BIOGRAPHY: Albert Yersin

Albert Yersin (1905-1984) was born into a rich Swiss bankers family, but within two years went to New York with his freshly widowed American mother. When she remarried, the family moved to Chile where Yersin spent his teenage years. There he started drawing; copying the great masters and striking up an acquaintance with a contemporary painter. His mother encouraged him to take up an artistic career but the young Yersin struggled to find his path, trying his hands at almost everything: architecture, the theatre, and even banking, in periods when his financial limits were stretched. Throughout this time though, he kept on drawing and this probably made him end up in Paris when he was in his early twenties. There he immersed himself in the artistic riches of its population. However, just when he was introduced to the art of engraving, his financial benefactors gave up on him and turned off the taps. Yersin returned to Switzerland and struggled to make ends meet for a while. Then, in 1935, he was fortunate to get a grant so he could become a student at the Royal College of Art in London. After his return he met an executive of the Swiss Post and that signalled the start of his stamp engraving career.

Yersin soon found that engraving stamps asked for a high amount of precision and concentration. He likened it to a never-ending story: each time you think you’ve solved all problems, but then, when you see the final plate, you know you still have all to learn. Although more than capable, Yersin saw his work as a stamp engraver purely as a necessary job, a steady source of income. His heart remained with his own art, where he was master of what he wanted to do. Yersin remained heavily involved with new art forms, such as avant-garde, sweeping through Europe. He painted, sculpted and engraved many works, experimenting with many materials and processes connected with art and printing, such as lithography, engravings, gouache. Through many publications he charted the development of modern art in Switzerland and Europe.

But, financially he kept on struggling as a reduced demand in engraved stamps meant he was in constant financial trouble, often unable to support his wife and three children. Engraving watches was another way he tried to earn some money, though he found this enormously tedious and uninspiring. He was more pleased with his teaching job at an art school. As a true artist, he kept trying to fulfil his dreams, without keeping an eye on more mundane matters.
In the mid 1950s however, he started to receive more regular commissions for stamp engravings, which kept him financially afloat. His ‘apprenticeship’ under the famous Karl Bickel finally seemed to have paid off. But the fact that he was just one in a team of Swiss engravers, which included famous names such as aforementioned Karl Bickel and his son, made him feel his work was like a fight for prestige and position. He eventually gave up his stamp work in the 1970s.

The fact that Yersin may have viewed his work as a stamp engraver as just a job, does not lessen the quality of his engravings, for which he is praised. In fact, the Bickel family still regards him as the true master engraver of Switzerland. Among his finest work are the many stamps issued in the 1950s for various international organisations situated in Switzerland, such as the United Nations and the World Health Organisation. The Swiss 1941 airmail stamps were both designed and engraved by Albert Yersin.  Yersin was also often involved in the annual National Fete sets of the 1940s and the Pro Patria sets of the 1950s. Finally, he also contributed all the engravings for the large 1960-1973 “Architectural Monuments” definitive set and most engravings for the 1973-1980 “Architecture and Craft” definitive set.

You will find Albert Yersin's database HERE.