At the time they were heralded as the most beautiful stamps in the world: the 1906 Bosnia and Herzegovina definitives. And they were the making of the career of Ferdinand Schirnböck.
Schirnböck returned to Vienna, Austria in 1894, after a couple of years in Argentina, where he had engraved the vast majority of stamps then issued. Two years later he got the chance to engrave De Fregger’s painting ‘Delivery of Imperialistic Gifts to Andreas Hofer’. This copper engraving was subsidised by the Emperor Franz Joseph, a staunch patron of the arts. It brought Schirnböck acclaim and more commissions. And it earned him a contract with the postal authorities.
Schirnböck started working for the Staatsdruckerei. During his first decade at the government printers he mainly engraved banknotes. But in 1906, Schirnböck was paired up with the designer Koloman Moser to produce a 16-value set of definitives for Bosnia and Herzegovina, which saw the start of a most successful partnership. The stamps set a high standard for what was then still a novelty: scenic illustrations on stamps. Furthermore, it cemented Schirnböck's reputation as a master engraver.
In traditional philately, the set is known for its many perforation varieties, which are indeed spectacular, and a real challenge to collect. But for us engraving lovers, it will be just as much of a challenge to try and collect the few die proofs that are out there.
The printing of the stamps is quite dense, so a crisp print from the master die does enhance the beauty of the engraving.
In 1910, the set was reissued with added panels at the bottom, reading 1830-1910. This set was issued to mark the eightieth birthday of the Emperor, whose portrait appeared on the top value.
No more perforation varieties to collect, so this set receives much less attention, but with the frame now encircling the whole vignette, I think these 1910 versions are much more pleasing to the eye.
And of course for this set, too, you might want to try and find the odd die proof, adding, as they say, spice to your collection.