Have You Ever Seen a Flockdown Bird?


During the COVID-19 lockdowns of 2020, people found different ways of coping. Berni Martin, who spends a lot of time crafting as well as taking photographs, also spends time watching birds outside the window of her first floor apartment on the British Island of Jersey. The birds are attracted to the feeders she hangs on the tree outside that window. To help cope with the Covid lockdown Berni decided to paint a bird for 100 consecutive days. She numbered each bird painting and  posted them on social media.

Jersey Post took notice and eight of Berni’s birds became stamps and went on sale March 1, 2021. “I was over the moon that they are now stamps,” Bernie said. “And I hope they make people smile and encourage people to send a postcard or letter to a loved one. It’s such a joy to receive a handwritten note in the post.”

Of her COVID painting project Berni commented, “It just kind of evolved as it went along. I love birds and they’re quite quick to paint. As I was doing one every day, I needed something easy to commit to. They all have personalities of their own and mostly they reflected the mood on the day they were painted…happy, sad, colorful, crazy, fat, sleepy, flyaway! It was so quiet in the first lockdown and the weather was so lovely, we had an abundance of birdy visitors outside our windows…they were the perfect subject. I had no idea when I created the birds that they would one day be featured on Jersey stamps, it was just a project I set myself and people seemed to enjoy them on social media so I kept it going. I think not knowing they would be stamps one day was good, there was no pressure to try and make them perfect. The original paintings have splashes of paint and some little imperfections here and there.”

Andy Goldsworthy’s Springtime

In 1995, Great Britain issued five visually amazing stamps (above) themed ‘Springtime’ and designed by Andy Goldsworthy. He is a British Sculpture who lives in Scotland. His work consists of natural materials, hence it changes and decays during its lifespan, and he has traveled widely to make sculptures in particular environments.

The 1995 stamps were created as follows:
19p — Dandelions collected on the way to work. Laid around a carefully made hole.
25p -– Sweet Chestnut leaves. Held with thorns.
30p — Garlic leaves creased, folded, bent. Held to the ground with thorns
35p -– Hazel leaves. Two greens.
41p -– Spring grass, fresh green blades, white stems. Laid around a hole

About his work, Goldsworthy says, “The work that I do with my hands, with thorns and leaves and snow that doesn’t last very long, is the heart of what I do. That’s the source from which I draw all the other aspects of my art.”

And he explains further, “When I’m working with materials it’s not just the leaf or the stone, it’s the processes that are behind them that are important. That’s what I’m trying to understand. Not a single isolated subject but nature as a whole—how the leaf has grown, how it has changed, how it has decayed, how the weather’s affected it. By working with a leaf in its place I begin to understand the processes.”

Designers and Engravers of the Animals of Niger Stamps

Niger’s complete independence from France was achieved on August 3, 1960, but France continued to influence and aid the new Republic du Niger. The first stamps issued by the independent Republic were a set of 12 stamps picturing six animals (two stamps for each animal). Three of those pairs were featured in the previous post.  The 25fr Giraffe stamp was issued in late 1959, and the balance of the set in 1960. Stamps up to the 1970s tended to be large engraved issues designed and printed in France, with many strongly resembling the design of French stamps.

The designers and engravers of the first set of stamps issued by the Republic du Niger are identified on each stamp, but their names are very small and can be easily overlooked. Designer names appear in the bottom right corner of the stamps, and engravers in the bottom left corner. The names mostly parallel the bottom edge of the stamps, but some parallel the sides. Below are greatly enlarged portions of the three pairs of stamps featured in my last post and the Giraffes stamp above.

Crested Cranes                                             Saddle-billed Storks
Left: R. Subert — Designer                        Left: R. Subert — Designer
Right: Bétemps — Engraver                       Right: Bétemps — Engraver

Giraffes                                                            Ostriches
Left: R. Subert — Designer                        Left: R. Cami — Designer
Right: Decaris — Engraver                        Right: R. Subert — Engraver

Some information about the artists noted above:

R. Subert

Unable to find any information about this designer/engraver.

Georges Bétemps (1921-1992)
Georges Bétemps (French cartoonist, engraver and painter) was born in Paris on February 19, 1921. He studied at the Ecole Esteinne (Parisian School of Art) and then at the Bordeaux School of Fine Arts, but interrupted his studies to join the French Resistance. After liberation in 1946 he engraved his first stamps, a definitive set for Cameroun. The engraved ‘Native Head’ design (below right) was one of his designs for that set of stamps .

In 1961 Bétemps engraved his first French stamp (below), which portrayed Honoré Daumier. It was
in 1983 one of the stamps in  
the  Red the Red Cross Fund semi-postal series. In 1983 he was awarded the Grand Prix de l’Art Philatelique for his engraved rendering of Gustave Doré’s ‘Bluebeard giving keys to his wife’. This stamp (below left) was a masterpiece of an engraved rendering of a work of art for a stamp. Bétemps’ stamp engraving displayed the same intricacy of the much larger Doré original (below right).

He was again awarded the Grand Prix de l’Art Philatelique in 1990 for his engraving of a French Polynesia issue featuring the Maori World (left).

Georges Bétemps designed or engraved more than 1,500 stamps for France and other countries and was still active when he died on April 18, 1992.



Albert Decaris (1901-1988)
Albert Decaris (left) is generally regarded as France’s Master Engraver of the 20th century. In addition to engraving, Decaris was also a painter in oils and watercolor. He was born on May 6, 1901 in Sotteville-lés-Rouen. At 14 he entered the Ecole Estienne, which specialized in industrial graphics, where one  of his instructors was stamp engraver Antoine Dezarrois.  Three years later as a student at the Paris Ecole des Beaux-Arts he won the Prix de Rome and the chance to study in Italy at the Villa Medici.

Decaris engraved his first stamp for France in 1935 (left) and went on to engrave over 600 stamps for France and other countries in addition to approximately 6,000 non-stamp engravings. Classical clarity was the foundation of his work.

One of his stamp achievements for France was a series of historical scenes (three are illustrated above) which were produced from 1966 through 1973. Each year he designed and engraved three stamps. The entire series presented a complete history of France.

Decaris was asked to produce a version of the Marianne. a definitive issue that appeared in various iterations from 1944 to the present. Marianne is a symbol of Republican France and conveys liberty, equality and fraternity. Only one value of the Marianne de Decaris (left) was produced however, and that was in 1960. Its short life was caused by the introduction of a new printing press, the TD-6. He also engraved the Marianne de Cocteau definitive designed by Jean Cocteau which was in use in various denominations from 1961-1967. Decarus’ non-Marianne definitive with his Gallic Cock design (below right) was introduced in 1962 and has become an iconic image. In 1985 his final stamp was issued to mark National Memorial Day.

During his lifetime Albert Decarus received many honors including being elected a fellow of the Académie des Beaux-Arts and the Légion d’Honneur medal. Perhaps his most unusual honor was receiving an Olympic Gold Medal for Etching and Engraving in 1948, the last Olympics that included engraving.

Decaris died on January 1, 1988. To mark his birth centennial a stamp was issued on 2001 (below left)  which was designed and engraved by Claude Jumelet. The design expresses Decarus humorous side showing the Arc de Triomphe and Eiffel Tower dancing together. The designer was certainly influenced by Decaris’ engraving celebrating the centennial of the Eiffel Tower (below rightt).


Robert Cami (1900-1975)
Robert Cami was born on January 1, 1900 in Bordeaux, France. He studied at the School of Fine Arts in Bordeaux until 1918 and then at the School of Fine Arts in Paris specializing in graphics arts.

In 1926 he won the prize for engraving from the Fondation Franco-Américaine Florence Blumenthal and in 1928 the First Grand Prix of Rome for engraving. From 1932 to 1942, he taught at the School of Fine Arts in Bordeaux where he established the school’s engraving studio. From 1945, he was Professor of Engraving at the National School of Fine Arts in Paris. His work was frequently exhibited in France and abroad.

Cami’s work on stamps began in the early 1950s. His first engraved stamp was the 1953 18f Hernani de Victor Hugo (above left). One of the first series he was involved with was the ‘Heroes of the Resistance’ (above center) beginning in 1957. His best known series was the ‘Tourist Publicity’ series which made good use of his expertise in landscapes and cityscapes. The initial stamp in that series depicted Château de Valençay and perhaps the most popular was issued in 1960 and featured Laon Cathedral (above right).

Cami was active until his death on January 12, 1975. His final work was the 1975 70c ‘Snowy Egrets’ stamp from the Nature Conservation set.


Animals of Niger

Niger, officially the Republic of Niger, is the largest landlocked country in West Africa, with a population of over 25 million. The country is 80% desert, with population centers in the  South and West.

At the 1885 Berlin conference colonial powers divided Africa into spheres of influence. France gained control of the area roughly equivalent to present day Mali and Niger. Independence for Niger was achieved in 1960 and it became the Republique du Niger with French continuing as the official language.

Niger suffers from droughts and limited arable areas. It is among the world’s poorest countries. The economy centers on subsistence crops, livestock, and some of the world’s largest uranium deposits.

I have always liked finely engraved stamps, and the 1959-1960 Niger stamps feature beautiful wildlife engravings with birds and animals produced in two different  color versions. Illustrated here are three of my favorite pairs: Crested Cranes, Saddle-billed Storks, and Ostriches. I find the engraving and coloring extraordinary.

My next post examines designers/engravers of these stamps.

It’s been two years…

How can it be two years since my last post? I can’t exactly explain. I’ve frequently felt overwhelmed and at other times fatigued. Can you identify?

But philatelically I have experienced some highs:
1. The purchase of a collection of British Presentation Packs which are produced for every special stamp issue. I admire British stamp design (for the most part), and these Packs give detailed information about the issues and their designers. They’re beautiful.

2. I received the “Outstanding Volunteer” award for 2023 from the American Topical Association—truly an honor.

3. I continued as Editor of Philateli-Graphics, the quarterly journal of the Graphics Philately Association.

4. And I continued to operate my HipStamp store (stampsite) which requires considerable time–scanning stamps, providing descriptive information, etc. How long I can keep this going I do not know.

My hope is to get back to somewhat regular posts. I’m eyeing a set of stamps from Niger as my next post.


Barely three weeks ago on January 14, 2022, a huge eruption on Hunga-Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai, an uninhabited volcanic island, and submarine volcano and accompanying tsunami of the Tongan archipelago in the southern Pacific Ocean, began. The eruption climaxed powerfully the next day. Hunga Tonga is 40 miles north of Tongatapu, Tonga’s main island, which suffered enormous devastation.

Located in Oceania, Tonga is an archipelago in the South Pacific Ocean, directly south of Samoa and about two-thirds of the way from Hawaii to New Zealand. It consists of 169 islands, 36 of them inhabited, and cover a 500-mile-long north–south line.

The volcanic eruption and accompanying tsunami severed an undersea fiber-optic cable and communications are still limited. Crops and water supplies were contaminated with volcanic ash. Buildings, vehicles (including precious farm equipment) and boats connecting Tonga’s remote islands to its mainland were damaged or destroyed. Amazingly the death toll seems to be limited to five.

Most banks and money-transfer services were forced offline. This crippled aneconomy characterized by a heavy dependence on remittances from the more than half of the country’s population who live abroad. These remittances to Tonga are the equivalent of 37 percent of the gross domestic product, the highest figure of any nation in the world.

Tonga is home to some 106,000 people, but more than double that number liveoverseas, mainly in the U.S., New Zealand, and Australia. Over 70% of the Tongan inhabitants live on its main island, Tongatapu. Although an increasing number of Tongans have moved into the only urban and commercial center, Nukuʻalofa, the nation’s capital.

While reports of the disaster have largely vanished from the news, tens of thousands of Tongans in the diaspora are dealing with the supply chain crisis in their ongoing efforts to help their people in the homeland.

Philatelicly, Tonga was one of the originators of shaped stamps, which were largely derided as gimmicks when first issued in the early 1960s. Today, more collectors value these early groundbreaking stamps. Shown at the beginning of this post is a philatelic souvenir cover with the complete set of the 1963 Gold Coin issue commemorating the first gold coinage of Polynesia. The stamps show the head of Queen Salote Tupou III as well as the Queen standing, which are the obverse sides of the koula coins, and the reverse side showing the coat of arms. Shown below is a registered letter from the Vava’u island group in Tonga to the capital of Nuku’alofa featuring pineapple-shape stamps of 1978. Also shown is a cover from Tonga to the U.S. marked “Return to Sender” (quite a round trip) partially franked with a five-sided stamp, also issued in 1978, featuring King Taufa’ahau IV.

A Young Boy’s Letter to His Father (Canada)

Sometimes it’s what’s inside an old envelope that means more than the stamps and other markings on the  outside. Inside this registered letter to Albert Grant is a letter from his young son, Arthur W. Grant, that  was a true labor of love as the hand-drawn lines, careful printing and dots between each word indicate.  Arthur is writing to his father from the town of Bridgeville. His father is working in the iron mines in the region.

Santa Claus and Christmas are on young Arthur’s mind, as well as a mouth organ and necktie. But it seems that more than anything, Arthur wants to know if his Father will be home for Christmas. The little boy  pencils numerous “X’s” to indicate love and kisses for his Father.

What a sweet letter, as well as being visually “alive” with Arthur’s handiwork.

Stamp Overboard! (Morocco)

Writing and addressing a postcard home left insufficient space for the stamps on hand. The top half of an unfortunate commemorative was attached to the bottom edge of the card. The bottom half was left dangling!

One would expect that journeying from Morocco to the U.S. the dangling stamp would have been at least partially lost “Overboard.” Not so, even though the stamp was bent and cancelled on the picture side of the card. How in the world did that stamp hang on and survive an Atlantic crossing!

I’d say its miraculous journey was a one-in-a-million experience…but I’d be wrong. See the second postcard below, which employed the same stamp arrangement, though the commemorative here was cancelled where it adhered to the card—and not bent.


A Unique Father/Son Achievement in U.S. Postage Stamp Art (USA)

One of the most challenging—and beautiful—achievements in U.S. postage stamp artwork is  the “50 State Bird and Flower” stamps issued in 1982. The imagery is exquisite, with each stamp deftly composed and different from every other. Each bird/flower combination has a  naturalness of appearance that seems inevitable. And each is beautifully silhouetted with white space.

What makes these stamps unusual is that they were the first U.S. stamps created by a Father and Son artist team: Arthur (1917-1990) and Alan (1950- ) Singer.

There were creative challenges. Each stamp had to be distinctly different, not to mention visually appealing, and yet several states had the same state bird. For example, the Cardinal would appear on seven stamps, and the Western Meadowlark on six. As for state flowers, the Apple Blossom and Magnolia appear twice and the violet three times. And yet looking at the sheet of 50 stamps, those multiple renderings of bird or flower aren’t noticed because each presentation is unique.

Father and son were up to the challenge. Arthur was a noted avian illustrator having published Birds of the World and Guide to the Birds of North America. In his words, “There are many illustrators who are only concerned about portraying birds—or other animals—accurately. While this is, of course, very important, I try to make my work artistically good as well as accurate.”

It was Arthur’s practice to begin work in the early morning in his Jericho, New York, studio and continue to late at night. Father and son worked together on separate drawing tables. Arthur would position the bird on his art board and indicate to son Alan the approximate position of the flower. Alan would then sketch the flower art on the board. Father and son first made rough sketches of their subjects and then proceeded to greater detail, at times using pastels for color. When they deemed their sketches satisfactory, the drawings were transferred to art board in paint. The process was smooth, with each artist achieving his vision.

Those final paintings were five to seven times the size of a stamp. The artwork required intense focus, and stamina as well, to achieve the graceful lines, minute detail, and vibrant color that would reproduce well at stamp size.

The result: 50 beautiful and engaging miniature works of art—a high point in U.S. postage stamp creativity.

In the Spring of 1982, Charles Kuralt happened into a post office to buy some stamps and emerged with a sheet of the State Birds and Flowers stamps which in turn led to a segment on CBS News Sunday Morning expounding on the work of the Father and Son artists. Take a look at this unique artistic achievement:

Holhwein’s Adler Typewriter (Czech Republic)

Typewriters, whose hayday has passed, interest me. I like the process of using a machine to create something—in this case a tangible document. And “Typewriters on Stamps” is a collecting topic that I know one philatelic friend pursues with passion.

The typewriter advertising postcard shown here was illustrated by Ludwig Hohlwein, a leading and influential German graphic designer in the first half of the 20th century. The woman’s image shows his flair for progressive fashion illustration which he utilized on behalf of a number of clients. I don’t know anything about the typewriter other than what is printed below the illustration abaout the manufacturer: ADLERWERKE VORM. HEINRICH KLEYER A.D. FRANKFURT.

The message on the reverse side of the card refers to Herr Ludwig Thoma, the owner of a typewriter retailer located in Karlovy Vary, Czechoslovakia. The card was sent in February 1928 from Karlovy Vary to Pisek, also in Czecholovakia, and is correctly franked at the postcard rate with a 50 Haléřů stamp featuring Tomáš Masaryk, the Czechoslovak politician, statesman, sociologist and philosopher (Sc117).