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!


A friend called last night. He was extremely agitated. He’d made a mistake at work. His job requires working six and seven days a week. He isn’t able to exercise regularly. His sleep is impaired. Yes, my friend made a mistake at work, but what about his superiors who have allowed overwhelming responsibilities to be part of my friend’s job? He has to find balance in his life. I’ve been there. Daily I’m still there…trying to find balance. Some days I’m more successful than other days.

In 1709 Alexander Pope’s poem, “Essay on Criticism, Part II,” included these well known lines, “…To err is humane; to forgive, divine.” (In the early 18th century, “humane” was the accepted spelling for “human.”)

A pressman made a mistake in 1918, hence the Inverted Jenny. What reprimands did he receive when the discovery was made? And yet that mistake has had a divine influence on stamp collecting ever since.

And who was responsible for perforating Spanish stamps from 1865 to 1950 (That’s 85 years!) when the majority of those stamps were rather poorly centered? Who cares? The hunt for well-centered examples is an exciting challenge for collectors. And for me, those off-kilter stamps are simply fun to look at. Do you agree?

I hope my friend is feeling a bit better today. He’s an extraordinary individual, probably the most intelligent person I know. I hope he finds some of the joy that’s simply another dimension of our off-kilter mistakes. “…to forgive, divine.”

The Lady of the Theatre and the Lady of Provence

I was bewitched by the images of two women recently—one real, one imagined: Sarah Bernhardt and the costumed woman of Provence. The alluring beauty of two stamps!

The “Provence” stamp (left) was produced during the WWII occupation of France, and the Bernhardt stamp (right) was planned and engraved during the occupation and issued just days after the German surrender.

The image of Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923) on the semipostal from 1945 designed and engraved by Pierre Gandon (1899-1990) was based on an 1879 painting by Jules Bastien-Lepage (1848-1884) and marked her 100th birth anniversary. The portrait’s sepia tonal range is extraordinary. My eyes wonder the stamp and marvel at the exquisite detail. Have you seen a more beautifully engraved stamp? (The fact that the name “Mazelin,” Charles Mazelin (1882-1964?), appears in the bottom right corner of the stamp as engraver, though he was not, is an interesting story for another time. Note that Gandon’s name appears in the bottom right corner of the artist’s proof shown at right.)

The Lady of Provence (my title for the stamp) was one of a set of six stamps featuring 18th century costumes from different regions of France. The set is quite beautiful and features the work of five skilled engravers. Albert Decaris was the engraver of the Provence and Brittany stamps from the set. His style of engraving is radically different from the Bernhardt stamp, with bold strokes throughout. This almond-eyed beauty of Provence reminds me of several other Decaris stamps featuring women in dramatic settings, e.g., Monaco’s 1975 stamp set marking the 100th anniversary of the opera, Carmen.

I wondered about these stamps and other wartime semipostals. What were the funds collected used for and why were the images chosen? The surtax from the “costume” set went to The National Relief Fund, which coordinated aid efforts associated with the war. The Fund was the only organization authorized by the French State to create appeals for and accept public donations. The surtax from the Bernhardt stamp benefited the Actors Welfare Society known as Foundation Coquelin.*

The theme of the “costumes” set of semipostals, and others of the war era, provide a window into the realities of politics in France at the time. In 1940, with the collapse of the Third Republic and the creation of the French State, stamps reflected the political climate. The Vichy government tried to present itself as one of national unity. Portraits of the aging national hero, Marshal Philippe Petain, head of the French State, were featured on many stamps of the era. The government, which arose out of defeat, looked to a somewhat idealistic French past and celebrated the virtues of the peasantry and a “return to the soil.” Blame for many of France’s problems was directed at the urban, industrialized element of society. Hence the imagery of 18th century costumes and agrarian life. **

Beauty in the midst war is a not uncommon trait of postage stamps—a paradox for a collector like me.

* Lesgor, Raoul, France Specialized, The Nassau Stamp Company, New York, 1946.
** Hoisington, Jr., William A., “Politics and Postage Stamps: The Postal Issues of the French State and Empire 1940-1944.” French Historical Studies, Vol. 7, No. 3 (Spring, 1972), p. 349-367. Duke University Press.



The Masks of Slovenia

October 31 is Halloween in the U.S.— a day for children to dress in costumes, wear masks, and go door-to-door asking for sweet treats. Pumpkins are everywhere, and homes are decorated with witches, skeletons, spider webs and orange lights.
The popular celebration of Halloween evolved from the Christian tradition of a holy eve before the feast of All Saints Day. And in turn, the Christian tradition likely evolved from pagan harvest festivals. That history makes for fascinating research.
Halloween is also a time for masks—a time to make believe you’re someone else. For me, some of the most fascinating, intricate and scary masks are those of Slovenia, featured on the stamps shown here from 1997 (above), 2000 (left) and 2002 (below). These masks, however, are from the annual Carnival festivals which end on Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday, which begins the Christian season of Lent. And much the same as Halloween traces its roots to ancient traditions, the Slovenia Carnival traditions of masks and costumes have ancient origins as well. Warding off evil spirits and bringing good fortune are chief among the historic purposes of the costumes.
Masks and costumes are not the only similarity between Halloween and the Slovenia Carnivals. In Slovenia, children in masks also go door to door asking for treats!
To see more Slovenia stamps, link to the Slovenia Postal Service.

Transportation Stamps Move Mail

In the late 1980s and 1990s it was common for charities to solicit donations using direct mail campaigns that included pre-stamped return envelopes. The transportation coil stamps on the envelope above paid the then current 25-cent first class letter rate. This fund-raising tactic using ‘real’ stamps naturally grabbed my attention. It seemed new, different…and risky!

Looking through an accumulation of collection material recently, I came across a very similar, but much older, use of a ‘real’ stamp (the 2-cent “Empire State Express” issue from the Pan-American Exposition series) to pay for the mailed reply to another solicitation. Interestingly, a transportation stamp was also provided to cover mailing costs in the very early 1900s.

I’d be interested if anyone can provide additional information about this “Profitable Advertising” sample.



Extraordinarily Beautiful CAPEX ’87 Exhibition Card

Canada’s Third International Philatelic Exhibition, CAPEX ’87, was held from June 13 to 21 in Toronto. In conjunction with CAPEX, Great Britain issued an Exhibition Card with the 31p and 34p Flowers stamps of 1987 affixed and cancelled 13 June 1987 at Edinburgh Philatelic Bureau, with CAPEX 87 cachet at foot. The stamps, two from a set of four, feature the exquisite photography of Alfred Lammer. The Card was printed by Debden Security Print in two color intaglio and two color lithography.

This Exhibition Card with its intricate patterning, extraordinary engraving and beautiful stamps can be purchased for a pittance, and yet it’s one of the most beautiful objects in my collection!

The First Reference on Stamps to the History of Printing


In 1874 the first Montenegro definitive stamps were issued in conjunction with the opening of the first public post office in Cetinje. The seven stamps had a common design featuring a portrait of Prince Nicholas I. Additional printings of these stamps occurred in 1879 and 1893.
In 1893, to mark the 400th anniversary of printing being introduced in Montenegro, the definitives were overprinted. This is the first instance of a postage stamp honoring the history of printing, and for the topical collector with that interest, these overprints might be the first items in their collection. (For more about philately and the history of printing, contact the Graphics Philately Association.)
Looking back to 1493, Durad Crnojević (d. 1514) was the Lord of Zeta, in present-day Montenegro. He founded the first South Slavic printing house. Using a printing press brought to Obod by his father Ivan Crnojević (d. 1490), and later moved to Cetinje, Durad managed the printing of several religious books from 1493-1496 with the help of Hieromonk Makarije. These included Octoechos of the First Tone (Oktoih prvoglasnik), an Orthodox liturgical book, finished early in 1494. (See page illustrated here.) The books were printed in black and red, and were ornamented.
This period also marked one of the darkest phases in Serbian history. Only Stara Crna Gora , the mountainous region of Zeta ruled by Ivan Crnojevic and his son Djuradj, were still free from Turkish conquest. Just before this region also fell to the Turks, the newly introduced printing in Cetinje was focused on spiritual and ethnic awareness. This effort was terminated by the Turks in 1496.
Just as this period in Eastern European history is complex and interesting, so too are the first definitive issues of Montenegro, as variations in production abound.

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.