vicario and Alfredo de Oro Sanz. Heras engraved the queen's portrait and De Oro that of the king.

There was a special souvenir sheetlet issued which only includes the engraved stamp of the standard miniature sheet and an extra print of the engraved parts only. For us the perfect way to compare the two gentlemen's work.

While I suppose the style is very much alike, I noticed that De Oro used the time-honoured technique of cross-hatching with dots in the diamonds on the king's cheek. I would also dare to say that the king's facial features such as his eyes and mouth are way more pronounced than that of the queen. However, I much prefer the queen's forehead to that of the king, not being sure of those hard lines at the top, though you don't really notice that when just looking at the stamp. And I quite like the way the light shines on the queen's hair. All in all I would call it a draw!

Final point: the two portraits are so close to each other and fit so well, that I would presume the engravers have been working on the same master die, rather than each engraving his own die, which would undoubtedly have yielded printing headaches.

What do you think?


Saturday, 13 August 2016

Naszarkowski's animals

This week I'm just going to let you enjoy some stamp engravings of animals, which I think are truly beautiful. They're all by Piotr Naszarkowski. From 1993 we have an engraving of the polecat. Although multicoloured, the colour scheme is very unobtrusive and tastefully applied.

From 1996 we have the hedgehog. I love how Piotr has managed to engrave the many stickly bits.

But my all time favourites are the 2009 set of winter animals. By now Piotr had perfected his fauna style, being able to capture the essence of any animal with as little fuss as possible, whether it's a ptarmigan, an alpine hare or an ermine. The fact that they're printed in monochrome really helps a lot and makes each and everyone a miniature work of art. Hats off to him!