BIOGRAPHY: Bohumil Heinz

Bohumil Heinz was born in Rakovnik in what is now the Czech Republic, on 9 May 1894. He showed he had artistic talent from a young age, so he went to the School of Ceramics in Bechyne. But he had to cut his studies short to fight at the Russia and Italian fronts during World War One. After the war he attended the School of Applied Arts in Prague. Starting off with figurative painting, but later he moved on to engraving, being taught by Professor Eduard Karel.

In 1924, he left school but as he had to provide for his family, he could not afford to dabble in engraving and instead tried to eke out a living as a designer of posters, advertising and the like. He kept dreaming of maybe one day becoming a proper engraver. However, he had no teachers, no money for further education and all he could do was study the classic Russian and American banknotes by himself. Incessantly, he started engraving portraits, only to hone his skills and improve his chances of maybe one day finally being asked to engrave stamps.

Heinz did apply for a job at the Czechoslovakian National Bank but was rejected because basically he was a completely unknown person. His work, however, did get noticed by the elite among the engravers of the day, such as Ferdinand Schirnböck. In fact, Schirnböck invited Heinz to come and join him for a while in Vienna, but unfortunately Schirnböck died before this plan could be executed.

Heinz' luck finally changed when the foreign company De La Rue from London showed interest in his talents. In November 1932, Heinz was given the opportunity to make a test engraving for them, a portrait of the Siamese King Pradjadhipok. After Heinz had completed it in March 1933, he was offered a permanent position at the firm, but Heinz did not want to move away from home. He did start working for the company as a freelancer though.

In total, Heinz created some thirty engravings for De La Rue, of both banknotes and postage stamps. As usual with De La Rue engravers, contributing specific work to engravers is hard to do, but in the case of Heinz, it has been possible to compose a good number of engravings to him. Heinz sometimes hid his initials in the engravings he made, and these sometimes went undetected. But even better: after Heinz had passed away, various dies were found in his estate of engravings done for de La Rue. ‘Proofs’ were pulled from these dies and these were backstamped ‘zkusmy tisk’ (trial printing) and with a signature which looks like Heinz’s but isn’t.

Heinz' first stamps for De La Rue were the 1c and 50c of the 'Martyrs of the Revolution' issue of China, engraved in May 1933 and issued in 1934. Heinz engraved the portrait of Ch'en Ying-shih for those values.

Other portraits Heinz engraved for De La Rue are the profile head of King George V, which was used on definitives for Ceylon, Nigeria and St Lucia. General Gordon's portrait on the 1935 Sudan issue was also by Heinz. On top of that he engraved the vignette of the 20p and 5p stamps. He hid his name in top of the trunk of the palm tree.

Research by Brian Livingstone, published in Geosix, the journal of the King George VI Collectors’ Society, has shown that Heinz also engraved one of the profile heads used by De La Rue for various definitive issues. The proofs of this particular head are in a rectangular stamp-size format, which probably has led to them usually being attributed as unadopted stamp essays. These proofs show the H for Heinz hidden in the king’s ear. Comparison with the De La Rue profiles used has shown that this head was used for the 1938 definitive set issued in Kenya, Uganda and Tanganyika. It appears on all values except the 15c and 2s. The head was only used for one other stamp; the 1s definitive issued in St Lucia, also in 1938.

The proof with H in the king’s ear is another posthumous proof. The actual De La Rue proofs made at the time of stamp production appear to show that the H was discovered and first partly removed, while on the eventual stamps, the H has disappeared completely.

Heinz's final work for De La Rue was a profile of yet another king: that of King Charles I, which was to appear on the 1939 set for Barbados commemorating the Tercentenary of the General Assembly. 

At home, Heinz' breakthrough into the world of postage stamps came in 1934. He had been submitting essays before then, but they had always been rejected in favour of other engravers. Most famously, in 1934 Heinz decided to engrave a postage stamp essay for the upcoming commemoration of the fiftieth death anniversary of the composer Bedrich Smetana, only to be told when submitting it that the job had been given to the engraver Karl Seizinger just the week before.

Heinz' version of the Smetana stamp was thought to be of such good quality, though, that he finally got the offer to engrave an issue commemorating another Czechoslovakian composer, Antonin Dvorak, also in 1934. For someone whose second passion was classical music, these were ideal subjects to translate into engravings. The Dvorak stamp was received with much praise among collectors and admirers of engraved stamp alike. It was clear that this Bohumil Heinz, whom no-one had ever heard of, was no mere beginner, but a very talented and skilful engraver.

Heinz himself was more critical of his first work for Czechoslovakia, and especially lamented the printing with rotary presses, believing that the process of flat printing was more suited for retaining the nuances of the original engraving. Heinz' breakthrough at home meant he could move to a larger place. Since 1928, he and his wife had lived in a tiny apartment in Prague, where there was so little room that Heinz had to engrave in the kitchen. But in 1934, the family could move to a larger place where Heinz would have his own room.

A few years later, when Czechoslovakia was occupied by the Germans, Heinz saw himself forced to work for the occupying forces. He engraved a number of stamps for the protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. Rather bravely, and nailing his patriotic colours to the mast, Heinz hid the letters D, r and B in the engravings of the 1k, 1k20 and 50h values of the 1939 definitives. DrB was short for Dr Benes, the President of Czechoslovakia in exile.

These are not the only secret patriotic characteristics in those issues, though. When placing the 40h, 50h, 1k and 60h of that same 1939 set in a certain position, the combined engravings show the pre-war outline of Czechoslovakia.

Ever more fanciful, and maybe even a bit doubtful, is the alleged inclusion of caricature portraits of Tomas Masaryk, Edvard Benes and General Stefanik, who are considered the founding fathers of Czechoslovakia, on the 50h stamp. That same stamp is supposed to have included a profile of Benes in the clouds to the left of the tower.

Finally, the clouds on the 1k value are supposed to include the outline of Czechoslovakia's patron saint Wenceslas. All these patriotic messages were of course not reported until after the Second World War.

Bohumil Heinz passed away on 22 May 1940 from a cardiac arrest. As a posthumous honour, Heinz' Smetana essay, first submitted in 1934, was finally issued as a stamp, in 1949.

You will find Bohumil Heinz’ database HERE.

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