My Favorite Gutenberg. (Bulgaria, Germany, Hungary)


As a boy, decades ago, if asked, “Who invented printing?” my answer would have been, “Gutenberg.” Today, if asked, “What did Gutenberg invent?” my answer would be, “The first effective method for printing in volume with movable type.”

So, if Gutenberg didn’t invent printing, why is he so admired? His genius was much like many other “inventors.” He took pre-existing technologies (printing, the press, movable type, ink) and modified each so that they functioned together as a viable system for producing cost-effective multiple copies of printed matter.

It’s likely that the bulk of his inventiveness and labor was devoted to perfecting a system for making and using movable metal type, hence my Favorite Gutenberg stamp is not one that features a portrait of him, but rather features movable type. Besides, no portrait of Gutenberg is known to have been made until 1567, 99 years after his death, so what we see on stamps is an artist’s imagination at work.

My Favorite Gutenberg stamp was issued by Germany in 1983, one of a pair of Europa stamps. That stamp features a piece of cast metal type against a background of Gutenberg’s gothic type letters that can be found in his printing. The stamp focuses on the most significant aspect of the printing method he developed—movable type. And personally, I see in the imagery of one piece of movable type against a background of numerous printed letters as a graphic metaphor for the explosion of knowledge that Gutenberg’s “invention” made possible.

For information about all things philatelic/printing/graphics, check out the Graphics Philately Association.

German Smiley Face?

Looking through some German commercial covers, I felt this Hausding & Bermann cover smile back at me. The designer, who arranged the images of some H & B products on the cover, surely had a sense of humor and created a predecessor to our own ubiquitous round yellow smiley face.

Illustrated German commercial covers of the late 1920s were far outnumbered by covers simply listing a company’s name and address. There was a reticence toward progressive advertising practices in early 20th century Germany. This company, however, opted for a bit of whimsy, though I wonder if the Smiley Face actually registered with the owners.

Hausding & Bergmann, Pirna Perfin

Hausding & Bergmann, founded in 1919, was a supplier of furs and other products for the hat industry, both manufacturing and retailing. Though I haven’t been able to discover much about the company, evidence on the cover suggests that it was not small and probably was an active mailer. Of course, the illustrated cover itself and the company’s description on the cover point to this conclusion, but the stamps on the cover also provide evidence. Note that each stamp has the company and city initials punched into the stamp. This kind of punched stamp is called a Perfin (perforated initials) and was employed by organizations that used large numbers of stamps to control possible stamp pilfering.

The cover is franked with one 15 and two 5 pfennig stamps paying the 25 pfennig rate for a letter under 20 grams mailed to a foreign country (in this case to Switzerland) on February 28, 1929. And it probably brought a smile to the face of the recipient!


German Thatched Roof Farmhouse Stamps

Yesterday I purchased this cover at a meeting of the Baltimore Chapter of the German Philatelic Society. Why? Not for its value as postal history, because it surely was sent to a stamp collector who enjoyed seeing new issues—in this case the complete set of German farmhouse semi-postal stamps issued in 1995. (The stamps grossly overpay the normal mailing and registration fee.)

Just as the recipient surely enjoyed seeing these stamps in his daily mail, though delivery appears to have been a problem judging from the delivery notice hand-stamp, I experienced some of that joy because of the clean colorful renderings of the houses—one of my favorite stamp topics. I like seeing the amazing variety of house designs from around the world and learning about how these structures relate to their particular locales.

The 200+70pf stamp at the upper right of the cover particularly attracted me. Searching Wikipedia I learned that this type of timber-framed farmhouse is found in Northern Germany and the Netherlands and combines living quarters and barn under one roof. It contains a large hall with bays on the sides for livestock and storage, and has living accommodation at one end. (Note: That close proximity of large, farm animals and humans would not be my first choice for living accommodations.)

By the late 19th century this type of farmhouse had become outmoded. Rising living standards, larger harvests and the introduction of farm machinery all contributed to its demise. Examples of these thatched-roof houses, however, can still be seen in many north German villages.

And what about those extended pointed gables? With a magnifying glass I could see horses’ heads were carved at the end of each timber. This same imagery can be seen on the coats of arms of many north German towns.