Saturday, 3 December 2016

Toth's sculptures

"If you find something that I will like too, then I'll pay for it", my better half told me whilst handing over a twenty pound note. I was on my way to a nearby Stamp Show and the prospect of this extra indulgement made the trip even more worthwhile!

But what to look for? The most obvious theme would be birds. Or non racing horses. Cats maybe? Churches or cathedrals? Castles?

St Stephen
You see, the task was never going to be easy, and there were not that many dealers to choose from. And of course the stamps had to be hand engraved and recess printed. And I would have to be fairly sure that the engraver was known to me. And all that without a catalogue or reference work at hand...

St George
So I first satisfied myself as far as my own want list was concerned which I deemed to be tricky (South America) but which was surprisingly successful. Then it was time for lunch and a chat with all the familiar faces.

St Christopher
But back to the task in hand. I sat down at a dealer's who seemed to have a good spread of all world stamps and started looking through his books. Lots of interesting stuff, but I figured I either had it or it wouldn't be suitable. Loads of engraved worthy old men portraits on stamps but they didn't really fit the bill.

St Sebastian
I came across a nice section of Spain which made me take extra notice. They've done some beautiful castles series which could be just the ticket. But the problem is that a) I've got loads of those and b) while we know the engravers of quite a few I don't think we know them for all stamps. So maybe better not.

St Paul
Book 8 was the final one and I was beginning to lose faith a bit but then I came across Austria (the dealer's books were not in any order whatsoever), which is always a safe bet when it comes to fantastic quality engravings. And there it was: a set of six stamps issued in 1969 of beautiful sculptures of various saints, and even a Madonna thrown in for good measure. All engraved by Rudolf Toth. Problem solved! I loved them, I knew my better half would love them, and on top of that they only cost me the grand sum of sixty pence!


Saturday, 26 November 2016

Naszarkowski's Linnaeus

In 2007, Sweden celebrated the 300th anniversary of the birth of the famous Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus. They did so with no less than two separate stamp issues. In May a miniature sheet was issued with two stamps engraved by Lars Sjööblom. But preceding that were two coil stamps which were issued on 25 January 2007, and it is these two coils stamps which are featured here today.

They are both engraved by Piotr Naszarkowski and show some of his finest work. The first stamp, inscribed Brev inrikes, depicts the Linnaea borealis, or twinflower. It's a lovely delicate woodland flower and the engraving is just as delicate.

The second stamp includes a portrait of the man. The heading Systema naturae is a reference to the classification system of the natural world which Linnaeus invented. The Enneandria is one of those classes, that of plants with nine stamens (pollen-producing reproductive organs). See? The things you learn when looking at your stamps! I think the portrait is fascinating and one of Naszarkowski's best.

Now as you know, the Swedish Post has very obligingly issued quite a few black prints of engraved stamps over the years, which have been welcomed warmly by those who enjoy the art of engraving. They are especially interesting when the stamps themselves suffer from multi-process overkill. It has to be said, though, that these particular stamps do not fall under that category; the colour scheme is very subtle and does the engraving no harm whatsoever. Yet, I was still exceedingly thrilled when I managed to lay my hands on the black print of these two coil stamps. Why? Because it's rare!

Normally, these type of black prints are handed out in large quantities by the postal authorities, to regular customers, with year packs, etc. They are therefore freely available at hardly any cost at all. But not this one.

This one comes from a special book on Linnaeus which was issued by the Swedish Post in 2007. The book includes two of these panes, one with the two Naszarkowski engravings and one with the two Sjööblom engravings. Of these latter, by the way, exist easily available black prints as well.

The only dealer with whom I've ever seen these book panes advertised states that the book (and therefore the panes) sold out very quickly and has since been virtually impossible to obtain. So now you know why I'm over the moon!


Saturday, 19 November 2016

Czeslaw Slania (1921-2005)

If there’s one name synonymous with the art of stamp engraving, it must be that of Czeslaw Slania (1921-2005). During his career, spanning over fifty years, his more than 1,000 engraved stamps have attracted at least as many superlatives.

And it was clear from an early age that Slania had a special talent. Although it has to be said that he had some trouble finding a proper outlet for it. Slania started out young by selling his drawings to fellow pupils at school so they could get good marks. He later got found out for having perfectly forged the headmaster’s signature. Even then it was generally thought Slania would become an important artist. But that was not before he could once again execute his forging techniques, in the Second World War, by copying identity cards and other documents for the Polish underground forces.

Settling down to a more mainstream art form after the war, Slania turned to engraving after having studied graphic art at the Cracow Academy of Fine Art. In 1950 he was employed by the Government Printing Works in Poland, and from March 1951 his designs and engravings started gracing the philatelic catalogues.

1956 was a tumultuous year in Polish politics and the threat of a repeat performance of the Hungarian Revolution in Poland made many Poles flee their country, among them Czeslaw Slania. He settled in Sweden where he would live for the rest of his life.

Within a couple of years of fleeing his country, Slania managed to obtain employment at the Swedish Stamp Printing Office, which heralded the start of his illustrious international career, engraving stamps for more than thirty countries. His reputation was such that he became the official Court Engraver not only of  Sweden, but of Monaco as well. For many of the Scandinavian countries, in particular Denmark and Greenland, he was the sole engraver of their many recess-printed stamp for years on end.

For these countries, as well as for many others, he produced many wonderful portrait stamps, earning him the unofficial title of “Master of Portrait Engraving”. His portrait work may also be admired on the 1995 set issued in Great Britain, portraying Sir Rowland Hill and Guglielmo Marconi.
Even though his portrait work undoubtedly forms the highlight of his oeuvre, Slania was an experienced engraver of all subjects. Turning again to his work for Great Britain, we may admire his ships on the 1982 Maritime Heritage set and his 2002 pillar boxes stamps, his final work for Royal Mail.

When communism in Poland came to an end in the late 1980s, early 1990s, Slania was able to visit Poland again, and he started engraving stamps for his native country once more. Among his favourites is the 1999 stamp he engraved for the National Stamp Exhibition “Walbrzych ‘99”, depicting Ksiaz Castle. Another major work for Poland was the 1993 miniature sheet for “Polska ‘93”, depicting Lech’s Encounter with the White Eagle.

More and more, various postal authorities turned to Slania for their major issues. And more and more Slania himself became part of the stamp issuing programme. In 1991, he engraved an incredibly detailed booklet pane for Sweden, depicting the Coronation of King Gustav III. The booklet was issued to honour the 70th birthday of Slania, with a non-postal label included in the pane referring to this fact.

This was followed by an even more magnificent tour de force in the year 2000: the engraving of Ehrenstrahl’s famous painting “The Great Deeds of Swedish Kings”, part of a miniature sheet which had no other function but to mark the fact that it was Slania’s 1,000 stamp!

Slania remained highly active until his dying days, with his final work, the engraving of a United Nations set marking the 60th anniversary of that organisation being issued just a month before his death in 2005.

This article was first published in Stamp and Coin Mart of March 2012 and is reproduced with their kind permission. 

Friday, 18 November 2016



Russia, 175th birth anniversary of Tchaikovsky (1)



1) website

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Finishing the job

It is probably a well-known fact that at the end of his career, failing health started to hamper Czeslaw Slania in his work and his fellow colleague and fellow compatriot Piotr Naszarkowski had to step in and finish some of the jobs given to Slania.

Most famous of those is the Elvis Presley stamp, issued in Sweden in 2004. This was a stamp for which Slania had already started the engraving. He had worked on the background but was not able to finish his engraving. So the actual portrait was done by Naszarkowski, who also tried to tidy up the background as much as possible. This proved rather difficult so the end result still looks a bit like a badly woven fabric, but is still an improvement on the original (image courtesy of Piotr Naszarkowski's website).

Another well-known issue given to Slania but eventually engraved by Naszarkowski is the 2005 Greta Garbo issue. By this time, Slania had passed away.

This stamp was issued both in Sweden and the United States and though they look identical at first glance, these are actually two different engravings.

A lesser known fact is perhaps that at the time, Naszarkowski got a third Slania project to finish: the 2005 US Duck Stamp. The stamp, depicting hooded mergansers, is the first for which a souvenir sheetlet was produced. It was a very limited printing and is therefore nowadays rather pricey.

Much better to opt for the next one, is what I would say. Because Naszarkowski also landed the job of engraving the 2006 duck stamp, this time depicting a Ross' Goose.

Quite a lovely stamp I think, and the image of the engraving only (again courtesy of Piotr Naszarkowski's website) is rather attractive.

Again we have a souvenir sheetlet accompanying the issue with the added bonus that this time (and it would prove to be the only time) there was not only room for the designer to sign but also for the engraver!


At special request (yes, I do do those), I hereby add an image of the two Greta Garbo engravings in a single scan.


Saturday, 5 November 2016

Pierre Gandon's war time exhibition labels

It's high time I showed you yet another set of war time exhibition labels, which were produced in France during World War Two, to be sold at philatelic shows in Paris, with the proceeds being used for artists, intellectuals, etc, in financial need. Today I'm showing you the three contributions of Pierre Gandon.

At the time, Pierre was one of the upcoming engravers who would go on to have a magnificent career lasting for many decades. His first stamp dated from 1939, so when he engraved the three labels shown here he was still very much feeling his way around.

His first label depicts Napoleon's tomb, as part of a series of important Parisian views, monuments etc. Maybe not the most elegantly engraved stamp, but I like the subject, if only because it reminds me of how immensely overwhelmed I was by the real thing.

His next stamp is a lot more intricate. It depicts Louis XIV and the Academy. Louis XIV was patron of the French Academy, the French institute for all matters pertaining to the French language. I love the way in which Gandon has been able to represent the curly elegance of wigs, clothing etc, and has managed to give the little faces a bit of expression.

Completely different in style, but just as evocative, is the third and final stamp, depicting a scene from the opera Louise by Gustave Charpentier. The opera deals with working class life in Paris. Gone are the frills and curls and instead Pierre painted a much more stylised tableau of a Parisian street.

So in all we have three different labels showing how the engraver developed and was able to translate designs more and more originally and convincingly.


Saturday, 29 October 2016

Naszarkowski's ex libris book plates

You will be firmly familiar by now with my tendency to like and collect other engravings done by stamp engravers. For Naszarkowski this would entail a collection of his many ex libris or book plates he made in the mid to late 1980s.

This was at a time when he had just been employed by the Polish post to engrave stamps. Stamp commissions were still few and far between though, in the beginning, so Naszarkowski kept himself busy with engraving book plates. A perfect way to become experienced in the art of engraving on a small (ish) scale.

I managed to get a few of these and I'm showing a selection here. A great number of themes can be found, from the worthy to the erotic; inspired, no doubt, by the wishes of those having commissioned the work. And so we find book plates on the printer Gutenberg and on the Italian painter Canaletto (love the cracks in the design!), to name and show but two.

Some of the names of those bibliophiles keep on returning, such as that of Willy Feliers. For him, Naszarkowski engraved two book plates based on Faust. I especially like the moody engraving he did in 1986. The quote also makes the illustratrion more poignant.

And yet that night, those juices brown
A certain man did not drink down


Saturday, 22 October 2016

Schirnbock's Argentine years

Before Ferdinand Schirnböck became the master engraver of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, he spent a few years in South America, engraving for the then newly founded South American Bank Note Company in Buenos Aires, Argentina. His main output while there concerned the large Argentine definitive series of famous personalities, which was introduced in 1888.

To be fair, he was probably 'only' responsible for the portrait vignettes, as the company also employed frame engravers, but information on this is of course a little hazy.

Nevertheless, it's a great set to collect, although a rather challenging one. I've been trying for quite some time to get together a set of mint stamps in reasonable quality with reasonable centring, and it's proving rather hard! In fact, I've nowhere near succeeded yet.

But thankfully, the enormous bonus with this set is that the proof material is so much less scarce than the actual stamps and in most cases very affordable. In case of the higher values even much more affordable than the stamps themselves.

And so, colour proofs made from the printing plates abound, and even the odd die proof may not be that hard to find.

But it gets better: there are, as far as I could find out, nine designs for which proofs exist but which were eventually not issued as stamps. Always fascinating material, of course, but even the majority of those are quite easy to find. The nine unissued values are:

Small format: 15c, 20c, 24c, 25c, 30c and 90c

Large format: 2p, 10p and 50p

With a little patience, you can put together a great collection of this set which shows material you won't always be able to include otherwise, and which forms an important part of the early career of Mr Schirnböck.

One word of caution though: Twentieth century reprints exist which are not always printed in recess. These, however, are always on paper, varying from thick to very thin. So if you want to be relatively sure you're opting for the real thing, then only try and find proofs which are on card!


Friday, 21 October 2016



Italy, Giovanni Boccaccio



Saturday, 15 October 2016

Naszarkowski does Alfred Nobel

In 2011, both Poland and Sweden commemorated the fact that a century ago Marie Curie had won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, "in recognition of her services to the advancement of chemistry by the discovery of the elements radium and polodium, by the isolation of radium and the study of the nature and compounds of this remarkable element".

The joint issue consisted of a miniature sheet which included two stamps. One portrayed Marie Curie at work, which formed a part of the overall image, and the second stamp depicts the Nobel Prize medal with its portrait of Alfred Nobel and a blue blob which I presume to be radium? The combination of a Pole winning a Swede's Prize made the choice of engraver rather obvious; and so the postal authorities went for a Pole living and working in Sweden: Piotr Naszarkowski.

Accompanying the Polish issue was a lovely black print of (mainly) the engraved parts only. As always a fantastic way to enjoy the engravings, and also a way to wonder once again why the postal authorities don't seem to be able to understand that an engraving doesn't need any other printing processes and that these normally only detract from the art.

Now this wasn't the first time that Naszarkowski tackled the theme of Alfred Nobel. In 2001, the centenary of the Nobel Prize was celebrated with many stamp issues. Sweden's issue was engraved by Czeslaw Slania, but Piotr Naszarkowski engraved a beautiful, large portrait of the man, which was printed in a limited edition of 300. I have no idea whether this was a commissioned work or whether it was just a private work, but whatever the reason behind it, it's an absolutely wonderful portrait.