I was browsing through one of my French 'They who create our stamps' booklets again the other day, which I mentioned here, here and here, when I bumped into this quote about Jules Piel: "Quant aux figurines postales, sa notoriété a franchi nos frontières, et la Grande-Bretagne, pour ne citer qu'elle, a fait récemment encore appel à son burin pour fixer les traits de la reine Elizabeth II". Isn't french just the most beautiful language?! To paraphrase: Piel's fame has recently (this was writen in 1957) led to Great Britain asking him to engrave the portrait of Queen Elizabeth II.
Now, anyone with a bit of knowledge of GB stamps will know there's no engraved portrait of the queen by Jules Piel to be found in the whole catalogue, which makes this an intriguing case! And a hopeless one as well, if it weren't for the fact that I suddenly remembered something being mentioned in the Stamp Magazine website forum on engravers. That forum thread has since become incomplete but luckily I had kept some information and pics. And there they were; two beautiful portraits, one of the queen and one of her prince.
Renewed inquiries with the original poster revealed that these two engravings are included in a book called (The House of) De La Rue, which was published in or around 1957, and should not be mistaken for a similar book called The World of De La Rue! The book is still for sale in various places but so far I've only come across copies with those two engravings missing. Caveat emptor!
The story behind it is that in 1953, around the time of the Coronation, De La Rue commissioned Piel to engrave the two portraits to see whether his work would be suitable for banknotes. It was/is well known that French engravers have a very fine style, a style which is often too fine to be used on banknotes, for which deeper engravings are needed. It turned out that Piel's work was indeed considered too fine as well, so he was never employed for any work printed by De La Rue. The two portraits Piel engraved instead ended up as promotional material in this afore-mentioned book.
I'm very glad they did because they're stunning, so I do hope that one day I'll come across a copy of that book with these two gems still in.