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The First Art Stamp Ever?

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Collectors of Art Stamps have often discussed which was the first art topical stamp to be issued. Some say that this collecting area began with the French art series in the early 1960's, while others believe that it may be the French stamp from 1849 depicting Ceres, and yet others that it was the British Penny Black.

In the bi-monthly publication "Topical Time" published by American Topical Association, #334/2005, Column "Topical Postline", appears a letter to the editor 

"--- inquiry to American Philatelic Research Library, asking for the design source of France #1. The response states, "An explanation of the design appears in James Mackay's book "An Illustrated History of Stamp Design". France introduced stamps in January 1849, but instead of using the portrait of a living person, [they] chose the profile of Ceres, goddess of agriculture, in a circular frame with a rectangular border (Scott #1). The head of Ceres was taken from ancient Greek coins, a logical source of inspiration since coins and stamps were analogous in many respects".  
" --- I am not sure whether this qualifies as being the earliest use of art on stamps; I think this depends upon how one defines fine arts. The portrait on the 1840 British Penny Black (Scott #1) was based on "The Guildhall Medal of 1838" showing Wyon's profile of Queen Victoria. Might this not be considered to be fine arts?" 

On 10th November 2005, I have raised this question on the philatelic newsgroup news:rec.collecting.stamps.discuss, and a number of interesting answers came up. There seems to be a certain consensus among stamp collectors that the first art stamp was the Canadian 1851-issue of Queen Victoria, based on Edward Alfred Chalon's (1780-1860) painting of the queen 1838. 

According to Canadian Postal Archives it is the first definitive stamp showing the portrait of monarch, based on a painting. 

The full painting of the queen in her robes of state is seen on the souvenir sheet from New Zealand (right), issued 1988. 

  • Canada 1851. Queen Victoria, 12d, based on a painting by Alfred Edward Chalon "Queen Victoria", 1837. Scan by courtesy of Hans-Martin Leth.  

  • New Zealand 1988. Queen Victoria in her robes of state, painted by Alfred Edward Chalon 1837. Scan by courtesy of Hans-Martin Leth.  

Canada 1851. Queen Victoria, produced after a painting by Alfred E. Chalon 1837. New Zealand 1988. Queen Victoria in her robe of state, painted by Alfred Edward Chalon 1837.

The first postage stamp issue of the Province of Canada featured the beaver on the 3-pence, H.R.H. Albert, the Prince Consort on the 6-pence denomination, and Her Majesty Queen Victoria on the 12-pence. These stamps were produced on laid paper without perforations. Rawdon, Wright, Hatch and Edison, the New York security printers, received the contract to print Canadian postage stamps, producing all the requirements until 1st May, 1858. On that day the company name changed, following amalgamation, to the American Bank Note Company with headquarters remaining in New York City. The new firm continued the former printing contract until the Canadian Confederation in 1867.  The portrait of Her Majesty Queen Victoria is reproduced from a contemporary engraving of a full-length painting by Alfred Edward Chalon, R.A. Although this work of art portrays the young Queen in her robes of state, merely the head appears in various British colonial postage stamp designs, including the 12-pence for the Province of Canada. 

On the occasion of Queen Victoria's first visit to the House of Lords, she commissioned Mr. Chalon to paint this portrait as a gift to her mother, the Duchess of Kent. The memorable event was the prorogation of Parliament on 17th July, 1837, the year of the Queen's accession to the throne. 

There is an interesting story about Queen Victoria and Chalon, originally published in "The Women at Home", London, vol. VIII, 1897, p. 812.

Helmut and Alison Gernsheim, in their book  "The History of Photography, 1685-1914" (New York, St. Louis and San Francisco: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1969), p. 118 relate: 

"In the early days of daguerrotype portraiture, Queen Victoria asked the fashionable miniature painter Alfred Chalon whether he were not afraid that photography would ruin his profession, 'Ah, non, Madame', he replied in a mixture of French and English, 'photographie can't flatère'."  

Sources and links:

All collectors of Arts on Stamps are invited to submit an image of the first art stamp from their own country. With their permission the image will appear on this page together with a short historical notice about the art work, and with full credits to the contributor. 

Denmark 1938. Neo Classical Sculpting. Bertel Thorvaldsen, engraved after a painting by the Danish painter C.V . Eckersberg. Denmark 1938. Neo Classical Sculpting. Bertel Thorvaldsen. Janus with the Golden Fleece.

The first Danish art stamp 
to appear was the Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen, commemorating the centenary of his arrival back to Denmark, and his nomination as Citizen of Honour in Copenhagen. The read 5-øre stamp exists also in 30-øre face value, blue colour. Read more here about Bertel Thorvaldsen, his life and career. 

  • Denmark 1938. The Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen, after a painting by C.W. Eckersberg.

  • Denmark 1938. Sculpture by Bertel Thorvaldsen, "Jason with the Golden Fleece".  

The first French art stamps
to appear were probably the series of the first French postage stamps, featuring the goddess Ceres. France introduced stamps in January 1849, but instead of using the portrait of a living person, [they] chose the profile of Ceres, goddess of agriculture, in a circular frame with a rectangular border. The head of Ceres was taken from ancient Greek coins, a logical source of inspiration since coins and stamps were analogous in many respects".  
  • France 1849. Ceres-head from the first series of French postage stamps. The stamp is #5 in a set of seven. Scan by courtesy of Hans-Martin Leth. 

France 1849. Ceres-heads. Stamp #5 in a set of seven.

Great Britain 1840. Penny Black.

Great Britain. Guildhall Medal by Wyon, 1838.

The first British art stamp 
is likely to be the portrait on the 1840 British Penny Black (Scott #1) and was based on "The Guildhall Medal of 1838" showing Wyon's profile of Queen Victoria. 

Wyon cast his name in the neck, but this cannot be seen on the scan. Read more here about Penny Black

  • Great Britain 1840. Penny Black. Scan by courtesy of Hans- Martin Leth.  

  • Great Britain 1838. Guildhall Medal. Scan by courtesy of Rodney Cork. 

The first Spanish art stamp
registered for Spain is the famous "Naked Maya" by Francisco Goya, (painted 1978). In the winter of 1792, while on a visit to southern Spain, Goya contracted a serious disease that left him totally deaf and marked a turning point in his career. A mood of pessimism entered Goya's work. Between 1797 and 1799 he drew and etched the first of his great print series Los Caprichos (The Caprices), which, in their satirical humour, mock the social mores and superstitions of the time. 

Read more about Goya, his life and career here. 

  • Spain 1930. "The Naked Maya" by Francisco Goya.  

Spain 1930. Romanticist Painting. Goya. The Naked Maya, 1 pta.

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