A Break from Winter Cold. (Niuafo’ao, Macao)

In mid-December I posted “Need a Lift?”, because I sometimes do. At times I need a break from winter cold too. So here are two more sheetlets that do the trick for me.

The Jandaya Parakeet on this recent sheetlet from Niuafo’ou just can’t be contained by the stamp and has to extend its tail onto the selvage. I can’t think of another sheetlet so starkly white–selvage there only because this parakeet needs more space and demands exuberant framing.

This 2018 souvenir sheet from Macao features the painting “Bright and Fragrant Flowers” by the contemporary Chinese artist Ieong Tai Meng. The subtle and sensitive brushstrokes and coloring reflect centuries of Chinese artistic tradition.

So if you need a break from the cold…or a lift…contemplate these stamps.

Light and Color in French Morocco

Color gradations artfully employed by stamp designers always attract my attention. Think of Great Britain’s long-running Machin series or Israel’s Twelve Tribes definitives from the 1950s. But the five stamps of French Morocco shown here, from the Townscapes series of the late 1940s, are perhaps my absolute favorite. The stamps were designed by Camille Paul Jooso (1902-1986) and engraved by Pierre Gandon (1899-1996, see an earlier post about Gandon’s Sarah Bernhardt stamp).

When I see these stamps, the acclaimed French artist Henri Matisse (1869-1964) comes to mind as does his lifelong quest for, as he told the art critic Pierre Courthion (1902-1988), “the clarity of light.”Matisse travelled often, including two stays in French Morocco in 1912-1913, not to see different places but “to see light, to restore, through a change of its quality, the freshness it lost as a result of being seen day after day.”To me, these stamps powerfully convey that clarity of light through their sensitive  design, exquisite engraving, brilliant color selection, and masterful printing. They are a marvel!

The other quality within these stamps that brings Matisse to mind, is the complex patterning of the terraced townscape. Matisse’s paintings, beginning in the early 1900s, abound with the patterns of textiles, with the objects they cover being visually flattened and converted to an overall decorative image. The Terraces stamps convey that same flattened decorative quality. Kudos again to the stamp designer and engraver for achieving such complex and enticing imagery.

Forgive my dream, but I can easily imagine Matisse looking out his hotel window in French Morocco at the scene we experience viewing these stamps…and being delighted just as I am.

1 & 2. Schneider, Pierre, et al. Matisse in Morocco, Exhibition Catalog, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, 1990, page 31.

WWI Beckons (Great Britain, Slovenia, Ireland)

For five years many nations have been marking the 100th anniversary of the years of WWI with postage stamps. We’ve forgotten most of those issues, just as that war is a thing of history to us—with no personal meaning. Today’s mass murders trouble us greatly, as they should, and yet WWI accounted for some 15 to 19 million military and civilian deaths—averaging more than 10,000 a day. And like all war, it didn’t have to be.

Those WWI commemorative stamps generally feature photographs of military personnel and monuments, but a few affected me.

In 2017 Great Britain issued a set of six WWI commemoratives. The four above spoke to me. The shattered red poppy told of peace shattered by war. Private Lemuel Thomas’ life-saving Bible was for me an ironic image. How many millions on both sides of this tragic conflict professed true faith in the Bible? The tombstones in Belgium, at stamp size anonymous, whisper wasted lives. And Isaac Rosenberg’s poetic words from Dead Man’s Dump of 1918, “Earth has waited for them, All the time of their growth,” testify to the human tragedy. (Rosenberg, an Orthodox Jew from Gloucestershire, was killed in 1918 after returning from a night patrol near Fampoux, France, most likely be a sniper.)

This year Slovenia issued a visually haunting interpretation of that endless field of tombstones. The ethereal shape created by the varying light and dark crosses are a mist of millions of lives lost…most now forgotten.

Also this year Poland, whose designers are known for graphic directness, presents us with the choice that faced nations 100 years ago: flowers or explosives. That choice continues to face us. Too often the decision is disastrous.

Ireland’s literary approach to Armistice Day is twice strong. Canadian physician Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae’s 1915 poem is familiar to many of us, and is always worth a reflective read:
  In Flanders fields the poppies blow
  Between the crosses, row on row,
  That mark our place: and in the sky
  The larks, still bravely singing, fly
  Scarce heard amid the guns below.

Finally, from Thomas Kettle’s 1916 poem To My Daughter Betty, the Gift of God:
  Died not for flag, nor King,
  Nor Emperor, But for a dream,
  Born in a herdsman’s shed, And
  for the secret Scripture of the poor.
Kettle, a Member of Parliament, joined the Irish Volunteers in 1913 and died in 1916 on the Western Front.

Consider these stamps. Click the links above and read these poems in their entirety. Tell me what you think…and feel.

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.