DOW, Nigel Alan

“I’ve never really engraved a satisfactory portrait of The Queen”. This casual remark, made in an interview for the Penrose 82 International Review of the Graphic Arts, has haunted Alan Dow for ever. Collectors of his work have ever since been negating his remark, but taken in the context of the interview it need not necessarily be read as a criticism of his own engraving skills. It was more meant to highlight the fact that he always worked from photographs and was therefore recreating the photographer’s perception of The Queen, rather than modelling his own. Besides, the remark seemed to have also been aimed mainly at this work on banknotes, for no other engraver has engraved so many portraits on banknotes of The Queen as Alan Dow.

Nigel Alan Dow, born in London in 1929, commenced his training at the London School of Photo-Engraving, Lithography and Commercial Art. But hardly a year into his education he joined Bradbury Wilkinson for an initial trial period of a couple of months. This led to a prolonged seven-year period of training with the firm. During this period he enjoyed the guidance of the famous French engraver Max Ferré.

Dow’s first stamps probably date from 1947, these being stamps engraved for Ethiopia. The problem with ascertaining which stamps should be attributed to Dow is that there are usually no official sources to consult. The main catalogues hardly make any mention of his name, so the little information that is around has been dug out of archives etc., and cannot always be corroborated. However, it is fairly certain that Dow was responsible for quite a few British Commonwealth definitives from the 1950s. These would include a number of stamps dating from the late King George VI period, such as the 1½d, 2d and 2s stamps for the Cayman Islands and the 4c and 2$40 values for Dominica. 

The list grows substantially when we enter the early Queen Elizabeth II period. Apart from single stamps from larger sets, such as the 2½d Bermuda stamp from 1952 and the 15m, 40m and 100m stamps from Cyprus, dating from 1955, the complete lower values from both New Zealand (1953) and Fiji (1956) have been attributed to Dow. If anything, these stamps show that Dow was most certainly capable of rendering beautiful portraits of The Queen.

Dow has also engraved quite a few stamps and definitive sets for countries outside the British Commonwealth. Among others, he was responsible for the 1952 Libya definitives, the 1956 Morocco definitives for its southern zone, and the 1957 Iraq definitives. Most iconic among his ‘foreign’ work is probably that done for the 1955 Kings set of Portugal. Dow engraved the 90c and 2e values.

In the 1960s, when top engraver Robert Godbehear retired, Alan Dow became Chief Engraver at Bradbury Wilkinson. During this period he engraved the 1964 Shakespeare stamp and the 1966 Westminster Abbey stamp for Great Britain, although on the latter Dow only engraved the portrait of the Queen, the vignette being engraved by Frederick Warner.

In 1986, De La Rue took over Bradbury Wilkinson. Dow, together with many other staff members, left the company and found work at the Swedish firm A. B. Tuma, which had offices just outside of London. After these offices folded in 1991, De La Rue offered Dow a contract as a consultant with the guarantee of some actual portrait engraving being agreed upon as well. Dow stayed with De La Rue there until his retirement in 1997, but his work done during that time for engraving banknotes rather than stamps. 

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

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Two engravers were asked to make a die for the British Machin high values which would be issued in 1969: Nigel Alan Dow and Robert Godbehear. As an aid to the engravers, the final plaster cast made by Arnold Machin was re-photographed in such a way that the depth of the cast was more visible than on the photographs used for the low value photogravure stamps. The engraving by Robert Godbehear was chosen for the final stamps.

STAMPS BY YEAR

1947
Ethiopia, Definitive, 12c vignette
Ethiopia, Airmail definitives, plane only?

1950
Barbados, Definitive 6c vignette
Cayman Islands, Definitives, vignettes of 1.5d, 2d and 2s
Ethiopia, Anniversary of Coronation 5c, vignette
Iran, Avicenna's tomb, vignette of 1r+50d
Niue, Definitive 3d, vignette
Sarawak, Definitives, vignette of 20c

1951
Dominica, Definitives, 4c and $2.40
Montserrat, Definitives, vignettesd of 4c and 24c

1952
Ethiopia, Federation 50c (1)
Libya, Definitives
Samoa, Definitives 2s and 3s

1953
Bermuda, Definitive, 2.5d
Ceylon, Coronation (1)
Ethiopia, Federation of Ethiopia and Eritrea, 15c and 30c vignette Ethiopia, Red Cross
Jamaica, Royal Visit (3)
New Zealand, Coronation 2d
New Zealand, Queen Elizabeth II definitives up to 8d
Somaliland Protectorate, Definitive 5s
Southern Rhodesia, Definitives 3d and £1 vignettes (1)
Tonga, Definitives 1d, 6d vignette and 10s portrait (1)

1954
Fiji, Definitives, QEII profile only, on Bradbury Wilkinson stamps

1955
Bechuanaland Protectorate, Definitives, QEII profile only (3)
Cyprus, Definitives, 15m, 40m and 100m
Ethiopia, Silver Jubilee Fair, vignette
Falkland Islands, Definitives, QEII profile only (4)
New Zealand, Health
New Zealand, Queen Elizabeth II definitives
Portugal, Kings 90c, 2E
Sarawak, Definitives, QEII profile only

1956
Ascension, Definitives, QEII profile only
Fiji, Definitives, Annigoni portrait
Malta, Definitives, 1/4d and 2s, plus all QEII profiles
Morocco, Southern zone definitives
New Zealand, Health
Solomon Islands, Definitive 1/2d

1957
Iraq, definitives
Sarawak, Definitive 20c
Turks and Caicos Islands, Definitives 2.5d and 5s, plus all QEII profiles

1958
Ethiopia, Economic conference
Iraq, Army day 30f

1959
Fiji, Definitives, QEII profile only
Rhodesia & Nyasaland, Definitives, QEII profile only
Rhodesia & Nyasaland, Definitive £1 whole stamp

1960
British Honduras, Post office centenary, QEII profile only
Maldive Islands, Definitive 25l

1961
Antigua, Nelson's dockyard

1962
Antigua, Stamp centenary, QEII profile only
Cayman Islands, Definitives, QEII portrait only
Ireland, O'Donovan and O'Curry
Philippines, Definitives 3s, 30s
Rhodesia & Nyasaland, Definitive  9d, profile QEII only
Uganda, Discovery of source of Nile, QEII portrait only

1963
British Antarctic Territory, Definitive, 10s
Cook Islands, Definitive 1s6d
Philippines, Presidential sayings (1st issue)
Philippines, Definitive 5s

1964
Great Britain, Shakespeare

1966
Antigua, Definitives, QEII profile only
Great Britain, Westminster Abbey (portrait only)
Philippines, Regidor commemoration

OTHER WORK

1971
Great Britain, All portraits on £1, £5 £10, £20 and £50 banknotes except Newton on £1 P377-381 (2)

1982 (?)
Great Britain, Bradbury Wilkinson calendar

THANKS TO

- 'canadian NorthAmerican' from Stamp Magazine's engravers forum.

Notes
(1) Stamp Magazine website, Which engravers/engraved stamps do you most admire?
(2) Penrose 1982
(3) The Die Proofs of Waterlow & Sons, Part 1
(4) Gibbons Stamp Monthly, August 1955

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