Bertil Skov Jørgensen: Denmark’s Swan Song (part 5 of 5)

Skov Jørgensen is also satisfied with two of his miniature sheets: the Niebuhr issue of 2011 and the Dybbøl sheetlet of 2014. The Niebuhr sheet was based on engravings by Georg Wilhelm Baurenfeind, the engraver who accompanied the cartographer Carsten Niebuhr on his expedition to Arabia, the subject of the miniature sheet. The three engravings depicted Niebuhr in Arab costume, a horse-driven grain mill from Cairo, and a scarab, the latter featuring on a non-postal label.

Engraving a copy of an existing engraving may seem easy; after all, it would be just a copy of existing lines. Someone else has already done the hard work with regard to light and dark tones, soft and hard lines, the amount of details, etc. But it is rather tricky, because the new engraving has to honour the original as much as possible, while also making sure that the engraving complies with modern-day printing requirements. In this case, especially, the originals of the two stamp engravings had to be downscaled quite a bit to fit the small stamp size. This meant a large reduction in the number of lines, while trying to preserve the character and ‘feel’ of the original engravings. The new engravings would also have to be similar in detail to the scarab engraving, which hardly needed any downscaling at all.

The eventual miniature sheet, which is printed in a combination of recess and lithography, has a rather dark background. For those wanting to admire the engravings, it would be advisable to locate the black print of the engraved parts only, which was printed in a limited number of 1500. Failing that, a First Day Cover of the miniature sheet might do the trick as well, because its illustration is that of Skov Jørgensen’s key-line art for the scarab engraving.

The Dybbøl miniature sheet stands out for Skov Jørgensen because it was his first large scene he got to engrave. It was a very satisfying and fun piece of work to do, also because the original drawing was so powerful. One really feels the physical struggle of bringing all that war equipment up hill. As with the Niebuhr miniature sheet, the Dybbøl engraving was also issued as a limited edition black print by Post Danmark.

Nowadays, Skov Jørgensen is still active in the world of stamps, though now as a designer rather than an engraver. Although many of his creations still resemble the engraved stamps of old, the process is now a little simpler. Most noticeable among his recent work is a series which was introduced by Greenland in 2017 and which is still running. The stamps depict various old Greenlandic banknotes, produced in a style which tries to resemble the intricate engravings of the notes. For these, Skov Jørgensen creates an ink drawing of the engraved parts at a size of 600 percent. This drawing is then scanned and the scan guides the laser which ‘engraves’ the lines on the printing cylinder.

Although as a designer he may be proud enough of his work, as an engraver it grieves Skov Jørgensen to think he may no more create any hand-engraved stamps. Fortunately for him, Skov Jørgensen is still able to incorporate the art of engraving in his art work. At the moment of writing he was busy preparing for a number of exhibitions in 2021 which will showcase his work using copper engraving, aquatint and line etching; all varieties of the engraving technique. Yet, he dearly hopes he may in the future once again be able to create some hand-engraved stamps, because, as he says, the classic hand engraving remains one of the most refined and delicate printing techniques.

This article was first published in Gibbons Stamp Monthly of February 2021.