Saturday, 18 February 2017

QUESTION: Whodunit?

A few days ago I received an email asking me whether I could possibly identify which engraver was responsible for this beauty here:

It is a die proof which was sold to the correspondent attributing it to Bradbury Wilkinson and Hong Kong. Which is strange as the Hong Kong definitive set utilising the Annigoni portrait is not engraved, nor recess-printed. My correspondent had already compared the proof to engraved Annigoni stamps from the British Commonwealth but found no obvious match.

Unfortunately I have not been able to find out anything, so that's why I'm posing the question here, hoping that maybe someone somewhere may recognise this item. Seeing that the size is definitely stamp-size (a mock up Hong Kong proof shown here shows that the engraving is of small-format definitive size), I think we may exclude any banknote usage.

Maybe, just maybe, it was a preliminary proof for a new Hong Kong definitive set after all? Only to be discarded in favour of cheaper and quicker printing methods? But that would have been slightly odd, seeing that as far as I remember no definitives from Hong Kong were ever recess-printed.

Anyway, any help would be hugely appreciated!


Saturday, 11 February 2017

BIOGRAPHY: Piotr Naszarkowski

It is well-nigh impossible to write about the life and work of Piotr Jerzy Naszarkowski (born 1952) without mentioning the name of Czeslaw Slania. For it is uncanny how similar both life and work of the two engravers are and how often they even intertwined.

Like Slania before him, Piotr Naszarkowski was born in Poland, in Warsaw in 1952. Working as a stage designer in the TV and theatre business, Naszarkowski studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, graduating in 1980. The communist regime in Poland soon put an end to his work, though, when Naszarkowski, with many other artists, quit his job to protest against the Polish regime’s martial law.

But in 1983, Naszarkowski managed to become employed at the Polish Banknote Printing House, after he had read about a vacancy there, just by chance. At the printing house he was taught to engrave stamps. His first stamp, for Poland, was issued in 1985. It was a single stamp depicting the cadet ship Iskra, to mark the 40th anniversary of the Polish Navy, printed in a combination of recess and lithography. It proved the start of a great career, for since then, Naszarkowski has engraved some 140 stamps for countries as far and wide as Japan, Sweden, the United States and Vatican City.

After having engraved a handful of beautiful stamps for Poland, such as a number of values of the annual Polish Rulers series, Naszarkowski moved to Sweden, in 1989, again just like Slania did. His Swedish philatelic debut followed in 1991, with the issue of the maps series, of which three values were engraved by Naszarkowski. The other stamps of the set were engraved by Slania, who took Naszarkowski under his wing. It is sometimes thought that it was Slania who enticed Naszarkowski to Sweden, but allegedly it was love for a woman that brought Piotr Naszarkowski to Sweden.

Naszarkowski blossomed under Slania’s tutelage and the partnership resulted in close cooperation and huge admiration between the two engravers. Naszarkowski’s regard for Slania was such that he finished off the 23 boxing cinderella stamps Slania once made with a 24th stamp, portraying Slania himself as ‘world champion stamp engravings’. 

Naszarkowski’s work is much admired and that goes especially for his many animal stamps issued in Sweden. The 1993 Wildlife set in particular, is admired for its quality of engraving. Naszarkowski manages to translate the cuteness of the animals wonderfully well into the engravings.

If possible, his 2009 set of winter anmimals even surpassed the 1993 set in quality. By now, Piotr had perfected his fauna styler, being able to capture the essence of any animal with as little fuss as possible. The fact that they're printed in monochrome really helps a lot and makes each and everyone a miniature work of art. 

Eventually, Naszarkowski was asked to step in more and more often, when Slania grew too frail to finish his work. The best example of this is the 2004 Elvis Presley stamp from Sweden, the engraving of which was started by Slania and finished by Naszarkowski, with both names being mentioned on the stamp.

Another engraving which changed hands from Slania to Naszarkowski was the iconic Greta Garbo stamp, a joint issue for Sweden and the USA, issued in 2005. Initially often thought to be one die used for both issues, the engraver has since acknowledged that two different engravings were made. It earned Naszarkowski two awards: ‘Most Beautiful Swedish Stamp of 2005’, and ‘Best Engraved Stamp of the European Union in 2005’. 

Naszarkowski likes to engrave portraits, enjoying the interpretation of the many shapes of the face. With the Garbo stamp, he was particularly pleased with the way he engraved the arch of her forehead, regarding it the most difficult part of the body to make it feel ‘alive’.

The Garbo stamps were numbers 99 and 100 for Naszarkowski, so he is a long while yet from breaking Slania’s record number of engraved stamps, but Naszarkowski’s future is bright and having moved to the intaglio heaven that is Scandinavia, there is no reason why he shouldn’t be able to emulate yet another Slania feat in the future. 

This article was first published in Stamp and Coin Mart of April 2013 and is reproduced with their kind permission.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

QUESTION: Karl Bickel

I would think this is a question for the ultra-specialist in Swiss philately. I have tried everywhere to find the answer but as yet to no avail! It concerns the test or trial stamps produced by Karl Bickel for the Swiss PTT. Two of those are well-known and well-documented, but there apparently is a third one which seems to baffle everyone.

When I visited the museumbickel in Switzerland last summer, I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to research the stamp archive in their depot. In that archive I found various copies of a stamp which looked very much like a test stamp. I asked the archivist but he could not enlighten me any more than assuming it was a rejected test stamp, apparently because the engraving was too fine.

I got a photocopy of the page to take home with me, and started asking around all my knowledgeable friends. This yielded a few more illustrations but not much more detail. But at least I now had a better picture of a single stamp.

And, more importantly I now had an illustration of a folder which included several of these stamps, with annotations of certain stamp denominations.

With all this I dreamt up the following theories:

The style of the stamp is very much like Karl Bickel's more abstract work, so it would be a fairly safe bet to suppose the stamp is his. Though it ain't more than a bet. But check out his abstract engravings

and his abstract stamp essays

and I think you will agree with me.

Then there's the matter of size. During Karl Bickel's stint for the Swiss PTT, two new printing presses were procured: the SSR I Goebel in 1935 and the SSR II Wifag in 1945. Bickel's two known test stamps were produced for these two machines. Now, the SSR II was immediately set up to print larger format stamps, those being of the size of the 1949 definitive set. The SSR I was originally set up to print small format stamps. The mysterious test stamps are in the small format, and will not therefore have been produced for the SSR II.

The test stamps are recess-printed and recess-printing only started with the SSR I so that must have been the printing press for which this stamp was made. But then, we already had a test stamp for that machine, and various test stamp experts have stated it is highly unusual (better still: unknown to them) to have more than one type of test stamp for a single machine.

The supposed theory of it being engraved too finely and therefore discarded doesn't sit well with the folder which has a huge range of copies. What's more, they're printed in the colours used for the 1936 definitive set, so that would suggest a printing well into the production phase of that set.

You see? It's a proper mystery! I've asked the author of the standard work on test stamps (which does not mention this stamp at all); heck, I've even contacted the archivists of the Swiss PTT, but either the silence is deafening or no solution is forthcoming.

So this is my last straw. I'm just hoping that someone somewhere might read this some day and actually know about this stamp and can tell me more/all about it!


Saturday, 4 February 2017

BIOGRAPHY: Elsa Catelin

Elsa Catelin was born in Coutances, France in 1975. She studied ‘plastic arts’ at the University of Upper Brittany where she graduated in 1997. During this course she became acquainted with engraving. Her passion stirred and with boundless enthusiasm she subsequently went to the Ecole Estienne. During her years there, Elsa took on many apprenticeships, among which a placement at the French state printers. After graduating with honours in the year 2000, Elsa took up many jobs in the field of engraving until she was asked by the French state printers at the end of 2003 to come and work for them. Two of their main engravers, Claude Jumelet and Jacky Larrivière, had just retired and Elsa could take over their position. She started working there from 2004.

Elsa's first job for the French printers was to engrave the 2004 French 'Anniversaire' greetings stamp for the accompanying philatelic document. The original stamp was not engraved but printed in lithography, so for the document, which always includes an engraved version of the stamp, a special engraving had to be made. two more engravings for philatelic documents followed that year, for the Ouistreham Lighthouse stamp and the Christmas greetings issue.

Elsa's first engraving for Monaco, also dates from 2004, when she engraved the non-postal label with the monogram of Princess Grace of the miniature sheet issued to mark her 75th birth anniversary.

In 2006, Elsa engraved her first stamp for France: a stamp depicting Thionville, as part of the annual Tourism series. The stamp was also available as a monochrome 'gravure'. A large number of stamps have since followed. In particular, that of Villeneuve sur Lot, issued in 2010, is worth mentioning because of the superb quality of the engraving of the reflection in the water. Elsa’s masterpiece of 2012, the organ at Lunéville’s church of St Jacques is among her most celebrated work, with not just the stamps, but the whole sheet being engraved.

In 2013, only six years after having started engraving French stamps, Elsa was given the honour to engrave the new Marianne, a controversial design by the Ciappa & Kawena design duo. Elsa engraved two dies for this series. The first one is the standard version with children playing in the bottom right corner. It is used for the stamps with denominations and the stamps with permanent validity. The second die is for the green rates and includes a tree in the bottom right corner. As an extra green detail, Marianne's hair is brightened up with leaves.

There is also a version with an @ in the bottom right corner, which is an on line stamp which will be printed if you pay for your postage on line. This would normally therefore not be a recess-printed stamp, but you may find a recess-printed version on the Marianne miniature sheet, which also has an engraved and recess-printed postmark-like first day illustration. Then there's the ecopli rate stamp which has its background filled in.

The Marianne design sometimes gets used on commemorative stamps as well, and the first stamp to include the Marianne et la Jeunesse design was a stamp marking the Paris stamp show of November 2013. It is the green version but now used as a normally denominated stamp.

You will find Elsa Catelin's database HERE.

Saturday, 28 January 2017

BIOGRAPHY: Thomas C. Duffell

Thomas Duffell and his family migrated from Hackney, England to Australia in 1927, on the 'Narkunda'. Thomas had been asked by the Commonwealth Printing Branch in Fitzroy to come over and work for them, because they could not find enough local printing expertise.

For various Australian issues from 1936 to 1946, Duffell engraved subsidiary dies. The practice of subsidiary dies is as follows: from a cylinder from which the denominations were erased, subsidiary dies were laid down for further values in the same design. The engraving of the denominations on these were done by Duffell.

For the 1945 issue to mark the arrival of the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester in Australia, for example, Thomas engraved the values on the 3.5d and 5.5d stamps, after the 2.5d value had been erased from the master die which was engraved by Frank D Manley.

Thomas, who also worked as a transferrer, was second in charge (behind Manley) of the Engraving Department. Both his son Eric and his son-in-law Archibald Gordon Maclaurin held positions within the Commonwealth printing Branch, with his son being a maintenance engraver.


- The Australian Commonwealth Specialists' Catalogue, Brusden-White (1999)
- website

You will find the database of Thomas C Duffell HERE.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

DATABASE: Christophe Laborde-Balen


France, The Tango

France, Quimperlé
France, Epinay-sur-Seine

Friday, 20 January 2017

QUESTION: William Ridgway

I read in one of the Dummy Stamps newsletters available on the stampprintersinfo website that William Ridgway engraved the revenue stamps of Sarawak, as well as their early postage stamp issues, from 1869-71. Both printed by Maclure, MacDonald & Macgregor of London and Glasgow.

Seeing that the postage stamps were printed in litho, I'm wondering whether these revenue stamps were also printed in litho. Or were they maybe recess-printed? Does anyone have a Sarawak revenue catalogue or any of these revenue stamps at hand to check for me?


BIOGRAPHY: William Ridgway

It is thought that William Ridgway (whose surname is sometimes also written as Ridgeway) worked as a freelancer.

When London printer Perkins & Bacon were asked to produce a new definitive for St. Vincent in 1880, they entrusted the engraving job to William. He finished his work within a month.

William Ridgway's database can be found HERE.

QUESTION: Frank Davies Manley

I'm currently working my way through a backlog of emails and have arrived in July 2016 (!). And that's where I rediscovered this delightful little film clip which I thought I'd share with you.


As you can see, it briefly shows an engraver working on the 1945 Australian issue marking the arrival of the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester in Australia. This here is the end product:

Now the catalogue states that two engravers worked on the stamp: Frank Davies Manley and T. C. Duffell. So who could have been the one in the film clip? I could only find a photograph of Manley and nothing of the mysterious Duffell:

You could argue that the man in the film clip does look like the man in the Manley photograph so chances are it was him, but I would love to be proven wrong!


If you are the owner of this video and you object to it being shown here, please get in touch so I can rectify the matter.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Blog matters

My plans to restructure this blog are becoming clearer every day (or waking night). I'm hoping to simplify the whole structure and I suppose achieving that can be done by having basically just the two different posts: the actual database with all the lists of stamp and other engravings of a single engraver, and the biographies which have all the information I find on a certain engraver together in a single post. That way, navigating through the whole lot should be easier and more rewarding. I know that adding to existing posts doesn't flag them up, so nobody would be aware of me doing that, but in such cases I'll just post an update entry to notify which biographies have been added to.

I'm working on those biographies all the time anyway, but momentarily just in files on my computer. I may as well post these (replacing the current weekly chats which often overlap anyway) and let you all enjoy them while they grow and grow. I hope this will result in a better experience for you all when visiting this blog. If you have any comments on the issue, do let me know!