Saturday, 20 May 2017

BIOGRAPHY: Silas Robert Allen

Silas Robert Allen was born in Ottawa, Canada, in 1888. From an early age it was clear he had an artistic talent, winning prizes for his drawing at his primary school. He subsequently went to the Ottawa technical School, where he had his art training, combined with illustration classes. During these years he not only honed his drawing skills, but also became a talented photographer and oil painter.

In 1922, Silas started working for the Canadian Bank Note Company. He was taught the art of engraving by the well-known engravers Charles Copeland and George F C Smillie. This apprenticeship took place at the American Bank Note Company where at that time all Canadian stamps were engraved. When stamp engraving moved to the CBNCo, Allen became the chief engraver. 

Unusually for a stamp engraver, Silas was more of an etcher than an engraver. He would normally start his work with an etching, and only in the latter stages would finish the work with engraving.

One of his favourite works was the portrait of Queen Elizabeth II, which he engraved for the series of definitive stamps issued in 1954. This is by many considered among his best work. Two other highlights in his large catalogue are the Wildlife Week series and the Prime Ministers series.

In 1951, Canada started a series of stamps portraying Prime Ministers, a series which ran until 1955. A total of eight stamps were issued of which at least five were engraved by Silas. It is probable that he also engraved the other three. It has been recorded that Silas thought his engravings for the 1952 and 194 sets of this series as the best, which would imply him having done others as well. However, no conclusive proof has so far been forthcoming.  

Things are clearer with regard to the series of Wildlife stamps, which Canada embarked on in 1952. This series, too, ran for five years, with a total of 12 stamps being issued. Silas engraved all of them with the exception of the final stamp issued in 1957, depicitng a white-billed diver. 

Again, Silas has been recorded as saying that his favourites of this series were the 1953 Polar Bear, the 1954 Walrus and American Beaver stamps, the 1955 Whooping Cranes and the 1956 Mountain Goat. 

The detail on these stamps is incredible and yet it is fascinating to see how on the various die proofs, the smallest of details are picked on, and thought in need of correcting. For example, the die proofs of the 1954 5c Beaver stamp, which featured in Scott Stamp Monthly in 2005, include remarks such as 'two lowest points on maple leaf are too sharp on angle from stem' and 'correct by added emphasis/rock cleft that looks like beaver right leg'. 

Although the vast majority of Silas' stamps were issued in Canada, there is the odd exception. Apparently, he engraved a few stamps for the Bahamas. Though no more specific details have been found, there is only one Bahamas set issued by the CBNCo during Silas' working life, and that is the 1948 Tercentenary set, so it is highly likely he was involved in that. Whether as the sole engraver or maybe as the engraver of either the frame or maybe some of the vignettes, remains to be seen.

Even more curious is his stamp for Norway. When, during the Second World War, a Norwegian air training camp was established in Canada, which had its own post office, it was suggested a special stamp for use by the camp post office should be issued. The CBNCo was asked to produce such a stamp, which it duly did, creating a 'Wings over Norway' design which also alluded to the nickname of the camp: Little Norway. It would be engraved by Silas. However, the stamp was never issued during the lifespan of the camp and only saw the light of day in 1946, when it was issued as a commemorative stamp in Norway. 

Allen is regarded as the founder of the Canadian school of engravers. He trained three future engravers: John Hay (who went to the ABNCo), Jim Boyd and Yves Baril. The latter was soon seen as the natural successor to Silas and he would prove to be just that, only much sooner than anticipated. Normally, an apprenticeship might take a decade, before any of their work might see the light of day, but in Baril's case, he had barely started his training under Silas when his engraving of the 1955 Alberta and Saskatchewan stamp was preferred to that of his master Silas. 

This created tension between the two, but Silas continued his training. However, two years in, Silas was involved in a tragic car accident, which saw Yves Baril unexpectedly promoted to Silas' successor.

Silas Robert Allen passed away on 14 May 1958.

You will find Silas Robert Allen's database HERE.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

IN MEMORIAM: Eros Donnini (1928-2017)

Eros Donnini was born in Urbino, Italy, on 30 January 1928. He first frequented the local Academy of Fine Arts, where he specialised in engraving, and then went on to the Institute for Book Illustrations, where he would later teach design and engraving.

After having entered a competition by the Italian state printers in 1948, he became part of their engraving team in 1949, and moved to Rome. In 1952, his first engraved stamp was issued: the 60l value from the San Marino set marking the 500th birth anniversary of Christopher Columbus. His first Italian stamp appeared in 1959, the 35l from the issue marking the centenary of the Second War of Independence.

A long career followed during which Donnini engraved some 140 stamps, not only for Italy and San Marino, but also for the Vatican City. Even from his early work it is clear how talented Donnini was. The detail on his 1960 engraving for the Centenary of Garibaldi's Expedition to Sicily issue, for example, is incredible, with even the names of the ships in the distance being legible.

Courtesy of 'Nethryk' at
Among his later work, it was especially the stamps engraved for the Fountains and the award-winning Villas series, for which Donnini was praised. The Fountains series ran from 1973 to 1979 and was solely the work of Donnini, as was the Villas series which ran from 1980 to 1986. The ancient town of Spello even awarded honorary citizenship to Donnini after his engraved stamp of their Villa Fidelia was issued in 1983.

Because of the many stamps he has engraved, he has received the nickname Prince of the Burin.

Eros Donnini passed away on 19 March 2017.

Saturday, 6 May 2017


Yves Baril was born on 20 May 1932 in Verdun which is now part of Montreal in Canada. His first tentative steps in the world of art were watercolour lessons at the local library, from age 10 to 13. This was followed by oil painting and art studies. In 1952, Baril left the Ecole des Art Graphiques, with a diploma in artistic typography.

He starts working as a figure drawer for the Radio-Canada society. In 1953, Baril started his apprenticeship at the Canadian Bank Note Company in Ottawa. His former teacher at the Ecole des Art Graphiques, Albert Dumouchel, had suggested his name when asked for suitable applicants for the engraving traineeship. His teacher at the CBNC was the master engraver Silas Robert Allen. As part of his apprenticeship, Baril spends some time with the American Bank Note Company in New York as well, from 1954 to 1957.

While normally apprenticeships can last for a decade, Baril boldly enters a competition in 1955, engraving the design for the Saskatchewan stamp. As was usual, Allen had submitted his engraving for the stamp but the postal authorities were not satisfied with the quality of it. Baril then mentioned he had also engraved the design, ‘just for fun’, and lo and behold, the authorities were rather taken with it and chose this engraving for the eventual stamp. While it did show Baril’s masterly talent, the event did sour the relations slightly between master and pupil.

Then, in 1957, his master was involved in a fatal car accident and suddenly Baril was the only engraver available to the CBNC. He had no choice but to learn on the job. This he did so perfectly that in 1967 he was made head of the engraving department at CBNC. Baril remained in that position until his retirement in 1996, having engraved over 140 stamps. He is therefore the most prolific Canadian engraver, which is remarkable seeing that his career coincided with recess-printing being more and more replaced with other printing processes such as lithography. Whilst being head of the department, Baril in his turn took two apprentice engravers under his wing: Alan Carswell and Gregory Prosser.

Baril engraved two dies for the 1959 Royal Visit stamp. He worked for 200 hours on the first one, and for over 259 hours on the second die.

In 1993, Baril engraved the horses and part of the background and the lettering for the Equestrian Sports issue of the United States. However, eventually, it was only Baril’s lettering which was used for the recess-printed part, the rest being printed in lithography.

Baril also engraved stamps for the United States and for the United Nations. And he not only engraved stamps, but he also engraved also a large number of banknotes. One of his earliest and better known banknotes is the 1954 'modified' series of Canadian banknotes portraying Queen Elizabeth II. The original series, issued earlier that year, had a portrait engraved by George Gundersen. When issued, it was thought to have included the devil's face hidden in the Queen's hair. This caused such a commotion that a new series was issued later that year with the hairdo re-engraved to remove the alleged portrait. This new hairdo was engraved by Yves. 

In 1992, when the world commemorated Christopher Columbus discovering America in 1492, Yves' various engravings of Christopher Columbus graced a number of banknotes and philatelic items. His portraits appeared on banknotes from the Bahamas and the Dominican Republic. A third engraved portrait, this time a mirror image, appeared on a commemorative card produced for the World Columbian Stamp Expo '92.

In the late 1960s, when Baril was in training at the American Bank Note Company, he engraved a version of the ‘Eagle Perched on Rock’ vignette, which had originally appeared on a rare 1861 $50 US banknote. To distinguish his version from the original, Baril included his name in the engraving. It can be found at the base of the rock on the left. Baril liked his engraving very much, stating it was part of his life.

In 1969, Baril’s engraving of a Mexican scene was made for the reverse of a 5 peso Mexican banknote. He made this engraving during his apprenticeship at the American Bank Note Company in in New York. However, the design was eventually not adopted.

Baril’s ‘Cargo on the Levee’ vignette dates from the 1970s, made during one of his many visits to New York. It is based on a similar 1857 vignette which had been used on the notes of the Missouri Merchants Bank of St Louis.

In 1992, John Denune founded the Yves Baril Study Group. It only lasted for some five years, leaving behind five journals which detail some of Baril's stamp and other work. One of the surviving advantages of the study group, however, was not so much the amount of information it unearthed and left behind, but the artwork it produced. Yves Baril was rather sympathetic to the study group and, at its inception, donated three of his study works dating from the 1960s/1970s when he apparently spent some time in New York with the American Bank Note Company. Denune was allowed to make prints of Barils’ engravings of the Mexican scene, the Eagle Perched on Rock and the Cargo on the Levee. They were reprinted on a special run, straight from Yves' master dies. 2500 black proofs were printed of each design and 1000 sets of five colour proofs of each engraving. The five colours were blue, brown green, purple and red.

The first issue of that journal included an interesting little feature on Baril’s tools, with comments from the master himself. They mostly comprised tools Baril didn’t use anymore such as a burnisher, which Baril said had been his favourite tool for years but now he no longer used it because they now used nickel printing plates. Other obsolete tools were the etching point, which was made from a rat tail file and which Baril used for many of his stamps and banknotes, though he later used a sharpened dentist drill because it was so much easier to sharpen. His dragging point and square graver have also been relegated to the tool box because they were so hard to sharpen. His ordinary scraper, which was treacherous to use as it could do a lot of damage if not sharpened properly has been replaced with a push scraper, with which he pushes into the burr rather than pulling at it. Apparently, Czeslaw Slania was so impressed with this tool after having seen it at the World Columbian Stamp Expo '92, that he asked Baril to get him one as well.     

In 1995, Baril made four more engravings for the study group. They are Melancholy, Leonardo da Vinci, his granddaughter and a 1950s woman.

In 1995, Baril spends some time at Bradbury,Wilkinson in London to study new steel engraving techniques.

You will find Yves Baril's database HERE.

Saturday, 29 April 2017

VIDEO: Pierre Albuisson

Here is another video for you, from 2012, in which Pierre Albuisson talks about his work.


Albuisson starts by talking about how 'his' association Art du Timbre Gravé promotes hand-engraved stamps, those being the least expensive little art works in the world. He then sums up some of his (then) recent engravings, such as the helicopter series for the French Southern and Antarctic Territories.

Then he mentions a few awards he has won and goes on to promote the art of the commemorative postmark. How much he enjoys making them, how tricky they are to design, and how they add another interesting layer to philatelic items.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

BIOGRAPHY: Heinz W. Gutschmidt

Heinz W. Gutschmidt was born in Berlin, Germany, in 1906. His father was a bank clerk but in his spare time loved to make music and paint. His mother, too, was interested in all things artistic. As a child, Heinz suffered malnutrition during the First World War and was sent, like many other war children, to Sweden, in the summers of 1919 and 1920, where he stayed with a furniture dealer in Gothenburg. He enjoyed life in Sweden very much and was always reluctant to return to Germany.

In 1923 he finished his secondary education and subsequently travelled to Sweden, to escape an inflation-riddled Germany. But his father had arranged for him to go to work in a lightbulb factory in Berlin, where he could learn about advertising. Not the sort of thing Heinz was dreaming of. He was still dreaming of Sweden but did realise that his father was right: he did need an education before he could move away. What's more, with the graduation certificate for drawing with which he left the factory, he gained access to the Berlin Academy of Arts, in 1925.

While there, he made up his mind he wanted to become an engraver, so he was very happy to be given as position at the German State Printers in 1926. There he received further training for a couple of years, but times were increasingly hard in Germany and in the early 1930s the printers were forced to lay off many people, among which was Heinz.

He was 26 at the time, and while his family was able to withstand the bad economic times relatively well, Heinz was pining away, still dreaming of his beloved Sweden. And so, in 1933, he went to Gothenburg, moving in with Constanze Lindberg, an elderly acquaintance he knew from his summers spent there as a child. He tried to make a living painting pictures and making graphic illustrations. But in 1935, residence permits became obliged for non-Swedish residents. Ms Lindberg had become to rely on Heinz in her old age, so a lawyer advised her to adopt him. This was duly done so Heinz could stay in Sweden. In 1938, he obtained Swedish citizenship.

That same year Heinz found work at the porcelain factory Rörstrand in Gothenburg where he worked as an engraver and painter. But the firm could not survive the economic situation caused by the Second World War, so again Heinz Schmidt was being laid off when the firm went bust.

Being told by someone that the Swedish post was looking for postmen, Heinz applied and duly got the job. He remained a postman for the next 16 years, enjoying his work very much. A heart attack then forced him to stop working. While convalescing, to kill the time, Heinz drew a few essays for stamp designs. An employee of the Swedish Post saw these and was so impressed she immediately informed her boss. He asked Heinz to submit a proper stamp essay.

Heinz had never been so nervous in his whole life, he later said in an interview. His essay was approved on 14 April 1961 and that's how Heinz Gutschmidt became a stamp engraver with the Swedish Post.

Heinz' first engraved stamp was the 2k50 value of the Three Crowns, or Small Arms definitives, which had been introduced in 1939. This particular value was issued in August 1961. Three more values in this design were to follow between 1964 and 1969.

Of the many stamp Heinz engraved since his debut, he liked his 1966 definitive, depicting Ale's Stones in Kaseberga, best of all. His church door engraving of the 55ö value in the 1970 'Swedish Forgings' set is another one he was very pleased with.


Nordisk Filateli, October 2011

You will find Heinz Gutschmidt's database HERE.

Friday, 21 April 2017

DATABASE: Sophie Beaujard


France, Germaine Ribière


Engraving for Art du Timbre Gravé


Saturday, 15 April 2017

VIDEO: Yves Baril

Here are two videos of an interview with Yves Baril. They're in French but they both have English subtitles.


While the more specific talk is about banknotes, we do get a glimpse of what I think is his 6c Centennial stamp lying on his desk.


Video two deals with the infamous Devils' Face on the Canadian banknotes, which Yves Baril had to erase. This is his re-engraved portrait.

Saturday, 8 April 2017

BIOGRAPHY: Wilhelm Gottfried Nuesch

Wilhelm Nuesch was born in Switzerland on 27 April 1863. Little is known about his early life and what is still known is thanks to the efforts of René Jacobson who managed to speak to various family members of Wilhelm in Argentina. He studied at the Academy of Arts in Biel, Bern, where his teacher was Hutenlocher. 

What happened after he left the academy is not clear but his trace can be picked up again in 1889, when he was hired by the Litografia e Imprenta La Unión firm in Buenos Aires, Argentina, a company part-owned by the Austrian Rudolf Laas. The company became famous for its high-quality output and grew steadily, changing its name to Sociedad Stiller & Laas and finally to Compañía Sudamericana de Billetes de Banco (CSBB). It soon picked up valuable government orders for security papers. Nuesch became known as Guillermo Godofredo.

Wilhelm engraved quite a few outstanding issues for the company: his first one was the 1892 Argentina issue to mark the centenary of the discovery of America by Columbus. They were the first commemorative stamps issued in South America. Four colour proofs were printed from each value and proofs of the die without value exist in two colours.

Strangely enough, the original essays were similar to the issued stamps but with a pattern of vertical lines all over the design. These essays were rejected and the eventual stamps did not have any lines at all. The actual vignettes do seem to be identical, though, so it may well have been that these striped essays were derived from an unstriped master die which was later used for the stamps.

That same year he engraved the portraits of Rivadavia, Belgrano and San Martin, for the new Argentina definitive series. The original designs were still by Ferdinand Schirnböck, Wilhelm's predecessor, but he left and Nuesch, now promoted to master engraver, subsequently modernised and simplified the designs and engraved the actual stamps. The original dies for the Rivadavia stamp showed a background of cross hatching, with the horizontal lines strong and the vertical ones barely visible. The eyes are clearly defined and the shoulders rounded and free from the frame. A 5c value of this die was proofed in twelve colours and a multi-value proof sheet exists as well. Another 5c was proofed which had no background at all surrounding the portrait.

The Belgrano proofs for single values were printed on card, but multi-value proofs exist as well and these were on thinner paper. Single proofs on thinner paper would stem from these.

The San Martin values were proofed without value or other lettering, with just the portrait as a stand-alone engraving. A different engraving of the San Martin portrait exists as well, more like that of the previous set, placed in two different frames.

The following definitive set, depicting an allegory of Liberty, was also engraved by Nuesch. Although no essays have survived it seems very likely that Nuesch was inspired by similar stamps issued in his home country, the Seated Helvetia stamps of 1862. The Argentine stamp landed the printers company a joint first prize at the Manchester (GB) international exhibition of stamps in 1899. Some sources state that this was the first set in which Nuesch hid his trademark N somewhere in the design. It is to be found in Liberty's dress, just above her foot. Proofs exist of a 45c with a blank sky. There were also proofs of this stamp as an official stamp but these were eventually never issued.

In 1902, Nuesch engraved the set to mark the completion of the Port Rosario Docks.

Another major set for Nuesch was the 1910 issue to mark the centenary of the deposition of the Spanish Viceroy. Again, we should be able to find Wilhelm’s N somewhere hidden in the engraving. The following have been recorded:
0.5c: right lower corner of the vignette, above the o of mayo
2c: in the circular motif of the cabinet
10c: above the R and U of Beruti
50c: above 25 
5p: top right of th window on the right.

Furthermore Nuesch engraved the 1901 Official stamps and the 1902 series of postal bonds. The first proofs of the 1901 official stamps show that the original background consisted of horizontal lines only. The eventual stamps would have horizontal and vertical lines as background.

Unattributed he also engraved banknotes, stocks and shares.

Nuesch also engraved national, provincial and local revenue stamps. Among those are the 1898 to 1901 inland revenue tobacco stamps, the 1900 to 1906 sanitary and medicinal products stamps, stamps for the Municipal Chemical Office in Buenos Aires of 1894-1898, Burial stamps of 1898-1900, 1898-1901 stamps for the Guides of the Directorate of Supply, etcetera.

Nuesch did not only engrave for Argentina. For Bolivia he engraved the portrait of General Sucre which was used for the 1899 definitives. It looks like there is a hidden N just below the man’s lapel.

For Paraguay Nuesch engraved a number of definitive sets. He started with the 1900/1901 sets for both postage and official mail. This was followed in 1905/1906 with the engravings of the Lion and National Palace definitives. A third and final large set engraved by Nuesch appeared in 1913, consisting of postage, official and postage due stamps. For Paraguay Nuesch also engraved the 1911 issue to mark the centenary of independence. This engraving, too, has a secret N, hidden in the folds of Liberty’s dress.

For Uruguay he engraved the 1909 Opening of Montevideo Port issue, the 1910 Argentine revolution set and the 1911 Postal Congress issue.

Outwith philately, he also engraved book and magazine illustrations.

He remained with the company until his retirement in 1916. The situation is again not clear but Nuesch did participate in a strike in that year so whether he simply retired or was fired is no longer known. After that he held a range of different jobs, such as propaganda chief of a brewery, and photographer for a company producing picture post cards.

Wilhelm Nuesch passed away on 11 March 1926 in Buenos Aires.

Wilhelm Gottfried Nuesch's database can be found HERE.

Saturday, 1 April 2017

CHAT: Just a bit of fun...The Result

Cor blimey, that's gonna be a one off! No-one has taken up the challenge of putting names to the signatures. I know that many of you have seen the post so I'm gonna give you the answers anyway.

This was the actual card:

Most of the signatures appear on the engravings you get when you're a member of the Art du Timbre Gravé (which of course you all should be!). These are the ones I could find out:

4) Guy Vigoureux

6) Christian Broutin
7) Jacky Larrivière

8) Louis Arquer

9) Cyril de la Patelliere

10) Gilles Bosquet

11) Claude Perchat

12) Cécile Millet

I presume the Claude will have been Claude Andreotto.

And as you can see, signatures nos 2 and 5 are still a mystery to me! Maybe one day someone will enlighten me?!


Saturday, 25 March 2017

BIOGRAPHY: Mario Baiardi

Mario Baiardi, an engraver and sculptor, had worked in Italy on various banknotes before he was asked, along with other excellent Italian engravers, such as Pietro Nicastro, to come to the Argentina Mint in 1948. The prime objective was to found a school of engravers, so that the quality of recess-printing could be raised to a high level of excellence.

Baiardi stayed in Argentina for four years. He was then asked to return to Italy, to found a school of engraving over there. During his stay in Argentina, Baiardi was famed for his artistic skills. Using as thin a burin as possible, Baiardi managed to engrave portraits, skin, fabrics so lifelike that it looked like a photograph was taken. Even his colleague Pietro Nicastro, who was so demanding he did not easily find praise for anyone, called Baiardi a phenomenon.


Mario Baiardi's database can be found HERE.