Professor Werner Pfeiler (born 1941) was born in Vienna in 1941. His artistic talent had become obvious from an early age but the family did not have the funds to give him an appropriate education in the arts. He did receive training as an industrial engraver, however, and developed his skills while being employed as such in the graphic industry. His talent shone through and he was soon head of the engraving department in the firm where he worked.

But the arts still attracted Pfeiler, so in his free hours he tried his hand at painting. He also enrolled as a guest student at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna where he studied life drawing and anatomy.

From the age of ten, Werner Pfeiler, like so many young kids of his age, had been an avid stamp collector. He came full circle when he entered the world of stamp engraving in 1969. It was his engraved ‘Don Carlos’ stamp from the 1969 Vienna State Opera block, especially, which proved that he was a master in the technique, and this stamp kick-started his illustrious stamp engraving career.

For nearly four decades, the catalogue of Austrian stamps would be dominated by Pfeiler’s name. Numerous commemorative sets were engraved by him, and, maybe even more importantly, several high profile Austrian definitive sets were also from Pfeiler’s hand.

The first such definitive set was the 1973 ‘Beautiful Austria’ series, which was entirely engraved by Pfeiler. This set, in particular, has become an iconic set of the modern Austrian catalogue, and it is through the beauty of the engravings that Austria managed to put itself on the world stage as a beautiful country indeed.

Pfeiler repeated this mammoth task in 1984, with yet another large and magnificent definitive set, depicting monasteries and abbeys. Again, the whole set was engraved by Pfeiler, and indeed five values were designed by him as well. With the 1993 ‘Monasteries and Abbeys’ definitive set Pfeiler went yet another step further, by designing and engraving the whole set himself. It is very fitting that Austria’s final recess-printed definitive set, the 1997 ‘Myths and Legends’ series, would also be engraved by Werner Pfeiler, concluding his involvement in all of Austria’s definitives since the early 1970s.

Besides their definitive sets, Austria has since long included a number of long-running series in its annual stamp issuing programme. One of these are the annual Stamp Day issues. From 1983 to 1989 these consisted of various designs with a postal theme in similar frames. These single stamp issues, designed and engraved by Pfeiler, have become just as iconic as his other work.

Pfeiler has not only engraved stamps for Austria. He did some work for Luxembourg as well, such as the 1984 Paintings set and the 1994 set showing Government Houses.

For Liechtenstein, too, Pfeiler engraved the odd stamp, such as the portrait of Prince Hans Adam from the 1970-4 royal portraits series, and the 1974 high value stamp portraying Prince Francis Joseph II and Princess Gina.

Pfeiler’s work as a designer and engraver became well known and loved throughout the whole world. The beauty of the Austrian definitives from his hand has raised the profile of Austrian stamps enormously. They have all stood the test of time and can still be regarded as a benchmark for recess-printed stamps. Pfeiler’s work has placed Austria firmly in the upper echelon of countries issuing engraved stamps. As such, it has raised the profile of Austria as a country as well. For this reason, the Austrian authorities, in view of services rendered to his country, granted him the title of Professor. 

This article was first published in Stamp and Coin Mart of June 2013 and is reproduced with their kind permission.    

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